The other day my wife and I drove over to Zanesville, Ohio, about an hour east of Columbus by way of Interstate 70. And as I usually do when I get over there, I exited the freeway at U.S. 40, which follows some of the path of the old National Road, the USA’s first federally funded highway. Forty cuts right through downtown in this old and once important city.

Just as we approached town from the west, we came upon a graveyard of old trailers, parked haphazardly and in neat rows, just sitting there in the snow and cold. Some still proclaimed their one-time owners’

names, but most were anonymous, like homeless men of undeterminable age you see sadly sprawled on sidewalks and in doorways in otherwise prosperous metro areas.

I got to thinking, what did these forlorn vans and reefers once haul, for how many miles behind what kind of smoke-spewing dee-zel trucks driven by how many squinty eyed, cigarette-puffin’, grizzled ol’ gearheads?   

And why were all those trailers – maybe 20 of ‘em here and another 10 or so just down the road – parked here? Did an eccentric entrepreneuer think there was still some use to be gotten from these things, in spite of the spray painted warnings of serious damage on some of them?

Did someone harbor some vague plan to repair and resell them, or believe as only a hoarder could, “Lookit all that iron an’ aluminum, that’s worth somethin’” ? It appears no one ever got far with any schemes he might’ve had for them, because the hulks seemed to be exactly as they were when they were dropped there, who knows how many years ago.  There was no one around to ask on this Sunday afternoon, and I kinda doubt anyone’s been there in a while.

We continued on into town, where I turned left at the fork in the famous – around here, anyway – “Y-Bridge” over the confluence of the Licking and Muskingum Rivers. Pioneers built the first one in 1814 to carry the National Road over the wide waterway; subsequent covered wooden spans were washed away in floods, and the current steel-and-concrete

structure from 1984 is on the National Register of Historic Places. There might be other Y-bridges in the world, but I don’t know where.

We were now northbound on Linden Avenue and headed for something no trucker ever wants to suddenly see: a low overpass. I mean really low – 9 feet, 7 inches over the main lanes, and a more generous 12 feet, 5 inches above a bypass that seems to have been cut into the earth and paved years after the original roadway was built.

A flatbed, tanker or grain trailer would fit through the bypass, but no modern 13-6 van or reefer would. If a guy is confronted by this, there’s only one thing to do (after hitting the brakes): Turn on the flashers, shift into reverse, and hope that motorists will move out of his way. Chances are somebody would call the cops who’d help, and then maybe write him up for not observing the warning sign up the street.

Southbound traffic on Linden Avenue has no bypass, so the 9-4-high (or low) steel girders that carry a rail line overhead must be contended with. In the afternoon sun, more than one trucker must’ve rammed into the bridge, so, aside from the usual yellow signs on the structure itself, maybe 60 feet ahead of it, is what's left of a set of hanging poles.

I shot this photo on one of the last nice days of autumn, just a few weeks beforer the snow started coming (it's been a rough winter).

The poles look like PVC pipe, and they’ll smack the roof fairing of any long-and-tall sleeper-cab tractor whose driver has blundered onto this street. And if the tractor or truck is short enough, they’ll bang on the nose of any tall trailer. They'll get his attention and whoops – on the binders, buddy!

I’ve never seen one of these devices on any roadway anywhere else, and know it by only one name: a “telltale.” That’s a railroad term for a similar warning device placed ahead of tunnels and other low-overhead obstructions.

In the old days before air brakes, brakemen had to run along the roofs of boxcars, hand-setting or releasing brakes; if they weren’t watching where the train was headed and got slapped by the ropes or leather straps of a telltale, they knew to lay right down or lose their heads.

And there this thing is, hanging over a street in old Zanesville, just a couple of blocks from the Y-Bridge. If you pass through town, you’ll probably be on I-70 and will never see it. But I thought you’d like to.


Author

Tom Berg
Tom Berg

Tom Berg

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational and hybrid vehicles.

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Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational and hybrid vehicles.

View Bio
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