In the face of modernization and improving the infrastructure, it is rare to find historic bridges built earlier than 1940 that are rehabilitated and given a new lease on life as a recreational structure. It is rarer to see them relocated to different destinations nowadays without having to be dismantled and the parts sandblasted before being reassembled. But in the case of the Piano Bridge in southeastern Texas, located near Weimar (approximately 120 kilometers southeast of Austin), one will see something that is even seldom to find: A bridge that is disassembled and reworked on site and then reassembled on site to be reused for vehicular traffic.
Julie Bowers of Workin Bridges, an organization based in Iowa dealing with historic bridge preservation, was at the site when the bridge underwent a massive remodeling process and has submitted a summary of the whole process with photos as a guest columnist, providing readers with a description of how the rehabilitation process works on the Piano Bridge, a Pratt through truss bridge built by the King Bridge Company in 1885. The project is close to completed as some final touch-ups are needed before the bridge reopens to traffic. Here is her story on the bridge. The profile of the bridge is found at the end of the article:
I have had the privilege over the last few months to document the restoration of the Piano Bridge in Dubina, Texas. Although Workin’ Bridges did not get the project for a rehabilitation and fix of the broken parts in place, we did enable the contractor, Davis Construction to have a bit of time to bid the project. They utilized our same ironworkers from BACH Steel to do the repairs. Problem number 1, how does Workin’ Bridges make money when we aren’t a construction company yet?
So the project was scheduled to begin in the middle of November, delayed until the week before Thanksgiving. Davis Construction was on site, but the BACH Steel crew ended up in a car accident, which derailed their construction schedule for some time. Thankfully they lived and Bob Schwensen, the supervisor for Davis already had experience in truss bridges.
Schwensen had the skills and expertise to continue on and attach the strong backs to the incline end posts using equipment that was on site from BACH Steel, the crew pulled planks and stringers and executed the bridge lift on December 2, 2011. McCray Crane Service from Houston, Texas was hired to do the lift and it took only a few hours to set the crane and about 5 minutes to move the bridge, after a week setting it all up and preparing. The disassembly of the bridge took several days, lots of heat and force and big wrenches. I was able to help at that point by saying that it would be impossible for one person to do that work and once they put two or three on getting the nuts and pins off, all proceeded smoothly.
Engineering and plans were designed by TxDOT Engineer Charles Walker. His understanding of truss bridges is exceptional. He designed new splice plates, connectors and shoe plates. They also designed new tops for the caissons. TxDOT trusts that fatigue and stress were addressed and the broken parts able to be fixed to bring this bridge back onto the road system for vehicular traffic.
The holidays delayed work even more. Painters were not set up at that point and everyone left. In January the blasting of the parts began and BACH Steel arrived in the latter part of January to begin the repairs with Nels Raynor, Shane Milliken and his son Michael on the job.
TxDOT applied for permission to change the AASHTO Standards that demand rivets should be replaced with bolts for this job. Where it had been riveted to begin with, rivets were used for replacement. Workin’ Bridges documentary was able to get rivets donated from JayCee Rivets and a 60lb hammer from Michigan Pneumatic, as well as Black Stallion gloves from RevCo industries to use for this project. A big thank you to those folks, all of their products figure prominently in most photos.
BACH Steel began by heat straightening eye-bars, removing pack rust, fixing the lattice portals, and moving forward with riveting. Many TxDOT engineers and inspectors have been on site to see this process, check the heat in the forge and approve how it was done. That process took about 2 weeks and then the reassembly began in early February. I was not there to document that process but was able to utilize photos from BACH Steel for this part of the job.
On February 22, Ray’s Crane Service reset the truss over the East Navidad River where it has been since 1885. The stringers for the approaches are set, the stringers for the bridge itself are welded in place and the final painting has begun this last week of February. The road approaches are nearly done and clean up of the work site is finished.
Davis Construction will start setting the decking, which was specified for Glulam planks instead of a traditional timber deck. The rest of the process should only take a few more weeks. The signs will be reattached, after being beautifully painted by S&S Painting’s Cecil Zimmerman out of Kerrville, Texas and the bridge should be reopened soon. Mr. Zimmerman also repainted the original King Bridge plaques and they will be welded onto the bridge soon.
Documenting this process has shown me that we can and must train more ironworkers in the skills that it takes to do this type of restoration work. Welding channel to channel or plates onto old iron is the same as it has always been, there was little packed rust but that was banged out with heat and a flat plate to hammer on (no direct force applied to the iron), rivets were taken out and new connectors were riveted back on, hub guard was straightened and repaired, pad welding took care of any section loss on the fishbelly floor beams where the original welded stringers were taken off and the vertical connector that was the critical failure was fixed. All connectors are new steel with more bolts, so the bridge is actually stronger than ever.
Hopefully there will be a great party when this bridge reopens. I will be there to document that and take photos of a fully restored bridge with traffic crossing it. Of course it won’t make that thundering noise like it did in the past but this is a win for the good guys.
Location: Spanning the East Navidad River on Piano Bridge Road near Dubina (Fayette County), Texas
Bridge Type: Pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with Town Lattice portal bracing
Built: 1885 by King Bridge Company
Dimensions: 137.1 feet long (truss span 79 feet) and 11 feet wide. Vertical clearance is 14.8 feet
THE BRIDGEHUNTER’S CHRONICLES WILL KEEP YOU POSTED ONCE THE PIANO BRIDGE IS OPEN TO TRAFFIC AGAIN.