Ride Across Indiana, Road Trips

Then and now: Abandoned US 40 bridge west of Plainfield, Indiana

My first ever trip to explore an old road was on July 15, 2006. My friend Dawn and I drove the National Road and US 40 from downtown Indianapolis to the Illinois state line.

Even though I had researched the trip beforehand and knew this abandoned bridge was there, as a road-trip newbie I was still blown away by the sight of it. My experience with this bridge was so exciting that it has propelled me to explore the old roads to this day.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield
Olympus Stylus Epic 80, Fujicolor 200, 2006

I’ve visited this bridge at least a dozen times since then. Almost every time I am out this way, I stop and make at least one photograph. It’s amazing to me how intact this bridge has remained over the last 15 years.

Abandoned US 40 bridge west of Plainfield
Canon PowerShot S95, 2021

This bridge was built in 1923, but served only until 1940 when the modern four-lane US 40 was built alongside it. It’s been abandoned for 80 years now!

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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Ride Across Indiana, Road Trips

Then and now: The Oasis Diner

On a 2009 documentary trip along the National Road and US 40 in western Indiana, I stopped to photograph this diner, which had been closed for some time. The stainless steel portion of this structure was manufactured by the Mountain View Diners company of Signac, NJ, and was shipped via railroad to this spot just east of Plainfield, Indiana, in 1954.

The Diner
Minolta X-700, 50mm f/1.7 Minolta MD, Fujicolor 200, 2009

In 2014, this diner was purchased by new owners and relocated to downtown Plainfield. It opened in November after a restoration and the construction of a new extension behind the original stainless-steel diner. I visited in December of that year for dinner, and made this photo.

Oasis Diner
Canon PowerShot S95

Here’s the Oasis Diner from my bicycle trip across Indiana this year. I had stopped for lunch elsewhere; had I remembered about the Oasis’s outdoor seating, I would certainly have lunched here! (I always wanted to be near my bicycle, as everything for my trip was loaded onto it. So I wasn’t eating inside restaurants while riding.)

Oasis Diner
Apple iPhone 12 mini

It’s too bad they chose to plant trees in the streetscape; they block the view of this delicious old diner.

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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Ride Across Indiana, Road Trips

Then and now: Original National Road/US 40 alignment in Plainfield, Indiana

On the far east side of Plainfield, Indiana, within sight of the west border of Indianapolis, used to be an old alignment of the National Road and US 40. This is what it looked like in 2006, when I first visited. Eastbound:

Old National Road east of Plainfield

Westbound:

Old National Road east of Plainfield

Notice the orange Road Construction Ahead sign in the photo above. Ahead, the road was closed as the Ronald Reagan Parkway was being constructed. I didn’t know that the plan was to close this alignment permanently; it would not provide access to the new Parkway when that road was completed.

I further didn’t know that the plan was to remove this road entirely. Here’s the scene from my Ride Across Indiana this year. Eastbound:

Fmr NR/US 40 alignment, Plainfield IN EB

Westbound:

Fmr NR/US 40 alignment, Plainfield IN WB

I wonder why the city went to the expense of removing the road. They could have simply closed it at much lesser expense.

Pro roadgeek tip: whenever you see a line of utility poles like this, you may be looking at a place where a road used to be.

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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Ride Across Indiana, Road Trips

Bicycling the National Road across the White River in Indianapolis

As I bicycled through Downtown Indianapolis on my way across Indiana on the National Road, I had a challenge to solve: how to get across the White River. The White River State Park and the Indianapolis Zoo were built over the original path of the National Road and US 40 there. I shared the history of this alignment, and the many bridges that used to cross the river here, in this post.

In the map excerpt below, the National Road (Washington Street) enters and exits just above the center of the image, but curves south to skirt the park and the zoo. The bridge that once carried traffic on the original alignment still stands and is visible in the image.

Imagery ©2021 CNES/Airbus, IndianaMap Framework Data, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2021 Google.

If you read the post about the history of the road here, you know that the original path of the National Road here is now the walking path that passes by the NCAA Hall of Champions marked on the map excerpt above. Here’s the beginning of that path, which begins at the Eiteljorg Museum. Here, the path is part of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail.

Original NR path through White River SP, Indianapolis

It also passes by the Indiana State Museum. I remember when this museum was in the old City Hall on the other side of Downtown. That was 25 years ago, and the new museum was built shortly afterward. I still think of this building as new, even though it’s not.

Original NR path through White River SP, Indianapolis

The path crosses a road that leads to parking. Those are the signature Cultural Trail crosswalk markings in the road. This is about where the path becomes the White River Trail.

Original NR path through White River SP, Indianapolis

The White River Trail shortly crosses the Central Canal over a narrow bridge. That’s the NCAA Hall of Champions on the right. On the left, way in the distance, is the Washington Street bridge that used to carry US 40. It’s marked by the rows of lamps.

Original NR path through White River SP, Indianapolis

Here’s where the original National Road alignment ends at the White River. Once upon a time, there was a big covered bridge right here, on the left, at about a right angle to the riverbank.

