Penning the loving ode to bridge poets

Pont de Chancy (Chancy Bridge) over the Rhone River west of Geneva, Switzerland. Photo taken in October 2006

A few years ago at Christmas time, my wife surprised me with something that she spent many months compiling but was one that was worth the project and I still read to this day: a collection of photos of bridges in Geneva, Switzerland, and with them, a collection of poems that were gathered and added, wherever it deemed to fit. The hub for various international organizations from around the world, Geneva, with a population of over 450,000 people (with 3 million inhabitants if counting the metropolitan area), is located at the southwest end of Lake Geneva, boxed in by the mountains of the Alps and situated on the peninsula surrounded by neighboring France. Over three dozen bridges of various types exist within a 20 kilometer radius of the city, most of them span the three rivers that slice the city into many different chunks: the Rhone, the Aire and the Arve. This includes this bridge, the Pont de Chancy, one of many bowstring arch bridges that feature riveted connections and the last crossing in Switzerland before the river enters France for good. All of them I visited during my three month stay in Geneva, working as an intern at the World Health Organization during the summer of 2006.

But Geneva is a topic that will be focused on in a different series of articles to come out soon through the Chronicles. I happened to run across a poem in the book that deals with bridge building and the reason why bridges are there, based on questions by many passers-by. Why do we have bridges at such locations and why do we replace them without looking at its unique value and past? There are as many reasons to build them as there are to tear them down and replace them. But there are just as many reasons to save them, as you will see in the poem called “The Bridge Builder”, by Will Allen Dromgool, written at the turn of the century:

The Bridge Builder

An old man, going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.

The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim, near,
“You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide-
Why build you this bridge at the evening tide?”

The builder lifted his old gray head:
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today,
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.”


Do you know of some poems that have to do with bridges, have created poems of your own, or would like to create one to be posted? If so, you are in luck! This upcoming May, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will be featuring some poetry on this topic, penning the loving odes to poets who made their bridges look beautiful through their writing. If you know of a poem that deserves to be posted (whether it is yours or someone else’s), please send it to Jason D. Smith at the Chronicles, at, and your poem will be posted. Bridge photos accompanying the poem are welcomed as long as it is cited. When using someone’s poem, please provide a source of citation (link, etc.) to avoid any issues with copyright laws, etc. You can post it in any language other than English, if you wish.

Let’s take pride in our bridges through poetry, for they go together like bridges and history go together.

Mystery Bridge update: The Horn’s Ferry Bridge and others

Photo courtesy of Luke Harden from the historic collections

Also: Another potential Mystery Bridge in Marion County gone by floods.

With plans wrapped up for the Historic Bridge Weekend and the events to take place in Marion County, combined with the plan to pay a loving ode to another historic bridge in Germany, a couple people brought the Horn’s Ferry Bridge up to my attention. Fellow pontist Luke Harden found an old postcard of the bridge when the entire structure was open to traffic. However, have a look at the photo above with the photos below. What differences can you see there?

Horn’s Ferry Bridge in the 1980s when it was open to bikes and pedestrians. Photo courtesy of Larry Brown

The difference on the through truss span is obvious: the first photo showed a pin-connected truss bridge with M-frame portal bracings. The second and third photos showed the same bridge but with riveted connections. Yet even more obvious was with the northernmost span, the pony truss. There, the top photo showed a Pratt or Howe pony truss span with pinned connections whereas the second photo showed a riveted Warren pony truss bridge.

Oblique view of the spans after being converted to observation deck. Photo taken in August 2011

Looking at the facts so far, the present northernmost spans were erected in 1929 by Wickes Construction Company of Des Moines. The extension of the bridge was necessary for flooding was undermining the northern abutment causing the potential for the Camelback through truss span to collapse. Yet this concern was raised as far back as 1915 by the county, which had advocated two additional spans to alleviate the problem. The river was channeled but reports indicated that the two additional spans were added in 1929. The question is:

Did the older spans exist before 1915 or between 1915 and 1929? By answering this question, we will have a better idea when the present spans, now serving as an observation deck were built. If the spans existed in 1929, the next question is:

When were the present spans built if the older spans were built in 1929? This is important because it would undermine the argument that standardized truss bridges were introduced in 1913, which phased out pin-connected truss bridges in favor of riveted truss bridges.

