An Interview with John Marvig

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Photo of John Marvig in front of the (now extant) Wagon Wheel Bridge in Boone County, Iowa

When we think of historic bridges, we think of roadway bridges built of metal or stone, having truss, arch, suspension or beam designs, each of which has a well-documented history pertaining to the date of construction and the builders, as well as its significance to the community and infrastructure. It is rare to find history of railroad bridges that had made a different in a community…..

….that is unless you are John Marvig.

Since his 6th grade year, Marvig has been travelling the Midwestern US, photographing and documenting historic and modern railroad bridges for his website. Since its inauguration in 2011, the website has over 1200 bridges, big and small, covering eleven states and counting. The secret to the Chaska (Minnesota) native’s success as a railroad bridge photographer and writer I wanted to find out through this interview, as Marvig won the 2016 Ammann Awards for Lifetime Achievement, the youngest person to ever have received this distinction. Here are some Q&As conducted with this now sophomore at Iowa State University, majoring in Civil Engineering:

BHC: What got you interested in historic bridges; in particular, railroad bridges?

Marvig: When I was a kid, there was a bridge on I-494 in South Saint Paul known as the Wakota Bridge. That old tied arch structure always interested me, and I always took note when we drove to my grandparents farm in Wisconsin. Along the way, there were a number of other bridges I would take notice of from a young age. When I was younger, I had also wanted a model railroad. One thing led to another, and I would be taking pictures of a local railroad bridge by the fall of my 6th grade year. It grew from there, and became a full blown passion (or obsession, depending on how you look at it). Another bridge, an old railroad swing bridge located in my hometown of Chaska was always fascinating to me, since it only continued to exist in memory. Seeing the history that was lost really encouraged me to peruse my passion.

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North Redwood Railroad Bridge. Photos taken by John Marvig and avbailable via website.

BHC: What got you interested in historic bridges; in particular, railroad bridges?

Marvig: Creating my website was an idea that was formulated in a 7th grade technology class where we learned basic coding. John Weeks runs a website with numerous bridge photos on it, which also captivated my interest. From an early and very basic website to the full blown site it is now, it has steadily grown. I have well over 1000 bridges documented, I am just waiting to get the pages created! The hardest part is coding the pages. I manually code them, instead of using a form which automatically creates the pages (similar to Bridgehunter). This allows me the flexibility to change pages to meet the needs of the specific structure or the intended audience. However, this can be very time consuming. A page I have been working on for the Eads Bridge in Saint Louis took nearly 4 hours from start to finish to create. I continue to anticipate the site growing steadily. I have a waiting list of pages to add of over 350, and that list grows often.

 

BHC: Your focus on your website is railroad bridges. What makes them special in comparison to highway bridges?

Marvig: Railroad bridges, in my opinion, are the pinnacle of American engineering. While highway bridges were not built to carry a heavy load, railroad bridges were constructed to carry a load of many times a typical highway bridge. This results in some bridges that are engineered to perfection. In addition, railroad companies rarely reported construction of bridges and oftentimes did weird things such as relocation of spans. This makes it a unique challenge to document and research these structures.

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Crookston Railroad Bridge.

BHC:  Many railroad companies try to repel photographers and bridgehunters from photographing RR bridges. Why is that and how did you successfully managed to do that?

Marvig: Railroad companies are afraid of the liabilities of people being on their property. I have gotten around this by using public access, asking other landowners or walking along the riverbanks to the structure. My most important goal is to stay safe and set a positive example for others.

 

BHC:  Set a positive example- what examples?

Marvig: Two ways to look at this. The first is safety and to obey the rules. Walking on railroad property or bridges is very dangerous, and I try to use it as a last resort to get to bridges. On my site, I generally make notes of how I got to the bridge so others will hopefully follow that route. The other positive example I like to set is the strive for preservation and passion I demonstrate. I hope this spreads to others and we can see a positive turnaround in bridge preservation.

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Bergfeld Pond Bridge in Dubuque. This span was one of several from the 1868 span over the Mississippi River

BHC:  Did you have any confrontations with landowners accusing you of trespassing or other items? Many bridgehunters have dealt with this problem over the years- yours truly included on many occasions.

Marvig: I have. While I generally find that landowners are more than happy to talk to myself and my father, who often accompanies me on these trips, I have seen some people I hope not to deal with again. I would say 90% of people are nice and usually interested, and oftentimes tell their life story. I have however had instances of some real cranks. I’ve had hunters “accidentally” shoot my direction, I’ve had ladies in trailers yell at me because I’m parked on a public gravel road and I’ve had others claim a public road is theirs. However, a vast majority are some of the nicest people I’ve met; and in a few cases people I’ve kept in contact with.

 

BHC:  Bridge historians, like Eric Delony have often mentioned of railroad companies being very hesitant re. nominating railroad bridges deemed historic on the National Register because of their historic significance. From your experience, is this the case and if so, why is that?

Marvig: This is true. One example is the Redstone Bridge in New Ulm, Minnesota. The railroad has refused to nominate the structure repeatedly, even though the state attempted to get them to. This structure is an 1880 swing span, and one of the oldest known in America. Despite this, if the railroad chooses to demolish it, nobody can do anything about it. Fortunately, the State of Minnesota has said they will not let Canadian pacific demolish the structure, and when it is abandoned it should be preserved.

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Redstone Bridge spanning the Minnesota River in New Ulm.

BHC: Is the Redstone Bridge still in service?

Marvig: Yeah, its part of a spur to a quarry. I’m really hoping it is abandoned soon. With CP not doing well financially, I really hope that we can see a step in preservation made within the next decade

For more on the bridge, please check out the Tour Guide on the Bridges of New Ulm by clicking here. People in New Ulm as well as officials at the State Historic Preservation Office in St. Paul are interested in saving this bridge and nominate it on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

BHC:  What can be done to convince railroad companies to nominate their bridges to the Nat. Reg. as well as restore the bridge for future use? What examples have been mentioned?

Marvig: In my opinion, the only real thing that can be done is to make it worth it for them financially.  If an incentive was offered to a railroad to bypass historic bridges and preserve them, I’m quite sure they would be willing.

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Colfax Railroad Bridge in Wisconsin

BHC: Which RR bridges have you been involved in which has been successfully inducted into the National Register?

Marvig: While I do not believe any of the bridges I’ve helped preserve are listed as a separate listing on the NR, the railroad bridge across Main Street in Carver, MN (about 10 minutes from home) was to be demolished in 2011, but I worked with the city to preserve it. I believe it might be listed as a contributing resource currently.

 

 BHC:  Which RR Bridges you were involved in was converted into a Rails for Trails Crossing?

Marvig: Currently, I have not had any converted to trails. However, the bridge in Carver is eventually scheduled to become a trail. In addition, I’ve been working with the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis to preserve and convert the Short Line Bridge. The Missouri River Bridge in Bismarck is another example of a structure I am working to get preserved for this use.

 

 BHC: Which Railroad Bridge is your all time favorite?

Marvig: It’s hard to determine what my favorite bridge is, as there are a large number of structures I love. The Redstone Bridge in New Ulm, as well as the northwestern bridge in Eau Claire are two of my favorite bridges. These were both built in 1880 and are extremely old examples of rare truss types.

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Chicago and Northwestern Viaduct in Eau Claire, Wisonsin. This quintuple Warren deck truss bridge is now a bike trail crossing.

 

 BHC: If there is a person who is interested in bridge photography, what tips would you give him/her?

Marvig: As for tips for others, I would suggest starting with places you have passion for. If there is a bridge in town that you want to know more about, go take some pictures. Unique and historic bridges are going the way of the dodo bird in the United States, and photography is a form of preservation.

