Some saw the bridge as a decaying symbol of Hammond’s proud industrial past. Kenneth Morrison saw it as tens of thousands of dollars in valuable scrap iron, wasting away to rust on the edge of the Grand Calumet.
The Hammond Monon Bridge had once been a fixture Hammond’s ever-growing industries, with thousands of tons of imports and exports rambling over its Warren-truss design in and out of the city. The Monon Bridge also provided much of the railroad service for Hammond’s meatpacking companies in the early 1900s, with some of the earliest refrigerated railcars likely crossing the river there.
Built in 1909, various railroad lines purchased and utilized the iron bridge for eight decades, but time, use, and the elements had begun weakening the metal. Minor fixes and patching eventually became so frequent that CSX Transportation, its final owner, wanted to wash its hands of the Hammond Monon Bridge.
In the 1980s, the company stopped using the bridge and, instead, decided to donate the bridge to the city, for preservation, for scrap, for posterity (but mostly for the tax write-off).
Hammond wasn’t interested and the city’s official stance was “no comment.” CSX Transportation offered it again, and again, to the city, and it wasn’t until 1987 that the city grudgingly accepted the donated bridge.
Rain or shine, through sweltering summers and record-setting winters, the Hammond Monon Bridge sat unused and rotting into a tangled mass of old iron. Only graffiti artists were interested in her anymore.
In 1991, a Whiting scrap metal dealer named Kenneth Morrison, owner of T & K Metals, saw the potential value in the old bridge, and offered to buy the antique bridge from Hammond. Hammond officials said no. Thirteen years passed, with no move on the city to repair, restore, or remove the bridge.
For the owner of a small business, watching good metal (and money) sitting and rotting at the riverside must have been torture. He approached the city yet again: kill two birds with one stone, they’d have cash in hand for the sale of the bridge, and be rid of an aging and potential dangerous eyesore.
Nah, said Hammond.
In December of 2014, Morrison brought a small crew of workers to the bridge, which was only a few blocks away from the Hammond courthouse. Using metal cutters and portable torches, Morrison began slicing up the metal into transportable chunks. Well-versed in the jungles of red tape involving scrap purchases, he juggled lie after lie to officials, his workers, and those buying the scrap metal.
It wasn’t until late January of 2015 that Hammond discovered the crime. By that time, Morrison had chopped up half the bridge, hauling the old iron to Illinois scrapyards, and made about $14,000 for his efforts.
It was a bold crime. Morrison used an entire crew, in broad daylight, and wallpapered the entire activity with lie after lie after lie. Even when Hammond ordered him to cease dismantling the bridge, he continued for several days. In his words, the bridge was nothing more than a shipwreck abandoned by the city, and its contents were fair game.
Then the hammer came down. Since he removed the bridge in Indiana and sold the allegedly stolen metal in Illinois, crossing state lines, it became a federal crime, involving the FBI. In the process of removing the metal, Morrison’s workers had left chunks of metal and railroad timber in the Grand Calumet, so the Indiana Department of Environmental Management investigated. And the EPA joined in for good measure.
And then Hammond itself had it out for Morrison, seemingly taking his “overzealous entrepreneurial spirit” personally. Interstate transportation of stolen goods. As said, the hammer came down…but has yet to land.
Strangely, Hammond did not file its deed to the bridge, which was ceded to the city in 1987, until after charging Morrison. This glaring “coincidence” has turned the battle of the now-vanished Hammond Monon Bridge into a legal tennis match.
And trying to follow his trial is like trying to follow a tennis match, in the dark. The case against Morrison isn’t cut-and-dry. An expert in scrap metal acquisition, Morrison knows his way around the legal pitfalls of the process and his successful business has allowed him to continue the fight for years.
His chief argument, and that of his lawyers, is that this should be a civil case, not a criminal one. Hammond’s interest in pursuing criminal charges are entirely punitive, an assessment that seems more and more likely as this case drags out.
In January of this year, Morrison came back at Hammond yet again, requesting a new trial. According to his lawyers, Hammond did not demonstrate clear ownership of the bridge, and Morrison deserves to be acquitted and retried.
Update: May 17th, 2021…