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ROUTE 66

Route 66 Bridge over the Chicago, Rock Island, and Gulf Railroad
Shamrock, Texas

 

Route 66 Bridge over the Chicago, Rock Island,
and Gulf Railroad
courtesy of the Texas Historical Commission

The Route 66 Bridge over the Chicago, Rock Island, and Gulf Railroad is a Route 66 landmark that travelers might miss if they’re not looking for it. The bridge stands in the arid plains eight miles east of Shamrock, five-and-a-half miles west of the Oklahoma State line, and 12 miles southeast of Wheeler.

The Kiowa and Comanche Indians once lived in the area, hunting great herds of buffalo.  Anglos arrived in the late 1800s, replacing the buffalo with crops, sheep, and Hereford cattle.  During the 1920s, agriculture in the Texas Panhandle boomed. The oil industry emerged, generating substantial growth in Amarillo, which became a commercial and corporate center of the region.  Highways had to be built to connect the relatively isolated Panhandle to the rest of the country.

Paved in 1932, Route 66 was the primary road in this development. The highway passed through numerous small towns, most of which had fewer than 500 residents. The high plains of the Panhandle are relatively flat, so the area didn’t require many bridges, which makes the bridge in Wheeler County somewhat unusual. Another unusual feature is that the bridge carried both automobile and train traffic. Designed as a double-decker, the bridge has train tracks for the Chicago, Rock Island, and Gulf Railroad running along a deck 25 feet below the roadbed of Route 66.

The only problem with this useful arrangement is that the blast from locomotives below could play havoc with the integrity of the steel I-beams supporting the deck above. (Not to mention that motorists could get the paint sandblasted right off the sides of their cars.) To correct these problems, the engineers did something a little unusual for 1932. They encased the steel beams in concrete. The result is a 126-foot bridge with a main span of concrete-encased beams.  Other spans are made of reinforced concrete girder units resting on reinforced concrete pile bents. If you’re an engineer, you’ll know what all that means. Otherwise, just enjoy the view from the middle of the bridge.

The Route 66 Bridge in Wheeler County has not been altered since its construction, allowing visitors a good look at the design, workmanship, and materials of its era. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.
Plan your visit
The Route 66 Bridge over the Chicago, Rock Island, and Gulf Railroad crosses the Chicago, Rock Island, and Gulf Railroad eight miles east of  Shamrock, TX, and remains in use as part of a frontage road for Interstate 40.
 
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