 

 BHC: And what about establishing a website like you have? The last question includes the use of social media, wordpress and the question of making a magazine out of it.

Marvig: To create a website, be prepared to have a large chunk of time taken up. The initial coding is tough, and manually adding pages is a long process. Research is also essential. I think I’ve spent several hundred dollars on research since 2010, as google doesn’t provide all answers. My biggest advice though is to create your website to be expandable. Make sure it has as many features as you want. I have 1200 pages on my site currently, and I’m working on reviewing and adding new features to these pages. It’s a lot easier to correct 12 pages than 1200.

Regarding social media, that isn’t my strong point. However it is essential to be able to reach out to a new audience to educate and inform about historic bridges. When I first started doing bridges in 2009, social media was a rather new invention, and I did not invest time heavily in it. Currently, I spread my message of bridges through both Facebook, and Instagram.

BHC: Thank you for your time for this interview.

Marvig: No problem.

To learn more about his work, click onto his website here. There you can find details of every bridge he’s visited, which includes its history and dimensions, as well as the number of trains crossing it daily (for most crossings). He has updated his website regularly and therefore, it is necessary to visit the site often. Enjoy some railroad facts and figures. 🙂

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Bridges — LIPSTICKMOTO

It’s not a real phobia or anything. I only know this now that I know people who truly do suffer from actual phobias. But, I am really afraid of bridges. My already humming bird fast heart beats faster, palms sweat. Just driving over them is enough to make me quite a bit uncomfortable. But, I […]

via Bridges — LIPSTICKMOTO

Kassberg Bridge to be Rehabilitated

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150-year old historic bridge to be closed until Fall 2019 for renovations.

CHEMNITZ, GERMANY-  When travelling through Chemnitz in central Saxony, one will be amazed by the architecture the city has to offer. Be it from the age of industrialization, the Communist era or even the present, the city has a wide-array to choose from, which will please the eyes of the tourists, making them want to spend time there in the third largest city in the state.  Chemnitz has over 100 historic bridges that are a century old or more, most of them are arch structures made of stone, concrete or a combination of the two. But each one tells a story of how it was built and how it has served the city.

Take for instance, the Karl-Schmidt-Rottluft Bridge, on the west side of the city center. Spanning the Chemnitz River and Fabrikstrasse carrying the Ramp leading to the suburb of Kassberg, this bridge has a character in itself. The dark brown-colored stone arch bridge has been serving traffic for over 150 years, running parallel to the Bierbrücke located just to the north by about 80 meters. The five-span arch bridge features variable sizes of the arches to accomodate the ravine: two of the largest for the river, one of the widest for Fabrikstrasse and the narrowest for pedestrians, all totalling approximately 120 meters- three times as long as the Bierbrücke. The bridge was named after Karl-Schmidt-Rottluft, an expressionist painter during the (inter) war period.

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Despite its services over the year, the City of Chemnitz plans to shut down the bridge beginning in the Spring 2018 allow for extensive rennovations. The 2.8 million Euro project ($4.3 million) will include extensive work on the retaining walls and stairway connecting crossing and Fabrikstrasse below. Furthermore, repairs to the arches and renewing the decking and railings will be in the plans. The State of Saxony provided two million ($3.2 million) for the project as part of the initiative “Bridges in the Future”, which was started in 2015 and is designed to restore many of the state’s historic bridges while replacing many in dire need and beyond repair. The City of Chemnitz needed to cover the rest of the cost. The project is scheduled to be completed by October 2019.

Despite the inconvenience people will have to deal with during the 1.5 year closure, the renovation is a must, based on my many visits since the beginning of this year. Many cracks were showing in the arches and attempts to shore up the spans using concrete made the under half of the arch appear derelict. Furthermore, debris on the stone materials made the bridge in general appear dirty. Then there is the multiple spider webs hanging from the bridge, making the structure really spooky, as seen in the picture below.

