East Chicago, 15 April 1982, 1040. The biggest Indiana Department of Highways project to that date suffered a major accident. The ramp to the Cline Avenue bridge, built to replace a lift bridge over the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal, collapsed. The resulting accident, one of the worst industrial accidents in Indiana history, killed 12 people and injured 17 more.
The Cline Avenue bridge was part of a larger project known as a replacement SR 912. SR 912, at that time, crossed the Indiana Harbor Canal on Dickie Road, a lift bridge with numerous traffic delays. The goal was to replace this grade level road with a six lane expressway, eliminating at-grade crossings, and soaring over the canal with a bridge 130 feet high.
One of the rare things about the bridge project was that the construction company could decide for itself how to build the bridge. The decision was made to use concrete girder construction. This type of construction had been used, at that time, for nearly three decades. Instead of casting the sections of the bridge in a factory and shipped to the site, the casting was done onsite. The type of construction used meant for lower concrete usage and less cost, but still had the advantage of being very strong.
As the chronology above shows, the first section started its downfall at 1040. That section of the ramp was 250 feet in length. Two minutes afterwards, the first ambulances started arriving on the scene. The problem that was immediately noticed was that there were still six or seven construction workers now on an orphaned section of the bridge. The section lost all connection for those men to safely escape the area. That section had no support, and collapse was deemed imminent. That section collapsed five minutes after the first.
The first 11 dead were taken to a make-shift morgue near the site. As of the reporting of the incident the next day, the 12th victim was still trapped in the debris “encased head-down in concrete that workers had poured just before the collapse.”
“‘Presumably what fell was the false work – the scaffolding that holds up the forms for the concrete,’ said Gene Hallock, director of the Indiana Department of Highways.” (source: Journal and Courier; Lafayette, Indiana; 16 April 1982) According to a History Channel documentary on the project, the footers for the false work was concrete left over from the bridge pour.
It was determined in October, 1982, that, in fact, the problem stemmed from the concrete footers for the false work. Stress tests showed that the concrete used for those footers could only support half the weight necessary for the work. After a redesign of those footers, the construction company completed the original Cline Avenue project in 1984.
But that would not be the end of the bad news for the Cline Avenue bridge. In 2009, it was determined that the bridge suffered from major corrosion and was in need of replacement. The bridge was closed 4 January 2010. Traffic volumes on the bridge had dropped from a high of 80,000 vehicles a day to around 30,000. INDOT determined that replacing the structure was necessary, but not financially feasible. A deal was made to replace the bridge by a private company. Now, nearly a decade later, the replacement bridge is still not built.
Admittedly, the inspiration for this post came from my watching YouTube. Specifically, the above mentioned History Channel documentary.
I have done numerous entries about the first Indiana long distance railroad, the Madison & Indianapolis. The M&I was part of the Mammoth Improvement Bill, which created a large number of canal, road and railroad projects in 1836. But the first railroad in Indiana predated the Improvement Bill by two years. It was also built in a town that was to be, temporarily, a major railroad city: Shelbyville.
Not much information is available for this first of its kind in Indiana. It was not a steam railroad, but horse drawn. The ending point was marked by the Indiana Sesquicentennial Commission in 1966 with the historical marker shown to the left. (Unfortunately, the marker has been taken down for the time being.) The location of this marker was near the corner of Broadway and McLane Streets, just east of downtown Shelbyville. Broadway Street is SR 44 in this section of town. It also happens to be the Historic Michigan Road.
Anyone that has a sharp eye, and a knowledge of the railroads of Indiana, will notice that the location of that marker also happens to be alongside the old Shelby & Rush Railroad line. That line connected the county seats of the named counties. It would become part of the Jeffersonville, Madison & Indianapolis.
Information is very scarce on this railroad, short of what was printed on the historical marker. Most of my sources don’t even acknowledge its existence. One of my favorite books, “Ghost Railroads of Indiana,” doesn’t even list it. I would assume that’s partly due to the fact that the Shelby & Rush essentially extended the little horse drawn, two mile line. One could assume that the railroad didn’t last long. I can’t even find even the name of this line. But I felt it was important to make sure that little line keeps its historic value in Indiana Transportation History.
This is the 100th post on the Indiana Transportation History blog. I want to thank all of you that have visited. You all make this worth it. I appreciate every single one of you.
Road laws. There have been such laws made in Indiana for many years. So many years, in fact, that there is a book available listing the acts of the General Assembly of the Indiana Territory Passed in 1814. Oh, yes. There is. And here is the link. There aren’t many. Here they are.
The Territorial Legislature recognizes that Edmond Hogan and Thomas Neely are erecting a bridge over the Patoka River where the Saline road crosses said. It is also mentioned that this will be a toll bridge, with the tolls fixed by the Gibson County Court of Common Pleas. I am not sure what road this is talking about. It mentions the town of Columbia in Gibson County. And the only Saline that I have found is Saline City, but that is in, what was then, native American territory. Columbia is a township in Gibson County.
