Jun 132016

#AmericanRivers and #Riverkeepers celebrate the removal of a rusty, abandoned dam on Wynants Kill near Albany, NY. Already they see the flash of silver as herring swarm upstream to spawn.

” ‘Every dam should have an existential crisis,’ ” said John Waldman, a biology professor at Queens College, tells The Associated Press.” In Missouri, time for that crisis has come for one of those aging, inoperable and dangerous structures. We have an extensive discussion of the issues surrounding Lock and Dam No. 1, a monstrous relic, more than 100 years old, of Corps of Engineers river mismanagement on our website: (click here) Lock and Dam no. 1 on the Osage River.


This was taken during the 2012 drought. The river is full now and its waters barely cover the tops of the crumbling old concrete, barely held together with rusting iron and rotten wood. More than 100 years old now, Lock and Dam No. 1 serves no useful purpose for navigation or flood control, and it blocks the migration of paddlefish and endangered pallid sturgeon.

Removing Lock and Dam No. 1 would open those 80 miles of Osage River from Bagnell Dam to its junction with the Missouri River to possible spawning of both paddlefish and the endangered pallid sturgeon. Major spawning grounds of the paddlefish were destroyed by construction of Truman Dam. Per Wikipedia, the endangered pallid sturgeon, related to the sturgeon, another ancient fish (Cretaceous period), is endemic to the waters of the Missouri River system and the lower Mississippi. Like the paddlefish, its spawning grounds have been greatly diminished by river channelization and dams.  Both species are now sustained by hatcheries. The gravel bars of that last section of the wide, slow Osage River could provide both species an environment for natural spawning.

May 232016

Recently Rod Cameron, of Raytown, messaged us on Facebook after reading Damming the Osage. Rod lived along the Osage River in the 1970s. He shared with us a poem he had written as he watched Truman Dam being built. It is a poignant and moving meditation, so evocative of the river we knew. Wish we had known about this poem when we were working on the book. We would have asked permission to include it. He has given us permission to publish it here on our blog. We asked Rod too if he would write some of his memories of life in Benton County.  He recalls “County Road KK: the recluse and the river.”

Dam Site (Kaysinger)

From the white summit of the bluff,
I look down on backs of vultures
Sliding along the trees like
Time-lapse movies of cloud shadows,
Working against the green
Of soybean fields and rising hills.

The Osage
Sweeps across the valley floor
Tonguing thoughts
And swallowing sorrow
Thrown its way in glances.
Yet, someone decides:
Stop this river here.

So, lazily it will wallow and get fat,
Roll slowly in the breeze; it will eat old
Boat docks and rub softly the hills,
It will be as great as a padded room.


Rod is a 65-year-old, recently retired, high school English teacher.  A native of Missouri, he grew up in Kansas City but spent a great deal of time on the Osage River near Warsaw, Missouri. He holds degrees in English from Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Missouri, and the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg. After teaching for five years in Marshall, Rod moved to Iowa for the remainder of his 37-year career.  Currently, Rod and his wife Sally live in Raytown, Missouri, along with their two rescue dogs, Lucky and Lady.



County Road KK: the recluse and the river

At the end of County Road KK in Benton County, Missouri, the road turns to gravel. Another mile, and there once was a place called Sundown Acres. In the early 1960’s, my parents built a small lake cabin on eight acres next to a house owned by a man named Kraft. My teen years were spent wandering up and down that gravel road, fishing in nearby ponds, and throwing rocks off nearby bluffs into the Osage River. I would hunt squirrels and deer, and our family spent many days on the sandbar that reached out from an island that split the river nearby. Our real home was in Kansas City, but it is the memories of living by the Osage that remain from my youth.

We thought about getting horses to ride during our weekend visits to Sundown. But we needed a place to board them. I went with Dad to the fenced property of a mysterious recluse a mile or so back up the paved portion of KK. I stayed in the car, parked just off the pavement, while dad entered the wire gate and walked through knee-high grass and weeds to a small log structure sitting far back on the property. Because of a rise in the ground, the structure was hidden partly because it sat on a slight downward slope near the back, the part overlooking the river. I could see a wooden split log fence and some kind of ramp I thought may have been for loading cattle. Dad came back to the car and shook his head “no.” That was the end of our horse venture.

