Mystery Bridge Nr. 60: Unusual Howe Lattice Truss Bridges

Photos taken by MnDOT
Photos taken by MnDOT

Our 60th mystery bridge ironically runs parallel to a highway bearing the same number running through another Minnesota county- Blue Earth! The exceptions though are the following:

  • These are two unusual bridges that have long since been recycled for reuse- at least three times over the course of 35+ years, and
  • They are located in the southern part of the county, whereas the major expressway is in the northern half, where Mankato, Lake Crystal and Janesville are located.

The bridges are similar in length and width, but the designs are rather strange. They both feature a Howe truss design but resembling a Howe Lattice portal bracing of a through truss bridge, like these bridges:

Kelly Lane Bridge  This and the following photos courtesy of Craig Guttau, used with permission
Kelly Lane Bridge in Harrison County, Iowa. Photo  courtesy of Craig Guttau, used with permission
Salisbury Bridge in Meeker County. Photo taken in December 2010
Salisbury Bridge in Meeker County. Photo taken in December 2010

The engineer behind the construction of the bridges- each being built in 1911 shortly before the standardized truss designs were implemented- used light steel, supported by thick gusset plates as seen in the pictures below:



Also noticeable were the diagonal outer beams supporting the trusses  to ensure that the trusses remained stable when the cars crossed them. This unusual contraption leads the historian to believe that despite the building date being 1911, that the truss bridges consisted of parts from an even bigger truss bridge or larger building that had existed. It was not rare to have truss bridges constructed using steel parts from old buildings, as is seen today with the bowstring arch bridges at Kent Park in Johnson County as well as the ones built in 1945-6 in Crawford County– both in Iowa. All of them are still in service serving light weight traffic. This is even more noticeable as the connections seemed to be welded together instead of pin-connected or even riveted.

Sadly, both bridges are long gone. As you can see in the links, one bridge over the slough portion of the Maple River south of Mapleton was replaced in 1978, the other east of Amboy spanning Rice Creekwas replaced in 1980. Still a lot of mysteries are left over from the bridges- namely who built the bridges and how were they built. Even more curious is whether the construction date of 1911 for both bridges were given by the bridge inventory or if they were relocated or reassembled at an unknown time.

Any ideas? Put them here in the contact form and we’ll add them to the database in the website, where the bridges are posted. More Blue Earth County bridges will come later on, as the numbers are huge and many bridges have a history of their own.

Happy Bridgehunting and researching! 🙂

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 59: An Undiscovered Waddell Truss

Photos courtesy of MnDOT
Photos courtesy of MnDOT

History sometimes has its doubts, especially when it comes to historic bridge inventories conducted by state and national governments. According to sources by the Minnesota Historic Society and the Minnesota Department of Transportation, there was supposed to be one kingpost truss bridge remaining in the state- the one located at Schoneman Park, south of Interstate 90 on US Hwy. 75 in Luverne, in Rock County (click here to view the photos).

But did you know that there is ANOTHER kingpost truss bridge, a design similar to the Schoneman Park Bridge in Clearwater County?  According to a discovery made by the Inspection Unit of MnDOT recently, there is.  The bridge is located over the Clearwater River, ten miles west of the Bagley Lake State Preserve and six miles east of nearby Gronvich, and features Waddell pony truss, with welded connections and a 10° angled outer wing on each side. The truss design was patented by J.A.L. Waddell but there are only a handful of these trusses left, including two through trusses (one in Kansas and one in Louisiana) and now two in Minnesota. The bridge is 37 feet long, and even though there was no date on the construction of the bridge, it is possible that the bridge was built between 1905 and 1910, possibly by the Hewett family. The reason: The bridge is nearly identical to the one in Luverne with only a few minor exceptions. This includes the length difference as well as the riveted connections on the top portion of the one at Schoneman.

The bridge has been bypassed by a new crossing, but it is now privately owned, an example of a farmowner’s willingness to keep a piece of history for private use. Despite this success, some more information is needed as to when it was exactly built and by whom. While the information in the website, it is based on the national bridge inventory page, and more research is needed to determine whether the construction date is correct. Furthermore, it is unknown whether Hewett built this or if another bridge company contributed to the work.

If you know more about this bridge (a.k.a. Bridge L 1297), please contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles, using the contact details below. The information will be updated in the website along with photos you wish to contribute. Some photos can be found here as well as in the website as well.  Best of luck in finding some information and stories pertaining to this bridge. 🙂


Many thanks to Pete Wilson at MnDOT for the discovery and the information/ photos.