At the time, road work was used in lieu of road taxes. In January, 1815, the General Assembly made it the law that no person shall work more than two days a year on road work in lieu of taxes. Unless there is a new road, then there were to be no more than two days on the old road, and no more than two days on the new road. Also, “any person who chooses to work out their road tax, shall be permitted at the rate of sixty-two and one half cents per day, provided such labour be performed previous to the first day of September.”
Even mandatory military service was mentioned in terms of roads. “Be it further enacted, That the following persons shall be exempt from military duty: all ferrymen, necessarily employed at a ferry on a post road.”
Apparently, the Territorial legislature of 1814 had a lot of important things to do that year, the least of which were road laws. Divorces are listed in the Acts of the Territory.
The Lincoln Highway. The idea was the brainchild of Carl Graham Fisher to create a road that connected the Atlantic and Pacific coasts with a hard surface, all purpose facility. In one of those “small world” moments, the Lincoln Highway went on to connect my family to that of my wife. My family comes from the area of the Lincoln Highway in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Her family comes from the area of the old road in the subject area: St. Joseph County.
Carl Fisher’s idea was to improve the road, not build it. There were many roads already in place. The problem was that most of them were simply dirt paths through the wilderness. In Indiana, roads were owned by one of three types of organizations: county governments, township governments, or toll road companies. And, toward the time that the Lincoln Highway came into being, the toll road companies were basically gone. The Lincoln Highway association had the task of promoting and locating the road. This required a large number of surveys and decisions to decide what towns would and would not be lucky enough to be connected to the coast-to-coast network.
In western St. Joseph County, the new Lincoln Highway followed what was originally built as the Michigan Road. The above 1876 map shows the route of both the Michigan Road and the Lincoln Highway west of the county seat. That road shown in 1876 existed in pretty much the same configuration in the mid 1910’s when the LHA decided it would be part of the longer road. There have only basically been two changes in the road shown on this map. One, a reroute of the road east of New Carlisle to make a safer way to cross the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern (New York Central) Railroad. Two, there was a reroute closer to South Bend to allow for an expansion of the airport.
East of South Bend, the “new” road was laid out along the Mishawaka Road, stretching from South Bend to Goshen (in Elkhart County), with the exception of the section through Elkhart. The LH was routed through Elkhart, where the Mishawaka Road bypassed the city. Most of this route in St. Joseph County is still called, to this day, Lincolnway. The blue line east of Osceola is the Mishawaka Road, not (what will become) the Lincoln Highway.
What is important to point out here is that the LH, the granddaddy of all Auto Trails, was actually a collection of county roads, connected by a common sign. This same principle would be applied to the state of Indiana in 1917/1919 with the creation of the state highway system. The only difference is that the state would be responsible for the maintenance of the roads, instead of local authorities. Ironic, that. The second road taken into the state highway system would be the Lincoln Highway. Thus, the state became responsible for an Auto Trail set up to be a more private concern.
Not many people pay attention to the little 6 inch by 12 inch piece of aluminum that is attached (or, at least, supposed to be attached!) to every vehicle in the state of Indiana. While Indiana is not the first to require a state issued license plate for motor vehicles, it was a decade after Massachusetts required them that the Hoosier State got on the band wagon. (As an aside, all the states adopted state issued license plates by 1918.)
The state started requiring motor vehicles be registered with the Secretary of State starting in 1905. When the vehicle was registered, the state issued a small dashboard disk with the legend “Registered In The Office of Secretary of State of Indiana Under The Motor Vehicle Law No. XXXXX.” The XXXXX was the registration number. That number was used, by the person owning the car, to have their license plate created in any form they chose. I recommend checking out LeatherLicensePlates to see examples of user created license tags. According to that site, the registrations changed in the middle of 1907, requiring users to make new plates. License plates at the time were issued to the vehicle and owner, and didn’t expire. Some of the pictures of pre-state plates are absolutely amazing.
The first state issued plate (shown left) was in 1913. Many states that were issuing government plates, to this point, had been using porcelain on steel construction. This same type of signage was used for advertising into the 1950s (maybe later). Also, as other states had been doing, the plates weren’t of a uniform size. The short measurement of the plate was 4.5 inches, with the length being as little as necessary to put the number and legend on the steel. The next picture, taken from porcelainplates.net, shows a low number version of this same issue. The state required vehicles have these plates starting 1 July 1913.
There were, according to sources, several problems with the first year license plates. This led the state government to start, in 1914, issuing license plates made of embossed steel with painted numbers. These plates were issued each year, with different colors for each year. All plates issued between 1914 and 1927 had the legend “IND” and the year on the right edge of the steel. Cars were issued with up to a six digit number, with the size varying depending on the registration number. Issues from the years 1928 to 1930 had the “INDIANA – year” legend below the registration number. Between 1931 and 1942, the legend was alternated between above and below the registration number, with odd numbered years being above.
From the very beginning, Indiana required both a front and rear plate on vehicles. As such, these plates were issued in pairs. This changed in 1943. With metal shortages during World War II in full swing, the governor asked for Hoosiers to turn in any old license plates and the front 1942. A smaller black “tag” type plate was issued for 1943. This was attached above the 1942 on the rear of the vehicle. The format of these were “NNN NNN IND 43.” 1944 also had a smaller issued plate, in an effort to save metal.
