An alert driver with the response time of, say, a Marine sergeant or a Los Angeles firefighter, stopped his long rig — a GMC Denali heavy-duty pickup truck pulling a Jayco Eagle trailer and a Skeeter outboard boat — in time to keep the infamously low-hanging railroad bridge in Pierre from doing any damage.
That’s not the usual result in these rather usual occurrences.
According to Pierre Police Department records, during the past decade or so, vehicles hit the bridge an average of 10.6 times a year.
Usually, it’s a semi-truck trailer, while the incident usually results in damage to the rig.
RV-top AC units seem to be the next-most-likely victims.
Driver Josh DeWall, of Winchester, Calif., said he turned off Sioux Avenue in Pierre about 9:30 a.m. or so, on to Pierre Street, driving by Walgreens headed up to Euclid to leave town to get to Watertown, South Dakota, he told the Capital Journal.
“I was following my GPS through town.” But it didn’t seem to be too helpful with the best route through town, he said.
“When I turned and saw that sign that said 15 feet I thought, ‘I’m not sure I can clear that.’”
That’s the number he remembered seeing.
But the yellow sign on the side of Pierre street going northeast, about 50 feet before the railroad bridge, actually has black letters indicating 11 feet, 3 inches as the clearance height. A larger sign with similar figures hangs on the bridge on the other side in front of traffic coming down the slope, toward Sioux Avenue.
DeWall said he wasn’t sure how the first air-conditioner unit on top of his trailer cleared the bridge.
The street does rise going that direction up Pierre Street to the corner at Pleasant Avenue, which may explain what happened.
But DeWall was able to stop before the second unit was damaged although it was right at the bridge’s bottom, he said.
After letting air out of his tires, he was able to get through.
He had a talk with a Pierre police officer. Police dispatch had called around and found a tow truck firm on Sioux Avenue that could respond, DeWall said.
Corey Pyhtila from Johnny Towing said he showed up with the idea maybe DeWall would need to get the trailer pulled out from under the bridge. But he ended up only needing to correct the the tire pressure situation after DeWall got loose from the bridge.
“I just aired up the rear tires of the pickup and the trailer tires,” Pyhtila said.
DeWall said he was not ticketed by the officer, as some are who seem to ignore the flashing lights and height signs.
Then he took the route on to Highland Avenue, back on Capitol Avenue, then on bridgeless Euclid Avenue north out to U.S. Highway 14, stopping to fuel up and grab some food at the 1 Stop Travel Plaza on the edge of town.
“I’m heading to Watertown,” he said.
The California plates on his rig go along with his address of Winchester, California, southeast of Los Angeles. He’s a Los Angeles firefighter who served in the U.S. Marines from 2002-2006, leaving as a sergeant, DeWall said.
He’s rigged for fishing, but didn’t stop at Lake Oahe, DeWall said.
“Usually, I do when I come through, but I didn’t this time.”