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Yet on hindsight, the bridge and the nearby pub, bearing Kassberg’s name, have a unique setting which warrants such a project. While many engineers and planners have evicted owners from their businesses because of new bridges to be built, the planners for this project ensured that this will never happen, especially as the pub crafts its own microbrew, hosts many cultural events and even has a museum focusing on the district. For this bridge, it is a blessing that it will be restored to its natural beauty, while ensuring that it will continue to safely provide services to drivers and pedestrians alike.

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From a historian’s point of view, this bridge warrants more information on its history. If you have some to share, please use the contact details here and write to the author. A tour guide in English will be made available in the next year, in connection with the city’s 875th anniversary celebrations.

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Source: Chemnitz Free Press

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The Wave Is Getting Accolades

 

GLAUCHAU (SAXONY), GERMANY-  It had been once considered an absurd project- a replacement bridge fit for bikers and pedestrians instead of a vehicular bridge. The project was criticized for its delays due to weather and other circuzmstances related to construction. Since June of this year, the Wave, spanning the Zwickauer Mulde River near Wernsdorf, south of Glauchau in western Saxony, has been serving the Mulde bike trail, going south to Zwickau.  Now the Wave is getting its first accolade and is in line for another one. The bridge, consisting of a concrete suspension bridge- whose roadway is draped over the pylons implanted in the riverbed- just recently received the State Engineering Excellence Award from the State of Thuringia.

But why Thuringia, when the bridge is in Saxony?

According to sources from the Free Press, it was simple. The engineering firm that constructed the Wave, originates from Weimar. Setzpfandt Engineering was founded by Gerhard Setzpfandt in 2015, whose engineering career spans over 25 years. Since its opening, the engineering firm has several projects completed to their name with many more on the table. This includes projects in Saxony-Anhalt, Hesse, Thuringia and greater Berlin. Because of its unusual design, which is the first of its kind, the state of Thuringia awarded the prize to the engineering group and with that, the City of Glauchau, even though it is the state’s first award to be given out of state.

I happened to visit The Wave during a bike tour in October and presented a video to show you what the bridge looks like and how it feels walking across the “roadway-style” suspension bridge. Have a look below:

 

 

There will be many more accolades to come for this unique bridge, even if it’s still controversial in the eyes of those who would have preferred a vehicular crossing. But with additional bridge work happening at Schlunzig, that dream will be fulfilled.  The Wave is in the running for another award, the Othmar H. Ammann Awards in the category Best Kept Secret- Individual Bridge. Whether it wins the award depends on the voting process, which will begin in December via the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles.  The Wave is also one of five additional bridges in Glauchau that were added to the city’s tour guide earlier this year, hence the decision to re-enter Glauchau in the Ammann Awards in the category of Bridge Tour Guide. Again, the winner of the awards in that category is dependent on the voting.

More details on who else is in the competition in the six categories will come on December 4th. Stay tuned. 🙂

Source: Chemnitz Free Press

Thought of the Day: Maintenance is Preservation

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This photo was taken by fellow pontist Will Truax which needs no explanation. This sign can be found at the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts, which is a National Historical Site. Albeit not a historic bridge, you can find our more about its history here. This saying applies to all historic places, inlcuding bridges, something that we seem to forget nowadays, in the age of modernization and waste.

Some Food for Thought! 🙂

 

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The Bridges of St. Petersburg, Russia: Your Guide to the 390+ Bridges

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Photos courtesy of Sylvia Quandt

Located at the crossroads between Europe and Russia, St. Petersburg, with a population of over 5.2 million inhabitants and situated in northwestern Russia at the tip of the Golf of Finnland, has had a colorful history- both good and bad- not only in terms of its political history but also in terms of architecture. The city was founded in 1703 as a key port, during the time of Peter the Great. However, it has been a center of international conflicts and culture, for on the one hand, the city was renamed Petrograd and Leningrad during the Soviet Era and had survived an 872-day siege by the Nazis from 1941 until the beginning of 1944. After 1991 when the city was renamed St. Petersburg, it became the cultural capital of Russia and later Europe. Prior to 1918, St. Petersburg had been the capital of Russia, yet at the time of the Bolschevik Revolution and the overthrow of the Czar Nicolas and the Romanov family, the government was relocated to Moscow, which has remained that way ever since.  St. Petersburg has several celebrities that were born there, which included Georg Cantor, Ayn Rand, Boris Spassky, Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, Russia’s current and longest (non-consecutive) serving president since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

