Road Trips

Clattering over the old wooden bridge on old US 50 in southeastern Indiana

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.

Wooden bridge

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.

Wooden bridge

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.

Wooden bridge

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.

Wooden bridge

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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Last updated on 20 February 2020 by Jim Grey

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14 thoughts on “Clattering over the old wooden bridge on old US 50 in southeastern Indiana

  1. What a gorgeous bridge! I’ve seen photos of ones like it on Don Mills Road and Victoria Park Avenue in Toronto over RR tracks, but they replaced those at the end of the 1950s, and I haven’t seen much like it with my own eyes. Fantastic that you’ve recorded it — who knows how long it’ll last as such! :)

    • I never expected to come across a bridge like this. With the exception of the covered bridges, loved for their pastoral beauty, I figured all the wooden bridges had long since rotted and been replaced with concrete. I wonder whether they had pressure-treated lumber when this thing was built — can you imagine the upkeep if they didn’t?

  2. That is one neat bridge! Your nervousness about wooden bridges is seriously eclipsed by my daughter’s universal bridge phobia. Amazing that she ever gets anywhere.

  3. gregg says:

    Jim
    about 10 years ago a very similar bridge was replaced in Porter County (Sedley Rd, between Portage & Valparaiso, just south of US130). Rickety didn’t begin to describe this bridge that spanned Conrail tracks. I literally held my breath every time I crossed it.

    • JC says:

      Gregg, I lived in Valparaiso, off of Sedley. I remember crossing it everyday. I was very sad when the bridge was torn down. I’m so glad you mentioned it :)

      • JC says:

        Also, I had heard that even though the bridge sounded terrible, as if it were going to give anytime, that it was actually a very strong and sturdy bridge. Please correct me if I heard wrong :)

      • Sean Spears says:

        Please read his story accompanying these pics. This IS NOT Sedley Road bridge. This is in southern Indiana. I’ve been having this dispute on Facebook lately as one of these pictures has been getting posted frequently. It is incredibly similar to Sedley, but is in fact a different bridge.

        • Sean Spears says:

          Unfortunately, as I’ve researched this bridge further, it has suffered the same fate as Sedley Road bridge. This bridge was demolished in 2013.

  4. Jim,

    Great shots of this bridge.
    I have been over dozens of bridges like this in southern Indiana and Illinois
    and they all sound the same whether you’re driving over them or standing
    under them.
    I haven’t had many chances to chase bridge this year.

    Bob

    • Bob, as you’ve probably figured out I like the old highways, so I don’t get onto the back roads as much as you do. So a wooden bridge like this is really unusual in my travels! Though I do have a half a notion to tour the old bridges of Putnam Co. one Saturday this year — seems like every time I swing through there, I come across more interesting bridges!

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