But the experience had captured my imagination. Every time we passed by the “hermit’s cabin,” as we had come to call the place, I strained to see if he was visible. He never was. When I was 16 or so, news of “Kaysinger Dam” swept through all the conversations in Warsaw and the surrounding area. My father was excited by the prospect of witnessing such a structure being built, especially since he had worked in construction his entire life. Soon he had other reasons for excitement. Word came that the Corps of Engineers would be buying up land in the basin, which included several hundred feet back from full reservoir. The effect was to take thousands of acres of flat or gradually sloping land and preventing private ownership and development near the lake once it came in. The buy included our eight acres, our fishing ponds, our island and its sandbar. It also included the little log house in which the recluse lived.

As chance would have it, 75 acres came up for sale about the same time. Along the east side, the property was lined for a half a mile by a high rock bluff overlooking the Osage and the farm fields on the other side. It was and is one of the very few places that offers a close view of Truman Lake because the buffer footage is almost straight up rather than gradually sloping back. The line came to the top of the bluff, providing possibly the best of view north, south, east, and west, of the Osage Valley near Warsaw. We moved there in 1968, and my parents lived there until their deaths. Just to the south, on an adjoining property, just a few feet lower in elevation, sits the rock foundation and deteriorating livestock ramp of the recluse. Today Shenandoah Valley subdivision sits on the north end of a bluff, providing spectacular sunrises to all who have built their houses along it. To the south, across a small inlet, sits a silent and empty homestead of a harmless recluse who was forced from his property.

These are before-and-after photos of the Osage River-become-reservoir taken by Rod Cameron in the late 1970s from Cobb’s Bluff:




Oct 212014

(click photos to enlarge)

This “swinger” over the Osage at Brown’s Ford was built between 1912 and 1915 by E.A. Bledsoe and Ira Alspach, who also built the suspension bridge at Monegaw Springs.  (see earlier post here)

On June 21, 1940, the aging Brown’s Ford suspension bridge collapsed. The bridge went down as Mr. Bledsoe and others were working to repair it. E. A. Bledsoe, who had designed and built the structure almost 30 years before, died on his bridge.

On the back of press photo of the bridge wreckage is the brief account published in the “Times” (no other attribution) on June 22, 1940:

“Looking toward the east side of the Osage River, this picture shows the wreckage of the Brown Ford bridge, an old 1-way structure 6 miles east of Lowry City, Mo., after timbers under one of its suspension cables on the west band about 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon. Two workmen and a bystander were killed. Lloyd Allen Snyder, 8 years old was last seen in the center of the fallen structure and was believed to have drowned. Three workmen were injured critically. All were either on or near the cribbing when it slipped.”

744The St. Clair Democrat, June 27, 1940, carried on page 1 a much more detailed account of the event: TRAGIC ACCIDENT TAKES TOLL OF FIVE LIVES. The article identifies the others who died as two workers and two boys who had been watching them. More photos and comments are also posted on bridgehunter.com

ST. CLAIR COUNTY DEMOCRAT, Thursday, June 27, 1940

One of the most tragic accidents in the history of the county occurred Friday evening when the cribbing supporting one of the piers on the west end of the Brown’s Ford bridge collapsed causing the suspension cable to give way, taking the lives of five people, three men and two boys. Three others were injured.

The dead were E. A. Bledsoe, who had charge of the repairing of the bridge, Claude Terry, 45, a workman, Robert Shaw, 18, another workman, George T. Randall, 16, a bystander and Lloyd Allen Snyder, 12, who fell in the river when the bridge collapsed. The injured were Lowell Smith, in the Appleton City hospital whose condition is reported as still critical, Edy Snyder in the Clinton hospital where his condition appears to be somewhat improved and Wayne Snyder a bystander who suffered a broken arm.

745The cause of the collapse of the cribbing probably never will be known. It was one of those accidents that occur even when the best of care and precaution is taken. The heavy timber that had been used to build up around the old piers were strewn about like so many match sticks, and it was these timbers that caught the workmen with crushing force.

