Carl Beam and his wife, Glennie, got a last look at the 57-year-old bridge over Indian Creek just before a flash flood swept it away on July 27.
Eight months later, the bridge on Beam Lumber Road still hasn’t been replaced, upsetting the routine of this Western Lincoln County farm community.
Beam, 74, has contacted the N.C. Department of Transportation but said, “I’ve gotten no straight answers.”
“It’s one of those mystery things. Maybe they’ll get on it one of these days,” said Beam. “Wheels just don’t turn too fast sometimes.”
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A DOT spokeswoman said the delay is because the bridge replacement project is funded through federal disaster relief money, and the process requires extra steps, but a new bridge should be in place by late summer or early fall.
Meanwhile, folks in the area are having to adapt.
Larry Cagle Jr., owner of Woodmill Winery, said many customers coming to his business follow GPS directions, which tells them to take the closed bridge.
In August, when about 11,000 people came to a two-day festival at the winery, “we were getting 10 phone calls an hour asking us to tell them how to get here,” Cagle said. “I had one girl doing nothing but answering the phone.”
Beam has to travel an extra five miles each way when he checks on his cattle and crops several times a day. While it’s not so bad in his pickup truck, Beam said he often makes the trips on a tractor that has no cab and it can be uncomfortable, depending on the weather.
With spring planting for soybeans and wheat coming in May, he expects to spend even more time on the detour.
Beam lives on John Beam Road, which is named after his father, a farmer who co-founded Beam Lumber Co. in 1903.
George Washington Beam, Carl Beam’s grandfather, was born in 1838, fought in the Civil War and ran a grist mill on Indian Creek.
Creeks were important for early settlers because they provided water power. And they were also used for recreation.
Beam grew up playing in Indian Creek, which took its name from the arrowheads, clay pipes, ax handles and other Native American artifacts found nearby.
Normally, it is a tame stream. But Beam remembers his father talking about how Indian Creek went on a rampage during the 1916 flood. Beam can also remember two bridges washing out during the 1950s.
On July 27, a weather front dumped more than 12 inches of rain in some parts of Catawba, Western Lincoln and northern Cleveland counties. It was at least the fourth major flash flooding event that summer.
That morning, the Beams were having breakfast when they heard news reports about heavy rain in the Catawba River Valley. They decided to take a look at the Indian Creek bridge on Beam Lumber Road.
As soon as they saw water lapping over the wooden floor of the bridge, “we knew what was going to happen,” Carl Beam said.
Water rose rapidly, and the Beams thought it best to leave. From a distance up the road, they heard what Beam described as “an awful crushing of trees” that took the bridge out.
According to DOT spokeswoman Jordan-Ashley Baker, there were 70 flooding sites, including storm-damaged roads or bridges, in Catawba, Lincoln, Cleveland and Gaston counties.
About 50 of the sites were repaired within the first month after the storm, Baker said.
The Beam Lumber Road bridge site in Lincoln County is the last remaining site that needs repair, she said.
“Typically, when we replace a bridge that is at the end of its lifespan, it can take up to three years from start to finish,” Baker said. “We’re hoping to have this bridge replaced within a little more than a year after the washout.”