Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Iowa's High Trestle Bridge and an Old Man who got his Second Wind

Charles "Toad" White
I consider myself a seasoned traveler and I don't impress easily, but on a cooler than average July morning this summer I pulled into the small gravel parking lot to visit Iowa's new High Trestle Bridge near Madrid.  I was met by an old man who greeted my mother, son and I.  He looked at my West Virginia license plate and told us about all the places people come from to visit.  I told him I grew up in Iowa but moved away years ago and brought my son to see my home state.  He subtly looked me up and down and took my measure (something they do in the Midwest), then began to tell us about the bridge. He told us about the stunning view awaiting us, then went on his way, heading down the half mile paved trail.

As we neared the bridge I noticed something odd.  The old man was running toward us from on the bridge.  He stopped and talked with us again.  What I learned in the next 20 minutes or so changed something in me and gave me a new perspective.   Toad said he was 88 years old and that two years ago he lost his wife of 62 years.  He didn't say how, only that he lost her and that it almost drove him crazy.  He said he became attached to the bridge as it was being built, and that he helps keep up the area as a volunteer.  He said he was in the navy for 8 years a long time ago.   Were it not for the bridge, he said.... "Who knows?"

In the center of the bridge you look out over the Des Moines River and a stunning lush valley that fills with water when there is enough rain.  The valley is a habitat for birds and other native Iowa wildlife.

Along the half mile bridge crossing are interpretive signs explaining the history of the area and the bridge, as well as its construction phases and major donors.  

A mile from the small parking lot you can get off the bridge and stand on a overlook and take in the incredible view of the 13 story structure.  At night, sections of the bridge are lighted in blue neon, but I didn't have time to see that, and I regret it.  

High Trestle Bridge is a magical place, and meeting Charles White (did I mention at 88 he was running!) and hearing his story lets me know there are places in life that give us a second wind and restore and save us from ourselves.  As I finished talking to Toad and went on our way, I told my son, "Don't ever forget that man."  I know I will never forget my trip on a cool July morning to High Trestle Bridge.  If you visit here, you won't forget it either, and if you are very lucky, you will meet an extraordinary man who runs in blue jeans on this bridge.


  1. I liked the story. You never seem to have a problem going up to complete strangers and speaking with them and asking them to pose for a photo. I've seen it firsthand several times and by looking at the picture of Charles White on his bridge, I can vividly picture how the conversation went. Oh, and the bridge and photos are impressive too!

    1. I guess it is a learned quality and I never gave it much thought. Commenting on the weather is always a good opening line. I think just about everyone has a story. This man became animated when he talked about the bridge. Clearly it was important to him.

  2. I would love to bike that trail.

    1. It is over 25 miles, all of it paved. Iowa is quickly becoming known as the trail capitol of the country with the number of quality bike and walking trails.