Relics in our back yard

Omaha is really just a normal place, so normal it’s easy to miss the unique things around town.  Sure, it’s the home of Warren Buffett, Mutual of Omaha (remember Wild Kingdom?), a great zoo, a fantastic symphony, Union Pacific RR and other neat things but sitting in the heart of fly-over country all its features are readily overlooked by people on the way from Chicago to Denver.  Even folks who’ve lived here for a while (I’m starting to fall into that demographic) tend to be lulled by the normal nature of the place to the point they forget what’s here.

As an example, flying out of the airport and over the river there’s a view of a swing bridge over the Missouri.  A swing bridge is one that rotates around an axis to allow traffic on the water to pass by.  Bridges are everywhere on the Missouri to the point you only pay attention to them when you need to cross the river and there’s not a bridge on the road you’re using at the moment!  Anyway, after a few passes over this bridge I pretty much stopped noticing it as it appeared to be permanently open and not being used.

One day I was driving on the Iowa side and noticed interstate 29 passes pretty close to that bridge.  The Iowa side span is indeed permanently open (the bridge was taken out of service in 1980) and glancing over I saw a couple of interesting compositions, as well as a trail running along the river.  “Can I walk to the bridge,” I wondered?  Usually structures like this are surrounded by fences, guard shacks and warnings to stay away pending dramatic legal actions.  Was it possible this one was more accessible?

I love bridges.  They are physical statements of man’s ability to overcome a force of nature – the river.  Given the duty they are called to perform, steel bridges always look spindly and undernourished to me, yet they hold up all that weight and allow us to get from one side of the water to the other.  It’s engineering magic and that thrill doesn’t go away for me just because it’s an old bridge or not in service.

The compositions I thought I saw were indeed there when I made it over to the shore.  I even got a chance to play around with “obvious” HDR, which I think really brings some drama to structures.  You can see some images below.  Take a look at those gears and rollers needed to turn such a massive piece of metal.

I met a guy fishing near the bridge and he told me a little of its history as he’d grown up in the area.  He knew it had been in service when he was a boy but didn’t have an idea of how old it was.  Both of us wondered why it had been left standing – scrap steel is very useful and cost efficient to use these days.

Still, I thought it was just another bridge abandoned as the railroad consolidated to newer and fewer routes.  When I got home I thought I’d see if there was anything on the Internet about it to but in my image metadata, but not really expecting much.  It’s just an old rusty bridge in Omaha, right?

Was I surprised.  It’s called the Illinois Central Swing Bridge and in the early 20th century it was the longest swing bridge in the world; even in 1975 it was the third longest.  The Iowa side was built in 1893 of wrought iron and the Nebraska side in 1908 of steel.  Although it’s not used anymore (oddly enough the bridge is owned by the Canadian National RR) it remains standing just in case a problem arises with the Union Pacific Missouri River bridge farther downstream.  Not a bad idea given the amount of rail freight that passes through Omaha every day and the nasty nature of the Missouri to go wild at times.

And I’m not the only person finding this bridge interesting

There you have it, yet another not-normal thing found in the Omaha area.  I really need to pay more attention to what’s around…

Click on an image below to see a larger version.


4 thoughts on “Relics in our back yard

  1. nice piece, you’ve made something mundane take on real meaning, love the 5hdr image, beautiful greens and blues throughout, you’re making me want to blog again, almost!


  2. Nice photos Mel. When I moved to town in the mid-90’s I frequently rode my bike past the bridge. Over the years I did see it swung closed on a few occasions, and once a lone locomotive was crossing the bridge. Unfortunately I never saw it actually moving, as I wonder how long it takes to move such a massive structure. So it does still operate, but they must only do so on rare occasions to inspect the condition of the track.


    • Brian,
      The approach from the Iowa side has the track torn up for about 100 feet so if they wanted to use it again that would have to be replaced. Be nice to get an image of a train on the bridge. Wonder how to find out when they test the structure and close it? Thanks for your comments.


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