That’s right, another boring post about a bridge!
I had heard rumblings about an “old military bridge” about town here in Kansas, but no one seemed to know for sure just where it was, or anything else about it, but people kept suggesting that I look for it, thinking it might be of interest to me; it was.
Recently an article surfaced in the paper, which briefly discussed the history of the bridge, local legends, and the truth behind its age and original purpose. The article offered no directions to the bridge (not surprisingly), but did offer a tantalizing black and white photograph of an old overgrown iron bridge. After some more asking around I found an older woman who remembered herding cattle across the bridge as a girl, and as luck would have it she was able to give precise directions to the bridge, which turned out to be completely accurate.
Of course, the bridge as it stands today is located in the middle of a forest, but a dead-end road leads one as close as can be expected. I was really surprised by how big it was when I finally got there. The bridge sits high in the treetops over the Marmaton River. It’s held aloft by one large, off-center stone pillar (similar to the ones at Stockton Lake), standing about 30-40 feet. It’s no larger than most modern bridges, but I expected it to be smaller, due to its age.
The so-called “Old Military Bridge” is thought by many to have been constructed by the army during the Civil War, but in actuality it was built soon afterward in the 1870’s, so that farmers could move their herds more easily across the river.
The second thing I noticed, aside from its size, was how its construction and design differed from modern-day bridges. Rather than large, thick girders, the bridge was made up of thin strips of iron, all bolted together. If I were to guess I’d say it was probably just easier to cast thin sheets of metal back then. Besides, it’s not like it ever had to support the weight of an 18-wheeler.
The Old Military Bridge was still in use until about 30 years ago, when a fire destroyed the wooden portions of the bridge. Today only a few moss-covered planks remain. There’s talk of replacing the wood and turning it into a pedestrian foot bridge. The problem is there’s no trail for it to link up to at the moment. Here’s hoping they can either restore it to a point that everyone can enjoy it, or just leave it alone.
A singular phenomenon is occurring outside rural Bolivar, MO; one so unusual that it has gone largely unnoticed. However, those of us who know WH Norton know him by his works, and we know them well.
Ask around and many will admit to having seen his oddly-painted conveyances cruising down the highway, or parked outside a local store or gas station. However, what many don’t realize is that on the Norton farm there’s plenty more where that came from.
Norton has not only painted his various automobiles from top to bottom, but has erected signs and billboards all over property, in addition to defacing a derelict car, a horse trailer, a barn, and other outbuildings. At one point even his HOUSE bore a part of his message: something along the lines of “Home sweet toxic chemical home.” That is, before being repainted.
Now, I don’t exactly know what’s gotten Mr. Norton so worked up, nor do I care to diagnose any possible conditions he may suffer, but as one townsperson put it, “He’s clearly dissatisfied… Over what, I don’t know.”
Norton’s signs tell the many tales of his battles with toxic chemicals, airplanes, eye surgeons, Oprah Winfrey, and his nemeses, the ever-present “Harassing Fruits.”
I have chosen to withhold his full name for purposes of privacy (though I’m sure he would support full disclosure), simply to avoid any harassment that may come as a result of this article. However, if one chooses to visit the Norton estate firsthand they’ll notice most signs are not only signed, but they include his phone number and street address. Yes, he really wants the public’s attention. Unfortunately (or fortunately, perhaps) he doesn’t seem to be receiving it.
On some recent trips to Bolivar I’ve managed to transcribe a good sample of Norton’s works. I was also able to obtain some photographs, though they were taken from a safe distance. For your reading pleasure, I submit the following examples:
Sign #1 – At the age of 69 I stayed in my Nissan truck seat 4’2” long from 1-10-2000 to easter Sunday 2001 200’ from my 3 BR 2 BA house and I still had the harassing fruits toxic chemicals to “dill”(sic) with. That why old glory don’t shine so bright in my chemicas burnt eyes any more. Now I have a 32 SF master suite with a porter potty on the back of my truck.
Sign #2 – I was to had eye surgery 7-17-2000 in little rock, but the harassing fruits that been trying to burn my eyes out with toxic chemicals got it cancelled so they could finish my eyes off.
Barn #1 – I wouldn’t be harassed out of my house with toxic chemicals if the department of housing was any thing other than a cancerst scabb on the US taxpayers butt.
PS: My gold is to tell it like it is on the Oprah show.
Barn #2 – A bastard put paint stripper on my house when I said no to his vinyl siding job.
Van #1 – The harassing fruits dumped more toxic chemicals in my house van and camping area by breaking and entering and air plane and presurize pistons bumbing me nightly for 16 years then have been used in the hole show-me-state. I have spent 6 nights in 7 years in my house thanks to the harassing fruits.
