Roundup Record Tribune & Winnett Times -


Nohly Bridge and Town


Jane Stanfel

Nohly Store and Bridge - Oil on Circular Saw Blade

Painting a very, very, very long object requires just that sort of substrate – what artists call the ground on which they paint a picture – and when the object is also comparatively very, very, very narrow and very, very, very low in altitude, then a saw makes an ideal shape. At least so thought the lady that commissioned "The Nohly Bridge." Making an oil painting on metal is not the easiest task, however, and she didn't worry about that, but the bridge painting turned out very, very, very well.

This bridge is a lovely creation, the only lift bridge in Montana, the fourth largest state in the U.S., and, interestingly, it could become serviceable again, if needed. In the United States, there are 614,387 bridges of all sorts from multi-lane to single lane, for trains or cars or pedestrians, over roads, water, or marshes. Of all of those many bridges only 62 of them are functioning lift bridges. What does that mean? There are counterweights and lift mechanisms built onto the bridge. When those huge counterweights are lowered, they thrust up, lift, the bridge section between them, so that a boat on the river has at least an 80-foot clearance. The Nohly Bridge is unique because it is designed to have the lift mechanism and counterweights able to move to a different span of the bridge just in case the river channel shifts.

Built in 1912 or 1913 and improved in 1925, the bridge, also called "Snowden Bridge" for a place a little downstream, spans the Missouri River and allowed trains of the BNSF, formerly Great Northern Railway, to cross. It was built to create a second transcontinental mainline. Presently the Yellowstone Valley Railroad has a long-term lease on the bridge. This span of steel is 3,257 feet long and just one track wide, so a switching mistake would have added considerably to its fame.

The lift bridge was engineered, for it was thought that tall boats would navigate the Missouri, but it's reported that only once, in 1935, was the bridge lifted for a string of barges. At other times, if clearance was an issue, barges added ballast to lower them in the water and glided under without the bridge's needing elevation. Supposedly the lift operated at most 16 times in its life.

In 1926 the Great Northern decided it might as well collect a little additional revenue and added wood planking to create a toll bridge for cars. The cost was $.50 per car and $.15 per passenger. In the 1940s the fare was expanded to include $.25 for a motorcycle and $.75 for a truck. After 1956 tolls were no longer charged, but vehicles used it until 1985. Using the toll bridge was rather exciting, for one would never know if a train were coming from the other side. Now obscured by weeds is a sign that warns drivers and pedestrians to be aware of the danger of a train.

The place, consequently the bridge, was named for a landowner, A.K. Nohle, apparently of German ancestry. In that language the final "E" is pronounced and gives the short "E" sound, but for an American's seeing that, it would be a short hop to a long "E" sound, and voila! Nohly.

Jane Stanfel

Nohly Bridge - Oil on Saw

That font of all knowledge, the WEB, provides the interesting coincidence that in 1916 the president of the First National Bank in McKenzie County, North Dakota, just across the state line, was an A.F. Nohle. The directory of banks in ND states that this one also was chartered to do business in Richland County, MT, home of Nohly and its bridge. Perhaps one of the web sources muffed his middle initial or perhaps there was another influential member of the family.

In "Nohly Store and Bridge," painted brightly on a circular saw blade, we see the extent of the community, a store that housed a post office, which opened in 1916 and closed in 1966, just short of a 50-year history. This was once a station on the rail line but, having less traffic than Grand Central, developed less explosively than did New York City. The bridge is somewhat inconspicuous in the background of what has become a ghost town or, more accurately, a ghost building.

This is a beautiful spot and an interesting, important part of Montana's history.


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