Change of plans, hello Yancopin Bridge


The Arkansas River Bridge at Yancopin, Arkansas

The Arkansas River Bridge at Yancopin, Arkansas. The water is very low now. You can see the waterlines on the supports. You can also see the rip-rap I had to descend to capture this image. If you happen to slip, there is no soft spot for your landing. Fortunately I remained upright.

Given that plans are made for changing, I found the bridge at Yancopin you see above. Through a convoluted set of circumstances, I wound up in Bonnie’s Cafe at Watson, Arkansas to look at a painting of a building I was planning to shoot . . . because of a change in plans. While I was perusing the painting, the proprietress pointed out a poster, the subject of which is the bridge above. My plans were about to change again.

Yancopin bridge

Click on the bridge for more pix and info.

Prior to digging into the change of plans, may I suggest that if you did not arrive at this site from the Corndancer dot com photo of the Week page that you afford yourself the opportunity to change your plans and temporarily detour to that page where this story started. You will see additional bridge pictures and learn a bit about the area and not-so-usual name. Click here to go there.

Bonnie's Cafe, Watson, Arkansas

It was in Bonnie’s Cafe, that I stumbled across my knowledge of the bridge. This image was shot in October, 2008 on a Sunday when Bonnie’s was closed. Otherwise, there would be a plethora of pickups parked here. Bonnie’s cuisine is legendary and her fans are legion.

The prospect of shooting that bridge, which I discovered was not far,  was far more appealing than what was currently residing in the plans department. These sentiments precipitated my third successive change of plans for the day, and a good thing. In fact, there was far more to shoot than the time allotted. “I shall return.”

The bridge rotator control house

Nestled high in the superstructure of the bridge center span is the control house to rotate that bridge span to allow river traffic to pass. There is also a span with counterweights and towers which house what appears to be a lift span. One ordinarily does not see both mechanisms in one bridge. You have to climb metal stairs to reach the control house which has zero, count ’em, zero, amenities for human comfort.

The bridge, now out of service was opened by the Missouri-Pacific Railroad in 1903 and stayed in continuous service until 1992. The bridge and 73 miles of railroad in the same section of were subsequently handed over to the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism who are developing the Delta Heritage Trail Park in the property.

The Missouri-Pacific Delta Eagle

The Missouri-Pacific Delta Eagle regularly hauled passengers across the Yancopin Bridge starting in the late thirties. My good friend Jimmy Dale Peacock recalls riding on the Delta Eagle for the short hop to Snow Lake, Arkansas for a hunting trip in the fifties. You took the train to Snow Lake because the only roads available amounted to about a trip of more than 80 miles for a destination not far away. You had to detour around the vast White and Arkansas River bottoms, which are classic wetlands. Those conditions have not changed, except that now, there is  no rail service. (Archive photo, not shot by me).

I am told that painting the bridge was a never-ending  job. Two painters were assigned to the job permanently. Given weather conditions, to paint the entire bridge was probably measured in years, not months with two guys and two paint brushes doing the work.

Archive photo of Yancopin Bridge

The bridge was a popular spot for sight-seers. Here a family poses under the west end of the bridge. Note the height of the water in what appears to be cold weather. From the looks of the women’s clothing styles, the picture is probably from the twenties. (Archive Photo).

As many of you know, the Arkansas River is part of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System which provides navigable waters for commercial river traffic from the Mississippi River northwest to the Port of Catoosa, near Tusla, Oklahoma. Just about three miles north of Yancopin Bridge, the navigation system, turns east and makes its way into the White River which empties into the Mississippi somewhat north of where the Arkansas empties into the big river.  This section of the river is legendary for producing lunker bass for sports anglers. It also supports commercial fishermen who ply the waters for buffalo, carp, and catfish. It is wild, wooly, and a great place to observe the rich natural heritage of Delta wetlands.

Old river structural remains

Just up river from the bridge are these remains from a previous river construction project. The jagged man-made patterns stand in stark contrast to the serene and well organized lines by Mother Nature. It is a designer’s dream.

