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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BHC Pic of the Week Nr. 147: Tribute to James Baughn

As summer vacation is approaching, we would like to take you to a man-made lake and this unique duo crossing, located in Taney County, Missouri. The Shadow Rock Bridge spans Swan Creek at the site where US 160 once crossed near the town of Forsyth. The crossing features two different bridges, located next to each other but having different types and even heights. The lower bridge features an open-spandrel deck arch with concrete deck cantilever approach spans. That span was built in 1932 by M.E. Gillioz and replaced the first crossing, a two-span Pratt through truss bridge with A-frame portal bracings. The higher bridge succeeded the arch span 20 years later. The two-span Parker through truss bridge with riveted connections and WV portal bracings was built by Porter and DeWitt in 1952. Both bridges are still being used to this day, with the arch bridge serving as direct access to Shadow Rock Park and statue. The truss spans carries through traffic but is in need of new paint and some rehab work, though the picture taken by Mr. Baughn doesn’t show the rust but the silver coloring.

Duo bridges of this kind are rare to find these as they are either being replaced with modern structures or removed in their entirety. This was noticeable with a bridge couple in Floyd County, Iowa at Nora Springs. We had a two-span arch bridge at First Street that was built in 1916 and a taller Viaduct at Congress Street built only 300 feet away in 1955. It was a pleasant site to see them side-by-side during my visit there in 1998. Sadly both are gone now- the viaduct was replaced in 2008, the arch bridge was removed in December last year. 

But aside from the Shadow Rock Bridges where two bridges are side-by-side and at least 65 years old, which other examples do you know? Feel free to comment. Who knows, it might give bridgehunters a chance to visit them this summer, especially as we’re slowly but surely returning to normal after a year in standstill because of the Corona epidemic and chaos caused by…… You know who I’m referring to, right? 😉

Happy Bridgehunting, folks! 🙂

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Mystery Bridge nr. 6: Ripley’s Crossing

Not so far south from Charles City, Iowa and just east of the Avenue of the Saints (US Hwy. 218 and Iowa Hwy. 27), one will find on the map, two crossings over the Cedar River: one carrying the name 240th Street (or County Highway B-59) and the Ripley Bridge Road, located just a few hundred feet to the south. While B 59 Bridge represents a modern bridge crossing with little aesthetic and historic value that is still used today by farmers tending to their fields, the other crossing, albeit extant on the Google Maps, no longer exists.
I inquired about this bridge with a colleague at the Floyd County Historical Society to find out whether this bridge existed, let alone what it looked like before its removal. This is what I was provided with:

Ripley’s Crossing. Image courtesy of the Floyd County Historical Society Photos Collection.

As you can see in the old black and white photo, the bridge was rather a large structure, consisting of a pin-connected Parker through truss bridge with Town Lattice portal bracing featuring curved heel support bracing. A builder’s plaque was located at the top of the portals, but one cannot see the print, leaving the historian in the dark as to determining when it was built and who the bridge builder was.  However, according to the information provided by the museum, the bridge was named after the family who resided near the structure, together with another family, the Parkers- even though it is highly unlikely that they are related to the inventor of the truss design, Charles H. Parker. He patented the truss design in 1884 and this type was the second-most constructed in Iowa between 1890 and 1940 behind the Pratt truss.

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It is very likely that the bridge was replaced by the current structure built to the north, although it is unknown whether the truss span was removed shortly after it was open to traffic, left into place but later removed due to structure deterioration or even destroyed by natural disaster, or if the two bridges were in service side-by side but the truss bridge was taken down and not replaced because of its expandability. In either case, there are a lot of questions to be answered about this bridge; among other things:


When was the bridge built and who built it?
What is the history behind the bridge? What stories can be related to this unique structure?
When was it demolished and why?

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It is known that Floyd County is rich with history related to the bridges that existed. This included the pedestrian suspension bridge in Charles City (lost to flooding in 2008 and now replaced), the Marble Rock Bridge (replaced in 1995) and the Philips Mill and Crossing over Lime Creek, one of the most unusual truss bridges ever built (now replaced). While these bridges no longer exist, they have been extensively documented and can be found in the county history books. It is likely that the existing historic structures, like the Rockford Bridge, the Nora Springs bridges, and the Main Street Bridge in Charles City will follow suit, if they have not been documented in its entirety already. It is the question of including the Ripley Bridge in the history book. Given the unique appearance and potential for history, it definitely deserves to be in the history books.