What’s old is new again

Horse-drawn wagons, lantern light and neighbors just dropping in

August 05, 2015

Bridge over buggy water
Last year the city of Columbia, Pa., installed new lighting across the Veterans Memorial Bridge as part of a $2.1 million renovation project. 
 
In order to improve visitors’ first impression of the area, the city removed the standard gray 25-ft-tall street lights that lined the bridge, and replaced them with replicas of lantern-style fixtures installed in the 1930s when the bridge opened, which sit just 10 ft off the ground. 
 
Once the project was complete, residents said they liked the historically correct appearance of the bridge, and boaters said that the new lights allowed them to see rocks in the river while fishing at night.
 
It seemed that everyone loved the new lighting, including thousands of mayflies hatching in the Susquehanna River below the bridge.
 
On a Saturday night this past June, a huge swarm of mayflies (also called shadflies) descended on the bridge and swarmed around the lights. With the new fixtures so low to the ground, the result was a quarter mile of zero visibility for drivers.
 
“It was like a blizzard in June, but instead of snow, it was mayflies,” Fire Chief Chad Livelsberger of the neighboring city of Wrightsville told the local LNP newspaper. 
 
Mayflies also have very short lifespans, so in addition to creating blackout conditions, many of them also died and fell on the road, coating the bridge in a 1-in. layer of dead insect bodies.
 
Apparently when you drive over a thick layer of dead mayflies, their bodies get slick as ice. The city discovered this fun fact after three different motorcycle crashes were reported in a 30-minute span during the mayfly invasion. By 11 p.m. the city was forced to close the bridge. 
 
Columbia Borough Fire Chief Scott Ryno described the scene to LNP in slightly too much detail. “They were getting in our mouth. We had to close our eyes. We had to swat them away. Even when we got back, it felt like bugs were crawling on you.”  
 
Livelsberger agreed, adding that more than 100 mayflies managed to fly into his vehicle just in the time that it took him to open the door and get inside. “We had to rip our radiators off” to clean the bugs out, he said.
 
The bridge was reopened around midnight after a PennDOT crew managed to scrape the bridge clear with a street sweeper.
 
Haste makes waste
In neighborhoods throughout Middleburg, Vt., the caterwauling squeal of worn garbage truck brakes is being replaced by the gentle clip-clop of Pete and Paul.
 
No, not the 1960s folk singers. These 15-year-old brothers are 1,500-lb draft horses that power Draft Trash, an old-fashioned horse-drawn trash collection service. 
 
Twice a week, Pete and Paul pull three workers and a 29-ft trash wagon around town picking up garbage. 
 
Draft Trash collects around 50 bags of trash each day, which they deliver to a waste-transfer station. Then it’s back to the farm for Pete and Paul until the next pickup day.
 
Customers said they love that the service is environmentally friendly with no emissions. Well, almost.  
 
Crash pad
Nobody likes unexpected guests, but for the Shafer family of Kalamazoo, Mich., unannounced visitors have become a way of life.
 
Last July a drunk driver ran a stop sign at an intersection opposite the family’s house and came barreling into the family’s backyard, slamming into the parents’ bedroom. Then the following month, another car plowed into their front yard in the middle of the night. 
 
The family installed a metal fence and landscape boulders in their front yard to prevent future accidents, but it wasn’t enough to stop another drunk driver from crashing into their front steps in September.  
 
The Kalamazoo County Road Commission told the family that because the crashes are all due to human error, there’s nothing they can do to help. 
 
So after three crashes in one year, and seven total crashes since the family moved into the home in 2005, the Shafers decided to help themselves by moving.
 
Unfortunately preparing their home for sale hasn’t been easy, as two more cars crashed into their house earlier this year. 
 
Finally this past June the Shafers got their home on the market, just in time for yet another drunk driver to lose control of his vehicle and crash right through their front door. 
 
As if a tenth crash wasn’t bad enough, this one ironically happened the night before the family had scheduled an open house. R&B

David Matthews

David Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news for his Roads Report column since 2000. The stories are all true.

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