BHC Pic of the Week Nr. 146: Tribute to James Baughn

Photo taken by James Baughn
This is our 151st Mystery Bridge as well!

This week’s Pic of the Week James Baughn series takes us to Osage City and this unusual railroad bridge. The Osage City Railroad Bridge spans the Osage River in the town of Osage City at the site where Water Street is located on the west bank. The bridge features from west to east: one pony plate girder span, one riveted Pratt through truss bridge with vertical endposts and heel portal braces, and five pony plate girders. It is unknown when the bridge was built, yet records indicate that the this span was built reusing parts from a previous bridge. There are two reasons behind it- one that is physically present and one that is theoretical. The practical point falls in line with the through truss span. Judging by the connections between the endpost and the upper chords, it appears this bridge span was imported from another bridge- a rather large one, be it a swing bridge bascule bridge, or a deck truss bridge. The reasons are that the markings indicate that a truss span was cut out of the bridge and imported to this location to serve as high-clearance span and encourage ships to pass under that span. This would have to have been done as the river bed of the Osage River was at its lowest below the water level.

The theoretical standpoint of having a patchwork bridge span may have come by the owner’s pursuit of reusing spans from another bridge in order to cut costs of building a new span. That story takes us to the Booneville Railroad Bridge, which spans the Missouri River and features a vertical lift span. That bridge used to belong to Union Pacific Railroad (UP) which had purchased the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (a.k.a. KATY Lines) in 1988 after it went out of business. Before UP’s purchase of KATY, an agreement was made with the State of Missouri a year earlier to designate the entire line into a state park trail and the Booneville Bridge was part of the incorporation plans. Unfortunately, UP wanted to demolish the vertical lift span and take the five spans to Osage City for use at the crossing. After the plan was announced in 2004, and the Department of Natural Resources ceded ownership of the bridge to UP, Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon sued the DNR and later UP for breaching the 1987 agreement. At the same time, a preservation group was formed, and the bridge was ultimately spared demolition. UP backed off from the bridge and decided to pursue another unused bridge for reuse, hence this truss span.

It is obvious that the truss span at the Osage City crossing came from another bridge. The question is when was this patchwork bridge built? And why was it built?

The irony behind the Osage City Bridge is that UP did build a brand new bridge alongside the truss span and the line is now two-tracked, meaning this patchwork bridge now has one way traffic. This happened in 2014. As UP was working to expand its network and cutomers, the modernization and widening of the tracks were a necessity to compete with the likes of Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Norfolk & Southern, Canadian Pacific and Southern Pacific, though I would give UP credit for its attempts of reusing the truss bridges for cost-cutting purposes. Not every bridge that is over a century old means it’s the end of the road and it must be demolished.  This is something that the likes of BNSF should consider, especially as they’re pursuing the demolition of a prized piece of historic artwork in Bismarck, North Dakota.

I bet Ralph Mojeski is turning over multiple times in his grave for that.

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