I miss General Shanks.

By that, I don’t mean I miss Jay County’s sole Civil War general and member of Congress. John P.C. Shanks sounds like a formidable character in local history, but I never really got to know him. Aside from an equally formidable rock on the courthouse lawn, the general doesn’t have much of a presence in the 21st century.

When I say I miss General Shanks, I am referring to the elementary school.

And when I say I miss the elementary school, I am not referring to the 1960s-era structure along Boundary Pike in Portland that is now home to administrative offices and the Jay Schools pre-school program.

I am referring to the old, somewhat scary, pile of bricks that used to stand along Meridian Street, Gothic relic of a much earlier era.

It was, as were most school buildings constructed in the late 19th and early 20th century in Indiana, a firetrap.

Built of wood, it was clad in bricks. Had a fire started, it would essentially become a chimney. The same sort of construction was used for the original Judge Haynes School, a three-story structure that was razed when I was in sixth grade. The Haynes building was so goofy in its design that the gymnasium was on the top floor. As students played basketball, the ceilings bounced in the classrooms below.

Both the Haynes and the original Shanks building were collections of kindling and kids, surrounded by walls of bricks.

Fortunately, that enormous design flaw was never put to the test.

And there were some safety measures implemented.

One of those safety measures is what I miss this fall.

Every year, General Shanks Elementary — in the old brick building — would have its Fall Festival. And every year it was a magnet for kids all over town.

The reason: The fire escape.

Someone had decided, back in the era of criminally faulty school design, that the thing to do was attach a giant tube to the side of the building. In the case of a little thing like a life-threatening inferno, school children could be directed to a hole in the wall of one of the classrooms. It was, as I recall, about 30 inches in diameter.

In you go, down you go and you have ridden the fire escape slide to safety.

And while it sounds pretty iffy from a fire safety standpoint today, at the Shanks Fall Festival it was the coolest thing ever.

After all, my school was a boring one-story thing of concrete block and brick with fire escape doors from every single classroom.

How boring!

Shanks had a veritable amusement ride attached to the building, not all that different from something you’d encounter at a fun house at Indian Lake at Russell’s Point in Ohio.

So, each October, kids made their way — on foot or by bicycle — to that Gothic brick pile for a ride down the slide.

As I recall, the entrance to the slide was in a third grade classroom.

(I’ll rely upon my old buddy Ron Cole, who spent some time at Shanks, to correct my memory. He often does that.)

You had to buy tickets. They may have been a nickel or a dime apiece. Not much, but if your weekly allowance was a quarter, it took a bite.

Then you had to climb up the wooden staircase — unlike anything you’d find at my school — and hand over the necessary tickets. My recollection is that it cost 15 cents, which meant my allowance was only going to give me one slide down the tube.

There was a fun house of some sort, and then it was down the slide, through the darkness of the tube and out into the October night.

A cheap thrill? Maybe.

But it was a thrill just the same.

And it’s why I miss General Shanks every October.