Since I wrote this post, this bridge was removed as part of creating a bypass of US 50 around North Vernon, Indiana. Drive the old roads now, before the interesting things on them pass away.
Sometimes I think that nobody likes to maintain old bridges. My old road guides frequently call out iron, concrete, and wooden bridges along routes because they were good landmarks, but I seldom expect to find them still standing. Even though a well-designed and -maintained bridge can stand strong for well over a hundred years, it’s often easier to get money to replace a worn-out bridge than to keep it up in the first place. So it’s always a real pleasure to find an old bridge still serving.
Old and new US 50 diverge about four miles west of North Vernon. The old road makes a beeline for tiny Hayden while current 50 swings south a bit along a railroad track and bypasses the tiny town. On Google Maps, the shadow over the tracks tells of a bridge, but neither my 1916 nor 1924 Automobile Blue Books mention it. I figured that this had been an at-grade crossing during those years and that the bridge came later. But when I got there, I was shocked to find a kind of bridge generally not built later.
That’s right – a wooden bridge. Now, I’ve seen plenty of wooden covered bridges in my travels, but never an uncovered wooden bridge. But I didn’t immediately drive over it.
You see, wooden bridges make me nervous! I have a hard time believing that timbers are going to hold up my car. Now, I went to engineering school. I generally understand how all of a bridge’s structural elements work together to bear its loads. I know that a bridge is designed with a certain maximum load in mind. I also know that my car weighs about 2,500 pounds, a mere 25% of the bridge’s posted five-ton load rating. But something irrational inside me doesn’t want to buy all of that. A wooden bridge seems inherently fragile to me. I could put some serious hurt on this structure with a chain saw; try it on a steel or concrete bridge and you’ll need a new saw! My usual nervousness was not helped when I noticed the missing plank. Actually, at that moment I said out loud, “Heck no, there’s no way I’m driving over that thing.” So I parked and headed out to photograph this old girl, intending to follow modern US 50 to the next town when I was done.
I was further discouraged to find wooden piers supporting the deck. But as I walked around the structure snapping photographs, several heavy farm trucks drove over it. They slowed down only slightly – clearly, the drivers did not share my fear. The bridge popped and rumbled every time, making me think of a giant popping extra jumbo popcorn. Despite the racket, the bridge stood firm, with neither a shimmy nor a shake. My confidence was buoyed.
So when my photographic desires had been satisfied, I climbed back into my car and drove over the bridge. I proceeded slowly, my stomach clenching all the way. But I made it over.
I’m glad I did, too, or I would have missed Hayden and its restored gas station.
When I got home, I researched this bridge. The folks over at bridgehunter.com say it was built about 1920, meaning it was there when my 1924 ABB was written. I’m left to wonder why the ABB’s authors didn’t call it out.
Maybe wooden bridges made drivers nervous then, too!
A couple other bridge surprises from my travels include a concrete arch bridge 100 feet overhead and a highway bridge built but never used.
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