Out in the Missouri countryside, about 20 miles southeast of Lebanon, sits a bridge. A fellow traveler mentioned it to me a year ago, but I hadn’t been in the area with time on my hands until recently. It sits on Tulsa Road, too, which made me doubly excited to make the trip to see it. After the Gasconade Bride Rally on April 23rd, I decided to go have a look.
I didn’t know what to expect, as I hadn’t researched it beforehand aside from getting the location coordinates for my GPS. When I turned off Hwy B onto Tulsa Road, I discovered the hilliest gravel road I’d ever seen! I was concerned that the Mustang would start sliding backwards on those rises if I was going too slow. I weaved around narrow culverts, dodged low hanging trees, and zoomed past several working ranches. When I arrived at Lambeth Bridge, I pulled over just as another car came the other direction across the one-lane span. I didn’t see another soul the entire time I wandered the bridge, but I’m very thankful that other motorist was crossing when I had arrived. Had I not seen a 3,500 lb SUV cross the wooden deck safely, I would not have ventured across!
Later research revealed that the deck of the bridge had been replaced sometime between 2007 & 2010, but when I was out there I had no idea how long those wooden slats had been fading in the sunshine. All I knew is that this very simple three-truss span was originally built in 1908 (thanks to the builder plate on the west end), there was no siderail, and the deck had seen better days. The bridge was 12 feet wide and a little over 400 feet long. As I started across on foot, a few nearby cows observed when the boards clattered beneath my shoes. A solitary moo echoed across the valley in what I assume was a shout of support and not a warning. I could see the bright green grass between the boards as I made my way across, though I tried not to notice.
Two of the trusses cross open prairie, which I assume is a flood plain. The third stands above the Osage Fork creek, which is actually quite picturesque. I stopped on that third section to take a photo downstream and discovered I had a hard time getting started again. There was a chunk missing of a nearby board that gave me pause, even though I was sure to walk over the metal support beams that I could also see easily between the boards. After a few moments, I was able to convince my legs to start working again and they carried me across without incident.
It was clear that the eastern bank of the creek was popular with local fishermen. I followed the path of tamped-down grass to the water’s edge and spent several minutes appreciating the calmness of the Ozark countryside. The soft sounds of life filled me with longing for warm Oklahoma afternoons at my grandparents’ house near Pawhuska. If I closed my eyes, I could be eight years old, down by the low-water creek behind their acreage. I wish I could go back in time and spend more time with the elders of my family and ask questions of them. I wish I could share my adventures with them and learn more about their experiences. The open road is a fulfilling place where the journey itself is the destination…but the real journey takes place within myself. No matter how far I drive, the road tends to lead right back to where I started, to a place I haven’t visited in decades but a place I never really left, either. Nobody can accuse me of being an unsentimental person, that’s for certain.
Once I had my fill of nostalgia in a place I had only just discovered, I took a breath and set back across the bridge. Many of the rusted struts had been tagged with graffiti, as had some of the old boards. Something I had missed entirely on the way over were the words, ‘DON’T TURN BACK’. As I knelt to take a photo, my mind filled with images of local kids daring one another to cross this rickety old span, perhaps at night with faulty flashlights. I would imagine those same echoing cattle calls would sound a lot spookier in such an environment. Although my trip back across the bridge was uneventful, I was still relieved to return to the other side. It was an exhilarating experience, but not in the ‘oh boy let’s do that again immediately!’ kind of way.
As I set off down the gravel road I’d come down, I was thoughtful. Perhaps because of the pangs of nostalgia I felt at the river bank, I thought of my father. On May 3rd, it would’ve been his 62nd birthday. He’s been gone five years and that’s really hard to wrap my mind around. I still hear his voice regularly, and talk aloud to him occasionally. I think he’d be proud of me and be interested in what I’ve been doing these last few years. I know he’d have some colorful stories and those are what I miss the most.