Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Snake Aly

Much like the historic river towns along the Des Moines river are on my normal itinerary for visitors, the street named Snake Aly in Burlington is as well. Looking to create a short cut from Heritage Hill to the business district, an architect, engineer and a paving contractor got together in 1894 and built the "crookedest street in the world" according to those folks of Ripley's Believe It or Not. The bricks are all laid at an angle to allow horses better footing down the five half-curves and two quarter-curves in a mere 275 linear feet and 58.3 vertical feet. If you notice in the picture, the technique of laying the bricks the way the did allows for the steepest grade to be on the outsides of the curves.

According to local lore, the fire department used this alley as their testing grounds for new engines, i.e. horses. If a horse could gallop up the alley and still be breathing when it reached the top, it was qualified to pull the fire wagons.

As always, the best part about visiting this place is actually driving down the alley. (It is now one-way and driving up is restricted.) It is quite thrilling to drive down it in a modern vehicle with big disc brakes and I image that would be tame to doing it in a horse drawn wagon. In fact, perhaps suicidal would a more apt description. The picture above was actually taken on my second trip to the alley within twelve hours. By the time we ate our horseshoes in Springfield and got here, it was dark the first time we descended (with these particular visitors). Fortunately for them, I broke a fitting on my filtered water pressure tank that necessitated a trip to Burlington to buy the correct piece to fix it. They couldn't resist making the journey again to see Snake Aly in the light of day.

12 comments:

R. Sherman said...

That's reminiscent of that street in San Francisco, the name of which escapes me at the moment. It would be interesting to review a catalog of accidents occurring on that road over the years.

Cheers.

Ed said...

R. Sherman - I think you are referring to Lombard street which was completed 28 years later.

Murf said...

That definitely calls for a runaway truck lane. Is this closed to people who want to walk down it (or the sickos that want to walk up it)?

sage said...

What a neat street--I was thinking of Lombard Street in SF as I read it--i suppose without the Golden Gate in the background, Snake Aly hasn't been in demand for chase scenes in Clint Eastwood movies... No one would take Dirty Harry seriously in Iowa!

Ed said...

Murf - This is Iowa. You are pretty much free to do as you please as long as the federal government hasn't taken that right away. I've always wanted to ride down it on a bicycle.

Sage - This is a lot more compact than Lombard street so a chase scene in a car would probably max out at 5 mph. Probably wouldn't make the cut for a Hollywood movie unless it was slapstick. By the way, everyone here takes Dirty Harry seriously. We just don't take Clint Eastwood seriously since he is a vegetarian and into Transcendental Meditation!

Beau said...

Another one for the list! Neat... surprised we haven't seen it in a movie (or maybe it has been?).

Vince said...

Lombard St, the one in SF.

I do think you could get six or even eight horse with lead-rider for the left and right curve. But it would be like the sailors who lean over the side to correct the force from the pump-carriage.
The the brick idea is very wrong, simply because a speed thing requires the carriage-pump to slide. It has to slide otherwise the wheel will collapse.

geri said...

Your use of the word short cut reminded me of the Fourth Street Elevator in Dubuque. Is Iowa as flat as Illinois? I find it interesting that they have hills like this in the midwest.

Ed said...

Beau - Not to my knowledge but southern Iowa really isn't a hot spot for filming movies. Field of Dreams was the last one I can remember of any fame and that was more eastern than southern.

Vince - All I know is that my rubber shod vehicles all can handle it just find.

Geri - People tend to get a misperception of Iowa as flat. The northern central part of the state is flat like Illinois due to the last ice age and glaciers but the eastern third, western third and southern half are all gently rolling hills and streams. We certainly aren't Colorado or West Virginia by any means but we certainly aren't Illinois or Kansas either.

Vince said...

You must have seen the buck-board/chuck-wagon races at the Calgary stampede or some such on the TV, the tail of the thing HAS to slide. It's whipped around.

PhilippinesPhil said...

I used to go to Lombard St whenever family came to town back when I was still a marine. Ripley's once labled Snake Alley as the crookedest, but Wikipedia says the title is up for grabs now: Lombard St San Francisco Wikipedia

TC said...

SO when Murf comes to visit, you'll be taking her down it? :)