Yancopin Bridge towers

Click on the bridge to see more pictues of it.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE of YANCOPIN BRIDGE

Every week we shoot more than we can post on Corndancer Photo of  the Week and Weekly Grist, so we post every thing on the two sites PLUS all of the “keepers” we did not post. This week, we have 20 new pictures in our all-photo gallery including more bridge shots and a couple of shots of the old McKennon Gin in Watson, Arkansas. Click here to see these pictures. You won’t see them anywhere else.

For bridge aficionados

Here are some other bridge posts:

A tale of two bridges, A tale of two bridges IITwo old Saline river bridges, and The bridge that nearly wasn’t.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind
http://www.joedempseycommunications.com/
http://www.joedempseyphoto.com/
http://www.corndancer.com/joephoto/photohome.html

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Alas poor compress, I knew you well


What you are seeing above is what's left of a cotton compress and the boiler which provided the steam that operated the compress.

What you are seeing above is what's left of a long since abandoned cotton compress and the boiler which provided the steam that operated the press.

This story had its beginnings on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot com. To get in on the start of the tale and another picture, click here, a very cool and safe thing to do. There, we talked about seeing things in the winter, here we talk about the things we see.

Time was in the South, where cotton was king, almost every town of any size had a cotton compress with an attendant warehouse. The output of a cotton gin is a bale of cotton. A normal cotton bales weighs in at about 500 to 600 pounds of ginned cotton. It measures roughly, about 4 feet by 3 feet by 5 feet. The gin compressed the bale somewhat, but to get the bale down to easy handling and shipping size, more muscle was required.  Hence the compress. Compresses reduced the bale to 60-66% of its original size. Virtually all of the old compresses were on a main rail line, or had rail access via a spur.

Since all compresses were steam operated, having a dependable supply of water was of prime concern. So they all had water towers on the site. This one is typical of the era. Now folks might think it looks like an oversized wren house. Tree limbs between the camera and subject are compressed by the telephoto effect.

Since all compresses were steam operated, having a dependable supply of water was of prime concern. So they all had water towers on the site. This one is typical of the era. Now folks might think it looks like an over-sized wren house. Tree limbs between the camera and subject are compressed by the telephoto effect.

With few exceptions the old compresses were steam operated. The process was simple. Put the bale in the compress, pour the steam to it, mash the fool out of it and re-band it in the smaller size. When the operator released the steam, a resounding “whoosh” could be heard for miles. Close to the puffing whooshes one hears from a steam locomotive, just not as frequent.

One local resident recalls the predictable steam whistle at the compress. The compress whistle sounded daily at 6:00 a.m., noon, and 6:00 p.m. In that day and time, the compress whistle was as inevitable as death and taxes. Now just a pleasant memory – the whistle, not the taxes.

Starting in the fifties, gins and gin technologies began a change that eliminated the need for free-standing compresses. Smaller gins were falling by the wayside in favor of larger gins which had huge hydraulic presses capable of doing what steam had formerly done. Trucks were becoming the more common means of shipping cotton. The party was nearly over for free standing compresses.

This particular compress goes back to at least the early 1920s. The door on the boiler reveals that The Casey-Hedges Company of Chattanooga TN built the boiler for the compress in 1923. Casey-Hedges, from what I can find out, was a major supplier of steam operated equipment.

This particular compress goes back to at least the early 1920s. The door on the boiler reveals that The Casey-Hedges Company of Chattanooga TN built the boiler for the compress in 1923. Casey-Hedges, from what I can find out, was a major supplier of steam operated equipment.

The death stars finally converged and administered the coup de’ grace, not just to this compress, but the compress business as viable entity. The south is dotted with once vibrant and viable, now empty, shells of compresses.

We ask, why just abandon the buildings? There is a modern counterpart to this mode of behavior, to wit: It’s economic. The reason – the same reason you don’t get the digital watch fixed when it stops, the same reason you don’t fix a lamp or a myriad of other items that pose a greater expenditure of “trouble” and money to repair than to replace. The business was dead and it cost money to demolish the former premises. Some things never change.

UPDATE, MARCH 31, 2011

It saddens me to report that the owners of the property have leveled the old compress site. The water tower is still standing, but the old compress building, boiler, and with it, the boiler door have fallen to an  ignominious end. JPD.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe