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Devil's Elbow is another oddball Missouri name

Posted Thursday, November 19, 2009, at 2:50 PM

(Stuff to see on 66, Part 2)

Missouri offers a bumper crop of peculiar placenames: Peculiar, Purdy, Conception Junction, Tightwad, Knob Noster, Times Beach, Cooter, and many more. (Let's not forget about our own inland cape.)

Devil's Elbow near Waynesville along Historic Route 66 is another classic name. I've never given any thought to what Beelzebub's elbow might look like, but here it is. The Big Piney River makes a crazy U-turn here, suggesting to early settlers that it was designed by the Devil.

Tall bluffs rise above the river's elbow in a scene described as one of the "Seven Wonders of Missouri" in an early tourism campaign. An old iron bridge provides the best viewing platform.

Built in 1923, the vintage bridge still carries light traffic on Old Old Route 66, but is rapidly falling apart. Pulaski County has tried to claim federal stimulus funding to repair the bridge, but attempts so far have proven futile.

The original road and bridge were bypassed in the 1940s by a new four-lane expressway. It was originally dubbed "New Route 66" but of course is now part of Old Route 66. Confused yet? (See the timeline below.)

Downstream from Devils Elbow, the four-lane highway crosses Big Piney River on a magnificent concrete arch bridge.

This fancy highway and bridge was built to provide more efficient access to nearby Fort Leonard Wood during World War 2. At the time, it was an engineering masterpiece, featuring the 90-foot tall "Hooker Cut", the deepest roadcut in Missouri at the time.

Before long, however, the expressway became obsolete. Instead of shoulders, the roadway had angled curbs that were suppposed to prevent drivers from veering off the road. Instead, the curbs simply caused people to lose control and flip over.

By the late 1970s, the entire four-lane highway was replaced by a new four-lane freeway, Interstate 44. Some motorists would argue that I-44 has become obsolete as well.

With traffic diverted to the interstate, the old pavement is probably the least traveled four-lane highway in Missouri. Except for a few locals and the occasional tourist retracing Route 66, the roadway is almost entirely empty. It's downright eerie.

A visit to Devil's Elbow wouldn't be complete without a side trip to see "The Trestle." This wooden railroad viaduct is so big that it doesn't really need a name: It's just "The Trestle."

This is the U.S. Army Railroad, built during World War 2 to provide rail access to Fort Leonard Wood. Built entirely with wood, the bridge crosses the valley floor at a dizzying height. A county road passes under the bridge, providing an up-close look at the colossus.

A few miles to the west, the Army Railroad crosses the Big Piney River on another large trestle, but this one features steel spans. A pullout on Old Old Route 66 above Devil's Elbow provides a panoramic view. From this distance, the bridge and valley look like a scene from a model railroad layout.

Featuring plenty of scenery and history, Devil's Elbow is one the best places to visit Old Route 66 in Missouri. It makes a good stop on the way to Lake of the Ozarks.


1921: The road between Springfield and St. Louis is designated as State Highway 14.

1923: Steel truss bridge constructed at Devil's Elbow to carry the state highway.

1926: Road is renamed U.S. Highway 66.

1943: New four-lane highway built to carry Route 66, bypassing Devil's Elbow. The original road is renamed State Route V.

1976: Interstate 44 built a short distance to the north. The old four-lane highway becomes State Route Z while the original two-lane road is turned over to Pulaski County. It is now called Teardrop Road.

1985: U.S. 66, completely bypassed by interstates, is officially decommissioned.

Driving directions

From the east, take I-44 to Exit 169 (Route J/Route Z). Turn on Route Z (marked with "Historic Route 66" signs) which quickly turns into the four-lane expressway.

After three miles, turn left on Teardrop Road. This road quickly reaches Devil's Elbow and the steel truss bridge over Big Piney River.

Before crossing the bridge, veer left on the gravel Temporal Road. The big railroad trestle is located a couple miles down this road.

Back at Devil's Elbow, Teardrop Road continues west up a steep hill. At the top of the hill, look for the pullout which provides an overlook of the other railroad trestle.

Teardrop Road loops back to Route Z. You can continue west to reach Waynesville and I-44, or go east to see the concrete arch bridge and the rest of Route 66.

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-- Posted by Old John on Fri, Nov 20, 2009, at 10:26 PM

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The webmaster of seMissourian.com and its sister newspapers, James Baughn has lost track of the number of websites he manages. On the side, he maintains even more sites, including Bridgehunter.com, LandmarkHunter.com, TheCapeRock.com, and Humorix.
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