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Film Feature: The Building of the Fehmarn Bridge in Germany

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In the past 5-7 years, we have seen an increase in the number of films and documentaries that were either produced by public TV stations for live viewing, or had been produced years back but were recently discovered and posted on several video platforms, among them, YouTube. Many of them feature structures that are well known on a regional scale but not as well-known on a national or even international scale. Therefore, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will feature a Film Feature looking at the structure, either in terms of construction and/or significance or in some cases, disaster which engineers can learn from. Most of these film features will be placed under the page Literature of the Week under the subcategory Films and Documentaries, although a separate page is being considered, should the Film Feature receive numerous views and other accolades.


While digging up some information on ways to save this bridge, I came across a documentary produced over 50 years ago on this important crossing. The Fehmarn Bridge connects Germany with Fehmarn Island and is part of the Migratory Route connecting Hamburg and Copenhagen. Built in 1963, the bridge was the first one in the world that used a now-very common construction type- the basket handle tied-arch bridge. The bridge is one of two major centerpieces at the center of one of the biggest controversies in Europe, where the German Railways, German Government and the Danish Government are pushing for two tunnels and an expressway through the island of Fehmarn. However, the plan has been met with stiff opposition from politicians, locals, evnironmentalists and even bridge enthusiasts. More on the story can be found by clicking on the links below:

The Fight to Save Fehmarn Island from Progress (Flensburg Files)

Fehmarn Bridge (The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles)

But if there was another reason why such a project should be reconsidered has to do with the motive behind building the Fehmarn Bridge in the first place. The bridge was supposed to provide a key link to the island with the option of including ferry service from the island to Denmark, yet as small and environmentally sensitive as the island is, the roadway was reduced to only two lanes- the railroad line, only one track. It took 5-6 years to construct this important crossing, and this with all the factors involved: weather, wave currents and environmental factors which led to some careful efforts to build a structure that will last, but will little impact on the island. Here’s the 48-minute documentary looking at the construction of the bridge from start to finish. Even though the language of the film is in German, the film and photos speak more volumes than what is mentioned.

Viel Spaß beim Anschauen des Filmes! 🙂

To conclude this film feature, I would like to show you another film of the train trip to Fehmarn Island via Fehmarn Bridge. By even looking ahead towards the bridge and crossing it, it gives vacationers like me another incentive to visit the island. For many, it would be a first time to explore this place of beauty. For those like me, it would be a second at least, loving the island and the bridge more than the first time. 🙂

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Wagon Wheel Bridge Damaged by Fire

West entrance to the bridge. Photo taken during the 2013 Historic Bridge Weekend.

Fire damages east approach span. Investigation ongoing.

BOONE, IOWA- Law enforement authorities are investigating a possible arson, which occurred on the Wagon Wheel Bridge most recently. According to reports from multiple sources, the fire was reported by Union Pacific Railroad on Sunday night at 11:00pm at the eastern end of the bridge. While the fire was brought under control and no damage was done to the multiple span truss bridge, the eastern approach spans were charred, prompting county officials to remove the spans. The bridge has since been closed off to pedestrians and cyclists with its future in limbo. Any information pertaining to possible arson should be directed to law enforcement officials in Boone as soon as possible.

The Wagon Wheel Bridge, built in 1910 by the Iowa Bridge Company in Des Moines, has seen its best and worst times, the latter occurring within the past eight years. Damage was sustained by high water in 2008 when sections of the eastern approach spans were washed away during the worst flooding since 1993.  Attempts were made to pass a referendum in 2010, calling for a new structure to be built in place of the vintage structure, only to fall on deaf ears by a vast majority. Two floods later, the structure had been still been standing in tact with new decking added to the entire 710 foot bridge. Even an idea of having a memorial at the bridge site, dedicated to Kathlynn Shepard was brought up in 2013. This was in addition to having two bills passed to make kidnapping a felony and increase the age of the vicitims of such crimes to 15 years of age (instead of 12). More on the efforts can be seen through Kathlynn’s Hope facebook site.  Homage was paid to the bridge through the Historic Bridge Weekend that same year, where 20 people from all over the US attended the event, with Pam Schwartz of the Boone County Historic Society providing the guided tour of that and other bridges- many in connection with the famous Kate Shelley story (click here for details).