Any information? Please send it to Jason Smith at the Chronicles at and the information will be revealed then.


Sadly, one of Marion County’s bridges disappeared as it was wiped away. Why?

Mystery Bridge over White Breast Creek gone due to flooding.

Located over White Breast Creek at 92nd Avenue, the bridge’s aesthetical features made it a treat to see, as seen in a pic taken by a person travelling by bike. Records show that the bridge was located here in 1947 and was built ca. 1899. Yet more information is needed to determine where the bridge originated from and who built it.  Sadly, according to locals, floodwaters took the structure out last week. More on the bridge will come, but if you have any information on this bridge, you know where to find the source for information. 😉

BHC logo

What to do with a HB: St. Anthony Parkway Bridge in Minneapolis

Tunnel view of the bridge. All photos taken by the author in Sept. 2010

The St. Anthony Parkway Bridge, also known as the Northtown Bridge, is one of Minnesota’s historic bridges that deserves some recognition in itself. Located in the western part of Minneapolis near Columbia Height, this five span Warren through truss bridge with riveted connections is one of the last bridges of its kind to span the railroad yard in the Midwest. Built in 1925, the 530 foot long bridge is built in a 40° skew, another rarity one can find in the region, if not the country!  Despite the lack of information about the bridge- thanks largely in part to missing plaques on the end posts of the bridge- the Northtown Bridge is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places as it is located on the Grand Rounds of Parkways and crosses a historic railyard owned by Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railways- all of which have been considered nationally historic!

Yet this unique structure is in serious trouble. Both the City of Minneapolis and the Federal Highway Administration want the bridge removed and replaced, despite opposition from residents and the Minnesota Historical Society. Yet the decision to replace the bridge took many years to make due to series of studies conducted plus the debate over the cost between rehabilitation versus replacement.

In the meantime, the bridge has suffered a great deal, both in its outer appearance as well as with the decking. Officials at BNSF and the City of Minneapolis revealed in their surveys that the bridge is corroding, especially in the decking because of the trains passing underneath the structure combined with the use of salt in the winter time. Furthermore, the upper part of the bridge has sustained substantial damage to the portal bracing and upper chord, probably caused by trucks trying to cross the bridge despite height restrictions. A pair of photos in this article combined with a link to more photos (shown here) reveal a close-up view of the damage to the bridge.

As the city is actively pursuing a replacement bridge, pondering between a basket arch bridge similar to the Mississippi River Crossing at Lowry Avenue and a cable-stayed bridge similar to the Sabo Bridge, the question is what to do with the present structure, for even though one or two of the damaged spans are most likely going to be scrapped, the remaining spans have the potential to be reused, either along a bike trail in or around the Twin Cities area, or somewhere on a rural road for light vehicles, as has been done before. It may be possible that because of its historic status, the city may save only one of the spans, relocate it and reuse, as was the case with the Broadway Avenue Bridge in 1987, when one of the spans was relocated to its Merriam Street location, which still serves traffic to this day.

While the replacement plans are in the starting phase, the plans regarding the future of the present  St. Anthony Parkway Bridge is still open. So let’s take a look at the bridge and ask ourselves this question:

What would you do with the current St. Anthony Parkway Bridge?

a. Relocate the remaining truss spans to rural locations- and if so, which areas would be potential candidates?

b. Relocate the trusses to the bike trail in and around the Twin Cities area- and if so, which bike trails could use a historic bridge?

c. Relocate the trusses to the bike trails elsewhere in Minnesota and the surrounding states- and if so, which ones need a historic bridge?

d. Relocate one of the trusses to a street location, like the Merriam Street Bridge- if so, which street in Minneapolis would be a candidate

e. Keep one of the trusses and relocate it to a nearby park

f. Other options

Please place your comments here, on the facebook pages or send your comments via e-mail. However, just as important as replacing the bridge is addressing the importance of saving the truss bridge to the state historical society and other state agencies, as well as organizations that specialize in bridge rehabilitation so that they have a chance to think about the options and support your decision. A link to MNHS is enclosed here, if you want to talk to the personnel about it.

When there is a will, there is a way to save a historic landmark that is part of a bigger district. While the city parks administrator would like a new crossing that is a signature for the City of Minneapolis, would it not be better to have a relict of history be saved that is just as big a signature for the city and its historic district as the new bridge? Minneapolis has a lot of history that can be reached by bike, foot or car and St. Anthony Parkway Bridge is one of those that deserves its place in history, live and in person…


Side view of the Warren trusses and its skewed configuration
Close-up of the damage to the easternmost span of the bridge. Look closely at the portal and sway bracing. This span will surely be scrapped regardless of the outcome of the entire bridge.

Newsflyer 24 April 2013






Newsflyer:  24 April, 2013

Historic International Crossing spared Terrorist Attack, Two Historic Bridges lost to Flooding, One Bridge with connection to Internationally Renowned Bridge Coming Down

There has been a lot of action that took place in the US this past week, which included an unprecedented series of explosions- two at the Boston Marathon and an atomic-size explosion that nearly destroyed a Texas town- combined with the pursuit of the terrorists and those neglecting the safety guidelines of the fertilizer plant, and lots of rage by Mother Nature, implementing her wrath on the Midwest with snow and flooding.

And with that comes the demise of more historic bridges, but one was spared another potential terroristic plot to blow it up. How bad was this? The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles has a list of news headlines that have been compiled under its latest Newsflyer.

Bridge at Niagra Falls saved from bombing attempt

The Whirlpool Rapids Bridge is a very important historic bridge in the Niagra Region for two reasons: 1. The 1897 steel deck arch bridge, measured at 329 meters long, and featuring a upper deck for rail traffic and lower deck for vehicular traffic is an important link between the US and Canada, serving rail traffic between New York and Montreal and Toronto. 2. It is one of two important historic bridges to see near Niagra Falls, as it is located 2.4 km from the Falls, where another arch bridge is located. It was refurbished in 2009-10 and is now owned by Amtrak which maintains the track and allows Canadian trains to cross.  This bridge was a target of a terrorist attack that was foiled by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on Monday, arresting two people who had connections with Al Qaida in Iran- one of which was of Tunisian origins. Both were Canadians.  It is unknown how the planning was foiled for there was little information prior to the event, but had the attack succeeded, it would have resulted in massive loss of life among people in the train that they would have bombed in the process, car drivers and a historical landmark being destroyed, severing an important link between the two countries. The two men are currently in jail awaiting their fate. A close call for both countries, especially the USA, which was digesting its first terrorist attack since 9/11.

Two important Illinois historic bridges lost to flooding.

“No way!” This was the reaction of the amateur videographer who filmed the demise of the wrought iron Pratt through truss bridge spanning Big Bureau Creek east of Tiskilwa in Bureau County on 18 April. Built in the 1880s by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company, the bridge had been abandoned for many years and like its cousin, the Maple Rapids Bridge in Michigan, it was also leaning to one side after sustaining previous flood damage. This most recent flood did the structure in. Half of the bridge is still in the water but the structure, which resembles the Jacobs Tavern Bridge in New Jersey, will most likely come out to be scrapped, as with another bridge.

Located over Wilburn Creek in Marshall County, this 1924 riveted Pratt pony truss bridge was in excellent shape with minor restrictions until flooding undermined the abutments and knocked the bridge over on its side. Despite the bridge being in good shape inspite of the fall, the county engineer has written it off and it will be replaced. The fate of the trusses hangs in the balance, but they do have a potential of being reused at a park if rehabilitated with welding technology…

Part of the Golden Gate Bridge gone!

The Doyle Drive Viaduct, located near the Presidio south of the Golden Gate Bridge is technically part of the grand lady. Built in 1936, the bridge features a rusty orange color, similar to the almost 76-year old suspension bridge. With the demolition of the bridge, it marks the loss of a piece of history. Currently this bridge is being replaced with a concrete viaduct as part of the plan to reconstruct the interchange with the road leading to the historic police station. This is part of a larger plan to modernize the Golden Gate area, which includes replacing toll takers of the grand lady with automatic electronic toll machines. This has taken place already. It makes people of San Francisco and other people who know about the bridge and its heritage wonder what will be done with the Golden Gate area next….

Yet there is a sign of life for one historic bridge with a pair of bonuses that are on the way. This time it involves the McIntyre Bridge in Iowa.

