AUBURN — A word of advice for wintertime driving: If you see Bill Hamilton standing at the side of Goff Hill and waving his arms at you, mind your driving. He’s not just being friendly — Hamilton is trying to keep you from slipping and sliding into oblivion.

Trust us, he knows plenty about the driving conditions on Goff Hill. He’s seen things happen. Strange things.

“When there’s a really good storm,” Hamilton says, “you just know something interesting is going to happen on that hill.”

Living in the V of Court and Lake streets, very close to Goff Hill’s first peak, Hamilton has arguably the greatest view in all of Lewiston-Auburn. From his porches, from his kitchen, from the bedrooms and even from a bathroom, Hamilton and his family have an almost omnipotent view of the Twin Cities.

There’s the entirety of Lewiston’s Bates Mill complex sprawling off into infinity. There’s the spire of Lewiston City Hall with its funky lights and, farther up, the towering majesty of the Basilica. Off to the left is the vast Central Maine Medical Center and in between is the dense, twinkling cluster of downtown Lewiston.

And, of course, there’s the long slash of Court Street, the Longley Bridge and Main Street, Lewiston, beyond it. That’s where most of the action happens – Hamilton can see for miles beyond his windows, but the craziest stuff tends to happen right outside his door.

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FOURTH TIME’S A CHARM?

Hamilton recalls one storm that was mostly ice. He was out in his driveway next to Lake Street, where it intersects with Court Street, when he noticed that the roads had become slick.

“I watched a car coming down Lake Street. His brakes were locked and he was just coming and coming,” Hamilton recalls. “He wasn’t coming at high speed, but those brakes were locked and he just couldn’t do anything. Just as he went by me, the car swerved off. He went up onto the sidewalk just beyond me. The guy got out, he’s looking around and you could tell it was one of those, ‘Oh by God, I’m alive’ moments.

“He was standing there just so relieved. Then he looked up the hill and I looked, too. There was another car coming down the hill. The first guy tried to run around to the other side of his car. He couldn’t run too well because it was all ice. And this car is coming down, down, down that hill. It passes me and now it’s coming toward that car that had just went up onto the bank. But then it veers off to the left, goes up onto the sidewalk and then off the sidewalk and onto the side of the lawn at my neighbor’s. So then that guy gets out and the two of them are standing there like, ‘Oh, my Lord this is scary.’

“Meanwhile,” Hamilton continues, “I had started working my way back up Lake Street so I could try to stop people coming down that hill. I was about halfway up when I saw another car coming. I was waving my arms, trying to tell him to just be cautious. Then the car passes me and THEIR brakes are locked. He went down and started to veer over toward the first car and then toward the second car. He somehow missed both of those cars and went into the driveway just beyond the second car. So that guy stops and he gets out. Now the three of them are standing there and going, ‘Oh, wow. We didn’t hit each other. Wow, what luck!'”

With three disabled cars practically in his front yard, Hamilton scrambled to the top of Lake Street hill so he could warn other drivers. He was almost there, too, when things took a turn.

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“Another car came over with a little more speed,” Hamilton says. “I was waving my arms again. I had both arms going. But this person I knew, and as he came by, he just waved at me. I was like, ‘No, no, no! Stop, stop, stop!’ But he didn’t. He just kept coming. So he went down the hill and he managed to hit all three of those cars.”

When Hamilton scrambled back down the icy hill, he was confronted by his friend who had just crashed.

“He says, ‘Bill! I thought you were just waving at me!'”

AUBURN’S BERMUDA TRIANGLE

Freakish things tend to happen on the steep stretch of Court Street in front of Hamilton’s home. A lot of the time, everything works out fine – Hamilton has seen cars slip off Court Street in slick conditions, weaving backward between phone poles and fire hydrants only to come out unscathed at the bottom of the hill.

But possibly the strangest things to happen on the hill are the disappearances. Cars vanishing in the middle of the bright blue day. Hamilton recalls an afternoon in 1989 when his wife and daughter had stopped home briefly on their way to run an errand.

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Hamilton’s wife, Fran, was the first to discover the mystery.