But St. Petersburg also has a colorful assortment of bridges, both past and present, that serve the city and its metropolitan area. While many of them span the River Neva, others span smaller tributaries and ravines, making the number of bridges at over 390. This is on par with the number of river and tributary bridges in London, Paris, Pittsburgh and Frankfurt, yet they are a fourth of the number of bridges one can see in metropolises like Hamburg, Berlin and Copenhagen, just to name a few.

During a vacation trip with her husband in October 2017, Sylvia Quandt from the Saxony Police Academy based in Leipzig, Germany, had a chance to get a good fraction of the bridges while on boat, bike or foot. However, other media resources have produced a comprehensive guide to the bridges, at least the most important  that people should visit. Henceforth, like in the tour guide on the bridges in Duluth, this tour guide features multiple links to the bridges in St. Petersburg that people should visit during their stay there. Many of the bridges date as far back as the time of the city’s founding, yet there are many bridges built recently, whose modern taste may appeal the potential legend bridge builder- the future Modjeski, King, Strauss and Ammann. 🙂

You’ll find the links with the details and pictures of the bridges after scrolling past a couple links. Enjoy and don’t forget: a true pontist would plan the first couple days with historic bridges before visiting the rest of the city and its heritage. 😉

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Links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_bridges_in_Saint_Petersburg

https://www.ourworldforyou.com/bridges-waterways-st-petersburg-russia/

https://www.inyourpocket.com/st-petersburg-en/Bridges-of-St.-Petersburg_70590f?&page=2

 

 

 

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 89: Howe Bedstead Truss Bridge in Muscatine

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The 89th mystery bridge takes us back to Iowa and to a town of Muscatine. Located along the Mississippi River, the town of 22,886 inhabitants prides itself on its historic buildings in downtown, the riverfront and the lone LED-lit bridge in the Norman Beckley Bridge, the lone Mississippi River crossing that carries vehicular traffic into Illinois. Natural inhabitant areas, such as areas along the Iowa River and Wildcat Den State Park make the county seat in southeastern Iowa a treat for boaters and drivers alike.

This mystery bridge was discovered by fellow bridgehunter Luke Harden and is located directly in Muscatine. This pony truss span features two Howe designs that have welded connections, with a length totalling not more than 60 feet long. The width is not more than 14 feet. Spanning Geneva Creek west of Issett Avenue, the bridge connects Hilltop Baptist Church on the western bank with a towing company on the eastern bank. According to Harden, the bridge first appeared on a USGS map in 1951 and had been in the middle of farmland prior to the urbanization effect, which followed after 1960.  Yet looking at the rust and the riveted/welded connections of the bridge itself, it is very likely that it was constructed much earlier but at a different location. Estimates of the bridge’s age ranges from between 80 and 110 years old. Many bridge companies in the region constructed these bridges between 1905 and 1925, including the Stupp Brothers Company in St. Louis and the King Bridge Company in Cleveland. Yet there is no real information as to who built this bridge and when. However, a similar bridge exists at a park in Henry County, approximately 40 miles to the southeast. There the bridge build date goes back to 1907 but on a farm road. It was relocated to its present site a decade ago.

This leads us to the question of when this bridge was relocated to its present site and from which place of origin. Also important is when it was constructed, aside from the fact that estimates are narrowed to between 1905 and 1920.

Can you solve this case? Feel free to provide some clues and informatiop. A page where the bridge is located is here, which includes a map.