With the eastern approach spans removed, attempts are being made to restore the bridge to its original glory. This includes providing new decking that will not be vulnerable to fires. But also the need for repairing the truss parts and stabilizing the cylinder piers are there. All of this is part of the plan to use the bridge as a centerpiece of a bike trail to connect Boone and Odgen with a possibility to connect with the trails in Des Moines. Already, a facebook page has been launched with over 1440 likes on there. The main goal is to raise enough funds to realize the project. Repairs are estimated to be betwene $700,000 and $1m. But the race against time is underway. While the bridge is fenced off to all traffic with the eastern approach spans are removed, consideration is being taken to remove the entire structure for safety reasons. This is being met with solid opposition from locals, the state and other members favoring the preservation of the bridge becaus of its connection with the city’s history. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1998 and any plans to alter, replace, or remove the bridge will require approval and survey, which could take time and money to take. With the love towards the bridge being as high as it was when the referendum failed in 2010, many paths to Rome will be built to ensure that the historic bridge will be saved from becoming scrap metal, even if it means spending more to rehabilitate the structure and make it part of the city’s history and bike trail network. It is more of the question of the availability of resources and effort to undertake this mission. If new decking was added after 2010 with no problems, and looking at the success with Sutliff Bridge, another multiple span truss bridge, people will more likely look at ways to make this project bear fruit.

The Bridgehunter’s Chroncles will keep you posted on the latest on the Wagon Wheel Bridge. Please click on the highlighted links to take a look at the stories written about this bridge and other items. Join the group saving the bridge on facebook and get in touch with them if you are willing to provide some ideas and help to restoring the bridge.


Oblique view of the longest span. Photo taken in 2010
View of the east approach. This is where the fire took place recently. The photo had been taken in 2013.

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 58: Bridges and Lions

Photos taken by the author in July 2015
Photos taken by the author in July 2015

We have read in the news recently of the senseless killing of a popular lion in Zimbabwe and the government’s attempts to seek an extradition of the now defamed poacher- a dentist in Minnesota. And while this heinous criminal act will put a cherry on a cake of a tall pile of convictions of illegal hunting and harassment charges, thus keeping even the US presidential candidate Jeb Bush and his family of Bushes from imposing the American Exceptionalism immunity rule, another story worth looking at but has been ignored up to now is unfolding in the German capital of Berlin. This time it has to do with lions and bridges.

Located over a small pond at Tiergarten, near the Siegesäule Tower, the origin of this suspension bridge comes from St. Petersburg in Russia, where architect Christian Friedrich Tieck was impressed with the construction of the bridge: wire-cables suspanded by the towers whose finials featured statues of lions. Tieck decided to replicate the bridge in Berlin. Together with engineer Ludwig Ferdinand Hesse and artist Christian Daniel Rauch, Tieck constructed the bridge in 1838. The bridge features four lions, one on each end facing the opposite river bank, holding the main wire cables, whose vertical suspenders support the wooden deck. For over 160 years, this bridge used to serve pedestrians and cyclists going through the park.

Until most recently, that is…..

During my trip to Berlin recently, I took an opportunity to visit the Tiergarten and find some historic bridges in the area. Covering over 210 hectares of space from Brandenburg Gate to the main rail line going through Berlin Zoo Garden Station- about the same size as Central Park in New York City, the park features a palace (Bellevue), one of the largest and most popular zoos in Germany, a gallery of vintage gas-powered lanterns (a separate article through the Flensburg Files is in the making), and many 19th century iron bridges scattered all over the park. One of the bridges on my list of places to visit was this bridge, carrying the official name of The Bridge of Lions.  After spending over a hour looking for it, I finally found the bridge- or what is left of it. 😦

IMGP7603 LB4 LB3

As you can see in the photos and the YouTube video (click here), the towers are still standing, the lion still has the cable anchor in his mouth, but the wire cables and the decking are gone- completely! What exactly happened to the bridge?  Two theories come to mind: Either someone set fire to the deck or vandalized it to a point where it was irreparable or the deck was willfully removed by the City because of its condition. In either case, there is a reason for the bridge not existing anymore which has not been fully clarified as of present. The one variable that appears to be clear is this: With permanent railings on both sides of the bridge’s portals, there are no plans to rebuild the bridge. It is such a shame, given the fact that the bridge is considered a National Landmark by the German Heritage Office (Denkmalschutzamt). Yet with as little money as Berlin seems to have available- as 90% of it is being diverted to the infamous project to construct the Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport, the airport that should have opened in 2009 but will not open officially before 2020- restoration projects like this one are being put to the wayside indefinitely, causing many to wonder what priorities the City has exactly.


This means that the Bridge of Lions will still hold the wireless anchors for a very long time, while there is no way to meet in the middle, but see each other from the banks of the pond. But why? Why this senseless removal? And are there any plans to restore it in the near future?

Post your comments here or on the Chronicles’ facebook page, and we’ll see if there is enough support to at least save the dignity of these lions. After all, lions are the king of the animal kingdom and they deserve to be treated with as much dignity and respect as the one that was senselessly slaughtered by a poacher whose excuses will never compensate for what had happened.

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