Road Trips

Abandoned bridge abutment on US 40/National Road in Vigo County

Continuing my 2006 road trip along US 40 and the National Road in western Indiana, we are now in Vigo County, the last county before the road reaches Illinois.

The Pennsylvania Railroad used to run behind the school. By the time I was there in the late 1980s, the tracks were no longer used. I happened to make a photograph of those tracks in the spring of 1988 while I was a student at Rose. I took this somewhere behind the school’s grounds. The tracks have since been removed.

Windows Live Maps, 2006

During my Rose years the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity formed a chapter there. They lived in a house a mile or two east of campus. Access was strange — you turned left off US 40, and then immediately left again onto a short segment of paved road that ran right alongside 40, and then after maybe 200 yards when that segment ended you turned right onto a gravel road that led to the house. How like an old alignment of US 40! But until the day of this trip, I never put the pieces together.

The map shows the road segment, labeled Kaperak Lane. For fun I included the (now former) Pi Kappa Alpha house. I believe the abutment for the bridge that used to be there is also visible. It’s that sliver that juts out from US 40 at that odd angle, just past where the old alignment ends.

We didn’t plan to stop here. As we whizzed by this little road, I said to my friend Dawn, who was along on the trip, that it was the way to the old fraternity house. Then she noticed a bridge abutment on our right. We stopped and looked and saw where a bridge used to be, and how it used to line up with US 40. And then I realized that the little access road had to be an old alignment, and it had to end at the abutment. We drove this road until it ended, but it didn’t reach the abutment and the vegetation looked too thick to walk through without heavy boots.

Former alignment/Interurban bridge abutment

Trees and brush obscure the bridge abutment. It was remarkable that Dawn even noticed it; at 60 miles per hour you’d have to look fast to see it. This photo looks at the abutment from the north, on the current bridge. The shoulder was thin on the bridge. It was, uh, invigorating to feel the turbulence off the cars that zipped by.

Former alignment/Interurban bridge abutment

Neither of us could tell by looking just what this bridge spanned, but I later learned that it was the old PRR line.

We walked across the bridge to look at the other side. This photo looks eastward. In the 1980s I noticed this little guardrail and used to puzzle over it, since it was behind another guardrail. Now I know it’s there to keep roadfans like us from falling off the bridge abutment!

Former alignment/Interurban bridge abutment

The original bridge was just long enough to span the tracks. The abutments both ran parallel with the rail bed. The new bridge is longer, its abutments perpendicular to the road’s direction. A friend of mine who works in civil engineering tells me that the odder the abutment’s angle to the road, the harder the bridge is to maintain.

This photo shows how the old road, its pavement soft and crumbly under our feet, merged neatly into the current road and is on the same line as the road ahead.

Former alignment/Interurban bridge abutment

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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On the bridge

Interurban overpass
Minolta XG-1, MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Fujicolor 200

Electric trains called interurbans could take you to many Indiana cities in the early 20th century. At their peak, 111 traction companies operated more then 3,000 cars along 2,100 track miles. 68 of Indiana’s 92 counties were served by at least one line.

Most Indiana interurbans had shut down by 1950 as the automobile took over. Remarkably, one interurban still serves, carrying passengers between South Bend and Chicago.

Some interurban infrastructure remains, like this bridge. You’ll find it today on the campus of Newfields, formerly known as the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Below once ran the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company’s line from Indianapolis to Lafayette, which was abandoned in the 1930s. You can see more views of this bridge on here.

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Film Photography

single frame: Interurban overpass

A bridge over an abandoned interurban line in Indianapolis.