I was sick of this little sewer (beneath Cascade Park), and went ahead to scout, leaving my bulky gear behind, and wanted to see if there was any immediate satisfaction or else I would leave the creek until the summertime’s comfortable 60-degree waters... The pipe opened up into a medium-sized room with brickwork, stonework, waterfalls, and a skylight. “YEAH! Wow! Bring the camera, this just turned into one sexy drain!”I didn't even know that little drainage ditch had a name until after I had already left Duluth*, but it actually provided one of my favorite wintertime activities as a punk kid: sledding under the streets on ice. Clarkhouse appears just about from nothing a little south of Orange Street on the (since-developed) hillside, and back in the 70s, when it was cold enough to freeze the creek solid even in the tunnels under the street, we used to sled from as far up on the hillside as we could all the way down to Cascade Park.
You had to have one of those sleds with metal runners to really get the full enjoyment, because once you left Bernice's** yard (north side of Skyline) and went underground, there was no snow. With an angle of descent like Duluth enjoys, you could get some pretty good speed so long as the creek was really solid. Anyway, the tunnel under Skyline Parkway was gorgeous, hand-built in the last Depression out of cut stone. But the coolest thing about this tunnel was that the melting snow from Skyline would drip right down over the face of it and freeze solid, so there was always a huge curtain of ice covering the mouth that you had to work your way around.
At the south end of that tunnel you came out in Lisa Bouchard's*** yard for about 50 yards, then it was back under the alley (newer concrete pipe) then through Mary McMullen's yard. But when you got to 9th Street, that's when it got fun.
I mentioned that it had to be really cold to make this workable, and the pipe that ran from 9th Street, under the yard of a girl named Laura (I think) who was in my brother Mike's class and down to near the park we called "The Tornado Slide"****, was the reason. Nearly a city block long, it received a bit of warmth from the fact that it was underground, and very little of that cold Duluth wind made its way through. The result was that, on occasion, the frozen creek would have about a 1/2" of slush on top of it.
Now, you're a 9-year-old kid, hauling ass through a sewer tunnel on an ice sled, and after about half a block you run into an area of ice covered by about 1/2" of mostly-frozen sludge. It doesn't take more than 20' or so of that kind of sledding before your entire head and upper body looks and feels like it has been dipped in one of those 7-11 slushies. Can't see. Can't hear. Can't scream. Then when you finally came flying out of the tunnel, there was a pretty big dropoff (the tunnel exit was significantly above the ground here), piles of branches, knocked-over trees, old tires; pretty much everything you did not really want to hit, on a sled, when you couldn't see anything.
Yeah, it was awesome.
But just south of there, Clarkhouse went underground, beneath Mesaba Avenue - where the aforelinked adventure begins - and beneath Cascade Park, a place where I almost killed myself one time by making a sled jump out of a picnic table.
But that is another story.
* And I was incredulous when I discovered what it was, because I had a friend named Clark who lived one house away from it. Probably just a coincidence.
** Bernice was this crazy bag lady who was about 150 years old and still had an outhouse in the the early 80s. She's long dead now but her house is still there, abandoned. She never mowed her yard but would set it on fire as soon as the grass dried and all the neighborhood kids would come "help" her put it out. Then the fire department would come and really put it out. Then she'd set it on fire again.
*** the hot younger cousin of Joey Bouchard, who was in my class. Lisa never talked to me. Ever.
**** It has a real name, but like many things in Duluth, I don't know it because I always thought my names for stuff were better anyway.