Bowers has it her way and possibly then some

After suffering numerous set backs this year, a glimmer of hope has finally arrived for Julie Bowers and the crew at Workin Bridges, as  Poweshiek County signed off on a grant for $184,000 provided by the Iowa DOT on April 19th to be used to rebuild the McIntyre Bowstring Arch Bridge. The 1883 structure spanned North Skunk River until it was washed away by floods in 2010. Since then, painstaking efforts to raise money to restore the bridge were undertaken until the offer by the state agency, located in Ames, was brought to the table. Poweshiek County agreed to the proposal under the condition that Workin Bridges maintains the bridge over the next 20 years. If all is approved and the restoration efforts start in the summer, the bridge could be back over the river and in service again by the fall of this year.

In addition, a couple pony truss bridges from Carroll County may be heading to Poweshiek County to be reused for recreational reasons. When and where they will be relocated remains open, but the county is planning on replacing them this summer. More information from the Chronicles to come soon.

Mystery Bridge 22: A truss bridge made of wood

All photos courtesy of Craig Philpott, used with permission. This is the side view of the truss

Here’s a quiz for you: How many of you had either a set of Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, or something similar to that, when you were a child growing up? And if so, what kinds of things did you build with your set?  I remember when I was growing up, I used to build human beings with my set of Tinker Toys and covered bridges and telephone poles with Lincoln Logs. But like many engineers and bridge enthusiasts, I was different from those who were supposed to build log cabins and other skeletal structures, as was directed on the package.  Yet if we go back 100 years, many engineers and bridge designers referred to the Erector Set to get their imagination going. It was a set of steel beams with nuts and bolts, which allowed them to spend hours perfecting their ideal building- or bridge.

Perhaps the person who built this bridge in California used the combination of the three to design and patent this truss bridge. The Dinkey Creek Bridge is a jewel that was found by one fellow pontist two years ago while hiking through the Sierra Nevada National Forest. Built in 1938 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, this bridge spans the creek which snakes its way through the forest from neighboring Fresno, in Fresno County. It is one of the most unique examples of bridges that were built during the era, where President Franklin Roosevelt encouraged bridge designers and builders- most of them out of work because of the Great Depression- to build something that will attract tourists and last forever. And for this bridge, it is something that is worth seeing. It was the first bridge to be built using Redwood trees and the first to use steel, split-ring timber-connecting devices, which enabled the bridge to handle heavy traffic, which was rare in this area when it served traffic. Yet the truss design can be confusing, for when looking at the pictures provided by Craig Philpott, it appears to be a Parker Truss because of its polygonal shape, even though the State of California considers it a bowstring arch bridge. While there are some examples of bowstring arches that have a polygonal-like shape, 90% of all bowstring arch bridges were built with the top chord creating an arch, like a bow and arrow, as seen with the Turkey River Bridge in Winneshiek County, Iowa (now extant).  In addition, it is unknown who designed this unique bridge, let alone oversaw the construction of the bridge, even though a couple workers have been honored recently for their work.

This leads us to two questions about the Dinkey Bridge, our Mystery Bridge:

1. Is this bridge a bowstring arch bridge or a Parker truss bridge? Please ignore the fact that the bridge is a through truss.

2. While the CCC was responsible for the construction of the bridge, who designed the bridge and utilized the steel connectors? And who oversaw the whole process.

Have a look at the pictures and let the author know, using all the channels available. The bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is now a pedestrian bridge serving a local inn. It’s one of the bridges in the Sierra Nevada Mountains that is a must-see when passing through.

Special thanks to Craig Philpott for allowing the author to use the photos.


Portal view
Oblique view with green background

Bellaire Bridge to be sold for scrap metal on eBay?

Portal view of Bellaire Bridge. Photo taken by Nathan Holth

With all the stories of thieves taking apart metal bridges for the price of metal, which includes stealing and dismantling a 50-foot long bridge in Pennsylvania, driving off with another short span in Turkey and the most recent story- stealing 90 meters of railing from a pedestrian bridge in Wales, one would think that stealing and selling this commodity at one’s expense would be the dumbest act ever, right?

