By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer
RIVERTON, Kan. —
She's found a class ring, pieces of old letters and a bottle opener. But a dresser in the middle of Rainbow Bridge was one of Amber Tyree's favorite discoveries on her almost daily training runs across the iconic Route 66 landmark.
"That's been my favorite by far -- someone just plunked this dresser in the middle of the bridge and when I ran upon it I thought, ÔOK, who is in the woods filming me?'" she said.
And just Wednesday, she came upon a handmade marker left there in memory of a K-9 search and rescue dog, named "Lucky Duck," who died Nov. 7.
"I like how Rainbow Bridge attracts followers, seekers, mourners, furniture-leavers and me," she said.
For Tyree, a Baxter Springs resident, the historic bridge is about seven miles round trip from her home -- a minimal distance for a person who in September competed in a 50-kilometer run that took 8 hours, 16 minutes. The people she sees there often have come from much greater distances, all for the chance to stand on the only remaining bridge of its kind on the Mother Road.
"I see people from all over the country, and some of them from other countries, who stop there to take pictures, sometimes with an antique car or whatever. I feel like it's really still a crossroads," Tyree said.
On Saturday, as many as 100 runners will pound across Rainbow Bridge during the 19th annual Old Route 66 Half-Marathon. No telling what lost or discarded items they might find, Tyree joked.
Under the direction of Scott Nelson at Eisler Brothers Old Riverton Store, the event was inspired by Michael Wallace. He was the author of "Route 66: The Mother Road" -- the book credited with sparking the resurgence of interest in the highway -- and the voice of "Sheriff" in Pixar's "Cars."
"He said, ÔYou guys have the perfect mileage on Route 66 in Kansas (from Missouri to Oklahoma) for a half-marathon," Nelson said. "It's 13.1 miles."
The Rainbow Bridge is at about mile seven on that route. Runners will begin east of Galena at the Missouri state line and cross the bridge on their way to the Oklahoma line south of Baxter Springs.
No other like it
"There's not another bridge like that on the Route from Chicago to LA," Nelson said.
Built of concrete in 1923 in the single-span Marsh Arch style, it at one time was one of three in the area.
"There was one over Spring River that they took out in 1985, and one over Willow Creek that was replaced in 1990," Nelson said. The only other two he's aware of are in Fort Scott and Independence, but they are not on Route 66 and not in use.
"That's what's unique about ours -- it still can be crossed," Nelson said.
It earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places (listed as the Brush Creek Bridge) on March 10, 1983, because of its connection with Route 66 and as a Kansas state landmark. Its other claim to fame came in 2000, when country singer Brad Paisley performed "Route 66" on the bridge for the TLC special "Route 66: Main Street America."
Tyree, who has a spot on her bookshelf at home for the items she finds on or near the bridge, plans to be among the runners who cross it during the Route 66 Half-Marathon.
"I think it draws people -- it's magnetic."
The Old Route 66 Half-Marathon will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, at the Missouri-Kansas state line on Old Route 66 west of Joplin and east of Galena. Pre-registration fee is $20, which includes a T-shirt. Registration the day of the race is $25. To register, contact Scott Nelson at Eisler Brothers Old Riverton Store, 620-848-3330, or go to www.facebook.com/KansasRoute66Association. Registration may also be done on race day at Route 66 Park in downtown Galena beginning at 7:30 a.m. Trophies will be given to first-, second- and third-place male and female winners in each age division.