The railroad was in this area as early as 1887. It provided transportation on the north side of the river. The farming area, however, was on the south side of the river in this area. A ferry operated at Culbertson, but it shut down in the winter. This left the farmers on the south side of the river stranded. Some of the more hardy would cross the ice, but this was dangerous due to the unpredictable currents in the river.
In the 1920s, the US Government would match state money on a fifty-fifty basis to build bridges. Montana used this program for a few major bridges, but they ran out of state money towards the end of the 1920s when the Culbertson Bridge was proposed in 1929. Local residents raised the matching funds needed by issuing bonds backed by three local counties, plus a $30,000 grant contributed by the Great Northern Railroad. By the time this money was raised, the federal part of the program had collapsed. It was funded by gasoline taxes, and that revenue dried up in the early depression. The Roosevelt administration was funding make-work projects, but that only applied to timber and concrete bridges since steel bridges were less labor intensive. An act of Congress finally allowed the bridge to be funded, and the contract was inked in 1933.
Based on a story in the Montana Highway Commission newsletter dated December of 2005, the bridge that was built was a 7-span steel truss that was a total of 1,169 feet long. The bridge was completed on June 21, 1934, fourteen months ahead of schedule. The approaches were not finished for several more months, and the bridge finally opened in September of 1934. The ferry stopped running that same day.
The Culbertson Bridge was a huge success. It served a key role in the Fort Peck Dam project. But alas, all things come to an end. By the 1980s, the bridge was now old and tired. Modern traffic required wider bridge decks, safety required wider lanes, and truck traffic needed stronger structures. Plus the steel truss required a lot of maintenance just to keep it from deteriorating. As a result, the state replaced the old bridge with a modern steel girder bridge in 1988. The new bridge meets all the requirements of the 21st century, but with none of the grace and class that the old metal monster had.