He glanced at me with a mischievous grin as he paid the toll. Little did I know what lie ahead. It was a remarkably glorious autumn day as we sought adventure under a crystal clear sky of deep azure. We were headed north on Route 1 in Illinois to find the Wabash Cannonball bridge.
Our quest took us to St. Francisville, Illinois where we found the toll booth for the Wabash Cannonball bridge. Still ignorant that the traverse ahead would cause heart palpitations, Dan pulled away from the toll booth onto a narrow two lane paved elevated roadway.
I learned from Dan as we began that the “through truss” bridge had been built in 1906 as a railroad bridge. The narrow elevated road we were on had once upon a time sported railroad ties and tracks.
Then we came to a single lane causeway with open steel gridwork as the bed upon which planks had been laid. As the vehicle entered this one-way narrowing, the planks made ominous cracking sounds as if the entire structure was going to collapse.
The low guard rails did not smooth my distress one smidgen. We are still elevated at least 15+ feet above the ground and water level, mind you. A little sharp intake of breath with an involuntary “Oh, ooh,” brought another grin from my companion.
The Wabash Cannonball bridge had been abandoned in the 1960’s. It was later bought in the 70’s by a farmer who reopened it as a roadway bridge. In 2009, the State of Illinois took ownership of the bridge. Illinois uses the toll money for inspections and upkeep. I wondered how tolls could possibly pay for the upkeep of the bridge?
After another section of elevated highway, followed by a second open causeway of rattling planks, we entered the bridge which also had as its bed the wooden planks attached with large brass bolts. Once we had traversed the bridge and the good Earth was finally under our vehicle and feet, brave person that I am, I was anxious to get out and take photos.
However, due to the lack of a good turn-out space, the traffic behind us and the cars lined up and waiting their turn to cross from Indiana to Illinois, the photo opportunity was nixed. But, if you want to see what it is like, go to YouTube and type in the name of the bridge.
As we drove away from the Wabash Cannonball bridge into the Indiana sunset, numerous cars were approaching by the access road on the Indiana side. One would think that there would have to be traffic lights installed on each end of the entrance to this long, 1,441 foot, span. Not so. Drivers were courteous and patient. And there surely were a lot of people wanting to get from one state to the other in that short length of time that we were there. So, yes, the tolls would pay for upkeep of the bridge.
Even though you can see the unique Wabash Cannonball bridge on the internet, there is nothing quite so thrilling as actually traversing it. If we do visit the bridge again, I may wear a parachute and life jacket. Johnny Cash would be proud of that bridge. He wrote a song about a fictitious train of that name.
The success of this bridge made us ponder and make many comparisons to the Harmony Way bridge. We wondered why the rehabilitation of this historical landmark and second longest through truss span in the nation has met so much resistance from county leaders. There are actions afoot to try to save the Harmony Way bridge. With people of vision and determination, the Harmony Way bridge may yet vie with the Wabash Cannonball bridge as a living and useful historical monument.
©Ann Rains November, 2016
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