Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tama and the Lincoln Highway Bridge

When the creation of the Lincoln Highway was announced in 1913, officials of the Iowa town of Tama got excited. When it was confirmed the route for this new experiment in overland-road travel was going right through their town they jumped into action and in 1915 built a bridge just for the new highway.

Not necessarily very exciting news is it? I mean there was going to be hundreds of bridges along the Lincoln Highway. and the Tama bridge would only span about 22 feet, not even as long as its mandated 24 foot width, to carry cars over the mundanely named Mud Creek.

But the city fathers thought of that and they made sure this was the only bridge of it's kind in the country by designing unique guard rails that spell out LINCOLN HIGHWAY  in concrete.

The green line above (Ignore the yellow, and even heavy white lines, they did not exist in 1915.) is roughly the original alignment of the Lincoln Highway. The black arrow points to where the Lincoln Bridge carried the highway across Mud Creek

Just 11 years later the yellow line was the new routing for the Lincoln Highway

Unfortunately, it's not in people's nature to leave things alone (How else to you expect bureaucrats to justify their publicly paid salaries if they aren't constantly meddling in order to look busy??) and only 11 years after it was commissioned, the Lincoln Highway was rerouted through Tama, and the new routing was just enough to leave the Lincoln Bridge - well - high and dry.

But at least the highway was still going right through the heart of town and business was good.

Eventually though US30 came along (The blue line) and traveler-dependent business's had to move from the town center out to the new-fangled highway.

But wait!! Those bureaucrats weren't done spending public money yet!!

Apparently the thought of through traffic having to deal with the handful of traffic lights in town was unacceptable, and a high-speed bypass was built in 2014. (Some of that Economic Incentive money?) Now if you lean over to change the radio station at just the wrong moment you might not even know you just went by Tama!

I have my own thoughts of whether it was worth the $82 million it cost us taxpayers (US highway = US dollars = our federal income taxes.) to divert the estimated 7500 vehicles a day right around the businesses that depended on them, but now most of the stranded businesses can not afford to move to the limited real-estate at one of the three access points along the new bypass because national chains are buying up that land at - well - national chain prices.

Apparently business at the King Tower restaurant, open on the Lincoln Highway since 1937, has been cut in half since the bypass opened and even the auto-parts store is noticing a drop in sales of things like windshield wipers and de-icer.

But the town has stood firm and made sure that this unique bridge is being preserved none-the-less, with maintenance when needed, and an annual Lincoln Highway Bridge Festival to remind people that the historical, even though bypassed, is still important.

When the highway was realigned the first time, in 1926, the town grabbed up the little triangle of land  that was formed by the new routing there at the east end of the bridge

and created a pocket-park which provides parking, a little information for those interested in history and a place to just stop for a minute or two.

And today you can still drive across this original piece of the Lincoln Highway

and follow the banners, paid for by the town itself, to trace the original route of the landmark highway within it's streets. (Seven new banners bought in 2011 to replace the old, faded banners, at a cost of $153 each for a total of $1071 plus shipping.)

Because a town of less than 3000 believes in it's heritage, I was able to drive that old route

and imagine what it was like back in the days when travel by road was a real adventure.

But Tama is small and eventually I came out the other side and back to today.


  1. That's a nice touch to the design of the bridge.

    1. I looked up close ad personal but couldn't figure out if the railings were case as individual pieces then assembled one letter at a time or if they were cast in one piece. Either way, it was some complex form-work.

  2. We've seen things like this happen to small towns in New Mexico when I-40 replaced Route 66. What a loss when colorful communities and interesting places become abandoned shells.

    1. I couldn't agree more. The loss of the likes of the old Santa Rosa or Tucumcarie is heartbreaking. The sad thing is, we keep doing it to ourselves. Either we're the traveler grumbling about having to slow down for a few traffic lights or we're the townspeople complaining about the very traffic we survive on. . .