Saturday, December 05, 2015

Bridging the Chariton River --- twice

I fielded a call yesterday via Avis at City Hall from a gentleman in Michigan who was curious about an old photograph he'd found. Labeled "Chariton, Iowa, 1913" it depicts a wooden trestle bridge under construction. He plans to forward a scan, so hopefully I'll get to take a closer look in a few days.

But it's fun to speculate beforehand, so I'm guessing that since the year was 1913 the bridge was related to the new north-south Rock Island line, officially known as the St. Paul & Kansas City Short Line, built through Chariton 1911-1913.

The new rail line had a dual purpose. It was part of Rock Island strategy to offer a direct rail link from St. Paul, Minn., to Kansas City, and filled a gap in service by connecting Carlisle, southeast of Des Moines, and Allerton, in Wayne County. From there, another rail line carried traffic onward to Kansas City.

But it also allowed the vast coal fields in northeast Lucas and south Marion counties to open, creating an economic boom that continued through the 1920s.

For its time, this was a vast project involving some 1,200 men and 750 teams of mules along the entire route. Most of the heaviest lifting was done, however, by huge steam shovels, several of which rolled into Chariton on the existing C.B.&Q. main line, opened in 1867.

These shovels made possible the deep cuts that carry tracks through town on a fairly level grade and make what now is the Union Pacific less obtrusive than the older C.B.&Q., now Burlington Northern & Santa Fe, tracks, which snake through town at surface level carrying dozens of trains a day, all hooting at multiple crossings. There are no Union Pacific grade crossings in town.

Multiple timber bridges were built, however, to carry roads across the new tracks and I'm guessing that the photograph may involve one of those.

There were two especially complex bridging projects in the immediate Chariton area. One involved a new concrete and steel bridge to carry existing C.B.&Q. tracks over new Rock Island tracks in the south part of town.

The other, south of town, involved the Chariton River crossing --- and these photos, taken during early November a year or two ago, are of the final bridge there, still sound and in service. Hunters and hikers see this bridge --- some distance east of the Highway 14 river bridge just where the river turns south against rising bluffs --- but few others do, although it's an easy hike back.

There were actually two bridges at this location --- first a timber trestle bridge commenced during May of 1911 and completed during the late fall of that year. Once that bridge had done its job, it was removed and the current concrete and steel bridge built in its place to carry regular rail traffic.

The big steam shovel known as the Mathews Shovel began to work toward the river from south Chariton during the summer of 1911, then progress stalled as work on the trestle bridge across the river moved toward completion. Dirt removed from the cuts made by the shovel was for the most part intended to be used as fill to raise the grade across the marshy bottom south of the river.

Once the trestle bridge was in place, the shovel went back to work and a light construction engine and smaller cars hauled the fill across the river.

Once the grade had been established and permanent tracks laid, the old timber bridge was removed and its concrete and steel replacement put into place. 

The new short line opened to regular freight and passenger traffic during July of 1913, although trains moved very slowly between Carlisle and Allerton for several months as the new rail bed settled into place.

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