Original NR path through White River SP, Indianapolis

From that spot I turned to the left to about the angle of the former covered bridge here. This was the view. My understanding is that in the covered bridge’s era, the White River was narrower than it is now, and the west bank would have been closer in.

Washington St. Bridge, Indianapolis

From here, I backtracked and rode over to the Washington Street bridge, which is now open only to pedestrians.

Washington St. Bridge, Indianapolis

Here’s the view from the deck, as I bicycled westward.

Washington St. Bridge, Indianapolis

At the end of the bridge I faced a choice: follow the White River Trail around the zoo’s north edge, or backtrack all the way to where I started and follow current Washington Street back over the river. I chose the former because it was shorter and avoided a lot of traffic.

White River Trail behind Indianapolis Zoo

Shortly the trail opened up and followed the White River.

White River Trail behind Indianapolis Zoo

Soon the trail met the White River Parkway, a local road. I followed it south to where it intersects with Washington Street, which resumed its original path following the old National Road.

Railroad overpass, WB Old US 40

Until this point, the National Road was pretty neatly an east-west road across Indiana. From here on out, it runs west southwest all the way to Illinois.

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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Ride Across Indiana, Road Trips

A rail-trail detour on the Ride Across Indiana

US 40 on the east side of Indianapolis is one long string of strip malls. Traffic can be thick, and shoulders are narrow to non-existent. Also, I would encounter two major highway ramp intersections, one with Interstate 465 and another with Shadeland Avenue, a major local road. I had little desire to deal with any of it as I bicycled through on my old Schwinn.

Fortunately, Google Maps helpfully pointed out that I could detour all of it on a rail-trail created on the former Pennsylvania Railroad bed. The trail would even take me over those two highways! Sold! I picked up the trail behind a Mejier big-box store and rode it all the way to Irvington.

Map data ©2021 Google.

It started out as a pleasant, quiet ride behind the strip malls.

Pennsy Trail

This is part of the National Road Heritage Trail, which, when it’s finished, will parallel the National Road across Indiana. About 68 miles are open of the 160 planned.

Pennsy Trail

It’s easy to forget that you’re a quarter mile away from US 40 when you’re on the trail.

Pennsy Trail

Riding across Indianapolis worried me a little. Not only is Washington Street (former US 40) not friendly to bicycles, the road leads through some sketchy neighborhoods. I was worried about encountering someone unfriendly. I thought surely the trail would be a respite from that worry. But there was an incident.

Pennsy Trail

It happened about 100 yards down the trail from here. A fellow riding a recumbent bike was headed my way from the opposite direction, and he started bellowing at me, “Get out of the way! There’s a car behind you on the trail!”

I stopped and turned around, and sure enough a small white sedan was headed my way. I pulled off the trail to let them by, puzzled over why they decided driving on the trail was a good idea.

But the recumbent rider wanted to give the driver a piece of his mind. “Turn that car around! Get off the trail!” he bellowed, over and over, at top volume.

The white sedan screeched to a halt and a young man and woman got out, chests out, ready for a fight. If recumbent rider was going to yell at them, they were going to yell right back! “How in the hell are we supposed to turn around? There’s no room! GPS brought us down here! We’re from out of town!” They rightly noted that the only way out was through. Everyone started swearing.

The couple frankly looked like the kind of people who were always ready for a fight. Recumbent rider started out as sanctimonious but turned into a straight up jackass. It truly felt like someone could throw a punch, or worse, at any minute.

Notice the two-track road to the left of the trail in the photo above? It’s someone’s long driveway. I rode my bike up the little hill to the two-track, around the altercation, and then back down onto the trail.

When I got to the next crossroads, the car sped up to me on the two-track. The fellow rolled down his window and offered a quick, weak apology, but then got animated again and said, “The dude called my wife a fat bitch and pulled a knife on us!”

My BS detector went off, and it just seemed best to be as far away from this couple as I could get. I turned away and rode off. Fortunately, I never saw any more of them.

Shortly I crossed over I-465, then Shadeland. Here’s the northbound view from the trail overpass.

Shadeland Ave. NB from Pennsy Trail

I got off the trail at Arlington Avenue and rode back up to Washington Street in the heart of the historic Irvington neighborhood. I continued my journey west on old US 40.

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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Ride Across Indiana, Road Trips

Abandoned motel near Dunreith, Indiana, on US 40

I probably should have photographed more of the abandoned motels I encountered when I bicycled across Indiana on US 40. I’m sure they will all be demolished one day. It would be good to have a record of them.

I did photograph one, just east of Dunreith in Henry County. See it on Google Maps here. It’s a sprawling property. To fit the whole thing in one photograph, I had to shoot it from a ways back.

Former motel

I zoomed in on the west end of this motel for a closer look. Some abandoned motels are too far gone to ever be used again, but this motel looks pretty solid. Someone’s clearly doing the minimal maintenance necessary to keep this property together.

Former motel

I wish I could have made more images, including some peering through room windows. But I have a strict no-trespassing policy when I’m on a road trip.

Here’s a post card of this motel in its heyday. It was called the Pine Manor. Thanks to Donna Tauber for sharing it with me.

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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