Navigation Lift Bridge (Tule Lake)

The old lift bridge in the bay bay area off Navigation is long gone. When it was taken down I honestly do not know, no one consulted me. It is in a area of Corpus Christi few people would bother to go to, not on tourist maps, Chamber of Commerce never mentioned it, just if you had ever seen it, wanted to go back to see it work. Real blue collar area back there, not sure when all that area north of Up River Road cleaned out but it is. Last time I was in Corpus Christi was 2016 and was driving around for no reason with my family boring them to death. This area was several miles from where I grew up at corner of Doss & Antelope street near Port & Leopard. I was as a kid, fascinated by trains as we lived next to the Missouri Pacific train tracks that ran along side Coca Cola, across Leopard to rail yard. And I spent a LOT of time in that area chasing slow moving big ass blue freight trains with my dog Bootsy happily tagging along.

So the area near the lift bridge was a natural for me. As my dad would have said 'knock out two birds with one stone'. One day my dad, mom, brother Tommy & me loaded up Rambler station wagon as we were prone to do. Not sure when this 'habit' started, but we would go gas up, drive around everywhere, sometimes out towards Cabiness Field, and the two lane blacktop of Saratoga, other times Flour Bluff, yet other times to Portland, Calallen, Rockport, Sinton, even Alice and Realitos, just looking at stuff to get out of the house. Was nice, cheap escape. So when we ended up near the old lift bridge we would park, watch the trains, momma might read paper, but we would watch trains, and if got lucky, bridge poles come down, lights flash, and bridge go up and ship pass into Nueces river from I guess port. It was WAY back there, not sure how they never got stuck, seemed the river went back to Odom.

How did the bridge support those trains? Some of the trains were carrying what looked like iron ore, must be a ton on there (was actually hundreds of tons ha ha) but to a kid, man, that had to weight more than brother Tommy! We watched in awe sometimes glancing at the refineries just to west, many of them belching different types and colors of smoke. My dad thrilled us by driving slowly over the bridge, we would open doors and look down into the brackish water the bias ply tires making a RRRRRRRRRRRRR scary noise as we went over. Speed limit was something like 20 miles per hour, our Rambler would do THAT. Momma hated that bridge and would stare straight ahead as we slowly drove across, my dad sometimes scare her and take hands off wheel and say SARAH LOOK OUT OF CONTROL!! and God knows she probably though we were going to drop down and never be heard from again. She convinced him several times to NOT go back across, so we would have to drive over thru the refineries and silos, it is one of the most industrial places I had ever seen, so we drive thru there, to harbor bridge and come up from north beach.

There were a number of people who drove off this bridge my dad said, mostly drunks. At one time, along Up River Road in 60s/70s there was Savage elementary, a good looking little school, and across from its baseball field was a small bar my dad's brother, Uncle Punk (real name) used to go get drunk there, Hamms, Schlitz, Pearl Light, Falstaff & Lone Star, not in that order, but his Top Five Main Food Group. I do not remember the name of the little white wooden house bar, maybe Louies or Mel's something. Nothing says dive like smell of urine & stale beer & old smokes. Same could be said for the Lucky Lady on Leopard which was block from our house, as kids, we poked head inside, there was no Ladys and sure as hell no one ever got Lucky. But in this old 'Uncle Punks' bar, we stopped in with my dad, who didn't drink, as only place he could ever find Punk. Tommy & me played with the pool table balls, checks out the cigarette machine pull the handles and barmaid got us some Lance cheese crackers and Sprites to nibble on. Damn that place smelled weird, would recognize smell years later though at other bars!

Across street was a big golf course. My dad had said that people who fell into the Nueces river off this bridge were drunks from Uncle Punks' hangout or many of the little cantinas that littered this area across from the refineries, I believe Aramco was the biggest. Might have name wrong. There was a store across from the refineries, possibly Fuedo's, sold beer, also tacos, chicken, tacos, really good store I would later frequent when I went to Corpus Christi Academy on Lantana.

As I got to be a teen & driving, sometimes we would go back there just to watch ships go under the bridge. That job had to be lonelier than the Maytag washer guy's job. Sit in booth. Wait for ship. Lift bridge. One time several of us walked over and guy came down. Was nice but he thought we were going to try to break into his car. Well....maybe if he DIDN'T come down, but we talked about how often ship came thru (several day, sometimes up to 10), how much he got paid (at time he said $15 a hour, if so, wow!), did he have girlfriend or wife in there with him (wasn't allowed with chuckle!). And to our amazement, a train came past slowly, so we got to hear the old bridge creak and groan under its sheer weight, was not long train about 20 cars. But seeing it up close when you have seen it only from afar, was special. We didn't ask him how many people died falling into water. And before train came he had to go to little office in bridge and do something, the sticks came down, tons of red lights flashing, lots of bells, cool.

It is too bad that many people will not get to experience this forlorn part of town and the cool lift bridge. While Texas & Corpus Christi is dropping almost a billion dollars on new harbor bridge, maybe they will expand port back into this are and put up a 'futuristic' lift bridge or maybe just a ferry would be nice chump change! Just forgottten now though.

The old lift bridge 'official name' was Tule Lake' but never heard anyone call it that whole time I lived in Corpus Christi. While we would quietly sit and watch the huge cement blocks go down, the bridge go up! The train had own sets of stop lights called semaphores. It was here when I was a kid my dad taught me to tape pennies and nails & tape them to railroad track.Train runs over it have super flattened pennies and small nails end up looking like King Arthur's sword. I would take these to Cathedral & sell them for nickel each. But mine were made at the Missouri Pacific train track block from house on Antelope later.

Hope Corpus Christi powers that be will reinvest in this area of Up river Road & Navigation & get some improvements, big tax base back there with refineries, purdee up them roads again! If you do get over into this area now, Navigation is a dead end. Park and walk around, the serenity of this area is matched only by it's loneliness. You might see a fisherman or two casting his net into water for chum minnow bait. Others stand silently waiting for next bite. I never figured out where the fresh water begins and salt water begins, not scientist, am old car restorer guy you know. Check out the rail road tracks, several of them with splitters to go in different directions. Good sized rocks, the various noises coming from the refineries like hoots, bells, whistles & clanks is only broken by the occasional gull flying by laughing, or the kee-kee-kee screech of a sandpiper. So a cacophony of neat sounds, best to enjoy this area in the dusk when setting sun.

Photos: Photo #1 Desolate, now gone, old lift bridge with a train fixing to go to other side of Navigation. The train had its own little drop down railroad DO NOT CROSS gate with red flashing lights.

Photo #2 lift bridge up in air, check out the tonnage of cement blocks 1/2 way up. The bridge operator Chevrolet El Camino in foreground. A line of cars enjoy the show behind it on Navigation.

Photo #3 from the salt marsh where critters live, a large tanker makes way under bridge.

Photo #4 rare photo of bunch of Stakes. Ironically Tommy ended up in small duplex house directly behind Bill Miller BBQ corner of Leopard & Navigation, or behind Thunderbird Drive Inn years later. About 1.5 miles south of the lift bridge. But he never went to see it again after we were kids, unlike me. Lou's Saloon in background. Bottom: Tommy's daughters Sarah & Chelsea. Back row left to right: Tommy, our dad Homer, my wife Paige, my daughter & son from my previous marriage Jennifer & Jason and me on right.

 

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