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Memphis Bridge: 1985

Memphis Bridge: 1985

"Memphis Bridge spanning Mississippi River between Memphis, Tennessee, and West Memphis, Arkansas. Cantilever span detail, view to southwest." 1985 photo by Clayton B. Fraser for the Historic American Buildings Survey. View full size.


3 Bridges

These bridges were the only way over to Arkansas when I was a kid. The old Harahan Bridge, the Frisco Bridge (this rail bridge), and the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge.

In 1973, another bridge, the Hernando de Soto Bridge opened. It's the iconic "M" shaped bridge shown in views of Memphis.

Almost 50 years later, that one's called the "New Bridge". At least in my family.


Large-format hasn't changed that much since 1895. The plate/film/emulsions are a lot better but it doesn't make that much difference.

Part of the reason it looks old is that it looks kind of like it's orthochromatic. The blank white sky is classic. It may really have been ortho, it could have been pan with a blue filter, or it could have just been a hazy day.

Crazy Youth II

And as a teenager one night a few of my friends and I rappelled off the end off this bridge (on to land, not water) just to say we'd done it -- thirty years later on a website like Shorpy.

The inner rails

I think the inner set of rails does two things.

First, they help prevent derailings.

They also reinforce the connections of the ties to the rails on the bridge. The outer rails have to be able to expand and contract at different rates than the land-bound rails they connect with at each end of the bridge, so their attachments to the land-bound rails are "loose." The inner rails keep the part on the bridge in one solid piece as the outer rails move around.

Crazy Youth

As a teenager in the 70's, some friends and I walked out on this bridge one night and climbed down through a stairwell to one of the pilings over the river. Later, we popped our heads up as a train approached...The crazy things we do in our percieved indestructible youth.

Guard rails

Bill T.'s assumption regarding the purpose of the extra rails found on bridges, and occasionally in other constricted areas, is to help keep a derailed wheelset aligned with the track. They are called guard rails. There is often, as on this bridge, a set of wooden guard timbers bolted to the ties about a foot outside of the running rails to further assist.

Frisco Bridge

Designed by George S. Morison. Built 1891-1893 by Union Bridge Company, and masonry by Lewis M. Loss. When it opened it was the longest span in the US and most southerly crossing on the Mississippi. Now known as the Frisco Bridge.

1985 looks like 1895

There's something about this photo that looks a century old, instead of a quarter-century. Still, it's beautifully done.

Rails within rails

Have often seen the rails-within-rails scheme in pictures of bridges and other elevated rail systems. I presume that is to save the engineer the embarrassment of diving into the river in the event of a derail. Am I correct, or is there some other purpose?

3 bridges are still there

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