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Catching hold of history

Concerned Boonville residents are trying to preserve parts of a bridge to the past.
Friday, October 8, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:28 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Though it has been closed since 1986, the Union Pacific Railroad Bridge in Boonville still watches over the Missouri River. Unused and weathered, it creaks and groans beneath the feet of the first visitors it has had in years.

On Tuesday, nine people — clad in orange safety vests, goggles, hard hats and work gloves — made their way along the huge bridge, the echo of their steps on the massive steel structure resonating through the crisp fall air.

They stepped lightly, careful to not upset the rotting railroad ties overgrown with foliage. Through the slats of the bridge, they could see the Missouri River gliding below.

The group, made up of representatives from Union Pacific and Osage Construction Co. and three Boonville residents, toured the bridge to determine if any part of it could be salvaged as historical memorabilia.

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The truss work of the Boonville Railroad Bridge can be seen from the window of one of the two engine houses. Built in 1932, the bridge is scheduled to be demolished later this fall. The spans will be reused in another bridge farther south on the Missouri River.

KYLE AHRENS/Missourian

“I cried in my beer four years ago when I heard the bridge was coming down,” said local historian Wayne Lammers, who went on the tour. “But I’m a realist and I’m just thankful I got to visit her one more time.”

Built in 1932, the bridge is scheduled to be demolished later this fall. Explosives will be used on the center span, dropping pieces of the bridge into the river that will be removed and sold as scrap. The other four spans will be removed from the piers, lowered onto barges and floated 60 miles downstream for use in an addition to a railroad bridge in Osage City.

“I was most struck by what a phenomenal piece of engineering artwork it is,” said Boonville economic development director Sarah Gallagher. “It’s so solid, so present. I thought about what it had done for our community and the functionality and beauty of it.”

Gallagher and Lammers are hoping to save the lower bridge house, which was used as a control room and an office for the bridge operator.

“We can’t save everything,” Lammers said. “But I try my best to save what I can. I think we have a pretty good chance at getting the bridge house.”

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Almost all of the original equipment is still in place inside the lift house of the bridge, even though it has not been used since 1986. This system of switches was used to control the center lift span.

Photo by KYLE AHRENS/Missourian

The 30-by-10-foot bridge house contains years of dust, a small table, a toilet surrounded by a green stall and control panels for the lift span.

Lammers said he hopes to put the bridge house next to the Katy Caboose Railroad Museum in Boonville. The Department of Natural Resources, which owns the museum, would have to approve the addition.

But first, Osage Construction must agree to remove the bridge house before demolition begins. Company president Tom Smith said the bridge house could be lifted off the site with a crane, but that asbestos would have to be removed before the building could be used by the public.


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