Endangered TRUSS: W Avenue Bridge in Tama County, Iowa

This bridge is part of a series dedicated to the works of the late James Cooper and J.R. Manning. All photos here are courtesy of the latter, who visited the bridge in 2013.

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Eagle Center, Iowa- All it takes is a quick turn onto a gravel road and it all goes down hill from there. All the way to the end and you will find this hidden gem. You cannot drive your car over it because it is too fragil. Hence the barriers and signs saying road closed. Yet you can walk or even bike across if you are careful. The bridge is a through truss, with typical truss design and portals- Pratt and Lattice with heels. You don’t know about this bridge except for its metalic beauty, yet the construction of the bridge corresponds to the history of bridge building during the Gilded Ages- 1870 to 1910. You wonder what can be done to keep the bridge in tact because the structure appears stable and look into ideas on how to keep it in place, even though the road is less traveled and it is hidden in areas often ignored by motorists passing by.

And this is the story behind the W-Avenue Bridge in Tama County, Iowa. Tama County has a diverse collection of truss bridges like this one, most of which can be found along Wolf Creek. Yet this one sticks out as a bridge that has a potential for reuse, even in its current location. There is not much to talk about the structure. The bridge is a typical Pratt through truss with pinned connections built after the turn of the century. It was built in 1903 by George E. King, son of Zenas King who operated his business in Cleveland, Ohio, yet the younger King had established his business in Des Moines and populated the state with bridges with his own signature portal bracings (Howe lattice with subdivided heels). The bridge had a simple life, serving local residents and farmers………

…….until its closure in 2011.

We don’t know the underlying reason behind the bridge suddenly being closed to traffic except for some inspection reports from bridge firms specialized in modern bridges, like Schuck and Britson with its lopsided report on the Cascade Bridge in Burlington, which led to its closure in 2008. Such biased reports and scare tactics are common but following them like lambs to the slaughter house makes structures like this one be dangerous, when in all reality, the bridge is simply fine. Just a few minor repairs and extra special care and the structure would have remained open today.

Or is it closed?

During his visit in 2013, J.R. Manning took a chance to visit the bridge and saw that even though the bridge was out, according to the sign, it was anything but that with missing boulders, signs knocked over and the like. Some of his observations showed that the bridge was in relatively good shape and one could just have simply put a weight limit on the bridge to keep the trucks off of it. The decking was covered in asphalt and there was no real structural issues that would have justified its closure. In other words, the bridge could have taken a few more years of traffic, assuming that cars cross this location which were rare on this stretch of quiet road

Three years later, new barriers were put into place, but one can walk across it, take some pictures and enjoy the scenery that surrounds the bridge, given the fact that it’s tucked away in the valley. Today, the road to the bridge is all covered in grass but the bridge is safe and sound, hidden away and unused except by the local farm nearby. It makes a person wonder whether the bridge will remain as is given its condition or if it will be reused elsewhere. In any case if it remains where it is, it will make for a good bike trail crossing or park. It’s a matter of sprucing it up and making it safe for use. But given its location, it should not be a problem to spend a few thousand for that.

Whether the people will use it or not depends on the will to spend some time down there. The bridge may be out but it’s still in use for those who want to spend time in the nature, along a quiet creek like Wolf Creek…

…. and think about things in peace. ❤

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