If you want to learn about someplace, you can always pick up a textbook. But if you want to get to know a place, you're going to have to dig a little deeper. And what you find there might be a little strange. The Strange States series will take you on a virtual tour of America to uncover the unusual people, places, things, and events that make this country such a unique place to call home. This week we’re heading to North Carolina, the home of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, the Hardee’s fast food franchise, Golden Corral Buffet, and the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, makers of Camels and Pall Malls.

NORTH CAROLINA'S SUPER-LOW RAILROAD TRESTLE—A.K.A. THE CAN OPENER

If you ever find yourself driving a delivery truck or an RV through Durham, North Carolina, make sure you know how tall your vehicle is from the road to the top of the roof. Because if you’re not careful, you just might become the latest victim of “The Can Opener.”

Built around the turn of the 20th century, the railroad trestle at the corner of Gregson and Peabody Streets has a road clearance of only 11 feet 8 inches, well below the current state standard of 14 feet 6 inches. Despite flashing lights and yellow and black warning signs letting drivers know they’re coming up on a dangerously low bridge, trucks and RVs regularly get jammed underneath—and some unlucky drivers have the tops of their cargo containers sheared off, giving the overpass its kitchen tool nickname. 

For Duke University IT employee Jurgen Henn—whose office has a clear view of The Can Opener—the bridge has become a source of internet infamy. His website, 11foot8.com, uses a couple of webcams to document the crashes at the bridge, which sometimes occur as often as once a month. Thankfully, despite how much damage is done to these unfortunate vehicles, the human toll is usually little more than bruised egos. So don’t feel too bad laughing as you watch truck after truck get demolished. 

The railroad company needs the bridge to keep their trains running, so shutting The Can Opener down for a lengthy rehab just isn’t an option. But the City of Durham can’t just lower Gregson Street, either, because a sewer main runs underneath the pavement, and rerouting the main would come out of the taxpayers' wallets. In the end, it’s easier and cheaper to maintain the flashing lights and warning signs, and let the driver’s insurance company deal with the aftermath of The Can Opener.

Have the scoop on an unusual person, place or event in your state?  Tell me about it on Twitter (@spacemonkeyx) and maybe I’ll include it in a future edition of Strange States!  

See all the entries in our Strange State series here.