Devils Elbow took center stage in Pulaski County, Missouri earlier today.
Named by tie raft loggers, referring to the nearby bend in the Big Piney River, this quaint hamlet steeped in history has an international reputation as a destination landmark on storied Route 66.
Before the age of the automobile, travelers and vacationers made their way to the banks of the peaceful river via the railroads and hired “hacks”. They came in droves from the City to breathe the clean Ozarks air and to hunt and fish for the plentiful game around one of Missouri’s most scenic spots.
After Highway 14 was designated as Route 66, the Main Street of America that ran from Chicago to Santa Monica, generations of travelers took to their motor cars and set out to see the beauty of their country first hand. They surely would have been inspired when they made it to Devils Elbow. Millions of carloads of happy, vacationing families have made the crossing of the Big Piney River over the Devils Elbow Bridge since it carried its first passengers across the river below.
The two-span through truss bridge was built in 1923 by Riley and Bailey. Route 66 was rerouted in Devils Elbow in 1942 to accommodate large materials that were being shipped on trucks by the United States Military to Fort Leonard Wood and Oklahoma. The curved east approach made it tricky for the larger vehicles to cross with their loads, and a new route was carved out of, and through, the Ozark Mountains to make a straighter, wider passage. Although the new four lane alignment of Route 66, and later the new Interstate 44, appealed to those in a hurry, or with a cumbersome load on their truck, the old route still held an appeal to purists and those who ambled along the road, taking in the sights and sounds.
That appeal still calls today to tourists and visitors from all corners of the world who make the Route 66 pilgrimage. Many had worried for years that the bridge would deteriorate to the state of being impassable, and some even feared that it would crumble into the river that it had stood over for 90 years.
Those fears were laid to rest today. Pulaski County Commissioners held a groundbreaking ceremony to signal the start of the construction project to renovate the iconic Route 66 bridge. Local dignitaries and Route 66 enthusiasts, including Mr. Tommy Pike of the Missouri Route 66 Association made remarks. Mr. Pike spoke briefly about the bridge’s historic value. Mr. Bill Farnham, former Pulaski County Commissioner, also spoke at the ceremony. He praised the bridge for the thousands of visitors that it brings to Pulaski County annually. Mr. Farnham’s tenacity, persistence, and doggedness was key to this renovation project moving forward. Gary Bockman of Great River Associates also addressed the gathered crowd. He spoke about the attention to detail of the historic characteristics that will be carried throughout the project. An example is that Missouri Department of Transportation has given the go ahead to the decking material to contain materials that would match the look and feel of the original, vintage Route 66 pavement that is in the Devils Elbow area. The ceremony officially ended with photo opportunities of the project officials with the ceremonial groundbreaking shovels and an announcement that there would be a ribbon cutting ceremony when the project was completed, approximately 10 months from now.
Unofficially, the ceremony ended as the gathered crowd milled around in conversation and people broke off to walk across the bridge that is so near and dear to their hearts. They admired the views, took snapshots, and ran their hands across the steel bridge railings, literally touching the bridge that has touched their lives in so many memories. They said a temporary good bye to a very familiar friend and smiled approval of its new future.