I’m Pronounced “Normal;” I’m Disappointed

In1968 or ’69, I was coming back from an assignment when a farm tractor hauling a wagonload of kids pulled out in front of me from a side road. Instead of hitting the tractor or the kids, I opted to steer off the road into a ditch.

I knew the trooper who showed up to work the incident.

“I guess that’s the quickest you’ve ever gotten to the scene of a crash, huh?” That’s what passes for trooper humor in Ohio.

I had one of those moments this afternoon. I found out that (a) two bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time, and (b) the Law of Gravity has not been repealed.

I’ll go into detail about my bicycle accident later. Right now I’m sore and the pain pills have me a bit more confused than usual.

“Don’t worry, Doc. He’s always like this”

I declined to take a ride with all the fancy lights and sirens (at about a hundred bucks a minute), but I did opt for Wife Lila to take me in to be checked out. The ER doc was a bit concerned after questioning me until Wife Lila said, “Don’t worry, Doc. He’s ALWAYS like this.”

I landed hard on my left hip, left shoulder and knee, and painted the concrete with a fair amount of skin crayon. To be on the safe side, they X-rayed me from knees to the tip of my head and sent me through a CT scan.

The Doc came out about an hour later and pronounced me “normal”.

My feelings were hurt. Mother told me all these years that I’m above average.

The photo above shows why I wear a helmet. That and the life lesson I got from my riding partner Mary, who WASN’T wearing one once.

Back to regular programming Tuesday, I hope.

Crash Damages Church Sign

I see what looks like car juice on the street, sidewalk and lawn in front of a sign that’s taking a nap in front of the Evangelical United Church of Christ at the corner of Merriwether and South Ellis. Based on other photos in the envelope, I’m going to guess these wreck pictures were taken some time in September of 1966.

Evangelical United Church of Christ sign back up

I checked out Google Earth this evening, it looked like the sign has been replaced.

When I called Cape this evening, Mother said, “Looks like you’ve been slacking off the last few days.” I tried to explain to her that I’ve been working on a project that’s kept me busy, so I’ve been reaching into the negative drawer for stuff that doesn’t require a lot of research. It’s tough when your own mother gives you a C-minus grade. I’m probably going to have to turn in some extra homework to bring up my grade.

By the way, if you’ve noticed something new at the top of the page – three rotating photos of Central High School cheerleaders, the CHS Alma Mater and something touting the Cape Central High Centennial, click on them and you’ll be taken to a website with information about how you can order a quite nice book celebrating 100 years of Cape Central High School. I was going to have a story about the book and the high school’s new library, but Mother was right: I WAS slacking off today. I took advantage of a perfect Florida afternoon to go bike riding with a couple of friends. I’ll be pounding dusty erasers for a week for playing hooky.


Deadly Old Appleton Bridge Set for Replacement

Missourian webmaster James Baughn and author of The Pavement Ends blog, had a story headlined “The Death Trap at Old Appleton will soon be demolished.”

He did a great job of telling the history of the bridge and the paper’s campaign to get it replaced. I won’t plow the same ground, I’ll just encourage you to read his blog. By the way, you can click on any of these photos to make them larger.

Missourian campaigned for improvements

The story hit home for me because a lot of the pictures that were used in the campaign were ones that I took. I don’t know if One-Shot Frony didn’t want to run the spot news or if he was out of town, but for some reason, I was the designated Old Appleton crash photographer for a number of months.

Despite front-page coverage and editorials, about all we accomplished was getting some warning signs posted in advance of the bridge.

Danger could sneak up on you

In the 1965 aerial photo above, Hwy 61 curves from the top left to the bottom right. The old highway passed through Old Appleton and crossed Apple Creek at the mill next to the old bridge. The Silver Dollar Tavern is located just north of the bridge.

As James points out, the bridge doesn’t look dangerous from a distance. A combination of things made it hazardous, particularly for out-of-town drivers. First, it’s located on a curve at the bottom of a downhill stretch of road. It was too easy to build up speed going down the hill, find the curve was sharper than it appeared and overcompensate.

Adding to the danger was the “lip curb” design of sections of Hwy 61. Instead of being flat, the sides of the road had a slightly inclined curb. Periodically, the curb was broken by V-shaped drains. If you weren’t paying attention or needed to get as far to the right as you could, it was easy to ride up on the curb. Your first instinct was to pull the steering wheel back to the left, which would send you careering over into oncoming traffic.

Bridge hasn’t changed much

If you did that while coming up on a drain, you would find yourself riding up, crashing down and then bouncing into the air when you hit the high side of the curb again. Loss of control and blown tires were common. The highway was repaved over the years, bringing the roadway even with the curbs, which eliminated the danger, fortunately.

Of course, folks who have been raised on Interstates and cruise control don’t know what a trip to St. Louis was like in the Old Days.

Curvy, narrow with steep grades

U.S. Highway 61, running between Chicago and New Orleans was a curvy, narrow road with steep grades by today’s standards. The speed limit was 70 miles per hour, so you were closing with oncoming traffic at 140+ miles per hour with no median or safety cable to keep you apart.