There is a report that someone heard something ‘pop’ and called Mr. Bledsoe’s attention to it. It is said that he climbed up on the cribbing to investigate. Just then the whole thing gave away. Mr. Bledsoe was crushed in the falling debris, and the fact his watch was stopped at 3:31 indicated that was the time when the accident occurred.

All of the dead and injured were recovered shortly after the accident and removed from the wreckage with the exception of young Lloyd Allen Snyder. His body was not recovered until Monday evening when Bert Milam of Warsaw discovered the body floating down the river along with lumber and wreckage from the bridge. The distance from the scene of the accident to the point where the body was found is estimated to be about sixty-five miles. Mr. Milam notified Benton county authorities and Prosecuting Attorney Frank Brady telephoned Sheriff R. Homer Gerster, who immediately sent O. S. Hull, Jr., to have the body identified and return it to Osceola.

The Brown’s Ford bridge was built about 25 years ago by Mr. Bledsoe and Ira Alspach. It is one of the quirks of fate that the bridge should claim the life of one of its builders while in the process of repairing the structure to strengthen it.

The old wooden piers that had been erected at the time the structure was built had become dangerous for traffic and it had been the plan to replace these piers with steel beams that would support the cables and the heavy weight of traffic upon the structure. For the past years the bridge had been condemned and not more than one car was allowed on the structure at a time, for fear that it might collapse.

The wooden cribbing was used around the old piers to enable the workmen to jack up the cables and get them slightly to one side, the after the wooden structures were removed the steel beam was inserted in place and the cable then lowered into position. It is believed that one of the jacks used in raising the cables had given away allowing the cable to fall back onto the cribbing before the workmen were ready to lower it into position. This threw the weight of the entire bridge structure suddenly upon the heavy timbers, around the piers and the cribbing crumbled under the impact.

What is to be done about the bridge is not yet known. The county court will hold its regular meeting next week, at which time, no doubt it will be determined what is to be done about the old structure and whether a new one will be erected to replace it or not.

A replacement suspension bridge was built. It was just as scary to drive over with the slats rattling under your tires, but it never fell in on its own. That bridge was replaced by a modern concrete and girder bridge when Truman Dam was built.

Aug 052014

July 20, 2014: The last Sunday in Colorado, we made a round trip drive along Trail Ridge Road from Estes Park to Grand Lake.

Grand Lake – elevation 8,367 feet; formed by glaciation 30,000 years ago; estimated depth, 265 feet.

Largest natural lake in Colorado and headwaters of the Colorado River

Grand Lake, Colorado: Largest natural lake in Colorado and headwaters of the Colorado River


July 27, 2014: Back home in Missouri, we made a Sunday drive to the Warsaw area and Truman Dam and Reservoir.

Truman Reservoir – elevation 706 feet; formed by the Corps of Engineers in 1979; average depth 22 feet.

Truman Reservoir on the Osage River: purpose - flood control, hydropower, recreation

Truman Reservoir on the Osage River: purpose – flood control, hydropower, recreation

Mountain lakes are commemorated in paintings, promoted on postcards and praised in poems. One could draw the conclusion that in areas of high relief, lakes are more successful. Even artificial lakes built for both flood control and hydropower purposes are more effective in mountainous areas. Blocking prairie streams with relatively gentle relief – like the Osage and South Grand rivers – creates inefficient flood storage and minimal hydropower possibilities. One would think the Corps of Engineers would have realized this. Actually – they probably did, but they were being incentivized by construction companies and encouraged by delusional local advocates and politicians. Today they would never undertake a marginal project like Truman Dam and Reservoir. Lessons have been learned … at least we like to think so!

Jan 282014


02-v2Before Truman’s dam waters rose, there was promise of new entrepreneurial opportunities to be had with the coming of a mammoth lake. We found these roadside offerings during paddlefish snagging season in the mid 1970s.

