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Route 66 Caravan Road Log:
June 16, 2003


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Historic Chain of Rocks Bridge

Chain of Rocks Bridge 1930s
Chain of Rocks Bridge in the 1930's

The mighty Mississippi River separates Missouri from Illinois. The Mississippi River has always been a natural trade route since the earliest times. Native Americans, then trappers and traders plied its waterway from the Gulf of Mexico to villages and outposts far inland. Though it aided exploration and trade into the heart of our great country, just to cross it always posed a problem. In the early days, ferryboats provided a way to get wagons from one side of the river to the other. With the increase in traffic and the advent of the automobile that form of river crossing was just not acceptable anymore. If you stop to think about it, bridges are one of the most important inventions of mankind. No longer would a canyon or river pose a barrier to trade and separate peoples. But to construct a bridge to span the Mississippi River, have it hold up to heavy traffic, resist spring flooding, and still allow ships to pass under it is quite a modern engineering feat. The Chain of Rocks Bridge is such a bridge.
     
Chain of Rocks Sign The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge spans one of the most scenic areas of the Mississippi River. When it was completed in 1929 it shortened travel time between St. Louis, Missouri and Edwardsville, Illinois. It is 5,353 feet long and is one of the longest continuous steel truss bridges in the country.
      
One of the most distinctive features of the Chain of Rocks Bridge is the 22-degree bend in the middle. This feature allowed southbound riverboats to align with the current, slip between the Bridge's piers and avoid crashing into two water intake towers midstream just south of the Bridge.

Chain of Rocks Bridge

     

Chain of Rocks Exhibit

The Chain of Rocks Bridge became a part of Route 66 in 1936 and was used until 1968 when the opening of the toll-free I-270 bridges caused a decline in traffic. Another factor in the decline of the bridge was that it is just plain too narrow for the modern larger automobiles and trucks. The bend in the middle of the bridge posed a problem too and was the scene of many an accident.
         
Today the Chain of Rocks Bridge stands as a monument to man's ingenuity and is preserved by the City of Madison and Trailnet for use as a pedestrian and bike bridge. But this feat of historic preservation may not have come about at all if it wasn't for a bad economic market for scrap metal in the mid-seventies. Originally the bridge was slatted for demolition in 1975 but the cost of demolition rendered the project unprofitable. That's a good thing to for all of us today. Perhaps the filming of the sci-fi movie "Escape From New York" with Kurt Russell also changed the developer's mind about the economic feasibility of leaving the bridge standing. Whatever the reason, we can all enjoy the Chain of Rocks Bridge today.

 

Chain of Rocks Crossing

Today was a special day for the Route 66 Caravan. Through the cooperation of Trailnet, the City of Madison and dedicated Route 66ers in both Illinois and Missouri we were going to attempt to cross the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge. Ted Curtis of Trailnet was a big help in getting this little adventure off the ground too. After careful calculation, which consisted of a tape measure and a fair amount of "I think I can," we began the historic crossing.
Getting Ready for the Crossing

Getting ready for the crossing ~ (left to right) Fran Eickhoff, Kevin Hansel, Jane Dipple, Emily Priddy, Ron Warnick (back), Jim Conkle, Ted Curtis, Debby Birger, Ollie Schwallenstecker, Bernard Birger, Jaimie Hall, and Jeff Meyer

     
Debby and Bernard

Debby and Bernards Pride and Joy

        
Ollie's 65 Mustang

Debby and Bernard of Debby's Frozen Custard with their classic pink '58 Cadillac and Ollie Schwallenstecker of the Illinois Route 66 Association with his '65 Mustang came along for the river crossing.

      

Jane Dipple and Fran Eickhoff of the Missouri Route 66 Association crossed the bridge in a more modern conveyance. It had air conditioning!

Fran and Jane Cross the Bridge

      

Jeff Meyer
Jeff Meyer placing a bet with his "bookie" (Becky Ransom President of the Old Route 66 Association of Texas) on whether Jim will make it across the bridge or not.

66 Caravan RV Gets in a Tight Place
Jim trying to get across the bridge ~ Somebody got stuck! The vintage Model A fire truck had to moved about 6 inches to allow Jim to pass.

     
66 Caravan RV Makes it Across the Bridge

The Route 66 Caravan RV indeed made it across the Chain of Rocks Bridge, though there were a couple of tense moments.

 

Debby's Frozen Custard

Bernard and Debby Birger

After our historic crossing it was time to celebrate. The perfect place was at Debby's Frozen Custard stand on the Chain of Rocks road.

      
Debby and Bernard have a dream! They purchased the Sun Motel, a vintage 1940's court on Route 66, and are in the process of restoring it to its former glory, though it still looks pretty good right now. They also opened a small frozen custard stand on the property and that is turning into a real gold mine. I foresee that it will become a must stop for all the avid road wanderers when they visit the Chain of Rocks Bridge on the Illinois side of the river.

Debby's Frozen Custard

 


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