“Go ahead and jump.”
It was our first full-week of summer vacation back in 1975 and my friend David Walther and I were rehearsing a scene for our next movie. It was the summer between junior and senior year of high school and I still had this dream of heading off to film school when I graduated the following year. Well, either that or join the military.
And now I was trying to persuade Dave to jump off a train trestle onto a pile of sand.
That spring I had taken my GAF Super 8 camera with plenty of Kodak and cheap K-Mart brand film and made an epic 30-minute Civil War film called Friends. (It sucked big time and I am still—33 years later—trying to forget just how cheesy and unrealistic it was. I believe the only known print of that film was destroyed sparing humanity the pain of having something that bad out there for people to see.)
For my next project I was going to do something a little more realistic and doable. This one was going to be a crime drama with hopefully a bit of some Monty Pythonesque visual humor thrown in for good measure (Dave and I were big fans of Monty Python that was televised every Sunday night on WTTW Channel 11 out of Chicago).
Although I hadn’t worked out the script I knew one of the scenes I wanted in the movie. One of them would be the film’s climatic scene when David, who was going to play the lead role Detective Dave, chases a suspect across an abandoned train trestle spanning a creek. The train trestle was out in the country not far from another friend’s farm. For a couple of summers we had played here, jumping off parts of the trestle into a creek—which when it rained a lot was a few feet deep in some places.
And then there was this pile of sand I was trying to get Dave to jump on.
“Are you sure it’s okay?” Dave asked looking down at pile of sand.
A construction crew three years earlier had done some work around the base of the trestle and had left about a five-foot pile of sand. That is what I wanted Dave to jump down on. Figuring where he had to jump from onto the pile of sand, it was around five or six feet.
In this scene Dave would leap off the trestle onto a pile of sand to catch the suspect, but this was to be the gag—Dave would jump onto this pile of sand and then cut to the next scene Dave would be buried up to his head in the pile of sand and the suspect would get away. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t that funny of a gag, but it would be cool once it was edited, or so I hoped.
“Yeah, I’ve done it dozens of times.”
“It’s awful high.”
“It just looks that way from there,” I said. “Just make sure you land on that pile of sand.”
“I’m not so sure about that pile of sand. And you’ve done this before?”
“Sure,” I said. “Hang on, I’m coming up.”
After years of perfecting my climbing skills up oak, maple, and apple trees I was up on the trestle next to Dave in a few minutes.
“Watch this.” I said and leaped off the trestle.
I landed on the pile of sand and rolled down the side.
“Looks easy enough.”
“Just jump and roll down the side.”
“Okay. Here goes.”
If I had filmed that jump, I would have filmed Sam Peckinpah style in super slow mo as Dave stepped off the trestle and leaped onto that pile of sand. It would have been one heck of a shot as he fell onto the sand pile and rolled down the side just like I had showed him. I mean, it was beautiful, especially the expression of fear on his face before hit terra firma ala that soft pile of sand. And if I had another camera and had it framed for a tight close up of Dave, that shot would have caught Dave’s painful expression the very instant he realized he had just sprained both wrists—or worst that he had broken both of them.
“Dave, you okay?”
One look at Dave, as he slowly stood up told me everything: he was not all right and judging from that pale look on his face, he was in the early stages of shock.
“I think I might have broken something,” Dave said, his face getting pale and his voice shaky.
When he landed on the pile of sand he had tried to break his fall by putting his arms behind him that had absorbed the shock and weight of his body when he landed. And that’s probably how he ended up hurting himself.
“Let’s get you back home.”
To get back to the road and my car, we had to walk across two fields and circumvent a barbed wire fence, about a fifteen-minute walk. From there, it was about another twenty minutes to Dave’s house.
“Do you think you could drive just a little faster?” Dave grimaced. Whatever shock he had suffered had disappeared and now he was just in pain.
“I am going as fast as I can.”
I was going as fast as my 1968 Ford Galaxy 500 would let me and hoping that there were no trucks or other farm vehicles plying the roads, or worse cattle or other livestock crossing the road.
When we got to his home we were lucky that his mother was home at the time. She was a nurse and knew immediately that something was wrong and within a few minutes we were in the Emergency Room at People’s Hospital.
Two hours later, a doctor came out and told us that Dave had indeed broken both wrists.
“He’s okay now,” the doctor said, “but we would like to keep in here overnight for observation.
Dave was resting comfortably when his mother, his three sisters and I walked into his room a little while later. Both arms were in casts from his wrists to his elbows. He was a little groggy from the painkillers that had been administered, but he was looking okay for a guy whose best friend just made him jump off a train trestle.
I thought for sure his parents would be furious with me but they were pretty cool about the whole thing so I wouldn’t have to worry about any class action civil suit and my parents being dragged into court.
However, Dave’s father was disappointed with us.
“I hope you had film in the camera,” he said.
I looked at his father sheepishly.
“Ah, we didn’t have the camera with us. We were just rehearsing.”
“Now that makes me angry,” his father said laughing.
Yeah, me too,” said David. “I am never going to fall for one of your ideas again.”
As it turned out it wasn’t that bad of a summer after all. Once Dave had rested up for a few days we spent most of the summer hanging out at his house shooting a lot of pool in the basement and also at a pool hall down the street. Dave discovered that with those two casts on his arms he could shoot a good game of pool, was awesome when it came to breaking, and after awhile a small groove formed in his cast on his left arm from repeated pool cue use that gave him deadly accuracy for those hard to make shots.
We drank some beer, hung out on his front porch, watched Monty Python every Sunday night, had banana splits at a local Tastee Freeze, checked out this used bookstore and even went down to the Air Force Recruiter together and got some information about the Air Force. (A year later we both had enlisted.)
It would have been a cool movie I think if Dave hadn’t gotten hurt, but them’s the breaks.