Cairo’s Railroad Bridge

Aerials Cairo area 08-13-2014You can find out more than you ever wanted to know about the railroad industry in general and the Cairo Railroad Bridge in particular at the Bridges & Tunnels website.

By the late 1800s, as many as 500,000 railroad cars a year were ferried across the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Bridging the rivers was hampered by the Civil War, economics, engineering challenges and the steamboat industry, which saw railroads as an attack on its livelihood.

Click on the photo to make it large enough to see Cairo on the right and Kentucky on the left . Just beyond the curve in the background is where the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers join at Fort Defiance, the southernmost point in Illinois.

First bridge finished in 1889

Aerials Cairo Railroad Bridge 08-13-2014The first Cairo Bridge was an engineering marvel. The 10,650-foot, 52-truss bridge was the longest steel bridge in the world at the time. The total length, including trestles was 3.875 miles.

On October 29, 1899, the first train, consisting of nine 75-ton Illinois Central Mogul engines, the heaviest ones in service on the line, inched across the span. After they made it across the Ohio River safely, the train reversed and picked up a tenth engine, and blasted across the bridge at full speed. The second train to cross was full of newspapermen. I’m surprised they weren’t the first test train.

The Ohio River and the railroad bridge are in the foreground. The blue-green bridge in the background is the I-57 bridge crossing the Mississippi River into Missouri.

Bridge needed replacing by mid-1940s

Aerials Cairo Railroad Bridge 08-13-2014The website reported that a 6.6 earthquake in the New Madrid Sesmic Zone cracked a pier on the bridge in 1895, but repairs were made right away. A 1946 study showed quite a few dangerous deficiencies. Half a century of pounding by heavy loads had worn out key bars and rollers. An anemometer was installed and trains were prohibited from using the bridge when winds were high.

Work on a replacement that used some of the existing piers started in the summer of 1949; it was completed in May 1952.

This photo shows the east side of the bridge and the high levee that protects Cairo from the north.

Keep me in mind

There’s a small DONATE button at the top right of the post.

Thanks for reading my ramblings and thanks for helping offset my expenses.




Iconic Images for Sale

Round Barn on S Sprigg 1966I had a bunch of 12×18 prints made for exhibit consideration. It dawned on me that the extras aren’t doing any good sitting in a rubber bin in Mother’s basement, so I took a few over to Annie Laurie’s Antique Shop on Broadway to see if they would generate any interest (and income). We picked shots that we thought brought back memories of Cape or that were generic enough that it didn’t matter where they were taken.

They sell for $10 each. Similar prints of the same images have been exhibited in museums and galleries, so I can say they are suitable for framing, even though they aren’t printed on photographic paper. You aren’t going to get unique images like this any cheaper.

Folks who have been around for awhile will recognize the round barn that used to be on South Sprigg Street below the cement plant.

Friends on Robinson Road

Friends on Robinson Road exhibit catalog for 07-28-2013 showThe top portrait is the one that’s available. Bill and Jesse are from Ohio, but you could find their counterparts in Southeast Missouri if you poked around.

Give this to your best buddy so he can see what you guys will look like when you get old.

Toilet Paper Wars

Toilet paperIf you know Steve Robert or Mary Wright, this would be a good print to squirrel away for a special gift. A reader sent me a long account of the toilet paper wars in Cape. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth a chuckle.


SEMO Fair Round UpThere are several photos from the days when the district fair was still in black and white. I’ve always liked this shot. Years later, I saw that Robert Frank had a similar photo in his classic 1958 book, The Americans.

This would look good in the kitchen

SEMO Fair Food and drink standHere’s another fair photo. Look at those prices. I can remember scrounging soda bottles for the deposits so I could stay at the fair “just a little bit longer” after my money ran out.

Shop Class

1960s high school shop class2I suspect that OSHA would have problems with this Central High School shop class photo. If you know the guy, though, wouldn’t it be a great birthday present for him or his kids?

If your friends jumped off a bridge …

Castor River 07-31-1964I was a little confused about where I took this photo, but my readers set me straight. If you are in this photo, you might want to snatch it up before giving your grandkids the old “if all your friends jumped off a bridge” speech.

Grosvenor Crossing

Grosvenor Crossing OH during rail strikeThis has always been one of my favorite news shots. The railroads had gone on strike, and I was trying to figure out a different way to tell the story. I went out early on a cold, foggy morning and shot unbroken frost on the tracks at Grosvenor Crossing near Athens, Ohio. To me, that was a better way to show that the trains weren’t running than a bunch of guys holding picket signs.

Closer to Cape, I found that train crews still wave to you around here.

Dancing in the bank parking lot

Teen dance in bank lot 8-21-64I see several familiar faces from the night the TAC club floor was bouncing so much that city officials closed the joint down and the dance moved to the First National Bank parking lot at Broadway and Main. My old debate partner Pat Sommers is in the middle of the shot. Joan Amlingmeyer is to the right of him.

Nellie Vess

Nellie Vess 08-13-1968Nellie Vess and Peggy Sue sit on a porch near Trimble in Southern Ohio. She was one of my favorite people and her story has an interesting twist.

