Road Trips

It’s always a good day when I get to drive across the Astronaut David Wolf Bridge!

I originally published this post in 2013. This year I started a job in a building right by this bridge, so I drive over it frequently. It made me want to dust this post off and share it again.

It is the last steel truss bridge in Marion County (Indianapolis), Indiana, and it’s named after one of Indy’s most famous sons, Astronaut David Wolf. And I love to drive over it!

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David Wolf

The Astronaut. David Wolf was born and raised in Indianapolis, got his undergraduate degree at Purdue University, and earned a medical degree from Indiana University. He then became a flight surgeon in the United States Air Force. Soon he joined the Johnson Space Center in Houston and later the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where was selected to become an astronaut. He’s since spent more than 168 days in space.

True story: My first wife was a photographer in the Indiana Air National Guard when I met her, and had a framed, autographed head shot of David Wolf. The inscription read something like, “To the best photographer I know.” She took the photograph! (That’s not her photograph at right.)

The Bridge. It is a two-span riveted Parker through truss bridge with Warren pony approach trusses on either end. The Indiana State Highway Commission built it in 1941 to carry State Road 100; back then, this was way out in the sticks. But since then the city sprawled out this far, and later the state relinquished the road and the bridge to the city. Remarkably, the city has stepped up to maintain this bridge (it hasn’t with other former highway bridges, such as this one). When it widened the road to four lanes in the late 1980s, it built a new neighboring bridge to carry westbound traffic and routed eastbound traffic over the old trusses. The city carefully restored this bridge in 2008. It carries more than 40,000 cars across the White River every day!

Because this bridge is so long (547.8 feet) and is tightly hemmed in by strip malls on all sides, it is difficult to photograph. I’ve never found a place to stand were I can fit the whole thing inside my lens. Here’s the western Parker truss.

The Astronaut David Wolf Bridge

The Drive. This bridge and I both live in the same township, and it’s between me and major shopping, so I’m out this way frequently enough. It always lifts my spirits to drive over it. I love watching it come into view and then experiencing the truss shadows as I drive through them. Here, experience it with me!

Is it silly of me that every time I drive over this great bridge, I exclaim, “It’s always a good day when I get to drive across the Astronaut David Wolf Bridge!”? Never mind, don’t tell me. I’m cool with being silly.

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Film Photography, Road Trips

The one-lane bridge on State Road 225

It’s rare to encounter a truss bridge on an Indiana state highway. This one, built in 1912 and carrying only one lane of traffic on State Road 225 in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, is the granddaddy of them all.

Bridge on State Road 225

Known locally as the Jewettsport Ford Bridge, this four-span Pratt through truss bridge stretches 641.6 feet across the Wabash River. It was restored in 1989, at which time the stoplights were placed at either end to control traffic. Before that, crossing this bridge often turned into a game of chicken.

Bridge on State Road 225

SR 225 is a minor highway, spanning just four miles to connect SR 43 in Battle Ground to an old alignment of SR 25, and to provide access to Prophetstown State Park. This highway’s low traffic volume has got to be key to this bridge’s survival.

Pentax ME, 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 (at EI 200)

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Preservation, Road Trips

Destroyed: 1892 Holliday Road bridge

The tractor driver said he didn’t know that the attachment he was towing was wider than the bridge. And so the bridge on Holliday Road, near Zionsville in Boone County, Indiana, met its end.

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Boone County Sheriff’s Office photo

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Boone County Sheriff’s Office photo

It’s a crying shame, because in 2009 this bridge completed a lovely restoration. I told what I know about it here.

The bridge on Holliday Road

There just aren’t many truss bridges left in and near Indianapolis. I visited this one many times since its restoration. It was a lovely, quiet place to stop.

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This bridge looks to me to be damaged beyond repair. But then, so did the 1880 bridge in Paoli that was destroyed by a semi two years ago (story here) — and it reopened this summer. So maybe there’s hope for the bridge on Holliday Road.

 

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Preservation, Road Trips

Endangered: 1925 pony truss bridge on southern Indiana’s Dixie Highway

This is one of my favorite old highway bridges. It’s tucked quietly away on a short old alignment of Indiana State Road 37, the old Dixie Highway, just south of Martinsville. Here’s a photo from my first encounter with it, in 2007.

Pony truss bridge

My friend Dawn (standing on the bridge below) and I visited it together one autumn morning in 2012. We saw few cars here, as modern SR 37 bears the traffic burden just 500 feet to the west.

Pony trusses

But on our return visit a few weeks ago, we found that this bridge no longer carried cars at all. I’ve known for a couple years that the bridge had been closed, but nevertheless it saddened me greatly to see it.

Abandoned bridge on Old SR 37

It’s remarkable, isn’t it, how quickly nature begins to reclaim our built environment when it is no longer used and maintained?

