By Junior Johnson
Many people have memories of the old Shell Beach Bridge and Grand Ecore Pipeline from the 60s-70s, beyond what they were designed for.
During those days we were carefree, full of adventure and feeling indestructible. How we made it through is beyond me. I believe everyone has a Guardian Angel, most of the time.
As a student at Northwestern State College (NSC) in 1965, it didn’t take me long to find where the action.
Natchitoches didn’t have nightclubs and bars like larger college towns. We had Shell Beach, an unlikely place because it was a boat launch to Cane River Lake by a bridge. I was disappointed when I first saw the place after hearing so many stories. It didn’t take long to change my mind. It was the most “happening” place around.
At NSC women were told Shell Beach was “off limits,” and if seen there, they were subject to demerits and possible “Strict-Campus,” which meant they couldn’t leave Campus except with parents or for Church. House Mothers would send their Dorm Monitors to check out that terrible place to see if their girls were there.
There was one activity that was on the minds of everyone: jumping off Shell Beach Bridge. Why someone wanted to jump off a bridge didn’t make sense to me, but people did it.
There were two levels to jump from: the road and the top of the structure. The top seemed a “right of passage.” When one boasted they jumped off Shell Beach Bridge, the next question was always, “Road or Top?”
I watched friends make the plunge, but it never interested me. They would try to encourage me to jump, but I never found the courage. As a young man I was a bit embarrassed that I couldn’t accomplish what seemed to be easy for everyone else.
It didn’t take long to regain my self-esteem.
On the other side of town was the Grand Ecore Bridge crossing the Red River. On the opposite side of the bridge was a big gas pipeline. It was many times higher than the Shell Beach Bridge.
I’d heard stories of people walking across the pipeline, but assumed it was workers for the pipeline company. Surely no sane individual would do this just for fun.
Somehow I found the idea of walking the pipeline interesting.
After discussing the pros and cons, a plan was made. Armed with flashlights and nothing more, myself and two of Fraternity Brothers, slowly began our trek. For some insane reason I volunteered to be the leader.
About halfway from where our journey began, we noticed the ground seemed so far away. Our nerves began to get jittery. Soon we were over the water and noticed the wind picked up and there appeared to be a swaying action on the pipeline.
Trying to find humor in the situation I suggested we could jump. A round of laughter followed and one of my brothers said, “Well the fall would kill us so it doesn’t matter.” There was no laughter then, only silence and a swaying bridge.
Our downward trek was much livelier and our confidence grew with each step. At the bottom platform, we said a prayer to God for watching over us on this foolish expedition. It took us almost two hours to make the walk.
To celebrate we went to our favorite spot, Duty’s Pizza House. We ordered several pitchers of beer and a couple of Russell Duty’s delicious pizzas, and began telling our story to all who would listen.
I never jumped off the Shell Beach Bridge, but I did walk the Grand Ecore Pipeline.
I suppose my manhood was intact.