“She went out to the driveway. She looked around and then ran back inside saying, ‘Hey. Where’s our car?'” Hamilton says. “They went back out there and sure enough, the car was gone. They couldn’t imagine what had happened. Did somebody steal it?

“What happened was, the car had rolled back out of the driveway, turned up Lake Street and then went forward down Lake Street. The car got to Court Street, went down across Court Street, never hitting anything, coasted its way down to right above Goff Street.”

The car crossed the road at that point into the oncoming lane, Hamilton remembers, but there was no traffic and the car continued unimpeded. It rolled onto a sidewalk, scraping a fire hydrant and a row of hedges, and then finally came to rest on the porch of a big apartment house.

As it happens, Hamilton’s son was working at the water district across the street from where the car stopped.

“He thought some fool had parked his car on the front porch across the street,” Hamilton recalls. “Then he says, ‘Hey, that looks like our car.'”

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By then the police and fire department were at the scene. When Hamilton’s son looked up toward home, he saw his mother coming down Goff Hill, frantically searching for her car.

Fluke, one-time mishap? Not on Goff Hill. A short time after the Hamilton car made its solo journey down the hill, Hamilton recalls a neighbor who ran out onto the street, hollering that his car was missing.

Again, they wondered if a thief was afoot. Again, the neighbors searched high and low for the car. Finally, Hamilton’s youngest son found the car concealed beneath a lilac bush on the other side of the road.

“It had rolled right across Court Street,” Hamilton says, “without hitting anything.”

SLIP SLIDIN’ AWAY

Hamilton swears he doesn’t spend all his waking hours looking out his windows and waiting for the action to happen. But when snow or cold rain starts to fall, Hamilton knows what’s coming. He’ll hear tires spinning against wet roads. He’ll see traffic backing up down Goff Hill, across Longley Bridge and all the way up Main Street in Lewiston when the weather is really bad.

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“I don’t dedicate hours to doing this,” Hamilton says, “but there are times and there are moments when it’s highly entertaining – as long as nobody is getting hurt.”

Crashes on Goff Hill tend to be messy. Injuries are apparently rare, but when they happen, it’s tricky business for emergency crews.

Hamilton recalls a storm years ago in which the driver of a car crashed part way up the hill. With roads slick, police, fire and rescue crews parked their vehicles at the bottom of the hill and then inched their way on foot toward the injured party in the disabled car.

“They finally extricated the individual from that car and put them on a stretcher,” Hamilton says. “They got them out to the middle of Court Street and they raised the stretcher just a little bit. Everybody was down on their knees around the stretcher. The whole contingent just slid down the hill, on their knees, just cradling that stretcher.”

But it’s not just all foul weather and accidents. In the winter, Hamilton says he can look out the window and practically tell the temperature by how much smoke is coming out the chimneys he sees from his perch.

When the community celebrates the Fourth of July with fireworks, Hamilton has an awesome view from the comfort of his kitchen, living room or study.

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When buildings burn in downtown Lewiston, Hamilton can see the flames lighting up the night. In 2013, when an arson spree saw three apartment houses burn in Lewiston, Hamilton could see the orange glow of destruction from his many windows.

And when trains tip over . . . Yes, the Hamiltons can also see the railroad tracks that cross Court Street at the bottom of Goff Hill, near Denny’s restaurant. Hamilton remembers a day in the 1980s when his wife noticed a disruption down there along the tracks.

“She says, ‘Bill, the train seems to be stopped on the tracks down there by Denny’s.’ And I said, ‘It’s stopped, yes. But it’s also tipped over.’ The train had gone off the tracks. Five or six cars had tipped over. They were on their sides and wheels were all over the street.”

An architect, Hamilton bought the 1840s farmhouse (at one point, 22 people lived there) in 1976, ultimately gutting and then rebuilding the home to make it his own. He raised his three children there. Sometime in the early 1980s, the Hamilton family began a tradition of putting up one of the most visible Christmas trees in all of Lewiston-Auburn. (See related story.)

