Category Archives: Iowa

When Character is Replaced by Characters

Virtually every town in Iowa that was served by a railroad, had a railroad station building at some time in the town’s history. Very few of the railroad station buildings remain, but a fair number have been preserved. Many of the preserved railroad stations were moved to another location, away from the railroad tracks.

Such was the case in Knierim, Iowa where the railroad station was moved to the Knierim City Park and restored.

This is the Knierim Station in 2017:

At some point in the last three years, the city fathers must have decided that the town would be better served with the prefabricated monstrosity you see below as opposed to the restored railroad station that it replaced.

Bridging a Gap

One of Iowa’s enduring ghost stories centers around this bridge, North of Moorland in rural Webster County.

There’s nothing really certain about this bridge. There are multiple ghost stories and even multiple versions of some of the stories. Not even the name is certain.

Let’s start with the name:

  1. Bridgehunter calls it the 220th Street Overpass.
  2. Most references to supernatural phenomena refer to it as the Banwell Bridge
  3. Other accounts call it the Tara Bridge based on the former town of Tara, 2 miles to the North.
  4. At least one account refers to it as the Van Welding Bridge.

Now the ghost stories…

The oldest known account of supernatural phenomena in the area appeared in The Fort Dodge Messenger on June 5, 1893. This story refers to a ghost light that resembles a locomotive headlight on a bridge that is four miles North of the bridge that is under discussion. It is possible that this story is the basis on which subsequent stories developed. This story also states that the North Lizard Bridge is 3/4 mile North of Tara when it is actually more than two miles to the North of Tara.

The most often cited horror story associated with the bridge deals with a murder-suicide involving a mother and her three children. Most accounts are that the mother throws the three children off the bridge into the path of an oncoming train and then jumps to her death. Variations of this story include one or more of the children surviving the fall. Some accounts say that the mother hanged herself from the bridge. There is no official record of such a murder, suicide or combination thereof ever occurring at or near this bridge.

Phenomena associated with this story include a car that mysteriously appears and then disappears, people being thrown off the bridge by a ghost, disembodied heads flying through the air and the sounds screaming children emanating from the woods.

Less often cited phenomena includes being chased by a ghost rider and a Bigfoot type creature that resides in the nearby woods that sometimes is seen at the bridge.

Now for some science…

Atmospheric ghost lights have been observed worldwide since antiquity and continue to be observed to this day to which there are various explanations A seldom addressed possibility is that lights observed in this are are a product of piezoelectricity generated under specific rock strain. Quartz grains can produce something known as piezoelectricity which can create intensely bright light similar to a locomotive headlight.

A very curious coincidence is that the area where this phenomena is occurring is geologically unique in that it is right on the edge of the Manson Crater where numerous crystalline minerals are found. The Manson Crater is one of the largest impact craters in North America.

So in addition to the usual collection of causes of will-o’-the-wisp atmospheric ghost lights, there is yet another possibility that warrants investigation. Someone might even pursue this. Until such time, have fun with the ghost stories.

Places Less Traveled – April 2020

Even under social distancing, sometimes you have to break down and shut off all your electronic toys. Get out and see for yourself, the places less traveled in the world around us.

Today we visited a closed, former railroad bridge on the Raccoon River Valley Trail, South of Jefferson, Iowa.

The rail line was built in 1891. The Pratt Truss bridge is dated at 1905. Some sources date the bridge as recent as 1945, which is unlikely since the Pratt Truss design fell into disuse after about 1910.
The bridge is 580′ in total length with a 112′ Pratt Truss Span.

The rail line was removed in 1990 and the present trail was completed in 1997. The bridge was partially destroyed in 2019 and is closed to the public.

There are also other remnants of the Milwaukee Road along the trail including evidence of a train wreck.

First Warning
First warning

Our intrepid explorer
Intrepid explorer
Long and winding road
long and winding road

No rest
This was the first of three rest stops we encountered on the trail.
no rest stop

Grade Crossing Marker
grade crossing marker

Train Wreckage
We found some remnants of a train wreck along the trail.
train wreckage

Brake Beam
This is the part of a railroad car where one of the brake pads would have been attached.
brake beam

Rest Stop
rest stop

The Bridge is in Sight
bridge is in sight

Final Warning
final warning

Trail Marker
We had parked our vehicle at the Winkleman’s Switch parking area which according to this sign, is 1.5 miles away.
trail marker

Healthy Snacks
Since I’ve been out of the military for over 15 years, this MRE Ranger Bar was at least that old and probably a few years older. So far, neither of us have gotten sick from eating it.
healthy snacks

Overview of the Bridge
The Bridge

Wipe Out
This is the section of the bridge that was destroyed by flooding in March of 2019. There are plans to repair the bridge, but so far, there is no timeline for when it will occur.
Hello Houston