Vintage Photographs: More From “Missouri’s Historic Highways”

It’s been a long while since sharing anything from the Facebook group of “Missouri’s Historic Highways”.  This gap of time does allow for significantly more pictures to share.

This is also more fun than trying to harness all my various thoughts about a 2001 Taurus my wife and I used to own.  Yes, this was a shameless plug for a COAL series I am slowly plowing my way through.

So let’s take a tour of long-ago Missouri.  Most of these are from the 1950s and 1960s, in no particular order of either time or location.  We will start at the state capital building on April 17, 1962, and work from there.

In the background of the lead picture, you can see a bridge over the Missouri River.  Here’s that same bridge on May 15, 1963; in a major coincidence I am writing this exactly 59 years later.  If I still had my ’63 Ford, I would not attempt to recreate this picture as there is now a second, newer but identical bridge to the right of the original one.  The ramp with the white Galaxie is now rather short due to the new bridge being built.  The house is still there.

Oddly, my last ride in the old Galaxie involved this very ramp, as it was on the route of the new owner’s test drive.

This is facing north where US 54 and US 63 run concurrently.

Staying in Jefferson City, but jumping around in time, this picture is from May 14, 1953.

See the building in the upper right of this picture?  That is the headquarters for the Missouri Department of Transportation – known then as the Missouri State Highway Department.  It seems there was a need to expand this building, thus these houses were about to go away.

This building is located to the right of the tree in the foreground of the lead picture.  Or, if you prefer, the capital building is to the far right from where this photographer was standing.  The governor’s mansion was behind the photographer.

Here’s another shot just north of the last one, with the photographer in the same spot.  It’s got a large shadow in it, but there is a Plymouth (I think) business coupe, so this was too good to not use.

Traveling northeast along US 54, one will ultimately find themselves in the town of Louisiana prior to entering Illinois.  This is the Champ Clark Bridge over the Mississippi River.  It opened May 12, 1928, and was in service until late 2019.  It has since been demolished.

I have been over this rather narrow bridge several times.

Champ Clark had been born in nearby Bowling Green and was Speaker of the United States House of Representatives (ie, a Nancy Pelosi predecessor) from 1911 to 1919.  He ran for the Democrat nomination against Woodrow Wilson, having more delegates but not the majority needed.  Several rounds of balloting nominated Wilson, who later won the presidential election in 1912.

The Champ Clark Bridge was a toll bridge until 1952.

Let’s stay in the same rough time period but go west, about as far west as you can without leaving the state.  Welcome to 1951 Kansas City.

Naturally, there is a dark Studebaker to be found in both this and the prior picture.

This series of four pictures was taken on Southwest Trafficway just south of downtown Kansas City and the current I-35.  Mrs. Jason and I were on Southwest Trafficway about two weeks ago.

Obviously the intent was to capture the highway project, but the road having been opened to traffic is what prompts our interest.  This area has grown up considerably since 1951.

There were a lot of Buicks to be found in these pictures.

This picture has so much going on it had to be included.

A delivery truck, a bus, and a police car.  The World War I Memorial is top center with Union Station to the left.  And is that a Jeep above the marked police car?  From this vantage point, the Federal Reserve Bank is right behind the two “One Way” signs on the right.  The headquarters for Hallmark Cards and the former Hyatt Regency (which gained unfortunate fame in July 1981) are both within a stone’s throw of Union Station.

Isn’t it remarkable how road signs have changed since 1951?

This is the same location as the prior picture, but both Union Station (on the left) and the WWI Monument are better seen.

Who owns the fleet spec 1949 or 1950 Ford?  The Ford is facing what looks a lot like a 1940s Hudson.

Let’s now go back across the state to St. Louis.

This is a terrific series of I-70 being built near downtown St. Louis in 1960 and 1961.  Here’s a picture with a billboard explaining I-70.

Who can tell us what the sedan is?  Ford Zephyr is the closest I can determine, but the rear still doesn’t quite match.

