Best Kept Secret: A School Bus Bridge in Kentucky

PRESTONSBURG, KENTUCKY- When traveling through the state of Kentucky, one will be awed by the state’s hilly landscapes, several memorial sites and in some cases, perhaps some historic bridges that are worth a visit. One place a tourist should plan to visit is Floyd County- specifically in the area of Prestonsburg, where history and landscapes come into one. Most recently, a 8.6 mile trail running along Middle Creek Levisa Fork opened to cyclists and pedestrians, connecting Prestonsburg with a small, former mining village of David. All of the trail runs along KY Hwy. 404 and along the way, one will have a chance to see some historic sites, most notably the Middle Creek National Battlefield. Six historic bridges along the route have been restored for reuse.

Yet there is a unique bridge, located near Archer Park, that has gathered a lot of attention since the trail’s opening in August of last year. It’s a school bus that was converted into a steel through bridge. The motive behind this idea was reusing a school bus that was no longer in service, which was the case for a 40+ year old school bus that operated under the Nr. 404 by using the top half and integrating it into the wooden deck beam bridge. 

End result is instead of sitting down on the school bus, because we were told to do so by our school bus drivers when we were growing up, we are basically running through the school bus with both sides open. Some of us had tried to run up and down the school bus until the driver stopped the bus and put an end to the nonsense. From a personal point of view, we even played Simon Says and harassed the bus driver one time, only to get a call from the principal and some of us being punished for it.  For this bridge, it’s perfect to reenact that and then some. But horseplay is not the only thing you can do on the school bus bridge; one can enjoy getting photos of this unique structure, especially as it is tucked away in the Appalachian Mountains, laden with luscious trees.

But there is an underlying meaning behind the school bus bridge and it dates back to over 65 years ago. On February 28, 1958, a school bus numbered 27 carrying 48 children collided with a truck along US Hwy. 23. The bus then fell off an embankment into the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River, where it was swept downstream by the violent waters before it was submerged. 22 children managed to escape, yet 26 others plus the bus driver drowned. The bus and the bodies were discovered two days later, and to this day, it is the third worst disaster involving a school bus in US history. Two songs and two movies were later released, paying tribute to the victims of Bus 27.  The school bus bridge not only pays tribute to these victims, but it sends a direct message to the public, which is to pay attention to the school bus, the signals and crossing guards, and the children who board the bus but also ride it to and from school. If there is a statement, it would be this: Be aware and respect the bus- red means stop.

There have been many ways to recycle materials and use them for bridges. Some have used roofs made of metal. Others use rail boxcars. But the use of the school bus is the latest example of creative ways to build a bridge and make it not only inexpensive but also fancy for people to see. The School Bus Bridge along the Prestonsburg-David/ Levisa Fork Trail is one of the most attractive sites along the trail, let alone in the region. It reuses a bus but pays tribute to not only the tragedy of 1958, but also to all the school bus drivers who devote their time and effort to escort children to and from school safely.  I’m not sure if my bus drivers of my childhood will have a chance to see this unique artwork, but if you don’t have it on your bucket list, add it and go there. You will not regret it. 😉

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Special thanks to David Kravetz for allowing me to use his photos and for point this out in the fb page The American Two-Lane.

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