Marilee and I were married in 1966 and started housekeeping by hitting up relatives for furniture and scrounging at local sales and antique stores. We had relatives who were heavily into antiques so they steered us that way. We always watched for those hidden treasures. at auctions, garage sales and even in dumps along the side of country roads.
On day we were cutting across country and went over an old iron bridge. I noticed an cast iron advertising sign on it and went back to investigate. It intrigued me but I didn’t want to take it. Later I checked the iron bridge near my boyhood fishing and swimming hole but there was no evidence of a sign.
I was telling my Dad about the bridge sign and he said he knew where there was another one. He took me to an old iron bridge over a creek by a pumping station that furnished water to the railroad steam engines in Yates City, IL. He said they were about to tear the bridge down and replace it with a concrete bridge. Well, I didn’t want to lose that sign. After getting suitable tools, we were able to remove it from the bridge.
I went to the Peoria County Road Superintendent to ask about salvaging the signs as the bridges are modernized. He said that they could not be saved as that would require a higher paid salvage laborer. Of course, he could not give me permission to take the signs but he told me how to get county maps from the state of Illinois that identified the location of all bridges.
Armed with maps and tools, The wife and I spent many Saturdays and days off hunting for the old bridges. Many of signs had been shot to pieces. Others had rusted so bad underneath the sign so that it had busted itself off. We had to go on many a dusty road to find a sign. The wife would get to stop at antique or crafts stores in the various small towns as her part in helping me.
We were quite active in this pursuit for about 3 years - until the children started to come and the wife got tired of the dust and dirt. She impressed on me that I had more important things to do than to chase bridge signs.
Most all of the small iron bridges are gone now. Some of the larger ones have been saved by historical societies or interested citizens. There are some newspaper stories about saved and lost bridges under the “Bridges Saved” and “Bridges Lost” icons.