“It’s not a fancy house,” Hamilton says. “But it sure is a fun house to live in.”

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A frosty view of a car trying to climb Goff Hill in Auburn from one of Bill Hamilton’s many windows facing Court Street. The lights are a reflection of his Christmas tree in the background. (Bill Hamilton photo)

Bill Hamilton’s house on Goff Hill, where a two-story Christmas tree can be seen from the street every year. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

Bill Hamilton’s house on Goff Hill, where a two-story Christmas tree can be seen from the street. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

The driver of the truck laid down on Court Street to secure a rope around the axle of this disabled car during a winter storm earlier in the year. “Meanwhile, other cars are just flying by,” Bill Hamilton says. “Had anybody hit that truck, that poor schmuck that was lying down on the ground trying to get that rope around the axle would have been toast.” It’s the kind of action Hamilton sees all winter long from his home on Goff Hill. (Bill Hamilton photo)

Bill Hamilton has a front-row seat to what unfolds on Goff Hill in Auburn. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

An Auburn police officer talks to a motorist who got stuck in the middle of Goff Hill in Auburn in 2013. (Sun Journal file photo)

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The Christmas tree in the home of Bill Hamilton on Goff Hill in Auburn. (Bill Hamilton photo)

Hamiltons need pulleys, ropes for prominent Christmas tree

A few years after Bill Hamilton and his family moved into their big brick home on Goff Hill, a neighbor came to him with a problem.

He had bought a 12-foot Christmas tree, had the neighbor, and then discovered it was too big to fit inside his home.

Hamilton took the tree and placed it near their main door looking out over Court Street, where it intersects with Lake Street. His family liked the tree there, sure enough, but there was one problem. Even at 12 feet, it wasn’t tall enough.

“They said it has to go all the way to the ceiling,” Hamilton says.

Hamilton agreed to those terms and the following Christmas, he brought home a 16-foot tree, using manpower, ropes and pulleys to guide it into place.

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Every year since, the Hamiltons have erected and decorated a 16-foot Christmas tree that’s perhaps one of the most observable in all of Lewiston-Auburn.

How many lights are required to trim a 16-foot tree? More than 4,000, not to mention the manpower.

“It takes us a week,” Hamilton says.

Once decorated, the Hamiltons don’t simply plug in the lights and set Goff Hill ablaze with Christmas cheer.

“We have to wait until there are no cars on the hill before we turn it on,” Hamilton says. “That was my wife’s idea. They can’t see us turn the lights on or off.”

Hamilton has a system for getting the big tree into his house year after year, and for raising it up. But things don’t always go smoothly.

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“One year, we had a hard time of it,” Hamilton recalls. “We just kept pulling and pulling and pulling, but it just would not come through the door. . . . Then I looked back and discovered that the tree was still tied to the truck.”

— Mark LaFlamme

Someone seen snowshoeing up Goff Hill in Auburn across from Bill Hamilton’s house. (Bill Hamilton photo)

A truck can be seen plowing a single lane through snow near the top of Court Street in Auburn following a storm in 1952. The street, particularly the steep incline from Minot Avenue up Goff Hill, has been historically difficult for travelers during winter, when ice and snow make it challenging and treacherous. (Gary Cadman photo

Snow piles up next to the garage at the home of Bill Hamilton, who lives on Goff Hill in Auburn and who has seen all kinds of mishaps on the slippery hill in the winter. (Bill Hamilton photo)

A Western Express truck is seen earlier this winter outside Auburn resident Bill Hamilton’s window on Goff Hill. The truck is being winched up the hill by Greeley’s Garage towing service after the tractor-trailer became stuck on the hill. When Greeley’s could not tow the truck up the hill, workers moved the tractor-trailer a few yards at a time using two winches attached to the tow truck. (Bill Hamilton photo)

The view from Bill Hamilton’s second-floor window looks out over Goff Hill on Court Street in Auburn. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

The snowy view looking down Goff Hill from Bill Hamilton’s home on Court Street in Auburn has a much more daunting feel when looking up the hill as a motorist. (Bill Hamilton photo)


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