Friday, January 29, 2016

Tales of a Flint River Rat

Reposting from May 31, 2008.

Gerry Godin remembers his harrowing adventures on the Flint River in the days when kids could have unscheduled, unsupervised fun and bike helmets were not required:
The area of Gray and Maxson was my old neighborhood. We were known as "river rats" by the city kids.

My friends' houses down there are gone now. One of my old friends was caught off guard when it flooded in the '70s, and I don't think he even had time to move his car.

I probably was gone by the time of the yellow cloud, but does anybody remember when the river became florescent green in the late '60s? It looked just like the fake water in a View-Master slide. We followed it back to "Chevy in the Hole" and it was still being discharged when we got there.

We used to walk down the middle of the river all the way to downtown at the Saginaw Street bridge when the buildings were still built on the bridge. The river was most shallow in the middle with the deep spots near the bank.

One time when we were bored we came up with a game where we all put "dares" in a hat and drew them out. One kid had to swim across the river in high flood with ice flows and he almost drowned. My way of saving him was a bit odd but it worked. I dove in and got him to the opposite shore and, not wanting to walk two miles back, we dove back in with him holding my neck. We made it but were carried by the strong current almost to the I-75 overpass. I knew better because my father always helped drag the river for bodies and even got on the front page of The Flint Journal once.

Another time some of us got stuck during flood time on one of the I-75 bridge foundations and we had to be rescued. I remember it was shown on channel 5 news.

Being a river rat I have many stories.


  1. My mom tells me she used to regularly swim in the Flint River, but that was back in the '30s and early '40s.

  2. I remember hearing about the river turning green and never knew if it was just a myth or not. Learning now that it actually originated at Chevy in the Hole clears up any doubt. It makes me wonder about the long-term effects of eating Flint River carp - I shudder to think. And lucky for Gerry and us he was rescued - now he's around to tell us his stories...

    Regarding the Viewmaster - I still have my mine! Actually it was my older sister's, but I sort of made it my own. It wasn't that fancy red color, though, it was greyish-brown. I also still have some dinosaur, woodland animal and I think possibly some Disney reels somewhere at my parents' house. Well, yeah, they were probably my sister's, too, but I still have fond memories of it all.

  3. This photo looking east at the Chevy power house is great. The photographer would be standing on the ledge were I used to eat my lunch when I would work weekends at factory #5 which was the factory that cut bearing caps and did the machine work on the engine blocks; both V8 & 6. When you entered this factory you would come out looking like a performer in a minstrel show. There was a tunnel under Chevrolet avenue connecting with factory #4 the engine plant where I worked for 8 months in 1973-1974. That was the famous plant that the strikers pulled the diversionary tactics so they could shut down all of G.M. during the sitdown strike. My station on the straight six line had a high water mark that showed where the river height was when it was at it's highest flood stage. Off the subject a little; we used to collect golf balls from out of the river and the golfers loved to buy them back. I don't remember now which hole it was but it was near the eastern most suspension bridge that the players had to drive their balls across the river and that was our spot. They also teed off across the river near the other bridge but that spot never yielded enough lost balls. I'm not sure it's safe to take your kids down to play at Mott now but I have many pictures with mine down there. I always loved the tunnel going from the park to the golf course and clubhouse. Here is a nice history of Mott park but you can only view it in html version

    1. Gary:
      I grew up a block and a half from the river in Mott Park but NEVER swan in it. A young boy from the neighborhood, Donny Holister, drown playing in the water and my mother scared the bejessus out of me from the time I was old enough to understand. The river always seemed sinister after that and seems so still, for obvious reasons.
      I started playing golf at Mott Park when I was 10 or 11. Green fees for 9 holes was $0.65 for Juniors. There was an old guy who fished balls out of the water and resold them, who we called Johnny Golfball. You teed off over the river at holes 3,5,6, and 9. It was the only hazard of any kind on the course; there were no sand trap and the flag pins were 1 inch wooden dowels. I think you are probably referring to hole number 6, the shortest on the course, which was the most golfball rich environment.

  4. Hey Redgirl I also collect old view master's. I have about a dozen different models. I even have a Mickey Mouse one.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at