Down the Road

Roads and life and how roads are like life

Restored and repurposed: The Houck Iron Bridge

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Putnam County, Indiana, is so rich in old bridges that when my friend Dawn and I set out to tour them four years ago, we couldn’t fit them all into a single day. Most of Putnam County’s old bridges were well used and needed a little maintenance. A few of them had fallen into such disrepair that they were closed to traffic. One of those was the Houck Iron Bridge.

The Houck Iron Bridge

This bridge may look like it was in the middle of nowhere. There’s a lot of middle-of-nowhere in Putnam County, which is mostly rural. But this bridge stood just three miles north of downtown Greencastle, the county’s largest town and home to DePauw University.

The Houck Iron Bridge

Built in 1913, the Houck Iron Bridge stood here for 99 years and carried traffic for most of them. But in 2012, it was dismantled. A new concrete slab bridge was built slightly downstream.

The Houck Iron Bridge

The pieces were trucked north to Delphi in Carroll County, where volunteers worked for two years to restore and reassemble this bridge over the Wabash and Erie Canal on Delphi’s extensive trail system. It opened in July, and so Dawn and I spent some of our annual road trip this year driving up there to visit it.

The Houck Iron Bridge

I can’t imagine all the straightening and sandblasting the job must have required. But the volunteers in Delphi are tenacious. They’ve built a very nice park along the canal, which is a few blocks north of downtown. You can rent a paddle boat and take a lazy trip along the canal, or rent a bicycle and ride the trail system, or bring a picnic and eat among a number of log cabins built nearby, or tour the museum and interpretive center.

The Houck Iron Bridge

But we were there to see the bridge, which was the sole focus of my photography.

The Houck Iron Bridge

Now that this bridge has found a new home, it has been renamed the Gray Bridge. Two other restored old truss spans have been placed along the trails surrounding Delphi, too: the Red Bridge and the Blue Bridge. You get one guess per bridge what color they are painted.

The Houck Iron Bridge

Walking across the new deck, I was surprised by how many boards were a little loose and how some of the boards weren’t flush. The decks on bridges I’ve seen restored for vehicular use are tight as a drum. Perhaps a pedestrian bridge has lesser requirements.

The Houck Iron Bridge

But otherwise the volunteers did a great job giving this bridge new life. Everything that used to be bent or twisted is now straight.

Normally I prefer historic structures to be restored in place. But I think in this case that this great old bridge will get much more use and enjoyment in its new home. Kudos to the volunteers in Delphi for making it happen.


I love truss bridges. They’re art in steel.

Signage

Old signs
Kodak No. 2 Brownie Model D, Ilford Pan F Plus 50
2014

Walking in Nashville

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Indiana’s Nashville is as famous, at least among us Hoosiers, as that town down in Tennessee. It’s a popular day-trip destination. In recent years it has billed itself as an artist’s colony, and is filled with shops where you can buy things made by hand.

It’s cliche to say “nestled,” as in, “Nashville is nestled in hilly Brown County.” But indeed, Nashville lies on a rare flat spot in a part of Indiana that the ice age’s glaciers somehow missed. A town doesn’t get more nestled than that. Most of Brown County looks like the photo below.

Unglaciated view

My sons and I visit Nashville and the nearby state park for the day about once a year. This year, I even booked us a cottage in town so we could stay overnight. It was a relaxing couple of days for us. We visited the shops and galleries in town on our first day, and hiked through the state park on our second. I had my Nikon F2AS along the whole time, shooting Kodak Ektar 100 using my 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor lens.

Sadly, a photographic slump befell me on this trip. I shot the whole roll in Nashville, but felt uninspired and forced it the whole time. The results show it.

State Bank

But I’m sharing the photos anyway because (1) Nashville’s a fun visit, and I hope these photos entice you to go, (2) I decided long ago that this blog is about the journey, and this slump was definitely part of my journey, and (3) if I only ever posted perfection I’d write six posts a year, not six a week.

