Greetings Everybody and appreciate your time and effort in looking and reading this simple web page. Again, the pictures are over sixty years old and are copies of copies. I will walk you through what I think is in the first picture and give you a chance to respond. Do appreciate any interest and any reply back would be nice. Without you as a reader, a keyboard puncher is not of much use.
The music file is an old version of; "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes". This version is a 1940 version and came out fifteen or so years before the "Platters" made it popular. This version was the music, of the era, when the bridge was being built. Hope you enjoy.
The old photograph pictured is a picture of Highway 62 Bridge Toll Booth at Rockport in 1940. In August of 1940 it was opened for business as a Toll Bridge. Not sure of the "Toll Fee", but think that it was in the neighborhood of a dime. I have heard that it was fifty cents for a one way crossing, but that seems a little high. Anyway, one might wonder if there could ever be enough money collected to pay the salary of the toll keepers and to put enough aside to pay for the bridge. But, that is the way a "Toll Bridge" works. The State borrows the money, builds the bridge, collects a toll fee and pays back the loan. I think that the "Toll Fee" was kept on the bridge for less than twenty years, and I find it amazing to be able to pay for a bridge from the small toll fees. The fee may have been increased to twenty-five cents a few years before toll removal. This would have been in the early fifties.
The old photograph is marked; Aug. 40 New Bridge and a note stating "Now Open". I was to young to remember the opening, but can still recall the "End of Toll" festivities. Will touch on that later, but for now will be concerned with the bridge and the State people that took care and operated the bridge. The photographer is looking back toward Beaver Dam with his back to the actual bridge. Three men are positioned at the back side of the Toll Booth. The man wearing the tie is probably an area supervisor or a State Politician. The other two are probably local "Toll Collectors". One could possibly be Marvin Hines. I just can't ID anyone. The man standing in the roadway seems to be just looking things over. Looks like an old car is waiting for the gate to be opened so they can cross. "Tank Hill" is on the left. Charley Sheffield's house is on the right, although he probably did not live there when the picture was taken. Looks like the white gravel is blending in with the tool booth concrete and it is hard to determine where the road ends and the toll both starts.
Rockport Highway Bridge in 1940.
Guess that the actual bridge building started in the early thirties. At the time, we lived in the old Russell house, just up from the bridge. Seems that I have been told, we had a boarder or two during the "Bridge Building" time. I think that several families boarded a "Bridge Builder" or two and for a period of several years. All types of workers toiled for about six years to build the bridge across the river as well as the levee on the Muhlenberg County side, plus make a cut through rock to connect with the old Highway 62 just across the IC Railroad Tracks. Now, we had a bridge and what a magnificent bridge it was. The bridge was nearly one hundred feet higher than the river and thus, barges and tugs could cross under the bridge, even in high water, without any interference from the bridge structure. It was not a fun bridge to play on, nor a good place to dive from or a good place to swim, nor play, thus the bridge just stood there and did what it was supposed to do. Don't remember any tales, stories, nor events concerned with the bridge. Just a working bridge without much fun history. I think that there was three or four workers killed during the building of the bridge. All of the piers were built on dry land, well at least land, and there was no middle pier. Just not a fun bridge without a middle pier.
Rockport Highway Bridge in Early 1940.
State Politics in those days was even worse than in today's world. If your party was in, your chances of getting a State job was increased. Many a job was promised to local people if they would help a certain party get elected. Well this, "Bridge Jobs", was no different. After being built and during the toll collection era, about a half dozen workers were needed to collect the tolls, keep the lights burning and various other jobs needed to keep the bridge operational. Marvin Hines was the chief toll collector and was in charge of a few other men. Lacy Blackburn was one of the "Toll Collectors". I don't recall any others for the time being. My grandfather got the job of keeping the bridge lights burning. Now, that was some sweet job. The pay was not much, the hours were just about figured in minutes, but the demand was high. You had to be there at dusk every night to turn on the lights and at dawn to turn them back off. Unheard of in these days, but this was in the forties and fifties.
One of my memories of the bridge and the toll collection situation was just sitting in the toll booth and watching the traffic go by. When Lacy Blackburn was working, sometimes his son Lacy D. Blackburn and I, maybe another boy or two would play a game. Just natural for a kid. We would try to be the first to identify an approaching car. We had to guess the name of the car/truck and the year. This could go on for several hours and our scores could be in the thirties or forties. The person with the highest score was the winner and other than prestige, there was no other prize. Lacy was hard to beat. Donald Ray Hobbs, Marvin Hines' grandson, was another serious player.
As mentioned, my grandfather had the job of keeping the bridge lights burning. There was a red light on each side of the two bank piers and green light hanging from the center portion of the bridge structure. I was never convinced that lights were needed, as if a boat struck a pier, the pilot was just about on the bank. Anyway, from before the bridge was operational until maybe the mid-sixties, my grandfather kept the "Bridge Light" tending job in the family. Sam Durham was the main "Light Keeper" until he died in 1951. His wife Farlena, then took the responsibility and stayed "Light Keeper" until the operation was switched over to an automatic process. The pay was never high, especially by today's standards, but both grandparents were proud of the job and equally proud of the monthly paycheck. I am thinking that the pay was in the neighborhood of twelve to fifteen dollars a month. It started out a little lower and salary increases were given every five or so years. Most of the grandkids wanted a chance to operate the lights, and the grandparents obliged. By the same token, the grandparents were very serious about their jobs and they watched every move anyone made in regards to "Turning On" the lights. We very seldom turned them off, as that was an early morning trip, but did we ever turn them on. In those days, grandchildren spent a lot of time with their grandparents and our family was no exception. When it was time to turn the bridge lights on, all of the grandkids that were present would want to turn them on. One was selected and no pouting nor argument ensued. With the grandparent observing, the lucky child would walk a distance of an eight of a mile or so to the bridge, locate the light switch and turn on the lights. The young operator would try to see if the lights were on, but you can bet that the grandparent was looking also. Ah, what it took to entertain a kid in those days. Imagine no electronic equipment except a light switch. That, plus a walk of at least a quarter of a mile, just to flip a switch. We never knew that our existence was just not very exciting by today's standards.
In the early part of the fifties, probably in 1952, the bridge toll was removed. The bridge was paid for and time for a celebration. Politicians from Frankfort, as well as local politicians gathered at the toll booth area. A red ribbon was stretched across the highway and if you were just a passerby, you just had to wait. A Ceremony was held, speeches made, and the ribbon was cut. I think that a High School Band, probably from Hartford, also was a part of the festivities, but I may be wrong on that accord. At the end of the ceremony, the bridge had free access and the toll collectors were out of a job. Later, the tool booth was torn down. Now, for the next few years, the bridge made a perfect place to stand to catch a ride to Central City. After all, some western movie was playing at the Central City theatre and if a kid had a quarter, maybe thirty-five cents, he could watch several movies and enjoy a bag of popcorn. Then, it was a walk back to highway 62, and near the "Y", to catch a ride back to Rockport. Yes, it was called "Hitchhiking", but don't ever remember any problems and all got back home safe. After all, we did learn from the best and none other than Charlie Thomas. There is an old joke, some sixty years old that was told on Charlie Thomas. Well, I am sure that there was many jokes told on or about him. The one that I remember was about Charlie, his trip to Rome, and of him meeting the Pope. But, that is another story and I am long on letter and will get.
Thanks for looking and thanks for reading. I do appreciate your time and interest.