Well, not yet. How about selling bridge parts on eBay without the consent of the demolition contractor?  This debate was recently added to a pile of other debates on the future of an Ohio River bridge, closed since 1991 but despite signing off on the demolition in 2002, has been put on indefinite hold since then.  The Bellaire Bridge is one of the oldest cantilever truss bridges still standing along the Ohio River. Built in 1926 by the Mount Vernon Bridge Company in Ohio with J.E. Greiner from Chicago overseeing the construction of this rather ornamental bridge, this bridge connected Bellaire on the Ohio side and Benwood on the West Virginia side for 65 years until its closure on orders by the Ohio DOT as part of the plans to demolish the Ohio ramp to allow the right of way for the Ohio Hwy. 7 expressway to be constructed. Since then, talks have gone from trying to reopen the bridge to now demolishing the bridge, considering it a total eyesore and a liability to both communities. Yet no one has really come forward with the money to get the job done. And given the historic value of the bridge and its aesthetic value, preservationists have stepped forward with alternatives towards demolishing the bridge because of its listing on the National Register of Historic Places, especially in the face of opposition.

The bridge is now under ownership of Lee Chaklos and KDC Investments, which signed off an agreement in 2010 with previous owner Roger Barack, who had advocated the reopening of the bridge despite opposition from the two communities, Ohio DOT and the US Coast Guard. Yet Chaklos has two major issues to contend: 1. He has to come up with proof of liability insurance and a $500,000 performance bond to execute the plan and 2. He has to deal with the Benwood City Council and its debate over the escrow funding set aside for the project.  Yet with the parts of the soon-to-be-demolished bridge being on sale through eBay, he has another issue on his plate, namely who was responsible for this act, for he was unaware of this when asked by the Wheeling Intelligencer.

It seems that Chaklos and company are either clueless or lack the funding needed to get the job done and such action from an unknown source is another sign of desperation to get rid of the bridge once and for all. Already concerns of falling debris from the West Virginia approach has irked many residents and the US Coast Guard has issued an ultimatum, ordering Chaklos and company to finally start the demolition process by 20 June or face a daily delay fine of $1000.  Even residents are shooing photographers and pontists away from the bridge with shotguns, as experienced in a visit in August 2010.

Chaklos and company are scheduled to bring up the matter with the Benwood City Council, during a meeting on 23 April and come to an agreement to the issues involving the project. Yet given the circumstances involved affecting all parties involved, both cities, the Ohio DOT, US Coast Guard, and CSX Railways, which travels underneath the bridge, it would not be surprising if they in the end sell their assets to another party. This may serve as a sign of hope for preservationists and people attached to the bridge, for through extensive rehabilitation, which includes new decking, lighting and railing, combined with new steel parts and new paint job, the bridge may be converted from the most hated ugly hunk of metal to a piece of artwork connecting Benwood and Bellaire.  But as we saw with the demise of the Ft. Steuben and Bridgeport Bridges, this may be wishful thinking and the best solution is to sit and watch how the situation pans out in the next 8 weeks.

And as for the party responsible for putting the bridge on eBay: Congratulations! You may receive one of the 2013 Smith Awards for the most absurd action done to a historic bridge. While stealing metal parts from a bridge is just not cool for it can cause a life if the structure collapses, putting bridge parts on eBay without consent of the bridge owner to encourage people to buy the metal, despite its high price value is simply something you can never get away with and can spell doom if it backfires. Hope you have a good lawyer to fend off any potential lawsuits for falsifying information out of desperation, or your deed will be more than costly….

Check out Nathan Holth’s website describing the Bellaire Bridge here as well as through Wikipedia, which is here.

Fitch’s Bridge coming down

Fitch’s Bridge before the demolition work started. Photo taken by David Pitkin, used with permission

Groton, Mass. (USA)

A few months ago, this bridge was featured in an article on the massacre of historic bridges in the United States, which had caused alarm to many who were attached to them and their history.  After approving a measure in February to demolish the bridge, work has now started on the Fitch’s Bridge.  As early as last week, as seen in this picture by David Pitkin, barriers that had kept the people off the bridge have been removed and much of the remaining decking has long since disappeared. Excavators are at the site and this double-intersecting Warren through truss bridge will be gone by the end of the month. In its place will be a new bridge which will be part of the project to complete the bike trail network along the Nashua River, which the 1898 bridge once crossed.