Abandoned bridge on Old SR 37

Not that this bridge had received very much maintenance in its later years. At its last inspection, its superstructure was rated in Serious condition and its substructure in Poor condition. That was enough to see it immediately closed to traffic.

Abandoned bridge on Old SR 37

She does look a little battered. But I’ve seen bridges in worse apparent condition still carrying traffic. What do I know? I’m no civil engineer.

Abandoned bridge on Old SR 37

I’ve read that this bridge is slated for replacement, but I’m not sure I believe it. The only properties on this mile-long old alignment are south of the bridge, and all anyone has to do to reach them is enter the alignment at its south end.

Abandoned bridge on Old SR 37

The north end of this old alignment is likely to be dead ended when the current project converting SR 37 into I-69 is complete. At least, that’s how I read the plan maps.

Abandoned bridge on Old SR 37

If so, here’s hoping this old bridge can simply be left in place as a reminder of a highway era long since gone by.

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Preservation, Road Trips

The bridge on Holliday Road

At the bridge on Holliday RoadI pass Holliday Road every time I follow the Michigan Road north out of Indianapolis. For a long time a giant Bridge Out sign blocked the road. When the sign disappeared in 2009, I figured that an old bridge back there had been replaced. So I visited bridgehunter.com, certainly the finest site about US historic bridges, to see what had once stood there. I was delighted to learn that the bridge, a Pratt through truss bridge built in the 1890s and known as the O’Neal Bridge, had been carefully restored.

Even though the bridge was just 20 minutes from my home, I kept not driving up for a visit. But then the Boone County Historical Society invited me to speak about the Michigan Road in the spring of 2011. When I saw that the meeting location was about a mile from the bridge, I knew my time had come. After the meeting I made my way around to Holliday Road, which was of surprisingly rough gravel, and went to see the old girl.

The bridge on Holliday Road

I don’t know the details of the restoration other than what I could observe, which was two new concrete abutments, a fresh wooden deck, and a coat of red-orange paint. I’m sure much more went into bringing this bridge back to life.

The bridge on Holliday Road

The original latticed railing, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, was even restored.

The bridge on Holliday Road

I wanted to show my sons this great old bridge, and on a lazy early-August Saturday we drove up to see it.

At the bridge on Holliday Road

We climbed down the bank to see under the bridge.

At the bridge on Holliday Road

It seems like governments in most Indiana communities want to replace old bridges, believing it’s less expensive than restoring them. The guys over at bridgehunter.com say that’s often not the case, but I’m no civil engineer and can’t say for sure. I do know that a truss bridge adds beauty to the view and can be a local landmark and a point of pride. Yet so many have disappeared in my lifetime. I’m just glad folks in Boone County saw fit to restore this one.

I wrote this article in 2011. Now I live in Boone County, but somehow still 20 minutes away! But now, at least, whenever I’m on the Michigan Road I can cut down Holliday Road on my way home.

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Preservation, Road Trips

Endangered: The 38-span William H. Murray Bridge on Route 66 in Oklahoma

Canadian River Bridge

It is perhaps the most iconic bridge on all of Route 66, this yellow pony-truss bridge of an incredible 38 spans. Known by three names — the William H. Murray Bridge, the Bridgeport Bridge, and the Pony Bridge — it was built in 1933 to span the South Canadian River, 21 miles west of El Reno, Oklahoma. And it’s in trouble.

At its last inspection, this bridge rated 34.9 out of 100, earning it the “Structurally Deficient” label and a recommendation the bridge be replaced. I am sure it doesn’t help at all that this bridge carries US 281 and so needs to stand up to heavy trucks and high volume, and is only 24 feet wide, considerably narrower than the modern standard for highway bridges.

Canadian River Bridge

It’s been in danger of being replaced for some time, actually. According to Bridgehunter.com, it was scheduled for replacement in 2015.

Yet it still stands, and is not entirely without hope. It is part of a segment of Route 66 listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the bridge itself is eligible for nomination to the NRHP. And now the preservationists are involved: Preservation Oklahoma features the bridge in its 2016 Endangered Places list.

Canadian River Bridge

Driving this bridge was a highlight of the Route 66 tour I took with my sons in 2013. At 3,944.3 feet — that’s nearly three quarters of a mile — the spans just kept on coming. They were mesmerizing, almost hypnotizing, as they undulated past.

Here’s hoping that this bridge has a long and happy life ahead of it. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation is studying several proposals for the US 281 crossing of the South Canadian River, and all of them involve either restoring this bridge or building a new one while leaving this one in place. Unfortunately, one alternative not off the table is to do nothing. Given the bridge’s current state, this might be why Preservation Oklahoma considers it endangered.

Every answer but “do nothing” takes money, of course. Here’s hoping Oklahoma can make enough money appear to keep this bridge open for generations to come.

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