Atchison, Kansas, is a nice place to visit. But I live in Missouri and that usually means that I have to cross the Emelia Earhart Bridge. The bridge spans the muddy Missouri River. It is a steel truss bridge, built in 1937 by the WPA – the Works Progress Administration. As I drove the old bridge I could not helping think of the bridge collapse in Minneapolis this past summer. Construction on a new Atchison bridge is scheduled to begin in 2009.
The Amelia Earhart Bridge was renamed in 1997, as a celebration of the historic pilot’s centennial birth in Atchison, Kansas. Originally named the Free Bridge – because it had no tolls – it would be sixty years before the Kansas Farmers began to use their imagination. (While in Kansas I had the opportunity to sit with several of those farmers and I enjoyed harassing them. Some of them take it better than others. They make fun of my gray hair, I call them drunk Kansas Farmers – it goes like that. Even Don Imus would not have us on his show.)
Back to the bridge – it is an extension of U.S. Highway 59. That is one of those old two-lane affairs that wind through the river bluffs and along the river bottoms. Statistically, it is one of the deadliest stretches of roadway in the U.S.
I was driving my old 1992 Chevy pickup (a hillbilly Cadillac) and was quickly boxed in by two of those big rigs, semi tractor trailer diesel gulping monsters. There was a heavy fog in the river bottoms and I drove at 60 miles per hour on faith alone. I could not see beyond the trucks or the fog. I did manage to see the bridge warning sign – cautioning not to overload the old bridge.
The sign said 25T limit. That means twenty five tons. Times 2,000, that is a load limit of 50,000 pounds. These semi tractor trailer monsters are rated between 72,000 and 80,000 pounds. Whoa. I was boxed in and eager to meet my Kansas farmer friends – so I forged ahead up the bridge ramp. I was directly over the Missouri River when the truck in front of me hit a bump (the bridge is loaded with pot holes) and I could feel the bridge vibrate under the strain.
Faith. Faith alone. Or insanity. I don’t know why I crossed that bridge yesterday – but I am grateful that the trucks were not fully loaded.