By Norris Chambers

             Kids sometimes do some crazy things and so do teen-agers. We might go so far as to say that grown-up folks do the same. But this tale is about teen-agers.

          Louis and I were room mates in the big city of Fort Worth in the mid thirties. We had come to the city on scholarships to attend Brantley-Draughon College and each of us had been promised that we could support ourselves by accepting jobs that could be found by the college. They did find jobs for us – Louis worked at the Moose Café and I labored at Bybee’s. Bybee’s was on Commerce directly across from the side entrance of the Palace Theater. We worked about an hour and a half at lunch time and about two hours during the evening meal.

            Since this was a Saturday we did not have classes at school and we had a little free time before we had to go to work. We left our bedroom on West 5th and walked downtown to see the sights. I suggested that we try to get to the top of one of the high buildings and see what the town looked like. Louis thought it was a good idea so we started looking up. One that appeared tall enough was located about 7th and Main. We went inside and approached the elevator operator.

            “We’d like to go to the top of the building and look around.” I told the old fellow standing at the controls.

            “You can’t get on the roof, and there’s no place to look out on the top floor.” he explained. We walked out a little disappointed and looked up toward the top of the building. On the outside I noticed the steel stairs zigzagging straight up to the top.

            “Do you see what I see, Louis?” I asked. “We can climb those stairs all the way up and get a good look – at least toward the east. I could see that he agreed. We walked up the alley where the stairway came to earth and noticed that it was about eight or ten feet to the end of a counter-balanced section that could be pulled down to climb.  It could also be used to exit the escape by walking out on the steps and waiting for it to extend slowly to the surface. Since I was a little taller and perhaps a little lighter Louis lifted me and I grabbed the end of the stairs. It descended smoothly and we began the climb. The section came up behind us and we continued the ascent.

            About three stories up the stairs opened on a flat graveled roof and continued the upward climb on the main section of the building. We leisurely strolled across the roof toward the stairs feeling quite proud of our ingenuity!

            Suddenly a window opened near the escape and a man stuck his head out. “Hey1” he yelled in an unkind voice, “Go back just like you came and I mean now!” We didn’t stay to argue with him and didn’t even discuss the situation between ourselves. We just turned around and started back down. We were about half way down when I saw the policeman standing where the alley opened on to the street. Before I could say anything a police car came down the alley from the other direction and stopped a few feet from the bottom of the stairs.  We continued the descent.

            We had barely stepped off of the stairway and let it begin its upward journey to its resting place when the two policemen from the car and the one from the street grabbed us and had us handcuffed together before we had time to think about the trouble we might be in. Before we could start to explain that we were just climbing the building to look at the town they pushed us into the back seat and drove way. I guess they took us to the police station. We were taken to a relatively small office where a middle aged man in uniform was seated at a desk.

            “Here’s the fire escape burglars. Caught ‘em coming down the stairs.” One or the policemen told him.

            “Oh, yeah!” he glanced up at us with a nasty scowl on his face. “We got some calls about you. Burglarizing an office building. Pretty serious business!”

            “Want me to lock ‘em up and hold ‘em for the judge?” asked the policeman. The man behind the desk then began a long lecture about how serious the burglary charge was and that we could get a lot of jail time for that. He asked us where we lived, what we did and a lot of other questions. We told him we were just wanting to look the town over and that we had no intention of stealing anything. Louis also told him that we had to go to work about eleven o’clock and that we needed to let our bosses know if we were not going to be able to get there.

            “What do you think we ought to do with them?” he asked the policeman. “I don’t think we could get a judge till Monday.”  Then he pointed his finger at us and said. “Don’t ever let us catch you going up a fire escape again. Only come down one in case of a fire or other emergency.” His final words were, “Take them back where you found them. I think they have learned their lesson.”

            That was the last fire escape I climbed. I don’t know about Louis because I never saw or heard from him after that summer. I have always thought a little more of policemen after that one didn’t have us locked up.

            A few weeks later I saw the city from the top of the Blackstone Hotel. Frequent trips to the top floor to see the radio shows enabled me to become friends with one of the building maintenance men who gave me a grand tour. I also saw Dallas from the tops of the Adolphus, the Baker, the Magnolia Building and others when I worked for an elevator maintenance and repair company after the war.

            I have been trying for many years to see where the fun was in that fire escape escapade! I think we will just say that the moral of this tale is to only go down fire escapes. Never up!