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Alan Pardo (left) and Richard (Dick) Pardo used the Kenmore log boom as a frequent playground in the late 1930s. Photo courtesy of Alan Pardo

The Foreigners; or, Life on the Log Boom

An excerpt from Kenmore By the Lake, A Community History

Contributed by Alan Pardo

When my brother Dick and I lived on the shore of Lake Washington, between Lake Forest Park and Kenmore, each summer was one long adventure on the lake for us and our friends, like Roland Lindstrom, and Gene and John Pepper.

We grew up in the late 1930s when steam locomotives pulled log-laden flatcars to Kenmore. The cars would be slowly backed out on the trestle above the lake, and the logs would be tumbled into the water with a thunderous sound that could be heard for miles. The resulting log booms were our playground.

Once or twice a week, we rowed a boat or paddled a canoe out to the booms to swim, or to pick up slabs of fir bark to dry in our yards for fireplace use the following winter. But what we loved to do was roll the giant Douglas fir logs. Once in a while, a boom man would holler at us to get off the booms, but mostly we were left in peace.

There is a subtle democracy associated with living next to a body of water: everyone, rich or poor, shares the same playground. My brother and I as preteens were as at home in, on, and along the shores of the lake as any city kids were at their urban playground.

City kids were truly foreigners, whether they were visiting for the day or moving into our neighborhood. For starters, their feet were all wrong, especially if they arrived after we had been on summer vacation for a couple of weeks. By then, the soles of our feet had toughened so that we no longer walked gingerly over gravel or dry grass stubble. The dainty way that city kids picked their way along a road or over a dry lawn instantly betrayed their foreignness.

After four weeks of summer, we were ashamed to be seen with the city kids. We were well on our way to our summer tan. The more dark-skinned we were, the prouder we were. In swimsuits, our city counterparts looked like naked white grubs, exposed and vulnerable under the hot sun. And at the oars of a boat, they were hopeless! Rowing a boat was as easy as walking for us, but they sat waving the oars in the air, sometimes hitting the water, sometimes not, while the boat turned this way and that.

Our special places were not necessarily special to city kids, either. I took two kids, new arrivals in our area, on a tour of the local swamp in our rowboat. The deeper we penetrated among the tall reeds and cattails, the more nervous they became. Finally, they forced me to turn back just before we got to the most fun place: the log booms.

Down from the hills and mountains the logs came on flatcars to float quietly on the lake, corralled by the slender logs chained end to end that were called boom sticks. Playing on these log booms could be tricky, and I don’t ever remember taking a city kid onto a boom. The boom sticks grew a thin coating of gray algae, slippery as grease underfoot.

Many of the logs were probably from old-growth trees, mostly Douglas firs, as big around as a Volkswagen bus. Any given log floated with a preferred side up, and if rolled slightly, would roll back when released. Even a nine-year-old could tip a floating log that weighted many tons by standing a little off-center, partway down one side of the log. The bark of a Douglas fir has deep furrows easily gripped by small bare feet.

If I switched quickly to the other side of the log, it rolled in the other direction. Just as a child can make a swing go higher and higher, so the log could be made to roll over farther and farther each time until, hesitating just a second, it rolled ponderously over all the way.

The once-majestic forest giant turned faster and faster under bare feet, and the deep crenellations in the bark made slurp, slurp, slurp sounds as they hit the water. What better way to show the city kids just how foreign they were?

When I reached the age of fifteen, disaster struck. My family moved—to the city! Rowing a boat or rolling a log now were useless skills. I had never learned to play baseball well because there was no room for that along the lakeshore. Shooting baskets through a hoop fastened to a telephone pole under a bare streetlight, with other kids jabbing their elbows into my ribs, was not fun.

From our front door, the view was of a small strip of grass, a concrete sidewalk, a street, and more houses much like ours. The lake stretching into the distance, always the same but always different, was gone. Now I was the foreigner in a truly alien land.

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