ST. Thomas ReservoirPhoto courtesy of St. Thomas Public Library (1976). I think this is the famous reservoir bridge.

For several years my friends and I would make our way to the annual New Year’s Eve party in St. Thomas. It wasn’t a long way there, perhaps 20-30 kilometers in total, but it was far enough to go when you planned to drink and dance the evening and morning away. Looking back it’s easy to realize how stupid it was to drink and drive, but at that time it seemed like a perfectly sensible thing to do as long as you could drive home “safely”.

To avoid the potential for meeting cars (and the local constabulary) on the highway it was prudent to drive the back roads when returning from St. Thomas. This meant crossing the water reservoir serving the town, a road not taken by many and one in which a single lane bridge had been built specifically for local residents to use. The road on both sides was quite steep, making it a bit challenging on a dark night to slowly come down the hill, cross the narrow bridge, and then accelerate quickly enough to make it up the other side. Still, it was the most practical way to journey home on celebratory occasions.

The reservoir was situated in a beautiful location. On one side of the bridge was the reservoir pond – a fairly extensive body of water that froze over in winter and made a great skating rink when the winds blew strong enough to clear the snow. In the summer, I can remember sitting next to the bridge with other children fishing for small perch with my father. Dad would occasionally take a stone from the gravel road and throw it into the water and inevitably it would hit the water with a hollow thud, indicating the water was quite deep. On the other side of the bridge was a dam which helped to create the reservoir. Even in winter the water would flow over it and the continuous flow created a giant icicle which extended the considerable distance all the way to the bottom of the gorge.

Rain began to fall one New Years Eve when I journeyed to the annual party in St. Thomas. The trip there proved dark and uneventful although strangely eerie for a January evening. Snowfall was certainly a much more common occurrence at that time of year. By the time the party ended about 3am the rain had turned to freezing rain and had coated everything with about a half an inch of ice. It was hard to walk but surely the roads had been salted to make them passable – even the reservoir road? Everyone said their fond farewells and “Happy New Years”, and left for home.

I scraped the ice off the windshield of my car and then foolishly began to drive toward the reservoir road. At the top of the hill I realized too late that the road had become a skating rink all the way to the bottom of the hill (and up the other side). Braking did not work as the car immediately began to turn sideways. I remember the strange feeling of sliding down the hill knowing that the bridge at the bottom was not wide enough to allow the car to pass. Frantically I turned the wheel and managed to right the direction just as I reached the bottom. I could see the metal railings next to me as the car slid through the narrow bridge and came to an abrupt halt. My car headlights were aimed up the hill but clearly the road was just as icy in that direction. I backed up slowly until I could go no farther and then accelerated forward. Valiantly the car crossed the bridge and began moving uphill. Half way up the incline, though, it began to drift sideways again and I recognized I could go no farther. I slowly edged down the hill. This to-and-fro driving continued for some time and initially it seemed challenging. But I soon began to realize that I could neither drive home nor drive back to the party destination.

I parked the car next to the bridge and tried to walk up the hill. This proved equally difficult and I fell several times, once sliding down the roadside nearest to the dam, en route feeling as though I could easily have been swept off the road’s edge and over the dam with some of the cascading water.

Walking was frustrating but I seemed to be making more progress than with the car. It seemed like an eternity but I managed to reach the top of the hill. In the distance I spotted two large town utility trucks, yellow lights flashing in the darkness. The workers were diligently trying to restore power to a local power station. I greeted the workers with a “Happy New Year” and they reluctantly returned the salutation. We exchanged comments on the ugliness of the night and finally someone asked me where I was going. I told them the sad story of my car and they suddenly seemed excited to see where it had landed. We drove to the top of the hill and gazed down at my car parked very close to the reservoir pond. The town workers concluded that this was a dangerous situation for other vehicles (as well as my own). One jumped out and immediately pulled out a winch from the front of the truck. Cable in hand, he lowered himself down the hill and eventually attached the winch to my stranded car. The other slowly began to pull my car and his co-worker up the icy hill. All I could think of was what would happen if the winch came undone?

It was not to be the case that night. The car was successfully returned to the top of the hill and the reservoir road cleared. The workers were ecstatic and congratulated themselves for the rescue. I was equally elated that my car was still in one piece. But it was an awkward moment. I quickly realized I needed to repay them for their daring generosity. I told them I knew a councilor and would give him their names, telling him what a great job they had done. Clearly this was not enough. I reached into the car’s glove compartment and pulled out some free A&W root beer tickets which the manager had given to me with instructions to give them out only in special circumstances at the drive-in restaurant where I worked. While not exactly at the drive-in, this seemed like a special enough occasion for me to hand them out. The workers announced they were A&W regulars and the payoff was gratefully accepted. We exchanged high-fives and Happy New Years.

I went home via the highway.