Coal in Iowa — Part I: The Bridge


~ Submitted by Clara Gunderson Hoover

Photo by Richard Thielen (Click on the image to magnify the detail of the bridge and reservoir.)

It all started one November Sunday morning as Hal and I drove from Ames to Omaha after an Iowa State football game.  We were talking so much that we missed the road to Luther.  We enjoy exploring different routes, so as we approached Madrid we decided to continue west on Highway 210 to Woodward.  Shortly after leaving Madrid, we could see a long bridge on tall pillars over the Des Moines River to the southwest.  From a distance, we also saw what appeared to be long metal pieces sticking up from the bridge at irregular intervals.  We had no idea about the purpose of the bridge or, because we’d never been on this road, how long the bridge had been there.  Our brother-in-law Bill Shimon said this was the recently completed High Trestle Trail Bridge that’s part of a paved recreation trail running through Polk, Dallas, Boone and Story counties.

Photo by Mary Pepper (Click on the photo to magnify the details, including the walkers on the bridge.)

I was so intrigued by the bridge that I Googled to learn more about it.  Indeed, the half-mile bridge is 130 feet above the wide Des Moines River Valley.  This new bridge opened in April 2011 and is built on top a former Milwaukee Road Railroad/Union Pacific Railroad trestle.  The tall concrete piers had been constructed in the 1970s to support the former trestle, originally built in 1912.  Two artistic features caught my eye.  Those metal pieces are actually 41 large, rectangular steel frames positioned at various angles to represent support cribs in an old coal mine.  At night these frames are outlined in blue light and from the end give one the impression of descending into a coal mine shaft.  In addition, at each entrance to the bridge are two 42-foot towers with black bands embedded to represent coal veins in the Madrid area.  The photos in the Raccoon River Valley Trail site show far more than I can explain.

A few weeks later as I talked with my dentist, who is familiar with Madrid because his mother had grown up in that area, I mentioned the High Trestle Trail Bridge.  He said one of his clients is from Rippey (about 20 miles west of Madrid), and the client’s father had worked in coal mines in the Rippey area.  I was hooked!  That night I e-mailed my dentist a web site for the High Trestle Trail Bridge along with other web sites about coal mining in Iowa.  In my research, I discovered Dorothy Schweider’s book on coal mining in Iowa.  I ordered two copies, kept one for myself and gave the other to my dentist who later told me his client’s father was mentioned in the book.

* * * * * * * *

Part II and Part III will follow.

If you have memories related to coal, but do not want to comment directly on this blog, you may email them to me (Louise). If you’d like, I can post them anonymously (i.e., not reveal your identity) in the “comment” area.

(Click here to go to Louise Gunderson Shimon’s blog’s home page.)



3 Responses to “Coal in Iowa — Part I: The Bridge”

  1. Peg Says:


    Wow, wow, WOW.

    I knew I wanted to read this article (have only read this first blog entry so far) and save some time for reading it slowly. So here I am. It is really pretty astonishing. Especially since you and Hal had never seen the bridge nor heard of it before–what a “trip” to just happen across it!

    (Additionally, coal mining is something way out of my realm of experience, so I’m a newbie and appreciate the learning. To think it’s right in the heart of Iowa.)

    All that length! All that height! I remember walking across the trestle in Rolfe once or twice (when I was in junior high or high school) and being pretty scared. And this must be . . . four times as high? I think that trestle’s origin was somewhere around my dear (still!) friend Marilyn Lehman’s house. 🙂

    I looked on the RRVT site, too. Especially the night photo is like nothing I’ve ever seen. (Except maybe at Disney World!) All that heavy metal, turned into something exquisite and meaningful.

    Both Mother and Daddy would have LOVED seeing the bridge (and your article, Clara <3). With Daddy's love of bridges, engineering, problem solving, and "repurposing" . . . and Mother's love of all things art . . . and the love of both of them for Iowa and making the most of her and showing her off . . . , they would have loved how "unartistic" materials were joined together to make something so very artistic. Interesting that it's even called "The Art Bridge" (in the RRVT article, at least). Even the towers with the "coal veins" in them–WORKS of ART, themselves.

    Thanks much, Clara! (And Louise!)


  2. Peg Says:

    Any idea how the designer and plan were chosen? It probably says in the RRVT article? Or maybe you talk about it in your second or third entry . . . .

  3. Jerry Sinn Says:

    I believe the bridge you are writing about may have been called High in the 19 teens and early 1920’s, if so my mother (Dorothy Hunt) grew up in the High Bridge coal mining camp. My Grandfather John Hunt and uncles Wallace & Warren Hunt worked in the mine. After the coal mine closed my mothers family moved to Slater.

    If anyone happens to know my family I would be very interested in communicating with you. My name is Jerry Sinn (I grew up in Boone and now live in AZ.) and Dorothy was my mother, her sisters were Hazel and Mary Helen.

    My email address is

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