Residents Look At The Future Of The Katy Bridge

BOONVILLE - After six years, the fight between Union Pacific Railroad and Save The Katy Bridge Coalition has ended. Gov. Jay Nixon announced Thursday the state of Missouri reached an agreement with Union Pacific Railroad to give the Katy Bridge to the city of Boonville.

Union Pacific originally looked to tear it down and use portions of the bridge over the Osage River. The Katy Bridge Coalition has fought to keep the bridge standing. In exchange for selling the Katy Bridge to Boonville for a dollar, Missouri is giving Union Pacific $23 million in stimulus money to help build a bridge over the Osage.

It’s a dream come true for those who believe the Katy Bridge is more than just a bridge, but a very large historical landmark in Boonville.

“You know, it’s kind of taken me awhile to absorb it,” resident Jim Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw started working as a bridge tender on the Katy Bridge in 1963. For three years he served on the bridge, raising it for barges as they came by and making sure trains could come through.

“If the barge was coming down river, from the time you saw him going around the bend you had 15 minutes before you had to raise the bridge,” Bradshaw said.

He also remembers his free time while working on the bridge. It’s where his passion for reading started.

“At the time I started working on the bridge, I was barely a reader, I mean barely,” Bradshaw said. “But I read a lot there.”

Now, as a poet, he writes about his other passion: the bridge itself.

“An old man traveling in the twilight of day, while retracing old paths and recalling old ways came to his old bridge in raised position, that last great monument to old Katy’s tradition,” wrote Bradshaw. “As he emerged from the shadows of brush and vine on the north shore approach, he was amazed to find she still smelled the same after forty years time.”

Although 47 years has passed, Bradshaw said time hasn’t changed the bridge much. It hasn’t been painted in 30 years, but he said spots of silver paint still glint in the sun. The vivid and sharp memories continue to flood his mind when he takes trips across the bridge.

“My oldest daughter and wife used to come out and bring lunch and we’d picnic on the bridge and a lot of my friends would come out and visit me,” Bradshaw said. “That was a really good part of it really.”

Bradshaw recalls people occasionally coming out to view the bridge. He said he remembers taking a couple up the lift on prom night.

Dozens of pictures of the Katy Bridge hanging in his studio at his home reminds him of the good times. They are also proof of his passion for the bridge. Four large photos are taped to his yellow lamp, illuminated when the light is turned on. Some photos are attached to his walls, others tucked neatly away between the couch and the cabinet. One photo with a rainbow dipping into the water behind the bridge sits next to the sink. There are all kinds of pictures; old and new, big and small. Books describing the bridge and railroad lay scattered about and a binder full of articles greet visitors at the entrance. On the wall a plaque presents Bradshaw as an agent of the MKT Railroad.

Bradshaw is the third generation in his family to work with the railroad and he hopes to preserve the historical value of the bridge.

“It’s about the legacy of the people who worked on that railroad, because it’s such a visible monument,” Bradshaw said. “I do hope to enhance the memories of some of the people that literally gave their lives there. I have a lot of the history of those people in my head.”

Save the Katy Bridge Coalition chairperson Paula Shannon has her own reason for wanting to save the bridge.

Shannon’s husband grew up two blocks from the bridge, just down the Missouri River. As an 11-year-old boy he would run out to his back porch at night and wave at the barges passing by. As soon as they saw him, the loud horns would sound out, echoing out against the edges of the river. Their bright spinning lights reflecting off his eyes.

Now stricken with Alzheimer’s, it’s one of the few times his eyes still sparkle while remembering parts of his past.

“When we first heard the bridge was going down, his first response was ‘oh it just can’t, it’s too much of a landmark to Boonville,’” Shannon said.

Shannon said the bridge is not just used as a symbol of Boonville.

“I think also for generations to come, represents the history of the MKT railroad,” Shannon said. “And more important, it represents where we’re going with better planning recreation for family, by using the Katy trial as the bridge. It could be a very intricate part of the trail.”

The Save the Katy Coalition group is working with Hardesty and Hanover in New York and Allstate Engineering in Columbia to construct plans for the bridge. Hardesty and Hanover, the largest movable bridge firm in the world, approached the coalition after hearing about the historical significance of the bridge and asked to work pro bono on the project.

So far there are three sets of plans. One includes a ramp leading up to the top level of the bridge. Other ideas include an elevator to bring hikers to the top. Shannon said she has even received packages from people suggesting ideas.

The plans include two phases, each adding up to a total of nearly $1 million. So far the coalition has collected more than $365,000 in pledges.

“With the pledges and what the city of Boonville says they’ll put into the project, it puts us a long way down the road,” Bradshaw said.

Once finished, the bridge will be attached to the Katy Trail. Bradshaw said he believes more than just hikers and bicyclists will visit the bridge.

“I think it will draw all kinds: photographers, naturalists, historians. It’ll be there for a long while just as it is,” Bradshaw said. “It could last indefinitely, especially for trail or pedestrian use.”

He also thinks those visiting the casino might take a walk down the river to see the bridge.

Shannon said she feels the bridge will attract tourists and help bring in revenue for downtown businesses. She also hopes to hold annual events at the bridge, like the bridge festival they’ve held for the past five years.

Shannon said she hopes the bridge can entertain for generations to come.

“My goal is to get my grandchildren out there and have them experience that because it takes your breath away,” Shannon said. “I think it will have a lot of different ways in which it can be involved with family life in years to come.”

As for Bradshaw, his dream is to someday have his ashes thrown off the bridge, because this is one fight he battled long and hard for. His passion for the bridge will always be with him.

“It’s nice to be apart of something larger than yourself,” Bradshaw said. “Legacy is the thing that as you age, gets more important.”


The Katy Bridge is back in the hands of Boonville after a six year battle with Union Pacific. I sat down with a former bridge tender who shares what's in store for the historical landmark.


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