In 1945, Indiana began to issue full sized license plates again. Between 1945 and 1951, the legend alternated from top to bottom. In odd number years, the state name appeared above the number, with the two digit year below it. Even numbered years had the opposite locations. Just like the pre-1943 years, the colors changed every year. The only change to this point would occur in 1950. Before 1950, registration numbers were just that, numbers. Starting in 1950, license plates in Indiana started being issued by county, with two letters and up to four numbers. The two letters showed the county of issue. Unlike the later system (described later), the letters were in order of the county’s population, not the county name. For instance, AA-AU were for Marion County, BB-BH were issued in St. Joseph County, and so on.
The next difference in plates would be for 1952 and 1953, when the state issued small metal tabs to be screwed onto the 1951 plate. These were one inch high, with the same numbering system as used in 1950 and 1951. Full size plates were again issued in 1954, following the same legend scheme as was used since 1945. In 1955, another tab was issued. This time the registration number was just that, a number. One from my personal collection follows.
After 1955, the state issued alternating plates. In 1956 and 1958, the plates had a yellow legend, on a blue background. The “IND – 56 (58)” appeared below the registration code, with the words “DRIVE SAFELY” above it. 1957 was dark blue on yellow, with the same legends as 1956 and 1958, only the “DRIVE SAFELY” was below the registration. 1959 had the same color scheme as the 1957, with the “IND – 59” again appearing above the plate number. Instead of drive safely, the 1959 read “LINCOLN YEAR.”
The 1960, 1961 and 1962 issues had the legend “SAFETY PAYS” on different colored plates (1960 white on blue, 1961 white on red and 1962 yellow on black). The state abbreviation and year alternated in the same pattern as the previous years: even below, odd above. The safety pays legend was opposite the year.
The numeric county codes started appearing in 1963. The 1963 issue had the county code in smaller numbers, with a letter and up to four numbers following in a larger size. This would change again in 1964, with the county code number and the four following numbers being the same size, with a smaller “branch” letter between the two. This scheme would be followed until the end of the numeric codes in 2008. The state name, completely spelled out, would appear at the bottom of the plate in odd number year until 1969. It was the opposite in even number years. Opposite the state name would be the year of issue. Except in 1966, where the words “150TH YEAR” was at the top, with “IND – 66” at bottom.
1966 was also the first year that Indiana stopped using painted metal for the license plates. The painted metal was replaced with reflective sheeting, commonly referred to as “Scotchlite.” (Those who know their reflective sheeting know that it is also commonly called “type 1.” The newest reflective material that is used, especially on interstate “BGSs (big green signs)” is type 6.) This has the unfortunate side effect that most 1966 plates are very cracked. Finding one in very good condition is hard, at best.
Indiana changed the license plate layout again in 1970. For years to this point, all plates expired on 31 March of the year after the one printed on the tag. In 1970, a plan was put in place to have registrations expire by the last name of the owner, ending in June. (My last name, Simpson, meant my plates expired in May.) Company registered plates expired in January. The 1970-1972 issues had the year and state at the top (IND – 70, 71 – IND, IND -72). At the bottom was a place for a sticker and the year of expiration. The issues of 1973-1975 stopped putting the year of issue on the plate. It was replaced with the word “INDIANA.” The month and year of expiration still appeared at the bottom. (For example, my 1975 plate had a white on red “MAY” sticker and the year “76.”
Indiana got into the graphic issues starting in 1976. This was also the last time the year of issue was used on the license plates. All Indiana plates after this point only had the year of expiration on them (whether it be printed or on the stickers). (This is a bone of contention among license plate collectors. Some claim that the plate is issued by the year printed on it. I, for example, organize my plates by the year of issue, which is the year before the year printed on it. According to the logic of the former, there was no 1977 Indiana, and two Indiana 1976s. That makes no sense to me at all. If it’s any consolation, the BMV’s website lists the years by issue.)
Only several changes occurred since the graphics issues started. In 1981, state law was changed to allow plates to be used for three years, instead of a new piece of metal to be issued every year. That would change in 1993, when the state law changed again to allow five year issues. The next change occurred in 2003 when the embossed plates were change to flat issues. The last one was mentioned above: 2008 saw the end of the county code registration numbers, with the county code in number form on the plate, usually in the lower right hand corner.
I want to mention that the above images of my personal collection show rusted and/or bent examples. I am one that doesn’t believe in “restoring” license plates. This is a personal preference. So, my 100+ year old plates (I own matching pairs of both 1914 and 1915 Pennsylvania license plates) look exactly as they would after such a long time.
It should be mentioned that Indiana, in 2008, also passed a YOM, or “year of manufacture” law when the county codes disappeared. This allows anyone owning a car over 25 years old to register the car with a license plate from the year of the car’s manufacture. For example, if I still had my (most favorite!) 1989 Dodge Shadow, it would be possible for me to put the below pictured license plate on it legally.