Joseph’s dream came true. In the early 1960s, when his sons Robb and Larry were little, he designed and built an old-fashioned country bridge with a two-lane roadway, a set of railroad tracks and a sidewalk. It was 36 inches long, constructed out of fiberboard, balsa wood and copper at the dining room table of their Alexandria home.
The hand-built truss bridge slotted into the family’s HO-scale train set, which covered two large sheets of plywood and included mountains and towns.
The bridge became a fixture. “It was like looking at a family heirloom or painting,” Robb said.
Eventually, Joseph took the train set down and donated the bridge to a local Boy Scout troop.
“For years and years, whenever I’d cross a similar bridge, I’d think about the model,” Robb said.
In the late 1990s, Larry was bicycling on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail when he passed the old train depot in Vienna that houses the headquarters of Northern Virginia Model Railroaders.
“I peered in the window and, lo and behold, I saw our bridge in a case,” Larry said. “I recognized it right away.”
The museum was closed. Larry went back when it was open and offered to buy the bridge. The museum docent was happy to hand it over and suggested that Larry make a donation to the club, which he did.
Now the decades-old bridge is at Robb’s house in Fairfax. Said Robb: “Every time I look at it, I think I need to put it in a glass case.”
When Tim Ralston of Kensington golfs, he always marks his ball with a blue Sharpie, usually a simple line with an arrow or a couple of dots. “Anything that helps me ID the ball,” he wrote.
Last year, Tim played a lot of golf with his two sons at Northwest Park in Montgomery County. During a round in the spring or early summer, one of Tim’s sons took a marked ball from Tim’s bag, eventually losing it when an errant shot sent it God knows where.
“He dropped a new ball and played on without a second thought,” Tim wrote.
One fall day, they were back at Northwest Park. “On the sixth hole, one of my sons hit into a creek,” Tim wrote. As he searched for his ball, he found a trove of other golf balls that he began tossing up from the creek bed.
Among them was one with a blue mark: the ball from months earlier.
“It’s not a lost diamond or ring or anything of value, just a funny coincidence,” Tim wrote. “Hundreds of people playing hundreds of rounds of golf with hundreds of balls lost and found and lost again. I’ve played golf for 50 years and never had this happen.”
Before John Lappin’s father died in 1967, he gave his son a Buck-brand hunting knife, a beloved reminder of their bond.
“It traversed the U.S. and Canada with me for twenty years until falling overboard on a West Virginia canoe trip,” wrote John, of Berwyn Heights. “Returning to the same river a year later, I found it high and dry on a sandbar.”
Kathleen Illig’s class ring from Holy Angels Academy in Buffalo spent considerably longer in the sand. She lost it in 1948 and only got it back in 2011.
“The story is that two girls were digging a hole on the beach at the Buffalo Canoe Club on the Canadian shores of Lake Erie,” wrote Kathleen, who lives in Springfield. “The girls had dug about 3½ feet down when one girl noticed a shiny thing. She jumped into the hole and picked out a ring.”
The school was able to track Kathleen down through the initials on the ring.
“Yes, I did go to the Canoe Club during high school years and we also dug huge holes to China,” Kathleen wrote. “I can only think I took it off to go swimming and never realized I didn’t put it back on. It had washed in and out for many years — 63 years — and finally embedded itself deep in the sand.”
For sheer geography covered, few lost-and-found stories can match John F. Van Ogtrop’s. In 1970, the graduate of Florida’s Jacksonville University lost his class ring somewhere in Washington. Three years later, it arrived in the mail along with a note from the woman who spotted it glinting on a coral reef while she was snorkeling off Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach. She traced John through the university.
John had never been to Hawaii, so how the ring ended up there is a mystery.
“The stone was pitted and rough, like it may have been in the coral for some time,” wrote John, who lives in Great Falls.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.