About three miles from the North Dakota/Montana line, along a small portion of the Yellowstone River that creeps into North Dakota, lies the Fairview Lift Bridge.
This is the bridge in 1917, four years after it was completed, 103 years later, looks nearly the same — unfazed by the demands of time.
An engineering marvel at the time, the bridge was completed in 1913 by the American Bridge company to carry the Great Northern Railway over the Yellowstone River and to accommodate steamboat traffic at the time.
KX News met up with Judge Ray Trumpauer, the Chairman of the Friends of the Fairview Bridge Foundation and a local expert on the bridge’s history.
“The steamboats had all the political power, the steamboats were able to put into legislation that anytime the railroad, which was a new and coming industry, wanted to cross a navigable channel, they had to put a lift section in, so it wouldn’t interfere with the steamboats,” said Trumpauer.
However, construction of the bridge took so long, once it was completed, steamboats were on their way out, and there are conflicting reports, the bridge has never been raised or was raised just once for testing.
By the 40s and early 50s, it became a dual-purpose bridge for trains and automobiles because it was the only nearby way to cross the Yellowstone — but even that was a hair raising journey.
“The gatekeeper sat down at the east end of the bridge and if you wanted to cross, you let him know, there was a little call house at this end and if the gates were lowered. He would raise the gate, now when a train came through he would close the gates at both ends and stop the traffic and let the train through and then the highway traffic could continue,” said Trumpauer.
Once across the bridge, traffic would be diverted up and over the Cartwright Tunnel.
Rail traffic stopped using the bridge in the 1980s and it has since been converted into a walking and biking trail.
Walking across the quarter-mile span is an awe-inspiring experience. For one, the bridge is easily 50 feet above the Yellowstone River. The concrete counterweights that lift the bridge are still hanging, hoping to one day lift the 1.1 million pound center section.
The rails may be gone but the piles remain, covered by strong steel fencing, that allows you to see straight down into the Yellowstone.
Now walk across the Fairview Bride and you’ll also walk through this, North Dakota’s only completed railway tunnel and you can see the sheer size and magnitude of this tunnel. Unfortunately, it’s begun to succumb to the demands of time, but plans are in the works to restore the eastern end of this tunnel to its former glory.
Also a quarter-mile long, the tunnel is just as impressive, becoming completely dark in the center near where it curves to the other side, even when we were there people were walking through to experience it for themselves.
And if you have time, you should too.
There is no fee to bike or walk across the Fairview Bridge, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.