The new bridge will be its fourth at its present location for the first bridge was built ca. 1750 as a wooden bridge. After 120 years and many repairs, it was replaced in 1871 and again with this structure in 1898. After serving traffic for almost 70 years, the bridge was closed to all vehicular traffic in 1965, and for the next 35 years, served pedestrians who walked along the river, marveling at the beauty of it and the bridge that crossed it. In 2000, the bridge was condemned, barricaded with concrete to all traffic after much of the decking disappeared and the structure deteriorated to a point where it was no longer safe to use.

While interest was there to repair and reopen the bridge as part of the bike trail network, two thirds of the town voted unanimously to tear the bridge down and replace it with something new. While the reasons are understandable- safety and liability isues, combined with structural issues with the bridge- the demise of the bridge has more to do with the lack of resources and options that were available at their disposal. Already, concerns for the bridge had started to arise after it was reduced to pedestrians only but the movement towards saving historic bridges had just started, and to this day, despite the public becoming more aware of the importance of these antiquities, there is still a lack of information on restoration options that cost a fraction of bridge replacement and threfore could have saved Fitch.

It is unknown what will replace Fitch, but it is clear that whatever comes in to replace it will never look like the bridge that the people of Groton were used to and are about to lose to history. Therefore, many of them are saying good-bye to a treasure that had served its purpose for almost 120 years, in hopes that the new bridge will have the exact charm as its predecessor and last just as long.

David Pitkin has a gallery of photos of Fitch’s Bridge available on flickr, which you can click here.  In addition, Fitch’s Bridge has a facebook site, where you can follow up on the bridge replacement process. The history of the bridge can also be found by clicking here.


Flensburg and Bridgehunter going separate ways





As musician SEAL would sing it: “The Change is gonna come!”  It’s time to unweave the weave, as many engineers in Minnesota were saying when they indeed untangled the interchange I-35W and Hwy. 62 Crosstown in Minneapolis a couple years ago, and many German engineers are thinking the same idea with the A115-A100 interchange in Berlin-Charlottenburg. Both the Flensburg Files and the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles are going separate ways and receiving a new makeover to make it more attractive for people to follow.

It starts off with the separate Twitter accounts, for both columns were running together on one account for a year. While the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep its old account under the new name BH Chronicles, the Flensburg Files has received a new account, where everything dealing with German-American culture and issues (including articles in German) and guest posting will go there in addition to the posts written by the columnist himself.  The Chronicles will keep receiving posts from the columnist on historic bridges as well as those from preservationists and pontists. All current followers are asked to please take this change to account. You can access Twitter through their respective apps.


Both Flensburg and Bridgehunter will also receive new logos which will slowly but surely appear in the column in the near future. The logos are below:






And lastly, both columns will be receiving new apps in the future, many of which are primarily used for education purposes but are worth using for the columns. Already each one has a new Pininterest account which can be accessed by clicking here.  Flensburg will receive most of its pics through that app, whereas the Bridgehunter will maintain both its Pininterest and flickr accounts. As the column received many app toys to play with, you will be informed of the new apps that will be available through the respective columns.


And while the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will continue its series on best historic bridge practice, mystery bridges, and the historic bridge preservation glossary (among other things), the Flensburg Files, after a long hiatus due to many commitments, will have a set of series to work with. Apart from continuing to write on tourism-related topics, such as places to visit in Germany and German-named towns in the US, we will revisit the topic on soccer and its problems while at the same time, open up the political season as the Germans will elect a new chancellor in 2013 and the Files will focus on the political parties involved in the elections, the issues that Germany has and the attitudes of the public towards politics and other topics.  In addition with that, the Files will open a new series called “From the Classroom” where the columnist, with many years of teaching experience, will go behind the scenes and focus on English and life in academia. An introduction to the series will start the series off.

So sit back, relax and enjoy the upcoming article that will be coming, through the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles and the Flensburg Files. 🙂

Please note: both Bridgehunter and Flensburg will still be maintaining their facebook sites, so there is no need to panic. You can still like and follow on facebook. 🙂

What to do with a HB: The Okoboji Bridge

Okoboji Bridge over the Little Sioux River in Dickinson County- washed out after flooding. Photo taken in August 2011


