Backroad Bridgehunting

My mother-in-law is in town this weekend.  I am thankful that these visits do not come with the stereotypical hand-wringing and stress; I’m always happy when Cindy comes to town from New York.  She’s a great lady.  Additionally, Samantha is on Cloud Nine the entire time; they usually spend most of the time junk-store shopping anyway.  This time, her visit coincided with the annual 100 Mile Yard Sale that is spread out over multiple Oklahoma counties.  While the ladies were out ogling antiques and haggling prices, I spent some time on the road.

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Over the years, I’ve made notes of places to visit.  Most of these are either on Route 66 or in Oklahoma, but I have marked locations all around the country.  When I am hankering for a road trip, I just consult my map and work out a loose itinerary.  Today’s journey took me west of Tulsa, to Noble and Payne County, to see a few bridges and small town main streets.

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My first stop was a pony truss bridge over Black Bear Creek, near the town of Morrison.  The late-morning sunshine warmed me as I cruised Highway 412 westward, a welcome respite from the heavy rains we’ve had recently.  When the road beneath me went from four lanes, to two, and eventually a single dirt lane it occurred to me that many of these areas had suffered from flooding in recent days; in fact, I saw standing water in a lot of the fields.  I briefly wondered if my Mustang would be able to make it down the pitted path in front of me.  I weaved successfully around mud puddles and divots until I reached a gate.  Had it not been for the shrouded ‘weight limit’ sign in the brush, I would’ve thought I’d come to the wrong place.  The bridge was still completely out of sight!

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Around the bend, though, there it sat.  A single-lane pony truss with a wooden deck, hanging on to life over a swollen creek.  I could hear the water rushing beneath me as I carefully crossed the planks; they were in good shape, I was happy to see.  Some had even been replaced recently, though the bridge had been closed to traffic for a long while.  I stood for a time, listening to the water.  A bumblebee buzzed by lazily, paying me no mind, and chirping from the trees told me I wasn’t the only creature around happy the rain had gone away.  I looked down and saw that the creek was as murky as chocolate milk, churned by the recent precipitation.  It’s very rare for any Oklahoma body of water to have clarity.

After making a six-point turn and weaving carefully once more, I rejoined the main road, southbound this time.  My next stop was another bridge, but one that was much more accessible.  I had only been aware of it for a few weeks; in fact, I’d unknowingly driven near it many times over the years.  East of Stillwater, the Council Creek Bridge looks like many other through-truss designs that you can see around the state.  However, closer inspection betrays a curious difference:  there are uniform weld marks throughout the center of the bridge, rusting in a unique way compared to the rest of the metal.  This bridge had been cut in half horizontally!

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In 2007, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation had decided the old Highway 51 bridge over Stillwater Creek needed to be replaced.  The Payne County Commissioner, a man named Bill Deering, was passionate about historic preservation…especially bridges.  He worked for years to save the bridge, and was successful…securing its re-location over Council Creek.  It had to be cut in half to make the journey.  Bill passed away in 2011, and today the truss is proudly marked as the Bill Deering Memorial Bridge.  I love how a random image I saw online translated into so much learning and a new road trip destination.  Good job, Bill!

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I shifted gears after Council Creek and headed for a few small towns.  The first location, Ingalls, is a well-documented Oklahoma Ghost Town.  In fact, the people I met in Skedee a few weeks ago had mentioned Ingalls by name as a place that had spurred their interest in exploring small-town Oklahoma.  I guess you could say Ingalls ‘peaked’ in the 1890s with a whopping 150 residents; it hasn’t really done much since then.  There are a few old buildings that get photographed regularly, but truthfully they are replicas of the old hotel, stable, and general store.  Nothing authentic remains.  I took a few photos to document my stop, but I didn’t stay long.  Supposedly there are historic gunfight re-enactments in the fall.  I’ll have to return!

Ripley, OK was my next stop.  I didn’t head straight for their downtown, though; I had an urgent matter to attend to first.  As I pulled into a gas station to use the facilities, I was distressed to discover that my car’s shifter had stiffened significantly.  I drive an automatic and it’s very rare that the transmission has any problems.  Although I left the service station relived in ONE sense, I was very much the opposite when it came to the health of my car.  I was essentially out in the middle of nowhere; if the transmission seized up, I would be up one of these rural creeks without a paddle.  I canceled the rest of the day’s locations and set course for home.  Wouldn’t you know it?  The road out of town took me to yet another bridge.  I hemmed and hawed, but eventually decided to risk vehicular paralysis by putting it in park and taking a few photos.

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The Big Creek Bridge was pretty simple:  a through-truss design on an old county road.  A squat water tower sat in the distance and a small artificial waterfall nearby really set the place apart, though.  I gave a friendly wave to the pickup trucks that passed and greeted a man as he walked by with a fishing rod, no doubt heading down to set up shop for the afternoon.  I wondered each time if I should ask them to hang around, just in case I needed a lift to town.  Thankfully, the car shifted back into drive…but I had to give it a good pull to get it there.  It was still shifting between gears just fine, at least.

I told myself I wouldn’t make any more stops until I reached my driveway.  As I passed through the town of Yale, I noticed it was one of the communities participating in the 100 Mile Yard Sale.  I wondered briefly if Samantha and her mother had come through yet, but as soon as the thought crossed my mind I saw their van up ahead on the side of the road next to a pop-up yard sale.  I snapped a photo out the car window as I drove by; they were unaware I’d even been there until I send Sam a picture message later.

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The rest of my drive was uneventful.  I don’t know what the problem was with the transmission.  By the time I arrived home, it shifted into park with ease.  All of the other gears were working fine then, too.  I guess I’ll just keep a focus on it and take it in if it recurs.

About rhysfunk

Rhys Martin was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1981. In 2009, he sold everything he owned and left the country, living out of a backpack for ten months. He discovered a passion for photography while traveling throughout Southeast Asia and Europe. After returning home, he looked at his home town and Oklahoma heritage with fresh eyes. When he began to explore his home state, Rhys turned his attention to historic Route 66. As he became familiar with the iconic highway, he began to truly appreciate Oklahoma’s place along the Mother Road. He has traveled all 2,400 miles of Route 66, from Chicago to Los Angeles. He has also driven many miles on rural Oklahoma highways to explore the fading Main Streets of our small towns. Rhys has a desire to find and share the unique qualities of the Sooner State with the rest of the world. Cloudless Lens Photography has been featured in several publications including This Land, Route 66 Magazine, Nimrod Journal, Inbound Asia Magazine, The Oklahoman, and the Tulsa World. Rhys loves to connect with people and share his experiences; ask him about enjoyable day trips from Tulsa, locations along Route 66, and good diners or burger joints along the way.
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One Response to Backroad Bridgehunting

  1. Tim Green says:

    stuff at his house at Cushing where you would have scored some free Route 66 candles and the security of friends and help and a place to stay if you needed.I now own his old place where I grew up ! You were all over my roots and routes yesterday !I don’t think Sam came by…1138 E 5th but I had to close up at 1 to get to Arcadia where one of my classmates holds our Cushing Class of ’76 get together ! You would have got to party and get a ride home to T-
    Town !

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