For whatever reason, we have covered the 1959 Ford relatively little.  Plus, as bad fortune would have it, I found an awesome 1959 Ford Country Squire in Sedalia last summer but was not able to photograph it.  That is the second 1959 Ford I’ve missed, with the other being a retractable hardtop I found in a grocery store parking lot.

The construction of any road all starts with dirt work.  Naturally the scoping, right-of-way acquisition, and preparation of plans comes before this, but dirt work is where everything starts to come together.

After all the dirt work is finished, you need to doublecheck your final grade.  This string-line helps tell an operator what to do on the paver.  This is a very critical job whose importance can sometimes not be fully appreciated.  The man’s hardhat says “Fred Weber”; Fred Weber is a large contractor in the St. Louis area.

Incidentally, if memory serves, Weber was one of the first in the nation to power his asphalt plant with methane generated by one of his landfills.  That’s smart business.

The paving has begun – well on the gutters anyway.  You won’t find gutters like this on new construction or any construction for the last several decades; they work well to pool water in the summer and ice in the winter.  No thanks.

This is all concrete and I’m guessing the slab is likely nine inches in thickness.

It takes a lot of concrete – and a lot of steel – to build a new interstate.  How far might one truck load go with this width?

After paving, there are still other ancillary items, such as lighting and hanging signs, to finish prior to opening the road.

What are the odds of this International still existing somewhere in some form?

This picture is awesome.

While I have no idea who this is, I can’t help but think this man was somebody who had a lot of responsibility and oversight with the construction of I-70.  Is he the contractor?  Is he a highway official?  Despite not being able to see his face, you can tell he has a lot on his mind.

Which car do you think is his?  Something tells me it likely isn’t the VW.

Five years earlier, and quite close to the pictures showing I-70 being built, this is what cross country travel entailed…

…Lots of traffic, lots of slow downs, not making good time.

That Mercury on the right is awesome.  The Hudson looks mighty fine and that Ford wagon appears to be a two-door.

Thus the interstate system was built after World War II.  For those outside the United States, President Eisenhower had been inspired by the German autobahn system and wanted to do similarly in the United States.  No doubt part of Eisenhower’s thought process was his assignment years before the war when he was in involved with evaluating military vehicles on a journey across the US.  The challenges he faced, due to the piecemeal system of roads in the US during that time, were formidable.

Such traffic patterns weren’t strictly a St. Louis event.  Similar traffic jams could be found in Kansas City – and most any other city in the country.

Sticking with the I-70 theme, here is a 1958 picture of the bridge on I-70 over the Missouri River near Rocheport, referred to locally as the Rocheport Bridge, located in the middle of the state.  This bridge is currently being replaced.

A newspaper article a while back gave insight into the utilization of the interstate highway system.  It said traffic crossing the Rocheport Bridge could be found in all 48 of the continental states within 72 to 96 hours of crossing the bridge.

As it is sometimes prone to doing, the Missouri River flooded in 1952.  This and the next picture were taken at Fairfax, in the northwest part of the state.  This is near the bridge going into Rulo, Nebraska.

Given the size of that truck it will take many loads to start filling these holes.

The force of moving water is scary amazing.  The Missouri River has flooded a few more times in this area since then, the most recent closing nearby I-29 for quite an extended period of time.

It seems that same 1952 flood also affected the Kansas City area.  Good thing the owners of this drive-in weren’t scared, just worried.

Reflecting how some things are imprinted on our brains, that Ford pickup has a distinct Fred Sanford vibe to it, despite this being two decades before Sanford & Son premiered.

Sometimes floods are intentional.  This is the bridge over Table Rock Lake near Branson.  However, there was no lake.  Yet.

It seems this bridge was nearly finished when this picture of a Plymouth approaching the bridge was taken in 1958.  However, flooding had covered the old bridge, so the new one was used during the interim.  Then work continued on Table Rock Dam, which then flooded the area seen here.  Confusing, no?

Perhaps showing both bridges helps explain the situation.  With construction of the dam, everything you see below the new bridge has now been underwater for decades.

There is more to cover, but one has to draw the line somewhere.  I hope you enjoyed this blast through time and around the state.