This was the scene on the 1880 iron truss bridge in Paoli, Indiana, on Christmas Day.

From the Facebook page of the French Lick Fire Dept.

Despite the signs on both sides of this bridge declaring no trucks, a 13′ 3″ height limit, and a 6-ton weight limit, this too-tall semi loaded well beyond 6 tons with bottled water drove onto it anyway. Its trailer hit the first overhead beam (a.k.a. the portal strut) as the truck’s weight began to bear down on the deck. This mangled mess followed directly.

According to a news report from Louisville TV station WDRB, workers had to cut this bridge apart to extract the semi. Locals hope to see the bridge restored. But given the extent of damage, I think they should plan to find a new bridge built here. I hope I’m wrong.

This just makes me sick.

Here’s what this bridge looked like until Christmas Day.

1880 bridge

My friend Dawn and I visited it, and all of Paoli’s delightful square, in 2012 on a tour of the Dixie Highway in southern Indiana.

1880 bridge

What a delightful find it was! It looked to have been restored, but long enough in the past that rust spots were starting to peek through the paint.

1880 bridge

This bridge had wonderful details, including the ornate portal bracing and the curlicues on this builder’s plate.

1880 bridge

And now, this. It’s a damn shame.

From the Facebook page of the French Lick Fire Dept.

I find old truss bridges like this one on many of my road trips. They fit broadly into two categories: those still serving very light traffic on a nearly forgotten back road, and those adding to an old town’s charming ambiance.

I follow the old-bridge news on, where I see a couple stories a year of heavy trucks taking out old bridges. The driver found themselves approaching the old bridge, often because their GPS sent them that way. They didn’t see or chose to ignore the weight-limit signs. They either didn’t realize their truck would be too heavy, or worried that it might be but chose to keep going and hope for the best. I have but one word for all of this: idiotic.

I wish every last old truss bridge could be closed except to pedestrians so this can’t happen again.

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32 responses to “1880 Paoli bridge, destroyed”

  1. Jason Shafer Avatar
    Jason Shafer

    Depending upon what entity owns the bridge, this could get very painful for the trucking company. In my experience, when a bridge is destroyed, I have seen the DOT charge the trucking company for the cost of repairs and/or replacement.

    No amount of pleading ignorance is going to convince anyone this driver wasn’t a total moron.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I read the police report. This driver had less than a year of experience, and told police that she did not know how much six tons is. She may or may not be an idiot, but she was definitely undertrained and had no business driving.

  2. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

    Just . . . wow. I can tell you that the trucking company and/or its insurer will be buying a new bridge. As you note, they don’t want a new bridge, but want that one fixed. But unless the iron bridge can be repaired for less than the cost of new, new is probably what they will get.

    I can understand a misjudged height or maybe even the driver of an empty truck banking on a conservative margin of error on a posted weight limit, but this is stupidity of epic proportions.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Billable hours shall ensue, to be sure.

  3. Walter Czyz Avatar
    Walter Czyz

    All I can say is what a shame…. Unfortunately the replacement will be erected based on cost rather than beauty, history and sentiment….. It would be nice to possibly have the old bridge used in building a gazebo or some kind of structure to be used in the town square?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes, you’re probably right about that — there will be a new bridge, and it will be a concrete slab.

  4. mfobrien1956 Avatar

    I really have to wonder about the level of morons that are driving some of the trucks today. With GPS, etc., that should never have happened. We have a low RR underpass here in Ann Arbor that claims a truck or two each year, despite it not being a truck route and posted signs.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The police report tells of a young (23-y-o) driver who was just trying to find her way to a Wal-Mart parking lot, but struggled to navigate her rig on Paoli’s streets and wound up facing the bridge. Then she made a terrible decision. She was way undertrained.

  5. Gary Avatar

    Morons shouldn’t be driving big trucks. If a “new and improved concrete” bridge is built maybe the citizens can rally together and repair this one to use exclusively for a footbridge. It’s a crying shame nonetheless.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Here’s hoping something can be done to salvage this bridge for some sort of use.

  6. johnfoote Avatar

    Did anybody notice that the truck, which destroyed a bridge OVER A RIVER, was carrying bottled water? I know of very few places in the US where the water is undrinkable to a point where it has to be trucked in.

    Maybe we should stop this bottled water fiasco. Here’s the solution: buy a nice water bottle. Clean and refill as necessary.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Maybe the bottled-water company should pay to restore the bridge! :-)

  7. tammy Avatar

    Just to clarity it could not have been 30 tons more than likely it was 30000 pounds. 30 tons the tires would have been squatting and not moving. But they should have cut the truck apart instead of the bridge. it would have made more sense the top of the truck usually can be taken off as they are not actually part of the truck itself. The trailer probably was destroyed so they could just disassembled it and pulled it off. they are made of plywood and aluminum.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks for clarifying that, Tammy; I corrected the text above. I don’t want to spread misinformation. I wondered why they didn’t cut the truck apart, too, rather than the bridge, but as an official told that TV station, it’s not like there’s a book explaining how to handle situations like this.

