The Iron Bridge

Although it probably won’t rise to the level of my Calypso Island obsession, I’ve been intrigued by a story I ran across, about a nearby railroad bridge and a fire there that smoldered for 20 years…

I ran across this while doing some futzing around with OpenStreetMap, where someone had left notes on the map — “notes” are meant for marking items where corrections need to be made, but these notes were just interesting bits of historic trivia about certain places. (This, by the way, is a pet peeve of mine.) One note described an iron railroad bridge (on Iron Bridge Road) that had been covered by fill. There is a railroad that crosses Jordan Creek, and Iron Bridge Road which runs parallel to the creek, but the road and creek crossed under the railroad via tunnels, and the note in any case was nowhere near this particular spot on the road. Does the note indicate a different RR crossing, now gone?

I did some research, and discovered that there was no other railroad crossing, the existing railroad was indeed the location of the iron bridge. This was part of a rail line build jointly by the Crane and Thomas Iron Companies, from Catasauqa out to local ore fields. It was originally a plank road when local roads proved inadequate for heavy traffic, and was converted into a railroad, complete with huge wooden trestle bridge across Jordan Creek, when the plank road proved inadequate.

As time went on and trains got heavier, the wooden bridge was replaced with an iron trestle bridge, which was an engineering marvel for its time but was, in its turn, also discovered to be inadequate… So about 1916, the railroad build a set of concrete tunnels under the bridge (for the creek and the road to go through), then started dumping slag, “factory ash” and other industrial waste, building up an escarpment around and over the bridge. They dumped about 300,000 tons of fill between 1916 and 1919, and created the hill that’s there now.

So far so good, and a moderately interesting piece of industrial history, but what caught my eye was a newspaper story from about 1942, lamenting the inaccessible iron now buried under the hill, which could have been salvaged for the war effort. Unfortunately (the article continued), the escarpment, which was basically a mountain of industrial waste, caught fire in 1917; it burned underground, melting the buried iron so it sometimes leaked out of the hill, and occasionally catching the railroad ties on fire, for the next twenty years.

Twenty years! I thought that a twenty-year fire, complete with molten iron running from the ground, was just crazy, a story on the order of Centralia that locals would still be talking about, but I found almost nothing about it. Just another part of Pennsylvania’s Mordor-industrial history. OpenStreetmap correctly shows the current conditions on the ground (RR on escarpment, with road and creek passing under in tunnels), so I made no changes and closed the note.