There was a branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad that traveled from Lafayette to Anchorage (Port Allen), Louisiana. Back in the early 1900's it was built across America's largest swamp in a short 10 years. It was never profitable and at times a nightmare to traverse. But, it did succeed in accomplishing 2 things. It placed itself as one of the high accomplishments in railroading. It has also driven Mark nutz. He laments constantly about his unfulfilled lust to see the exploration and documentation of the line completed.
The route is maybe 50 miles long, total. It doesn't seem that following and photographing 50 miles of railroad would be that difficult, after all, there was traffic on these rails as late as the late 1920's. The main problem with the photography angle is this one 16 mile stretch that is a mystery of sorts. Most of it is hidden by the Atachafalaya Basin's blanket of green. Pilings for the old trestles can be seen in Lake Henderson on the west side of the Atachafalaya. Not much more is visible from the Basin Freeway, an imposing structural accomplishment on I-10, which parallels the old bed from Henderson to La.3000, the road to Ramah.
Then there was the gas well blowout near the east end of the Basin Freeway resulting in a lot of fire and heat. Complete trestles were exposed. For the last 2 years, Mark and I have tried to get permission, schemed at plans that included commando raids and had thoughts of stopping on the shoulder, next to the truck lane on one of America's busiest transportation arteries to get pictures of what is truly a part of America's history, a history where entrepreneurs were encouraged to succeed and to create jobs instead of being laden with the weight of a socializing experiment.
The only feasible route was by water. Water in Louisiana is public domain, well, for the most part.
Back to Mark. An email was written and a short clarifying phone call made. He and his friend Mike would be at the east end landing with the boat, I could join them if I wanted. Mark's volcano of unfulfilled lust had erupted, he had to have those pictures. I don't know how much he had told Mike about what he had in mind, but evidently not so much as to scare him off, because shortly after I got there, here they came. We were headed off into the dark swamp in search of long forgotten evidence of Man's short lived victory over Nature. The red line is the Southern Pacific right of way. The yellow line was us.
First, I want to introduce you to Mike. Mike is from Arnaudville. He is
calling home trying to explain what Mark has gotten him into, obviously seeing
a little humor in it all.
We would enter the grand canal under the Basin Freeway.
Each of those piling is 90 feet long, 9 stories.
That's Mark, the expedition leader, watching for possible inlets that could
take us to the first set of trestles. You could cut the anticipation with a knife.
Awe prevailed. We were looking at 100 year old artifacts.
The route was 60% trestle and 40% fill. At times, travel
was so dangerous, as a precaution a gondola was pushed
ahead of the engine very slowly as the tracks were submerged.
To the left you see the fill. Along side it is this canal. I think
we should have followed it instead of returning to I-10. I know
it would have taken us to the turn bridge on Bayou Des Glaise.
Atop the fill.
We did return to I-10 and proceeded westward toward
Whiskey Bay. The next inlet was something out of "The
African Queen" with Humphrey Bogart.
The hint expanded. Mark and I both warned of snakes in
the trees at the same time.
We met an old fisherman coming toward us in his boat.
I expected anything. He warned us about a wire across the
channel just before the trestle. Good thing he did.
Capt. Mike cut the motor and paddled us closer to the trestle.
This "press wood" was obviously added.
This shot was taken by me standing in the bow of the boat.
The moment was here, the time was now, I had to get up on
An attempt had been made to cover the rails for 4 wheeler passage.
It was tough absorbing, "rails in the middle of a swampland wilderness
atop 100 year old pilings which have been continuously submerged in water".
I should have walked it to see if the rails protruded into the grass.
I could have strutted like Lawrence of Arabia.
Now looking West.
Down at that end were some hand rails on either side of the tracks.
We went back to the canal.
It was time for more African Queen.
The next chapter would be sad.
What was the story?
I panned left.
3 links or rail were beneath the ties on the left. There were no lateral beams.
Rails were seen on the opposite shore. The trestle had burned.
But, what about its construction?
Had this been some recent attempt at bridge building?
I think so.
Stuff can be around forever and then ......................
Catching it before........... is the challenge and then all
you can do is to take a picture to preserve it.
Mark was right to be in a hurry.
Thanks again to Mike and Mark for a truly unique and enjoyable morning.