  8. chris Avatar

    Near me in the central UK, there is a magnificent stone bridge built in the late 15th century to cross the River Avon. Last June a farm vehicle collided with a central parapet causing major damage and subsequently massive inconvenience, closing both the road and the river. Fortunately there were no injuries. As far as I know this was judged to be a ‘straightforward road traffic accident’ and the farmer’s insurance company picks up the bill. There is a weight limit on the bridge which some non-UK lorry drivers often pretend they haven’t seen or understood ! :0(

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m sitting here reeling at the thought of a 15th-century bridge still serving. That’s the thing about living in the New World: the oldest things we have are generally from the 1700s, and all of that is out East. Here in Indiana, the early 1800s is as old as anything gets!

      I’m sure the trucking company’s insurance in this case is going to take a pretty good hit when the town of Paoli sends them the bills for this.

  9. Maureen Sudlow Avatar

    pretty sad – glad you got the photos when it was still ok – problems with GPS and idiots…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      As time has passed, I’ve frequently been happy I took photographs of something I found on a road trip, because things change with the years and the scene might be different the next time I see it!

  10. hmunro Avatar

    It’s heartbreaking to see the damage that a moment’s poor judgment can inflict. But in my customary desire to find a silver lining, at least this driver won’t be hauling big-rig loads anymore. (As much as it pains me to think of someone losing their job, it does sound like commercial trucking isn’t maybe her calling?) Sigh.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I feel for the driver. She was sent out undertrained and then found herself in a series of situations that required more advanced driving skill, leading up to the terrible decision to try to cross that bridge.

  11. ArtS Avatar

    Tammy, Actually, the load by itself was 43,000 pounds. The truck and load together were estimated at 60,000 pounds to 70,000 pounds (30-35 Tons). The bridge was rated at 12,000 pounds (6 Tons). The bridge’s collapse was almost guaranteed because the truck was too tall in addition to being too heavy – the truss structure was compromised by the impact with the top of the bridge while being overloaded.

    Believe it or not, there are craftsmen out there that are sufficiently skilled to restore the bridge. Whether they will be sought out or whether the bridge will be scrapped and replaced with a concrete slab has yet to be seen.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s good to know that the bridge could theoretically be restored. Lots of competing factors will determine this bridge’s fate.

  12. Bob Dungan Avatar
    Bob Dungan

    A crying shame.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It is.

  13. Jim Bones Avatar
    Jim Bones

    If the bridge was recognized as an historic structure by the local or state government, rebuilding will most likely be cost prohibitive.
    Out little town in Ohio had a similar age iron arched bridge that was beautiful but in disrepair. The local town counsel consisting of a about a dozen little grey haired ladies thought they were doing a great thing by having the bridge declared a significant historic structure to assure its preservation. Unfortunately they never looked into the legal restrictions and requirements for repairing a registered landmark. There can be virtually no modifications to the structure and all repairs have to be performed with parts manufactured in the same way as the originals. That meant that all rivets, bolts and struts would have to be cast in the same manor and methods as the originals.
    The bridge has since been closed to all but foot and bike traffic, and has been sitting for the past 15 years with no maintenance with the exception of an occasional coat of paint and an ever decreasing weight limit sign. I fully expect it to one day to be closed to all traffic and eventually fall into the creek below.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Jim, thanks for this useful input. My research shows that this bridge is eligible for National Register status but isn’t on it. However, just being eligible gives it certain protections in Indiana. But as we learned in the case of a collapsed ca. 1913 stone-arch bridge in Shelby County, sometimes horse trading can be done. In that case, preservationists, the state, and local officials agreed to remove that bridge from the eligible list so that a different bridge could be added, one that had a chance of being restored where the collapsed bridge truly was a goner.

  14. Jason Avatar

    I doubt they will repair or replace with another bridge. Most likely put several large pipes for water to pass through then fill in the gaps with clay and dirt.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Interesting perspective. I don’t have a clear mind picture of the creek below this bridge but do remember that it’s not anything major. Maybe a culvert really would do the trick.

  15. dehk Avatar

    %@$@$@%@%@#$ Dumb@$!#

    1. Jim Grey Avatar


  16. Josh Avatar

    I favor repair or a new bridge (compensatory damages) plus rescue of another bridge as a foot bridge (punitive damages.) Punitive damages are often awarded where compensatory damages are deemed an inadequate remedy. A “new” bridge is not an adequate remedy.

    Fountain County
    Bridge No. 97
    Section 106 historic review process is on-going

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve wondered as well whether another truss bridge could be moved to this site.I’d hope for one more ornate than the Fountain County example, to keep better with the look of the destroyed bridge. But even a plain truss bridge would be better here than a concrete slab or a culvert.

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