Replacing missing pistols part of I-10 Bridge work

Published: Oct. 10, 2011 at 1:43 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 10, 2011 at 6:05 PM CDT
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It's hard not to notice the crossed pistols on the railings of the I-10 Calcasieu River Bridge.  And has a major refurbishing project gets underway, they are replacing missing or broken pistols.

There are lots of folks who'd love to have a set of those historic pistols if any ever become available for sale or auction. But right now the ones in good shape will stay right where they are--along the bridge rail.

Those historic dueling pistols along the rail of the I-10 Calcasieu River Bridge. There are more than five thousand if you count pairs or more than ten thousand if you count each individual pistol though a few have been knocked out from crashes. District Administrator for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development Steve Jiles says they are famous. "I can't think of anything that symbolizes Lake Charles and its history more than pistols. If we were going to go build a bridge today and put pistols on it, I've got a feeling we would be cut to pieces."

The decorative crossed pistols were part of the plans as this drawing from 1950 shows. Then they planned to call it the Lafitte Bridge, after the infamous pirate, but that never happened. Pistols that have been damaged or broken , to be replaced, are being re-cast by a foundry in Alabama. Said Jiles, "These pistols in front of me are some old pistols that were removed from the bridge, some old damaged pistols. We have one new casting that was recently made."

The rail itself serves an important purpose says Jiles. "Ultimately it's part of maintaining the bridge. The railing, while it's decorative, it also serves a purpose. It detains vehicles from running off the side and we have had some areas that were damaged over the years in accidents and we have a repair project going on. This is one of ten to fifteen items, primary items on the bridge that we're trying to address."

The bridge was built between 1948 and 1952 under the Administration of Governor Earl K. Long. At the time it was considered an engineering marvel which captured the imagination of people at the time just as the old dueling pistols still are a fascination for some.

It's estimated they have fifty to sixty pistols to replace. No decision yet on what the state will do with the old pistols no longer part of the railing but we'll let you know when they decide.

According to state officials, about 10,572 decorative crossed pistols were originally placed there as a symbol of Southwest Louisiana's pirate history. Local legend has it that the famous pirate Jean Lafitte buried some of his treasure in the area. According a Louisiana State Legislature resolution, the bridge was officially named the "World War II Memorial Bridge" in June of 1951. In the bridge's early stages, the name "Jean Lafitte Bridge" was recorded on some of the building plans and was mentioned as a preferred name by bridge designer N.E. Lant.

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development is currently undertaking maintenance of the bridge which includes replacing damaged rivets, removing rust, and sealing deck joints. As of August 2011, the DOTD removed 38 of the damaged original 1951 decorative crossed pistols from the bridge's handrails. Replacements for these damaged pistols are being recast to install on the handrails.

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