In connection with my last article on Thacher truss bridges, we are going to have a look at this bridge, the Okoboji Bridge. Located four miles west of Fostoria over the Little Sioux River on 180th Avenue, this bridge is unique both in terms of its design as well as its history.  Built by the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works Company, this riveted truss bridge is the only one left in the country that is a pony Thacher truss, if one looks at its configuration and compare it with the examples mentioned in the last article. Yet the reason for the configuration is in connection with its history. It was built at its original location in 1909- over the strait connecting East and West Lake Okoboji, connecting Okoboji to the north and Arnolds Park to the south, carrying what is today US Hwy. 71. Yet the bridge was a replacement for the numerous swing bridges that had been built and rebuilt since 1859. The 1909 truss bridge was also a swing bridge that operated by machine instead of by hand, like its predecessors, made of wood and whose towers featured stayed wired cables. Pictures of that bridge can be seen here, including the bridge in its opening position. 

Okoboji Bridge today
The Okoboji Bridge at the site where the Thacher truss swing bridge once served its use. Now widened and modernized to handle more traffic. Photo taken in August 2009

While the Thacher truss bridge served as an important asset to the region, the increase in traffic- both vehicular as well as marine, combined with the coming of Hwy. 71 in 1926 made it expendable and was replaced in 1929 by a fixed span- a closed spandrel arch bridge, which was later widened and modified in 1997 as part of the plan to widen all of Hwy. 71 to eliminate the bottleneck traffic that had been common, especially in the summer time and during the Fourth of July. Yet with the bridge being in service for only 20 years, the county decided to recycle the bridge and move it to an out-of-the-way remote and present location- over the Little Sioux River on a road served by a pair of farms, each located on the opposite sides of the small meandering stream. It had served traffic until its closure for structural reasons in the early 1990s.

Yet the future of the bridge is without hesitation, in serious doubt. During my visit to Iowa in August 2011, I looked for the Okoboji Bridge, only to find, as you can see in the picture above as well as through a gallery via flickr that the bridge was a victim of flooding.  Although not as severe as the one three years earlier, the flooding in Iowa in June and July caused substantial damage and loss to many crops and houses, thanks in part to a wet and stormy winter, combined with the late spring thaw, unseasonable temperatures and above normal rainfall. In fact, the hardest hit area were along the Missouri River, where a line between Sioux City and Kansas City was covered in water, turning the river into the Red Sea, and forcing an unprecedented detour of I-29 which followed I-35 to Des Moines and then I-80 to Omaha, for its original path was all but underwater. It was unexpected that the Little Sioux River, a small meandering stream that flows quietly like a snake through the farmland would become a lake full of rushing water. And for this bridge, it stood in the way of the flood, resulting in the truss bridge being knocked off its foundation and landing right into the river, with fallen trees and debris covering it.

Upon inspecting the bridge, photographing and filming it, the bridge seemed to be in excellent shape with some damage to the flooring. Yet with some work on the bridge, which includes repairing some bridge parts and repainting it, it could be reused again, either as a vehicular or a pedestrian bridge. Given its location, it is unlikely that it will be used again at its present location but can be relocated somewhere else in the county. Dickinson County has had a good track record regarding reusing truss bridges for cost-effective purposes, as two bridges (also along the Little Sioux River) were replaced using truss bridges that had been located elsewhere, either in Okoboji or to the south. The Okoboji Bridge would be of best service when relocated. Yet whether the county and IaDOT would agree with this proposal depends on their willingness to save this unique piece of artwork and the costs that would incur in the relocating and rehabilitation process. Even though I did get a chance to talk to IaDOT and some other people about the bridge, the flood issue was foremost on their minds and it was understandable if this issue was tabled because  of that. Yet today, even with fewer resources, one can have a look at the bridge and decide how to proceed from there.

Keeping this in mind, have a look at the photos I posted on flickr and the film I produced that is available on youtube and decide for yourself if:

1. The bridge is salvageable and why,

2. What should be done with the bridge in terms of repairs and rehabilitation, and

3. Do you know of a place where this bridge would be of better service?

You can post your comments here, via facebook and through e-mail. Another person of contact would be Julie Bowers at Workin Bridges. Her contact details are found here.

Author’s note: additional photos and info can be found by clicking on the underlined words.

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Name that bridge type: The answer to question 1






And now the answer to the question of naming the bridge type. As you will recall, in a posting from last Thursday, there was a post card of a bridge that spanned the Wapsipinicon River near Independence in Buchanan County, located in the northeastern part of Iowa.  While some people may have found the answer through James Baughn’s website, there are some who are not familiar with that, nor the picture, as it was posted most recently and readers have not yet had a look at the picture until now.

