Will theorizes that if Rucker can get married, then the mourning period must be over. On the strength of this logic, he decides to go fishing. It is a warm summer day, and Will sets out with his dog, T. R., named after Teddy Roosevelt, who Will saw speak in Atlanta. Will walks by a sassafras tree that was named Cold Sassy by the pioneers who camped near it. The tree used to be just one in an entire grove, but the grove has been cut down to make room for the railroad. Some people want to change the town’s name from Cold Sassy to something more dignified and modern.
Loomis, the husband of the Tweedys’ cook, Queenie, has told Will that there are fish biting at nearby Blind Tillie Creek. To get there, Will must walk through Mill Town, a desolate settlement of poor hill people who work at the town’s cotton mill. As he walks through Mill Town, Will cannot decide whether he hopes to run into Lightfoot McLendon, a pretty girl in his class who lives in Mill Town. Cold Sassy townspeople would frown on Will’s feelings for Lightfoot, since “nobody in Mill Town ever amounted to anything.” Even though the mill is a key part of the town’s progress, Cold Sassy residents look down on its laborers and refer to them as “lintheads.” Will hopes that he does not bump into Hosie Roach, another Mill Town resident and an older boy at school who Will fights every week.
While fishing, Will has an impulse to walk across the train trestle, a high, narrow railway bridge running over Blind Tillie Creek.
T. R. senses danger and runs back down to the creek. Will makes it halfway across the trestle when he hears a train approaching. Will has time to make it to safety, but his fishing pole gets wedged in the rails and he fears that it will derail the train. By the time Will gets the pole free, the train is bearing down upon him. He falls to the ground between the rails and covers his ears. The train roars over Will, covering him with grease and grime, but he survives. His ears feel shattered, and he cannot stand.
Will looks around dazedly and sees Lightfoot running toward him. He wonders if she is one of the angels his grandmother saw before dying. Lightfoot helps him off the bridge and the train stops. Further along the track, the train stops and the passengers exit and applaud Will. The conductor realizes that another train is coming and the trains will collide if they do not move. T. R. sits on the track, paralyzed with fear, and Will refuses to leave without him. Suddenly, Loomis runs out and retrieves T. R. Loomis, Will, and Lightfoot scramble onto the train along with the other passengers, and they pull away to avoid the other train. Lightfoot has left her bucket of blackberries near the trestle, and Will makes plans with her to retrieve the blackberries the next day. Will is terrified that his parents will be furious when they hear of his near-death experience.
Will arrives at home, and Hoyt hugs him for the first time in more than two years. Loma resumes complaining about Rucker’s wedding, but Mary Willis stops her and says their father’s wedding is not important compared to Will’s survival. The whole town is thrilled by the story of Will’s miraculous escape. A crowd comes to the Tweedy house to see Will and gossip about Miss Love and Rucker, who have married that day.