On top of that, because the trucks of that day were so underpowered, a heavily loaded truck could back up traffic for a mile or more. Eventually, somebody would ignore the double yellow line and pass on a hill or blind curve, with disastrous results. Remember, cars didn’t have seatbelts, crumple zones, airbags, collapsible steering columns or padded dashed. Kids rode standing up or stretched out in the rear window deck.

When people say, “they don’t build them like they used to,” they’re right. Today’s cars are designed to crumple so that the sheet metal absorbs a lot of the impact. Those solid steel frames and heavy bumpers insured that the crash energy was transmitted directly to the occupants, who frequently became unguided missiles.

Vehicles would crash through guardrails

Several times over they years, cars and trucks would go over the side of the Old Appleton Bridge. I’m not sure exactly which wreck this one was, but the trooper and a volunteer are looking for someone who plunged into Apple Creek. The police report said the southbound driver ran up on that lip curb I described, overcompensated when he tried to pull back on the road, then broke through the east guardrail.

I’ll never forget one crash. Not because of what I saw at the scene, but what happened after I got back to the office. If I remember correctly, they had recovered one body and identified the driver, but there was concern that there might have been a passenger in the car who was unaccounted for.

“Was anybody riding with your brother?”

I was coming up on a hard deadline and decided to show a bit of enterprise. Since I had the driver’s name and since quite a few hours had gone by since the crash, I assumed that the family had been notified. I found out the name of the driver’s brother and called him. “Do you know if anyone was riding with your brother?” I’d like to think that I didn’t finish the sentence with “when he went over the bridge,” but I’m afraid that I probably didn’t stop in time.

There was a pause, and the man asked, “What do you mean?”

I apologized for my call and said someone would be contacting him soon. I hung up as quickly as possible and called the highway patrol to suggest that they might want to speed up their notification calls. I never did that again.

That was the second-worse call I handled at The Missourian.

The worst phone call of all

The worst call came in when I was filling in as news editor handing the AP wire copy. Back in those days, people relied on the newspaper for news, so a phone call asking about a news story wasn’t unusual.

When the phone rang on my desk and an elderly man asked if I happened to know the flight number of the airliner that had crashed, I didn’t think twice about swiveling around to grab a piece of wire copy off the teletype and casually saying, “”Sure, it’s flight number 1234.”

“My granddaughter…”

There was a sharp intake of breath and the man said, “My granddaughter is on that plane.” The next thing I heard was the sound of the phone dropping and a “bonk, bonk, bonk” as it bounced at the end of its cord against the wall.

A better newsman would have stayed on the line on the off chance that someone would pick up the phone and he’d have a chance to interview a family member.

I put my handset back on the cradle and went in to tell editor John Blue that there might be a local angle to the crash story. Then I told him a fib, “The man hung up the phone before I could ask him any questions.”

Sorry, Mr. Blue, for the fib. I’d like to think you would understand.

Driving on Ice Crash Course

I was cruising around on a snowy December day in 1966 when I learned that studded snow tires will help you get GOING, but aren’t all that great at stopping.

Jim Stone, Carol Klarsfeld and I were creeping down a steep hall off Bertling when I came around a curve to find a car skidded out and sideways on my side of the road. I put on my brakes, but the same ice that kept him from going UP the hill kept me from stopping going DOWN the hill.

You can’t hurt a 59 Buick LaSabre

My car caught his left rear door and left rear quarter panel, crunching sheet metal and peeling paint. The damage to my 1959 Buick LaSabre station wagon was so insignificant that I didn’t even shoot a photo of it.

It was certainly less a dent than I got on my first driving lesson with Ernie Chiles.

First on the scene

Considering how many miles I drove a year under all kinds of condition, I was pretty lucky (knock wood) never to have been involved in a serious crash. I DID have a few fender benders, though.

I was cruising on a twisty road in Southern Ohio when a farm tractor pulling a trailer full of kids pulled out of a lane in front of me. I opted to steer into a ditch to keep from hitting the tractor. Damage was minimal, but I reported the crash anyway.

The trooper who pulled up recognized me and said, “I bet that’s the fastest you’ve ever been to the scene of an accident.”

How to deal with insurance companies

Not long after that, I was following a bus that was coming into a small Ohio town. The bus stopped. I stopped. The guy behind me DIDN’T stop. He was cited. He had insurance with Grange Insurance, which took its sweet time settling with me.

I was hanging out at the highway patrol HQ trading gossip and complaining about getting jerked around when one of the troopers gave me some advice: “Call the agent and tell him that it’s a good thing it’s taking so long for them to get you a check. You’ve noticed some pains in your neck and back that didn’t start hurting right away. If it doesn’t stop hurting by tomorrow, you’ll go to the doctor to get checked out.”

Insurance adjuster tracked me down

I did as he said. That night, I was covering a high school football game in Logan, OH, where this photo was taken. At half time, a guy walked up to me and asked if I was Ken Steinhoff. I said I was.

It was the insurance agent from Grange. He wanted to know if we could go to my car to get out of the rain. When we got to it, I asked if he would like me to get a flashlight so he could inspect the damage to my vehicle.

“No, I just wanted to get out of the rain so I could write you a check if you think the amount is reasonable.” It was more than reasonable. My aches and pains went away immediately.