The Gravel Pit
Trespassing at Killins
by Matt Phillips
I recently watched Stand By Me, Rob Reiner's film based on a Stephen King novella, and experienced a sense of deja vu. I couldn't figure out why until a few days later, when I needed to turn around on Wagner Road. Just past Liberty, I pulled into the entrance to Krull Construction's gravel pit. Then it hit me--this used to be Killins! My friends and I used to go to the Killins gravel pit on Sundays in the summer and fall, when it was closed. The four of us were trespassing, just like the four friends in Stand By Me, and we had been forbidden to go there by our parents, which made it even more enticing.
We grew up in Lakewood, the subdivision that sits between Jackson and Liberty on the west side of town. When we were younger, we were happy playing in its namesake lakes and woods. But when we got to be eleven or twelve, we wanted to extend our horizons and go outward.
We got to the gravel pit by cutting through the schoolyard and then through the field behind it, where another neighborhood is now. And then--our most daunting task--we'd run across Liberty Road, dodging the cars that zipped by at forty miles an hour. We had a few close calls, but we always made it.
I still remember the first time we climbed the steep hill up to the ridge of the pit: sand as far as we could see. We were sitting there taking it in, when Norm, one of my more adventuresome friends, suggested if we jumped off the edge, the sand would be soft enough to absorb our fall. We resisted at first, and then Norm decided to leap, and his fifty-foot fall was indeed broken by the sand pile below. Even though the climb back up to the top was exhausting, we continued to jump off the ridge for the rest of the afternoon. I've never tried bungee
jumping, but the sensation must be similar.
We did this the rest of the summer. We had so much fun on Sundays that we decided to try a Saturday, too. We got to the pit early and found a skeet-shooting club taking target practice at the bottom of the pit, near the area where the trucks were loaded during the week. We watched them until noon, when they left, along with the gravel pit crew.
We went down to where they'd been shooting and saw that a lot of the clay pigeons were still intact. There were a couple of empty boxes, and I loaded all of the targets into them. We carried the boxes back up to the top of the pit, hid them behind some trees, and resumed our jumping and diving off the rim for a few more hours.
The next day we brought our pellet and BB guns and took turns throwing the targets up in the air for the others to shoot at. When we missed, they would land in the sand below, allowing us to reuse them yet again. It was as much fun as the sand jumping.
In the next few years we grew bolder. On Saturday nights we'd camp out on the rim of the pit, building a fire in an indented area that couldn't be seen from the road. You would never think that a meal of hot dogs, Kool-Aid, and Twinkies could be so good. We could also see the sky better away from the neighborhood lights. I loved lying there looking at the stars, and we saw quite a few shooting stars as well. I had no idea I could be this happy without a TV in front of me.
At age fifteen we all bought motocross dirt bikes. If there was a better place to ride motorcycles off-road than Killins, we hadn't seen it. We got away with riding them there, but one fall day, the police came flying in. With only one road into the pit, and very steep hills on all sides, we had nowhere to run. We were busted.
We all received $30 tickets and were told to not come back or we would be prosecuted. We thought it was pretty fair treatment, considering that we had been blatantly trespassing for a few years. It was mid-October, and there was only so much good riding weather left, so we paid the tickets and let it go.
The next year we turned sixteen and could legally ride our bikes on the road to reach other dirt tracks. That spring, riding out Liberty to the trails behind the Huron Valley Swim Club, I noticed that someone had installed a cyclone fence around the perimeter of the Killins pit. "Bummer," I thought. "I guess it's closed to us for good."
It didn't bother me much then. Like everyone who has ever turned sixteen, I was loving the freedom of being able to go places without having my parents drive me.
Like the friends in Stand By Me, the four of us went our separate ways not long after that October forty years ago. But that day in Krull Construction's driveway, I remembered our youthful excitement and how much the place once meant to us.
As I turned my car around, Bob Seger's "Back in '72" came on the radio. That was kind of spooky.
[Originally published in October, 2012.]