Exploring Oklahoma’s Bridges

Aren’t infatuations wonderful? Name most anything and I can show you someone who collects, studies or shoots at it. So to is the case with bridges.

Dirt-covered bridge off OK-72 near Haskell.Last week some folks attending our Precious Moments Tour up in Osage Beach, Missouri had invited us to come ride with them around Oklahoma City. One of their recent destinations they mentioned was Oklahoma’s longest one-lane bridge. I’d never really considered it before, but someone must measure such things.

Later that night I called home to Tulsa and mentioned this conversation to Jackie. The next morning I had an email with a link to a page about the Wanette-Byars Bridge built in 1902.

The reason it’s such a long one-lane bridge? It’s actually an old railroad bridge over the Canadian River that was converted for automotive use. Learn more on Wikipedia.

In the process of tracking down this not-so-elusive bridge Jackie discovered several sites that can only be described as portals for, you guessed it, Bridge Geeks. Who knew? Well… guess I could have guessed (see first paragraph).

But we found a wealth of information provided by these intrepid spotters of spans.

Finding historic, unusual or defunct bridges close to home is really quite easy. And interesting. We browsed for older bridges close by and found several interesting examples- mostly the metal girder style that’s shaped like a camel’s hump (turns out “camelback truss” is actually a type of bridge). One unique design that caught my eye was a bridge south of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma (see photo below) that sported two inverted triangles for supports. Pretty soon we were taking notes and loading up the motorcycle for an excursion!

Unusual bridge south of Broken Arrow.Exploring historic bridges can be fun because they’re usually in rural areas- the type of place you might go for a Sunday drive anyway. The history these bridges reveal can tell you a lot about a community, the landscape or the road that passes over them. It’s also interesting to see the engineering of these older contraptions, something hidden by concrete on most modern bridges.

Make your next day trip a bridge tour. Here are a few links to get you started…

Bridge Hunter
Lists historic bridges all over the U.S. Use the map to search by state (there are currently 1495 listings in Oklahoma incidentally) or by county or by type of bridge. Most listings include photos and map links.

Oklahoma Bridges
Wes Kinsler has been cataloging the bridges of Oklahoma since November 2000. Along with photographing historic bridges and maintaining the website, he is also a founding member of the Oklahoma Highways Group. Notable sections of this site are the Bridges by Highway and the Field Guides page that you can download and take along on your travels.

Spans of Time
A dry but informative site is the product of an Oklahoma Department of Transportation project called the Oklahoma Historic Highway Bridge Project. The site offers photos of early bridges in Oklahoma and the 171 bridges identified as candidates eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Bridges are listed mostly by type so it can be difficult to use as a reference- but it’s fun to browse.

MINI + Airstream

What’s cuter than a Mini?

How’s about a Mini pulling an Airstream trailer? It’s not a total fantasy- although it’s not available Stateside. Last week BMW unveiled its “mobile living” concept at the Salone del Mobile in Milano.

Here’s what BMW’s press release says about it:

The collaboration was underpinned by a passion for design and an eye for detail shared by all three brands. Mobility and the interaction with nature provided a twin-pronged focus for their endeavours. The world of watersports and the yearning of surfers for absolute freedom and harmony with their surroundings offered the perfect inspiration for the design study.”

Okay, so that must be German for “It’s cute.”

In addition to modifying the Mini Cooper S Clubman to haul a caravan (that’s Yurrup for trailer), the Airstream was extensively tweaked by fashionista Fritz Hansen. The result is a trendy trailer with modern furnishings and a motorized wall that tilts out. My favorite detail is the shelving made from surfboards.

Pretty cool travel accessory.

Worst Cars List Needs Work

Time Magazine marked the 50th anniversary of the Edsel with a list of the 50 worst cars in history. Syndicated columnist, Dan Neil, did the honors.

The list features the bizarre, the brash, and a few boondoggles. Like the spartan Briggs & Stratton Flyer from 1920 (right). I agree with many of lemons on this list- and have more experience with some than I care to admit- like the Triumph Stag, Masarati Biturbo and V-12 E-Type.

But many of Neil’s picks flat miss the mark. He claims the original 1909 Model T was “the Yugo of its day.” While it was certainly simple, okay- downright crude by modern standards, the Tin Lizzy sported some ingenious design features. The planetary transmission was simple and rugged, even it wasn’t fashionable among automakers. So to was the flywheel-integrated magneto.

Other entries I take exception with include the DeSoto Airflow, MGA Twin Cam, Chevy Corvair, and General Motors ill-fated EV-1. His concept that being too forward-thinking is a bad notion might be true sometimes. But most of the more recent cars on the list (Pontiac Aztek, Hummer H2) illustrate the utter lack of it.

