“Things change. They always do, it’s one of the things of nature. Most people are afraid of change, but if you look at it as something you can count on, then it can be a comfort.”
~ Robert James Waller, author of The Bridges of Madison County
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Wednesday, after a pleasant, overnight stay at the KOA Campground in Crawfordsville, Indiana, I ventured out in a southwesterly direction in search of the not-so-elusive…wooden covered bridge. In Parke County, Indiana there are over thirty of these historic bridges, most you can still drive through, a few that you can’t but are still maintained for history (and tourism.) This is were Clint Eastwood filmed the movie, The Bridges of Madison County. I spent the afternoon, about five hours, trying to see as many bridges as I could; I only made it to thirteen.

In the pictures you can see the structures, the colors, the printing that gives you some sense of the history, how some of them are leaning and, perhaps, the type of roads they’re on. What you can’t get from these pictures is the eerie, creaking sound as you roll your vehicle across the wooden planks, the ancient wood straining under the weight of your 21st century automobile; or you can’t smell the history that seeps from hundred year-old cedar, maple or oak they used to construct these bridges; or hear the rivers that flow beneath these structures; or hear the gravel crunching and grinding beneath your feet as you approach each bridge; or you can’t feel the layer of dust that collects on you and your car from these miles of dirt and gravel backroads; or the culminating smell of flowers, pine trees, corn, manure, burning leaves and soybeans that permeates the air. A visit here is required to fulfill those senses.

These bridges were covered to protect them from the sun and rain thereby increasing their lifespan. On many of the bridges you’ll see the words: Cross This Bridge At A Walk. This phrase, on many of these relics of a bygone era, refers to the “walk” of a horse-drawn carriage. When these 19th century vehicles would bound across the wooden bridges at a full trot it would weaken the structural integrity of the bridge at an advanced pace. By “walking” across the wooden structure it received much less vibration and less stress.

Other observations about the area: There’s no GPS service – so get a map; I found one at the campground. You don’t see a lot of people on these backwoods, country roads; maybe another car every five minutes. There are houses and farms scattered about but I never saw any police. As a man, or even a woman if you’re so daring, you can pee anywhere ’cause there ain’t nobody around to see you; and you pretty much have to ’cause there ain’t no Port-o’-Johns, gas stations or McBathrooms out there in the sticks. The people that you do see, whether they’re in a passing vehicle or out working in their front yard, will wave to you. Everybody is very friendly.

In fact, I was driving by this one house when an old man, tending to his flowers, exchanged with me a friendly wave. As I passed I noticed his last name in big, bold letters on his mailbox. His last name was: WHALEN! The same last name as my lovely Treva waiting for me in San Diego! So, I put my XTerra into reverse gear and backed right up to the front of the house, got out, walked over to this fine gentleman-farmer and said, “Hello!” His wife was sitting on the front porch knitting or crocheting or something like that. Well, I introduced myself to the Whalen’s and told them about my Great American Road Trip, about Treva and her family and other pleasantries. We stood, or sat, there for a good half-an-hour just talking about our lives, the area, retirement, gardening, the city life vs. the country life and a whole host of other subjects that just seemed to flow from the three of us, as if we had been friends for years. Before leaving I asked if I might take some pictures and then we all said to each other, “Have a nice live!”, and down the road I went with a smile on my face, having been reassured that there are some wonderful souls still out there in the world, if we’re just willing to extend them a hearty handshake. Meeting the Whalen’s was the highlight of my day!


Also in my travels as I followed the yellow dirt road I happened upon: Patton’s Corner. It was just a piece of property, no one was there. As you can see by the pictures, someone has been collecting…stuff, mostly farm implements, for quite a while. For me, the most redeeming item on this property was…the outhouse! The burger and Coke I had for lunch wasn’t sitting too well in my innards and so, yes, I used this outhouse even after I had to wipe away the cobwebs and dead bugs from the seat. Desperate times, desperate measures. For me, it was salvation and I even left them a note thanking them for the open door policy of their outhouse. If you’re reading this, thank you again!

I hope you take a chance when meeting a stranger(s) and offer them a warm Hello. You may never forget them, even if you only meet for one brief moment, they may enter your soul and change your life forever.

The gam continues…

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6 Comment on “The Bridges of Parke County

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