He’s waiting for you

Ohio GravediggerThis gravedigger from Letart Falls, Ohio, could dig a square hole. I’ve used his photo several times, most recently when discussing the skeleton that hung around Central.

This would be good to hang by your alarm clock as a reminder that there are worse things than going to work in the morning.

This isn’t the full selection, and I have more in the rubber bin. Holler if you don’t see one you want and I’ll see if there’s a print already made up. If you are interested in a photo shown here, better grab it before someone else snatches it up.



Fruitland Railroad Depot

Fruitland Houck Railroad depot 04-15-2014Reader Keith Robinson tipped me off about Fruitland having a railroad depot dating back to the Louis Houck days, but it took me some time to get around to looking for it. After a couple of false starts, I ran across this building that had stonework that looked a lot like the depot and headquarters building on Independence Street near Lorimier School. It was located, appropriately enough, on Depot Road.

I knocked on the door to see if the resident knew the history of the building, but nobody answered.

Remnant of  the Cape Girardeau Northern

Fruitland Houck Railroad depot 04-15-2014I sent a copy of the picture to Keith to confirm that I was at the right place.

He replied, “Yes, that is the old Fruitland depot of the Cape Girardeau Northern. As far as I know the depot was built in either 1905 or 1906 when the Cape Girardeau & Chester (a predecessor Houck railroad) entered Fruitland on the way to St Genevieve. The CG&C failed and the CGN came into being in 1913. It suspended operations in 1919, with the track being removed through Jackson, Fruitland and north in 1920. Houck wanted the Frisco to buy the railroad in 1912 – 1913, but the Frisco went into receivership before that deal could be put together. Had that deal been consummated, the Frisco probably would have developed the line to have a way to avoid the river route during flood times. In that case, the towns along that line may have gotten a boost to develop further.

Keith pointed me to an excellent James Baughn blog in The Missourian that has lots of factoids about Southeast Missouri railroading.


The End of the Line

St Louis and Iron Mountain RR Allenville 07-07-2012_3908When I wrote about the Allenville railroad bridge and the petition the Jackson, Gordonville and Delta Railroad Company (JGDR) filed to abandon 13.3 miles of rail line between Delta and Gordonville, I didn’t realize how quickly they’d start ripping up track. As I read it, the petition gave until June 1, 2013, for anyone to object. The ink must have been hardly dry before rails were being pulled up.

Here was the Renfroe Street and E. Second crossing in Allenville July 7, 2012.

Rails were spread in 2012

St Louis and Iron Mountain RR Allenville 07-07-2012_3912It was obvious little or no maintenance had been done on the tracks in this area. The rails had spread north of the crossing.

Tracks torn up in 2013

St Louis and Iron Mountain tracks Allenville 07-12-2013_6118Here’s a view north of the crossing July 12, 2013. The ties have been removed and the rails pulled up.

Split rail, gravel and brush in 2012

St Louis and Iron Mountain RR Allenville 07-07-2012_3935A train would have had to negotiate a split rail, hop a gravel-clogged intersection and plow through brush south of the intersection when this photo was taken in 2012.

Brush gone, but so is track

St Louis and Iron Mountain tracks Allenville 07-12-2013_6119Last week’s photo shows the brush has been cleared from the right of way, but the tracks are gone, too.

Tracks overgrown NE of town

St Louis and Iron Mountain RR NE of Allenville 07-07-2012_3897The tracks northeast of Allenville were overgrown in 2012. You wouldn’t know a railroad ran there except for the raised roadbed and an occasional glimpse of steel.

Bolted, not welded

St Louis and Iron Mountain tracks Allenville 07-12-2013_6125This railroad was built long before trains ran on continuous ribbons of welded tracks. Each individual piece of steel had to be bolted together. The short pieces in this scrap heap are the ones that connected the rails with huge nuts, bolts and lockwashers.

Cutting the bolts

St Louis and Iron Mountain tracks Allenville 07-12-2013_6135I didn’t look closely enough at the bolts to see if they were ground off or if, more likely, a cutting torch was used on them.

Is there a railroad lost here?

St Louis and Iron Mountain RR NE of Allenville 07-07-2012_3894Nature had pretty much reclaimed this section northeast of Allenville in 2012.

The same spot in 2013

St Louis and Iron Mountain tracks Allenville 07-12-2013_6130

The right of way would allow the passage of a train today, but there wouldn’t be any rails for it to run on. I would love to see this land preserved for a future rails to trail, but that’s probably too much to hope for.

The demolition hasn’t gotten too much outside Allenville to the north. I don’t know where they started or if they’ve ripped up the bridge over the Diversion Channel yet.

Older stories

St Louis and Iron Mountain tracks Allenville 07-12-2013_6131I’ll run other photos taken last summer of where the railroad ran between Gordonville and Allenville just so future historians can see what the line looked like. Here are some earlier stories I’ve done about the JGDR, also known as the St. Louis and Delta Railroad Company. Based on the looks of the rolling stock in Jackson next to Mario’s Pasta House, I wouldn’t count on the railroad being around very long.