Carmel Corn Cottage

But at least these photos give you a flavor of what Nashville is like. I took the shots above and below at about 6 p.m., after most visitors had cleared out for the day.

Trolly's

Like so many Indiana small towns, most of Nashville’s buildings were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Unlike many Indiana small towns, every single one of them is in use thanks to the tourist trade.

Lodge

The Methodist church is very, very white.

Nashville UMC

This bench’s inscription is attributed to Abe Martin, but old Abe is a fictional character. Created by cartoonist Ken Hubbard in 1904, Abe Martin cartoon panels were The Far Side of the day, widely read and clipped. Many of the panels were captioned with cynically wise sayings like the one on this bench.

Temptation/Opportunity

I like pottery, and I’m always on the lookout for the perfect pottery coffee mug since breaking my favorite one a few years ago. You’ll find pottery in several of Nashville’s shops. I did buy a mug and have been using it lately, but it’s not quite as perfect as my old one. I didn’t, however, buy any of the wooden wonders that were for sale.

Wooden wonders

It was a relaxing trip for my sons and me, despite the lackluster photography. Maybe I should have just left my camera in its bag.

Front yard flowers

Front yard flowers
Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Kodak Ektar 100
2014

On taking life as it comes

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This is the street in front of my house after it rains a lot in a very short time.

flood

The storm sewers can’t keep up. I think they’re partially collapsed. I’ve complained to the city, but have gotten nowhere.

This is one of my two cars. It will become my son’s if he ever gets his license.

old-matrix

It’s beat up, leaks a little oil, and has a ton of miles on it. It breaks down sometimes as twelve-year-old cars do.

Recently, this car was having trouble starting. Symptoms pointed to a failing starter. My other car was running fine, so I figured I’d deal with the problem later. I moved it from its usual driveway spot (pictured above) out onto the street in case it wouldn’t start at all the next time and I’d have to have it towed.

Can you guess what happened next? Of course you can. Two nights later we got three inches of rain in an hour. I ran out to my car to move it out of the flood zone as the waters continued to rise. But of course it wouldn’t start. So I called my son out and, in driving rain and foot-deep water, we pushed it a half block to where the storm sewers were working and the street was clear.

I decided I might as well just have it towed to my mechanic right away. AAA told me there would be a modest charge, so I got out my debit card to pay the difference.

I didn’t realize that my debit card didn’t make it into my pocket until after I had been back inside my home for a few minutes. I quickly sloshed back out to catch the tow driver before he got away. He and I spent 15 minutes in the dark and rain with a flashlight looking for the card to no avail. At the point my clothes were so wet they were plastered onto me, I decided that enough was enough. I told the tow-truck driver that we were giving up and that I’d just call my bank to cancel the card and issue me a new one.

Which I did that night, at about 11 pm. It was one of the rare times I was thankful for an automated telephone system, which works when humans don’t. But the next morning when I tried to log on to my bank’s Web site to make sure I had funds to cover my obligations, my password wouldn’t work. I called the bank again, but this time talked to a live human being who explained that when you cancel a debit card, it locks you out of all banking until the new card arrives and is validated. Thank goodness I have a credit card with a different bank, so I can buy groceries and put gas in my running car.

Sometimes you find yourself on a roller coaster. All you can do is strap in and enjoy the ride until it ends.


I’m a veteran rider of roller coasters like these. Here’s another such story.

Recommended reading

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Here are the blog posts I enjoyed most this week.

Thought-leading urbanist Aaron Renn writes about how it’s no longer downtowns that struggle the most with decay — it’s the first ring of suburbs around downtowns. I live in that first ring in Indianapolis and see the decay every day. Read The New Donut

I’m not a morning person (despite getting up at 5 am weekdays to write this blog), but Eric Swanger is. He reflects on the dawn and its great photographic potential. Read The Most Memorable Season of the Day

Michael Lopp, b/k/a Rands, writes a strong piece about the experience of introversion. To an introvert, you are a threat and you represent chaos, but you are also interesting and compelling. It’s a conundrum. Read The Song of the Introvert

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