I can tell you that I had written about this bridge type a few years ago as part of an essay for a history class at the university here in Germany, and there are some examples of this bridge type that still exist today, even though there are two different types of this truss type that three bridge builders had used during their days.

The answer: The Thacher Truss. In 1881, Edwin Thacher (1840-1920), an engineering graduate of Renesselaer Polytechnic Institute,  invented and patented this unusual truss type. It is a mixture of four truss types: the Warren, Pratt, Whipple and Kellogg. While the Kellogg is a Pratt truss design featuring a subdivided panel supporting the original diagonal beams that connect the vertical beams, the Thacher features two sets of diagonal beams starting at each end of the truss bridge at the upper chord- one creates a panel similar to the Pratt truss, while the other crosses two or three panels before meeting the center panel, which forms an elusive A-frame. The bridge at Independence was the very first bridge that was built using this truss design. It was built in 1881 and was in service for over 40 years. Yet after having the design patented in 1885, Thacher went on to build numerous bridges of this type, most of which were built between 1885 and 1910. He later invented other bridge designs, some of which will be mentioned here later on.

Philips Mill and Crossing in Floyd County. Photo courtesy of the Floyd County Historical Society

While it was unknown how many of these types were actually built between 1881 and 1920, sources have indicated that Iowa may have been the breeding ground for experimenting with this truss type. Apart from the railroad bridge at Independence, the very first structure that was built using the Thacher, as many as four Thacher truss bridges were reported to have been built in the state. Among them include the longest single span truss bridge ever built in the state, the Philips Mill Bridge, spanning the Winnebago River outside Rockford, in Floyd County. Built in 1891, this 250 foot long bridge, dubbed as one of the most unusual truss bridges built in the country, was the successor to a two-span bowstring through arch bridge and served traffic until it was replaced in 1958. Other Thacher truss bridges built included one over the Shell Rock River north of Northwood (in Worth County), the Ellsworth Ranch Bridge over the Des Moines River in Emmet County and the Okoboji Bridge over the Little Sioux River in Dickinson County. Of which only the Ellsworth Ranch and Okoboji Bridges still exist today.

Ellsworth Ranch Bridge in Emmet County. One of many Thacher trusses built in Iowa. Photo taken in August 2011

On a national scale, if one counts the two remaining Iowa bridges, there are five bridges of this kind left, which include the Costilla Bridge in Colorado, Linville Creek Bridge in Virginia, and the Yellow Bank Creek Bridge in Minnesota. Two additional bridges, the Parshallburg Bridge (2009) and the Big Sioux River bridge in Hamlin County (2009) have long since disappeared due to flooding/ice jams and structural instability, respectively.  While the majority of the bridges mentioned here were constructed by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company in Canton, Ohio, the King Bridge Company in Cleveland constructed the Ellsworth Ranch, Yellow Bank and Hamlin County bridges, using a different hybrid of Thacher truss that was modified during James King’s reign as president of the bridge company (1892-1922).  The Clinton Bridge and Iron Company in Clinton, Iowa built the only Thacher pony truss bridge in the Okoboji Bridge, the bridge that is featured in the next article.  While the Ellsworth Ranch Bridge remains closed to traffic and seems to be abandoned, the Yellow Bank Bridge was relocated to Hastings, Minnesota in 2007 to serve as a replica of the Hastings Spiral Bridge at the Little Log Cabin Historic Village.

Okoboji Bridge over the Little Sioux River in Dickinson County- washed out after flooding. Photo taken in August 2011

And that is the answer to the pop quiz, even though for some experts in the field, the answer was obvious. Yet perhaps the next bridge type quiz may be even more challenging than the first one. As for the ones who didn’t know, this one should get you acquainted to the questions that are yet to come that will require some research. So let’s go to the next question, shall we?

Author’s Note: If you know of other Thacher Truss Bridges that existed in Iowa or any part of the US and would like to bring it to his attention (and that of the readers), you know where to reach him: or via facebook under The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. He’ll be happy to add it in any future columns, and for his project on Iowa’s Truss Bridges, it will make an excellent addition.

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