Since the dam closed, we have been amazed at the scarcity of tourist related imagery for Truman Dam and reservoir compared to the wealth of tchotchkes for Bagnell Dam and Lake of the Ozarks. There are hundreds of times more decals, spoon holders, compacts, plates, salt-and-pepper-shakers, tablecloths, pocket knives, matchbooks, postcards, brochures, etc. for the 1931 project

539To some extent this can be explained by the fact that we are, alas, no longer in the era of the souvenir spoon. It’s a well known fact that contemporary Americans are far more refined and sophisticated than their kitsch collecting grandparents – Right?

The sad truth is that Truman Dam and Lake have failed to develop into the promised and anticipated tourist mecca.  Even the dam itself is architecturally bland compared to the structure that creates Lake of the Ozarks. It lacks a singular identity, an iconic image, which are important components of success in the tourism industry.

We were sure at the time of the lawsuit, that the environmental damages would be unavoidable. Predictions of economic benefits to the area from tourism we suspected were exaggerated. As things have turned out,  the promised profitable tourist industry has been a disappointment (putting it mildly). A recent PhD thesis – “The Changing Landscape of a Rural Region: The Effect of the Harry S. Truman Dam and Reservoir in the Osage River basin of Missouri ” – by Melvin R. Johnson bears out our pessimistic appraisal and personal observations as we travel the area.

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Jan 152014

453Cast aluminum and painted license plate frame, circa 1940s

Lake of the Ozarks filled in 1931 but the Depression and World War II stymied its tourism development. From the late 1940s on, gift shops located along Highway 54 offered hundreds of kinds of objects to verify that you had indeed visited beautiful Lake of the Ozarks.  As the lake itself is all but unphotographable — like all reservoirs in existence, a parking lot for water — the favored icon was Bagnell Dam, which it must be conceded, is quite graphic.

By contrast, Truman Dam has all the charm of a gigantic farm pond, with a little center section of brutal concrete – boxy and utilitarian, impersonal, boring. Interestingly, we haven’t found anything like the number or variety of physical souvenirs of Truman to compare with the almost endless numbers of Bagnell Dam vacation memorabilia.

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May 122013

Paddlefish eggs at Blind Pony Hatchery

When Truman Dam closed, the paddlefish was cut off from its primary spawning grounds, the gravel bars of the upper Osage. This ancient fish has inhabited the Mississippi and Missouri river system for more than a hundred million years. Today the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Blind Pony Hatchery supplies an average of thirty thousand 10″ to 12″ fingerlings for stocking in Lake of the Ozarks, Truman and Table Rock reservoirs and in the Black River.

This close cousin of the sturgeon is highly valued, not only for its meat, but also for its roe (eggs) which makes a respectable form of caviar.  With the cooperation of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service the Department generously provided eggs, fry and even some adult Osage River paddlefish to the Soviet Union from 1974 to 1977.  Between 1984 and 1986, the Russians successfully bred this Osage River stock at the Experimental Fish Breeding Plant near the Black Sea. As well as raising them for food and caviar, the Russians have distributed paddlefish to Romania, Moldavia, Ukraine, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. International interest in the Osage River paddlefish coincides with the 1972 environmental lawsuit to stop the dam and save their spawning grounds.

The Chinese began obtaining paddlefish fry from the United States in 1988. Soon they realized that fertilized paddlefish eggs had greater viability and they began buying them from private hatcheries in the U.S. and Russia. Today, paddlefish are successfully spawned in China and raised for food in ponds in more than 10 provinces. In addition to the flesh, the head, gills and intestines are incorporated into dishes in China.

You can see more on the Globalization of the American Paddlefish on our YouTube channel.



Dec 122012

Real photo postcard by McKinney

A hundred years before the Army Corps of Engineers Visitor Center was built at the overlook, locals came to picnic and gawk. With a distant view of the Pomme de Terre entering the Osage, and easy accessibility from Warsaw, it was a popular day trip for generations of locals.

We have drawn a blank trying to learn the origin of the name of this overlook. We can’t find a Kaysinger family in any record we’ve seen, or even another name that may sound the same but be spelled differently. The word sounds German and there are a number of German families in Benton and surrounding counties. If anyone knows who Kaysinger was, please leave a comment.

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