Deerly Departed on Mount Auburn

Mother and I happened to be driving northbound on Mount Auburn Rd. just about dusk a couple of nights ago. When we cleared the Hopper Road light, I looked over at a small clearing and spotted a small deer in the grass. Even though we lived “out in the country” when we moved in 50+ years ago and had cattle grazing the field behind our house, we never saw wild animals bigger than racoons, possums and the rare woodchuck in the neighborhood. It’s only been in the last 10 or 15 years, with development eating up all the countryside, that she has had deer show up in the yard.

When I drove past there at about the same time Saturday night, the deer was in the same place. I thought he might be stuffed until I saw his white tail move.

Does Missouri use decoy deer?

Still not convinced that it was a live deer, I went home and asked Brother Mark if Missouri ever used fake deer to catch hunters shooting where they weren’t supposed to. He said he thought they did, but wasn’t sure.

I asked Mother if she’d like to see if the deer was real or fake. The deer was still there when we pulled into the parking lot of the Ford & Sons Funeral Home on the other side of the street. I got off a couple of shots of the deer and was convinced that it WAS real.

Cars have the right of way

I was walking across the street for a closer shot when the light changed a block away. From the speed the cars were coming, it was clear that cars, not pedestrians, have the right of way on Cape streets. Realizing that walkers were divided into two groups: the quick and the dead, I broke into a run. That spooked not just one deer, but two.

It wasn’t until I looked at the first frame enlarged on the computer that I realized that both of them were visible in the original shot.

Bunny rabbits in front of Franklin School a week ago; deer on Mount Auburn Road on Saturday. Cape’s getting to be a wild town.


Flooded Quarry, Sprigg Sinkholes

The water in the cement plant’s quarry is a little lower than when neighbor Bill Bolton took his photos earlier in the month, but there’s still a lot of water in the bathtub. Here are pictures of the ebb and flow of water in the pit since 2002.

Pumping water into Cape LaCroix Creek

One reason they’re gaining on it is a new pipeline pumping water into Cape LaCroix Creek at South Sprigg. I don’t know if both pipes were being used at one time or if the one is being held as a spare.

It’s only fair that water be pumped  back into the creek because that’s where some of it is seeping from.

Sinkholes present challenge

Getting TO the quarry was a bit of a challenge. You can’t get there by going south out of Cape on South Sprigg. It’s closed at Cape LaCroix Creek because of some massive sinkholes. We had to come in from the west.

Devices along railroad tracks

I don’t know what these devices are along the railroad tracks north of the cement plant and south of the creek. Railroads have been using defect detectors for years to find overheating wheel bearings, called “hotboxes;” loads that have shifted; how many axles are on the train; objects sticking out and other anomalies. The devices transmit a radio report to the crew when it passes.

Until regular reader and train buff Keith Robinson chimes in, I’m going to speculate that these devices may be looking for changes in the track that would signal a sinkhole has opened up or swallowed the track.

Gallery of photos

Here are more photos of the Sprigg Street sinkholes and the railroad devices. Click on any image to make it larger, then click on the right or left side to move through the gallery.

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.

Have We Lost Bloomfield Road?

One of the last scenic roads leading into Cape Girardeau is Bloomfield Rd. When I wrote about a spring alongside the road near Elmwood Apr. 2, 2010, and ran this photo, I wrote under it, “This view, by the way, is the reason Bloomfield Road SHOULDN’T be widened. There should be some roads left that let us appreciate what the area was like before it became paved over. If the road isn’t fast enough for you, then don’t move out there. Ditto Route W. OK, rant off.”

Public Meeting May 26

I happened to see this “Bloomfield Road Improvement Meeting May 26” announcement on the city’s website. Now, when I see something labeled “Improvement,” that’s a signal that it’s a done deal, even without the meeting.

For some of us, widening the road, increasing the speed limits and cutting down the canopy of trees that makes Bloomfield Road special isn’t an “improvement.”

Here’s the full announcement:

Phases 4 and 5 of the Bloomfield Road Improvement Project will be discussed during a public meeting on Thursday, May 26 at 6:30 p.m., at the Osage Centre.

Information will be provided regarding traffic control during phase 4. Affected areas include Bloomfield Road between Stonebridge Drive to just south of the Benton Hill Road intersection. Phase 4 construction is slated to begin mid-June, with utility relocation occurring prior.

Citizen input is requested regarding phase 5, which includes Bloomfield Road west of the Benton Hill Road intersection to White Oaks Lane.

How long before it is Mount Auburnized?

When Mount Auburn Road was proposed to link Hopper and Gordonville Roads in 1961, it was billed as “scenic route west of Cape.” Before long, it turned into a four-lane expressway that gobbled up the front yards of the homes along it.

What happens to the Bloomfield Spring?

My great-great grandmother, my grandmother and my mother all stopped for water at this spring on their treks from Advance to Cape to go shopping. Some of those trips were made by wagon.

This spring, which refreshed travelers for more than a century is right off the roadway. Will it be lost to future generations?

How about the Elmwood Gates?

The old gates that guard the entrance to Elmwood aren’t far off the roadway. Will they get taken out this time or will they be around until the road is four-laned?

Where is Dennis Scivally?

When the first road in Cape County was paved in 1920 – the stretch of South Sprigg called Tollgate Hill – Dennis Scivally, the engineer in charge of the project said, “Several walnut trees had to be cut down, but care will be taken to cut down no trees not absolutely necessary to remove. It is the plan to retain the beauties of the road as well as make it good for traveling over. Along most of the distance are now growing beautiful trees. These will be cared for, underbrush and weeds will be removed, painted signs along the way will be tabooed, as well as signs tacked to trees.”

Where is our Dennis Scivally today?

What can we do?

If I was in Cape, I’d show up at the meeting on May 26 at 6:30 p.m. at the Osage Center. I’m sure it’ll be an exercise in futility, but I’d feel better for having given it a try.

Just do me a favor: if and when they DO chop down the trees and destroy the spirit of the road forever, put in bike lanes. We might as well win SOMETHING out of it.