Truss Bridge with an A: A Look at the Difference Between the Lane and the Miller-Borcherding Truss Design

Buffalo Ridge Road Bridge in Franklin Co., Missouri (replaced in 1999). Source: Missouri DOT

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Imagine this scenario: You have a rail line that is abandoned but not before leaving in the rail ties and rail track. You have a pair of abandoned railroad cars, one of which used to be a dining car while the other used to be a loading bed for logs. And your town needs a new bridge because the old one collapsed during a flood. Your town doesn’t have enough money to build a super, duper new concrete bridge. Your replacement bridge must be 40 feet long. How would you create your make-shift bridge?

Crab Run Lane Truss Bridge near McDowell, Virginia. Source: C. Hanchey

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This was the question that two of the bridge builders had when they were finding ways to recycle steel and wood for a unique bridge design of their own. Daniel Lane, who later established the Lane Bridge Company in New York, and the bridge building firm of Miller & Borcherding, based in St. Louis, were not quite well-known bridge builders in the US in comparison with the likes of Wrought Iron Bridge and the King family in Ohio, let alone the bridge builders from the Minneapolis school. However the designers found a creative, but also affordable way to design truss bridges, using recycled materials such as steel parts, wiring and wood.

Ward & Teslow Bridge in Winneshiek Co., Iowa. Example of a Warren truss bridge. Source: J. Smith

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Using the Warren truss design, with its W-shaped pattern as a motif, they came up with a unique design with a three-panel truss span, where the center panel features the A-frame. The difference is how the outer panels are constructed and how the diagonal beams are constructed.

Keeney Settlement Bridge near Cuyler, New York. Source: C. Gehman

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The Lane Truss

Daniel Lane, who was the proprietor of the Lane Bridge Works Company developed the truss design using old railroad and trolley tracks. Between 1890 and 1901 the bridge company constructed single span Howe truss bridge designs, using old rails which were reformed and clamped together by bolts that were once used for laying the track. These rods were to represent the upper and lower chord of the design, pinned together by nuts and bolts by just simply inserting the bolts through the rails and screwing the nut on afterward. This made the disassembling and reassembling of the truss design a lot easier.  This design was to be a Howe truss configuration but with three panels with the center span consisting of an A-frame design. Many of the trusses constructed during Lane’s tenure were no longer than 100 ft. in length. 

While many of these Lane pony trusses became popular at the turn of the century, one can only find four existing Lane trusses today: a 30 ft. long structure near Mc Dowell, Virginia built in 1896 and christened the Crab Run Bridge, the 90 ft. long Park’s Gap Bridge near Martinsburg, West Virginia, which built two years earlier, the Bonnie Branch Bridge in Howard County, Maryland and lastly, the Keeney Settlement Bridge in Cuyler, New York. The Crab Run and Keeney Settlement Bridges have been restored and repurposed for recreational use, while the Bonnie Branch is open for private use. Park’s Gap Bridge is still in use but features a three-layered Queenpost truss design with a Lane truss in the central panel. The company itself dissolved sometime after 1903, according to the Darnell Bridge Builder catalogue yet there is little information on both the company and Mr. Lane himself.

Portal view of the Hargrove Bridge in Butler Co., Missouri Source: J. Baughn

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The Miller-Borcherding Truss:

While the Lane truss bridge was phased out after 1901, another company in Missouri, the Miller and Borcherding Bridge Builders of St. Louis altered the Lane and made it sturdier but easier to   disassemble and re-assemble. The company featured two different bridge builders- R.L. Miller, who had established a bridge building company in 1888, and Louis Borcherding, a German-born engineer whose firm merged with Millers in 1915 but lasted only two years. The Miller-Borcherding truss was developed using the remnants of the Lane truss. The Lane truss was altered by adding vertical beams which start at the lower chord and vertical post and end at the center of the end post at a 90° angle. Unlike the Lane truss, the Miller-Borcherding trusses design were fabricated using steel, just like with the original designs of the Pratt, Warren, and Howe designs that were being constructed during this time, and the joints were riveted, meaning the beams could be slid and molded together.  

Most of these bridges were constructed during the 1910s and 20s in Missouri, with many of them located in Butler County. Five of them were reportedly built, yet only one of them still exists to this day- an unusual 219-ft. two-span structure supported by a steel tower in the middle of the river west of Poplar Bluff, also known as the Hargrove Bridge. Built in 1917, the bridge was restored in 1999 and continues to serve traffic to this day. It is one of the most unique of the Miller-Borcherding truss bridges that can be found. All in all, a total of three bridges of its kind can be found today, counting the Hargrove Bridge. The Logan Creek Bridge in Callaway County is the oldest of the Miller-Borcherding trusses with a build date of 1911. This was perhaps the prototype that was built. It is abandoned. The Slagle Creek Bridge in Bollinger County is the last single span truss bridge in use. Another bridge in Cape Girardeau County was replaced yet the trusses were last seen leaning on the barn awaiting its fate.  

Cane Creek Bridge in Butler County, Missouri (now extant). Source: J. Baughn

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Fazit:

While there were other truss designs that were developed or even modified with the purpose of using recycled materials, the Miller-Borcherding and the Lane trusses represent a more common example of this type of trend. With bridge building firms in fierce competition, combined with the rise in the price of steel, regions with a dense population but with enough financial resources were able to take advantage of the offers provided by them and were greeted with sturdy but sometimes fancy truss spans, using designs that were becoming more and more common for use: Pratt, Warren, Pennsylvania, Parker and Baltimore. The regions with a sparse population and with that, the lack of financial resources, were forced to either go with cheaper offers by smaller, less known bridge firms or had to resort with recycling the materials to be used for crossings. Both of these were done through local firms that only existed for a short period of time because of the competition. Yet these were the firms that designed and patented the bridge design for the purpose of making a crossing that is affordable to build and easier to disassemble and reassemble elsewhere. 

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Parks Gap Bridge in West Virginia. Source: Sewing Taylor (wikiCommons)

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The idea of disassembling and reassembling trusses was later adapted with the introduction of standardized trusses beginning in 1910 with riveted connections. Yet the shortage of steel during the two World Wars and a Great Depression in between also led to the pinned-connected truss spans to be reused elsewhere on roads that were less traveled.  In any case, the idea of recycling materials was kept but at the cost of creativity as seen with the two truss designs presented here. The Miller-Borcherding and Lane Trusses represent one of the last examples of truss designs where creativity but with less use of materials, like steel, came together like bread and butter. And in today’s world of bridge building, both are left aside in the name of functionality, the mentality most engineers have, to ensure a crossing carries a road from point A to point B.