By Ken Bradbury
I know a lady who lives just ten miles from the Meredosia bridge but refuses to cross it … and she’s lived there her entire life. On the rare occasions when she absolutely must travel to Jacksonville or Springfield she takes a stiff drink, has someone else drive, then reclines head-down in the back seat as the car crosses the bridge. Memories of the now “old” Dosh bridge are rife and as the 82-year-old structure was replaced this week by a shiny span of steel that will transport traveler on Illinois Route 104 across the Illinois River. This will actually be the third passenger bridge at that location as a “wagon bridge” lifted folks from Pike to Morgan County until 1936. A railroad bridge once crossed the Illinois a few hundred feet downstream. Wilma Williams, one of our area’s classiest ladies, said that her first date was riding back and forth across the river on the railroad bridge when a handsome young man named Charlie made her the offer.
Stories of the bridge have been a part of Dosh lore since the old bridge’s construction. Dosh’s Doris Dawson used to collect them and despite the fact that the stories were told by Meredosia residents, they were mostly true.
My family had some experience with the stories of the bridge since, at one time, my father farmed on both sides of the bridge. He can recall with complete accuracy the day when he was crossing the bridge with a John Deere 45 combine fronted by a 14-foot wheat head and at the very top of the bridge he came nose-to-nose with another John Deere 45 combine with a 14-foot head. The other fella was pulling a wagon, so it was Dad who had to back down the bridge, pushing an out of sorts line of traffic ahead of him. Today’s farmers send flagging cars out ahead of them, but in those hoary days of farming you simply goosed the throttle and took your chances.
I’ve often thought of the story told to me by one of my friends from the Chambersburg area. He said that back in the days before the present levee system, he would jump in his uncle’s boat on the west side of the river and patrol the levees at high tide. He said, “My uncle would carry a shotgun in the boat and it never occurred to me until years later that he was packing iron to shoot any Meredosia resident who might be sneaking across the river after dark to knock a hole in the Chambersburg side of the levee.” My friend freely admitted that there was a good chance that if his uncle ever had to shoot, he’d most likely be soon attending the funeral of a cousin.
My most vivid memory concerns a high school friend from Dosh named Jack Pool who would try to get us both killed on a weekly basis when we were running the streets of Pike and Brown counties. Jack was driving his off-green Road Runner as we sped down the Dosh bridge going westward when he decided to see just how fast the 383 Plymouth would run. There were three of us in Jack’s front seat and I was sitting in the middle when Jack shouted, “Let’s crank it!” He rolled up his window to cut down on drag but failed to tell me and my outstretched arm, which was hanging out that very window. When the window glass began attempting to cut off my fingers I screamed and my left knee involuntarily jerked upward, hitting the gearshift of Jack’s car and immediately throwing the Roadrunner into reverse gear. You would never imagine it by looking at the old bridge today, but it is possible to ride a Plymouth Road Runner exactly sideways down the bridge all four tires screaming and smoking. We were doing a bit of screaming ourselves.
I worked several summer seasons for Burrus Seed Farms, the large agricultural enterprise that at that time grew seed corn on both the west and east side of the Meredosia Bridge. This meant a great deal of moving farming equipment over the bridge, most commonly the large, spider-like Larson personnel carriers. These moves would often be made at that most dangerous of times when the setting sun blinded westbound drivers. Often times it was the family’s patriarch, Martin Burrus, and myself who were left to move the wide, gangly machines across the bridge and such a move always necessitated a flagger. A single car would take off across the bridge while the Larson driver waited for his partner to stop the traffic. Martin always ran the flag car while I came along with the personnel carrier. Martin’s instructions were always the same: “Kenny, let me take off then wait exactly 31 and a half seconds then you cross the bridge.” After a few trips with these strange instructions I asked Mr. Burrus why it had to be exactly 31 and one-half seconds. He told me, “You tell a feller 30 seconds or a minute and he’ll forget it, but you tell him 31 and a half and he’ll spend his whole time thinking, ‘Now just why in the hell did he tell me 31 and a half?’ He’ll remember it.”
We’ll remember the old Dosh Bridge as well … I hope … as long as we don’t try to navigate it on the John Deere 45 combine.