Monday, January 25, 2010

Touring Oklahoma, one bridge at a time.

Looking for an excuse to get out of the house? Consider taking a bridge tour.

Avant bridge on old Highway 97No matter whether you prefer to do your touring by car or motorcycle, a bridge tour is a great excuse to discover some unique Oklahoma history.

A few months ago we heard about an unusual bridge that happens to be the longest one-lane bridge in Oklahoma. After a little research my wife and I found its location- and discovered several interesting websites about old and unique bridges.

Finding historic, unusual or defunct bridges close to home is really quite easy. And interesting. We browsed for older bridges close by and found several interesting examples- mostly the metal girder style that's shaped like a camel's hump- thus the name "camel back truss" to describe this type of bridge.

One unique design that caught my eye was a bridge south of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma that sported two inverted triangles for supports. A friend who grew up nearby tells me it was a popular pastime for young hooligans to ride their Schwinn Stingrays across the narrow iron beams.

Oklahoma has a diverse inventory of historic bridges. In fact, 171 have been identified as worthy of consideration for the National Register of Historic Places. Granted, many are not picturesque- most of them are the steel girder style. I'm not aware of any wooden covered bridges like you see on a jigsaw puzzle- you'd probably have to travel back East for something that old. However, there is one bridge in Oklahoma like none other in the world.

On I-44 near Vinita you'll find the only restaurant situated over a U.S. Interstate Highway. The Glass House restaurant opened in 1957 as a fine dining venue for transcontinental travelers. Today it's a McDonald's and lays claim to being the world's largest. The food may not be as good, but it still serves hungry drivers heading east or west on the Will Rogers Turnpike.

Exploring historic bridges can be fun because they're usually in rural areas- the type of place you might go for a Sunday drive anyway. Plus the history these bridges reveal can tell you a lot about a community, the landscape or the road that passes over them. It's also interesting to see the engineering of these older contraptions with exposed hardware, something hidden by concrete on most modern bridges. These exposed spans show off an artistic lattice of iron and rivets from an era before pre-stressed concrete became the preferred material for bridges.

Oh, and that one-lane bridge that started all this?
Still haven't been there. But it's a converted railroad bridge across the Canadian River built in 1902. It connects the towns of Wanette and Byars. Total length: 780 feet.

Want to make your next day trip a bridge tour? 
It's easy- the darn things are almost everywhere! Here are a few links to get you started...

Bridge Hunter
Lists historic bridges all over the U.S. Use the map to search by state (there are currently 500 listings in Oklahoma) or by county or by type of bridge. Most listings include photos and map links.

Oklahoma Bridges
Wes Kinsler has been cataloging the bridges of Oklahoma since November 2000. Along with photographing historic bridges and maintaining the website, he is also a founding member of the Oklahoma Highways Group. Notable sections of this site are the Bridges by Highway and the Field Guides page that you can download and take along on your travels.

Spans of Time
This dry but informative site is the product of an Oklahoma Department of Transportation project called the Oklahoma Historic Highway Bridge Project. The site offers photos of early bridges in Oklahoma and the 171 bridges identified as candidates eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Bridges are listed mostly by type so it can be difficult to use as a reference- but it's fun to browse.

This heavily traveled bridge on I-44 was built in 1957. And it shows.

Interesting bridges you may have seen on our show...

This is a railroad underpass on a stretch of original Route 66 near Sapulpa.

- Words and Pictures by Rex Brown

Two Wheel Oklahoma


Anonymous said...

cool story

Anonymous said...

Very nice, I will pay more attention in the future. . .

Anonymous said...

For the Geodetic Survey Marker hunter, there is a marker on the West parapet on the north side of the tracks.

It's a Travel Show

Two Wheel Oklahoma is a television travel show featuring the motorcycle rides of Brad Mathison and Rex Brown along the scenic highways and backroads of Oklahoma.

Each episode highlights a stretch of road or historic route and explores unique destinations along the way. Tune in three times a week on the Cox Channel.

We hope you'll come ride along.

Brad and Rex: co-hosts of Two Wheel Oklahoma