Van #2 – I WH Norton have been harassed with toxic chemicals in my house and van 16 years in Bolivar, MO and White County, Arkansas. I contacted the department of housing 6 times. I wrote ABC, NBC, CBS and I went to NY City NY to talk to the broadcasting centers. No luck. All the above ignored. This is the only way left.
Please note, any and all spelling errors were not mine, and everything has been reproduced more or less as it was written, though capitalization errors have been corrected for clarity.
While I have seen Mr. Norton in the flesh, I’ve never had the courage to actually approach the man, nor have I worked up the nerve to actually call him. I would love to visit with him in person, but that’s almost certainly a bad idea and I feel like doing so would be taking my life in my own hands.
A while back my friend Zenmaster and I went down to the Stockton Lake area to survey some of the damage done by last year’s drought before the Spring rains completely wash it away. Our first stop was the Sac River. In particular, I wanted to check out a couple of abandoned bridges we spotted on earlier canoe trips.
The first we came to was an old iron bridge connecting Wishart and Aldrich, no longer in service. The first thing we noticed upon our arrival was just how low the water level really was – Zenmaster spotted an engine block beached on the riverbank, and upon pointing it out I noticed the rest of the car, sitting smack dab in the middle of the river. We had rowed right over it on previous occasions without ever even noticing.
The actual bridge is nice, but not terribly interesting. One side can be approached by car, while the other is inaccessible. However, about a mile of road is still mostly intact on the other side. We later found where it was supposed to connect to another road still in service, but the way had been blocked by several large boulders. The bridge itself was blocked by piles of debris, not that I would want to try and drive across it; there are holes big enough to fall through. Diving was also out of the question – the water looked to be a few feet deep, max. After wandering across the bridge a time or two we were reading to head north to Stockton.
Our second former bridge sits on the eastern end of the lake, within a waterfowl refuge, with its newer replacement within eyeshot.
A former bridge in the truest sense, all that remain are two large stone pilings, about 15-20 ft tall, normally sitting in the middle of the lake and far out of reach from the shore. I say “normally,” because it just so happened that during our last visit one of the two pilings was accessible by foot. I had waited years to climb it, and I knew this might be my only chance. We drove down a back road towards the bridge, and were able to drive almost right up to it, on what had previously been the lake bed.
I got out my trusty homemade grappling hook (which in no way compare’s to WR’s and has a nasty habit of coming apart in midair), and we started taking turns. After about 40-50 tries we got it to stick and, relatively confident that it was going to stay in one place, I started climbing. It wasn’t a difficult climb. The only troubling part was that, while the pillar was surrounded by mud on two sides and water on one, a large stone slab had fallen just below my starting point, which meant that if I fell I’d have a pretty hard spot to land on.
As often happens, I reached the top to find my rope barely hanging in a crack, not because of my hook which had once again been proven worthless, but because the knot had been too large to fit through. This was a blessing later on, however, as it made the rope easier to remove from ground level.
After hanging around for a while and taking pictures I made it down without incident. It wasn’t until we started to leave that I noticed a problem. That problem was I had parked in what was essentially the still damp lake bed. Add to that the fact that it was raining already and my truck isn’t exactly a powerhouse, and I found myself hopelessly stuck.
Being more or less out of options, we started trekking through the woods in search of help. We found what looked like an overgrown road, and followed that until we reached a proper road. As luck would have it, a car happened to pass by just in time to see us emerge from the wilderness. It just so happened he was a farmer who lived less than a half mile away, and freely offered us the use of his tractor. In fact he said not to sweat it, that this sort of thing happens all the time. When we got back to the lake he pointed out a pre-existing set of tire tracks, saying he had to pull someone else just a few weeks earlier.
Knowing that I was just one of many dumbasses didn’t really help my ego at the time, but looking back I can say I was finally able to accomplish something that had been gnawing at me for years, and at the same time I gained an interesting anecdote, and one can never have too many of those.
Those who don’t read the boards or go exploring with us may not recognize the name, but it should be familiar to anyone who reads the blogs. Anyway, I’m Sertile.
My original concept for this was to write about topics other than just urban exploration - things like local news and events, as well as Ozarks culture, history, and folklore. Of course, there will be a certain amount of general UE-style stuff here as well. I just didn’t feel like the site needed another strictly journal-style blog.
I’m primarily a caver, but I also have a fondness of climbing and a weakness for rooftops. Don’t expect to see any super high-risk stuff here. I’ll mostly be writing about places and things that interest me, but I’m hoping they can be interesting to a wider audience as well.
Now, I’m going to try and update this on a weekly basis, or at least bi-weekly, but that resolve may crumble as time goes on. Everyone just bear with me.
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