After all, designing cars to satisfy the quarterly report is what got us into this mess in the first place.

50 Worst Cars of All Time

Can’t Afford to Drive? Ride.

It’s sad that it takes $5 gas to force most Americans to consider being efficient. As Winston Churchill put it: “Americans will always do the right thing. When they absolutely have to.”

Gas is really pretty cheap. But I’ve always kept the price of gasoline in perspective. Consider the fact that you can walk into most any convenience store in this country and drop a buck on a liter of water. Until recently, gas was cheaper than water.

So with the threat of $5 a gallon looming on our dashboard horizon, we collectively pause to consider the options. Apparently many people are considering two wheels instead of four…

Survey shows gas prices cause more people to consider motorcycles
Powersports Business
Friday June 27, 2008

More than one-quarter of U.S. consumers are considering purchasing a motorcycle or scooter, according to a survey released by Consumer Reports National Research Center.

Eighteen percent are thinking of buying a motorcycle while 14 percent are contemplating motor scooters. The survey also revealed that men are more apt to make the switch with most of them being between the ages of 18-34. In 2007, consumers said they would reduce driving when gas hit $3.50 per gallon. That has proven true as year-to-date 20 billion fewer miles have been traveled compared to the same period last year, stated the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The survey was a random, nationwide telephone survey from June 5-8, 2008. Interviews were conducted with 884 adults, ages 18 years or older, who drive a vehicle and whose household owns at least one vehicle.

This is an excellent time to mention Ride to Work Day is July 16, 2008.

Riding my BMW R1150R near Keatonville
Rex rides his BMW for work and play.
Around here motorcycles are typically considered recreational vehicles. But consider the efficiency with which they can move people from point A to point B with no appreciable wear and tear on our roads, using very little fuel and requiring no modification to existing infrastructure. The reduction in traffic congestion alone would seem to have far-reaching economic repercussions. Not to mention less parking space, reduced consumption of foreign oil and fewer carbon emissions.

The practical side of scooters and motorcycles was overlooked while we were filling our SUVs. Maybe now we’ll reconsider.

Resources for the potential motorcyclist…

Food for Thought: Corn

Or, what does ethanol have to do with carpaccio?

Rising fuel prices have focused more attention on ethanol lately. Consumers have discovered the trade-off in power between a gallon of gasoline and a gallon of E85, which essentially balances the price difference. And then there’s the corrosion issues the futurists from the Corn Belt neglected to tell us about. Yet government mandates in the Energy Act of 2005 require that a certain portion of our automotive fuel supply be spiked with the stuff. Some experts warn that current production capacity can’t even supply these mandated quantities.

Miles of open ranch land in OklahomaImporting ethanol is not an option because of protectionist tariffs. So the net result has been an increase in commodity prices as the demand for corn increases. Biofuel makers bid against food suppliers and drive up the price. Food or fuel, the critics ask. But using corn as a fuel is not a new idea- we’ve been doing it for years with cows. And they don’t run on the stuff much better than our cars do.

Gas, Grass or ..
About a zillion years ago cows grazed in pastures and ate grass. Then came McDonald’s and everyone decided it was a good idea to eat hamburgers four times a day. This increased demand for beef required a factory approach to raising cattle. And grazing in picturesque pastures had nothing to do with it.

Ranchers found that feeding cattle a corn diet caused them to fatten up more quickly and gave the beef a marbled appearance. Since they aren’t built to eat corn they convert the sugars to fat, and it also gives them gas. Now if your child was eating a diet that had such an effect we would call him… well, an average American, but we’d also consider it unhealthy. And the same goes for the cows- it’s not good for them.

This factory farming approach requires huge amounts of antibiotics to fight disease- 70% of all the antibiotics our country consumes is used on cows. Fear of raw or undercooked meat has not been exaggerated. The incidence of foodborn disease, such as E.colli or Campylobacter, in feedlot beef is 300 times more likely than in pasture-fed beef. Add to this the practice of grinding up beef from hundreds of cows at one time for hamburger and it pretty much guarantees you a bacterium-laden burger.

Fuel for Thought
Ironically, it takes someone threatening our cars to wake up many Americans. If the price of gas continues to rise, and the use of ethanol remains fashionable, the food-or-fuel or fuel-for-food debate will rage on. Eventually the beef industry will weigh in with a Toby Keith song playing in the background. But maybe there’s another way.

Instead of raising corn to feed to cows, maybe we could raise corn and feed it to people? And maybe the cows could eat grass like they used to? Sure, we would see the end of 59 cent hamburgers. But imagine ordering a steak cooked “rare.” Imagine buying a pound of hamburger that came from one cow. Maybe even one day saying, “Pass the carpaccio, please.”

Ref: Wikipedia- Cattle Feeding