Saturday, January 31, 2009

Low bridge, everybody down

We are at the Wal-Mart in Monroe, Louisiana (map).

Rolling into Louisiana is something of a homecoming for us, as this is the state in which we have spent the most time since hitting the road four and a half years ago. We would never have predicted that, of course, when we started, and most of our time here has been in Baton Rouge, working with the Red Cross. But we've been all over the state, between disaster field assignments and just driving around in Odyssey. We like it here -- Bienvenue en Louisiane.

I am accustomed to typing, 'round about this paragraph or so, that we had an uneventful drive from such-and-such place, but yesterday's drive was anything but. First, we got a late start, because after our usual lazy morning answering email, reading the news, planning the route, and generally surfing the web, we decided to walk around the fairgrounds and check out the horse shows.

We caught a bit of the Palomino show (the Paints were in a different area we never made it to), and these are beautiful horses. We also spent some time browsing through some new horse trailers that a couple of dealers were exhibiting, luxurious affairs with three or four stalls in the back for the horses, and living accommodations in the front for the riders. A couple even had slides; all had a queen bed in the area above the fifth wheel, a full galley, and a full bath with large shower. Several such rigs were tucked in among the myriad more conventional RVs on the fairgrounds, and we were curious to see how the horsey set lived when on the road.

From one of the dealers we learned that this series of horse and cattle shows actually runs all month, and that the rodeo would be next weekend, preceded by the arrival of wagon trains from all over the state. Apparently, that is the time when the fairgrounds will be cheek-by-jowl full of rigs, and we might well have had trouble parking (and certainly finding a power outlet).

No fairgrounds visit is ever complete without greasy fair-style food, so we bought lunch at one of the many stands before returning home to prepare for departure. While I was out getting ready to unplug (actually, taking the photos we attached to yesterdays post), the guy who collected our fee drove up, and informed me that it was supposed to be an extra charge after 9am. That's nice, but why didn't he tell me that yesterday, when he asked me how long we were staying and I said "until mid-day tomorrow"? He didn't actually charge me anything more than the original $15 he collected yesterday, but I got the chance to ask him how much the charge would have been for dry camping -- free, it turns out, any time the facility is open. We were happy to have the power, but now we know for the next time (and we certainly could have merely unplugged by 9am, had we needed to avoid an extra charge).

We rolled out sometime after 1pm, and headed over to the Flying-J via a back road across the Pearl. The best I could coax out of the wimpy RV dispensers was perhaps ten gallons per minute (using both sides), and so it took a good 20 minutes or so to put 210 gallons in at $1.929 per gallon -- the cheapest fuel in the country, at the moment. It was after 2 by the time we rolled out of the station and onto US-80 west, which would take us all the way to the state line at Vicksburg.

Now, US-80 becomes collinear with I-20 on the western outskirts of Jackson, and they run together all the way to Bovina, just east of Vicksburg. However, both our printed map and our Garmin GPS indicated that US-80 diverts south of I-20 at Edwards. We took this route, in spite of no signage so indicating. A few miles down what turns out to be old highway 80, we started to get nervous about the absence of US highway shields, but clearly the road had, at least, once been the main route here before the Interstate. Old-time motel, restaurant, and gas station signs are a dead giveaway.

Notwithstanding a "Weight Limit 57,650 Pounds" sign just as we left Edwards (and we are amused by the precision of that number, which is common in Mississippi), we nevertheless encountered a bridge several miles down the road with a "Tandem Axle 15 Tons" sign. Well, Odyssey's tandem weighs in at just under 17 tons, so we figured that to be close enough. We rolled down the center of the bridge, straddling the line, just because that's how narrow it was, and so we had no other traffic contributing to the loading, either.

That bridge was followed by another similarly marked bridge in another few miles, but we realized that, once upon a time, this was the main (and only) truck route, so we still did not worry too much. And then, we were stopped in our tracks by this:

(Photo: Bill Black,

What you can't see in this photo that I've linked from the web (we did not have the presence of mind to snap one ourselves) is the sign just ahead of it stating Clearance: 12'-0" (also printed on the yellow sign on the bridge crossmember itself, but so faded we could not even read it from here.)

Uh oh. Odyssey is 13'-0", and there is no place to turn around -- we are on a narrow two-lane which has been elevated from the surrounding land. We stopped and put the four-ways on. While Louise caught her breath (she takes her job of calling out the clearance signs very seriously), I got out the tape measure we keep by the driver's seat for just such occasions, and went to measure it.

It turns out that the horizontal crossmember is well above 13 feet -- only the bottom of the diagonal trusses to either side come down to nearly 12. We emptied all the air out of our suspension as a precacaution, making our height just 12'8", and slowly rolled across the bridge dead-center between the curbs. We cleared without even hitting the CB antenna, so releasing the air had been unneccessary.

This happens to be the historic R.H. Henry bridge over the Big Black River, constructed in 1929. This site provides a complete description, including the fact that the vertical clearance is actually 12'-2" and the bridge is "structurally deficient." The historic status has also become a matter of some contention, apparently. In any case, we made it across, and had no further issues all the way to Vicksburg.

Between the late start, the fueling, and the bridge fiasco, we arrived in Monroe at sundown. We had remembered a parking spot near the Olive Garden from our first visit here, but fresh development nearby made that a poor choice this time. Ironically, we had to drop south down to the freeway from where we had come in on US-80, north of town, to check that spot out, and then head right back up to US-80 again to find this Wal-Mart, in the dark. I had my mouth all set for Olive Garden, of course, but we ended up eating at a Chinese joint across the street here.

This morning we'll head into the store for some much-needed provisions, then head west toward Dallas. After checking the weather charts, we decided to stay along I-20, since much of this is new to us, rather than head down to the US-190 corridor, now very familiar.


  1. I love my GPS, really I do ;) - but I don't TRUST it for a minute. It does not understand about motorhomes and directs me on some of the strangest routes. It's great, though, for finding the turn when I can't see the road sign until too late.
    There's a low RR bridge near my daughter's house and my Magellan insists the best way to get there is to go under it. Yeah, right. Not happening. "Recalculating Route" is something I get to hear a lot.

  2. Wow!!--Close Call-- Wish you had remembered to photo the occasion.
    You can find me at
    Jenny J (


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