Author’s Note: For the first time in four years, a literary review is being introduced in the Chronicles. Previously, we had a Book of the Week that had existed from 2013-14, but due to time constraints, it was discontinued. This time we have the Book of the Month, where each bridge piece will be introduced for people to have a look at. You will find this and future pieces on the Chronicles. A page is being created where all the bridge literary pieces will be added, past and present. So without further ado……
Book of the Month: January 2019
The first ever book of the month takes us to the German state of Saxony, and to the community of Schwarzenberg. Located 10 kilometers east of Aue, deep in the Ore Mountains, the community of 23,300 prides itself on its traditional culture and its history for several historic landmarks are located in the old town, which features a castle and church overlooking the deep valley where the rivers Schwarzwasser and Mittweida meet. The town was one of the key hubs for railroads that met from areas high in the mountains. Today only one line exists from Johanngeorgenstadt to Zwickau, passing through this community. And while the mining industry almost no longer exists, other industries have taken over, thus making the city rather attractive.
While many cities in Saxony, such as Dresden, Leipzig and Plauen have prided themselves on their historic bridges because of popularity, no one has ever thought about the fact that a community, such as Schwarzenberg, would have an interesting set of their own.
Enter the Senior Citizens Club Haus Schlossblick in Schwarzenberg and their prized work, Schwarzenberg’s Bridges. The booklet was released in December 2018, with many copies having been sold during the Christmas markets and beyond. Even though the target language in this 53-page booklet is German, the booklet is laden with pictures of Schwarzenberg’s 44 bridges- both past and present- combined with years of research and photo collections all put together and presented in a form of a tour guide. The photos with the bare essential information is enough for people to read up before finding the bridges, especially as they are listed in the order going downstream for every river mentioned, minus the railroad crossings.
The booklet is different to another bridge booklet written in 2014 on the city of Aue. (For more, please click here to view the tour guide). While current pics of the city’s bridges were included, there was mainly text on the history of each of the bridges in the city of 16,000, located at the confluence between the Zwickau Mulde and the Schwarzwasser, as well as along the Flyover, connecting the city with the Autobahn 72. More pics on the previous structures, plus a better selection of information would have perhaps helped.
Going back to the bridges in Schwarzenberg, there are some interesting facts that are presented in the book, some of which will get the reader to visit them while in Germany. Here are the top five:
The Steynerne Bridge (pictured above) is the oldest bridge stilll existing in Schwarzenberg. It is also the narrowest vehicular crossing in the Ore Mountains.
The Topp-Müller-Arch Bridge was the oldest stone arch bridge ever built in Schwarzenberg, dating back to 1539.
Two railroad bridges used to carry a railline through the steep hills underneath the old town. It was bypassed in 1952.
The old railroad arch bridge east of the train station is one of the best examples of a restored historic bridge of its kind.
Each bridge has a medaillon on the railing, signaling the build and replacement dates, plus some of the symbols of the city.
Interesting is the fact that the author included the Markersbach Viaduct in the booklet. While that bridge is only a few kilometers away, it was included in the Chronicles’ tour guide (shown here). Still, the authors believe that it belongs to the Schwarzenberg ensemble, which is considered far fetched but ok. Also included is the Hammerbrücke, a covered bridge located in Lauter, which is three kilometers away.
A map with the location of the bridges in Schwarzenberg can be found below. I did a bike tour in the region on three different occasions and have therefore included photos in all but a couple of the city’s bridges. The rest of the information is from the booklet.
The book on Schwarzenberg’s bridges, which can be bought at the tourist information center upon personal visit for only six Euros, does bring up a question with regards to writing a book on bridges in such a community. While the book with sufficient information and photos on the bridges, like in Schwarzenberg, would be appropriate especially for readers who just want to know a bit on the bridges, the question is whether this book would fit for another community.
Which town would benefit from such a “picture book” with sufficient information?
Feel free to make your top five cities you would like to see a bridge book written on, either by choosing from the Chronicles’ tour guide page or adding some of your own.
My top five cities that deserve such a bridge booklet include: Glauchau, Zwickau, Dresden, Minneapolis and Des Moines. What about yours? Add your thoughts in the comment section.
Pasadena, California: with 138,540 inhabitants and a suburb of Los Angeles, the city is loaded with glamor and glitter, as the rich and famous make their homes there. Streets are lined with tall palm trees and loaded with cars. And there are famous landmarks that make the city the place to see, like the Pasadena Playhouse, the Ambassador Auditorium, Bungalow Heaven, the Rose Bowl (and the site of the Tournament of Roses Parade that takes place on New Year’s Day), and of course, the Colorado Street High Bridge.
While I have yet to see the bridge, along with the other structures in the City of Angels, I was approached by the publisher about doing a review of a book written by author Tavo Olmos on this particular bridge. Looking at the copy received by the folks at Pasadena, I am pleased to inform you that the wish is granted. This part will look at the book, while the next part will feature the interview by the author himself.
The Colorado Street Bridge was one of the most important works of Dr. John Alexander Low Waddell of the Kansas City-based bridge building firm Waddell and Harrington. Before its completion in 1913, Waddell had already garner numerous accolades both in the United States as well as Europe and Asia, due to numerous bridges built during his 20-year career, plus numerous bridge design patents, like the Waddell truss, a subdivided form of the Kingpost truss bridge where there are only two of the through truss type and over a dozen pony truss types left in the country. Waddell designed the arch bridge to make it aesthetically appealing to the city, yet the contract for actually building the bridge went to John Drake Mercereau, for cost-cutting purposes. The nearly 1428-foot long bridge was completed in over a year’s time in December 1913. Waddell would later build many gigantic structures over the next 25 years until his death in 1938.
Because of wear and tear and the fact that it was becoming functionally obsolete (because of the increase in the number and size of traffic), plans were in the making to replace the Colorado Street Bridge, starting with a freeway bridge in 1953 (known as the Arroyo Seco Viaduct), mimicking the design of the bridge. The bridge was closed to traffic in 1989, but on both occasions, citizens of Pasadena petitioned the city to find ways to preserve and restore the structure. After two years of politicking and campaigning, the city council in 1991 passed a resolution, providing millions of dollars in funding to restore the bridge, a process that took a year and a half to complete, from July 1991 until it finally opened to traffic in December 1993.
For those who have little knowledge of how an arch bridge like the Colorado Street Bridge can be restored, this book provides you with the restoration process described in pictures. During the restoration process, Tavo Olmos photographed the entire restoration process, from the start of the project, where the roadway was removed, to the time where the arches were retrofitted to increase its sturdiness and make them earthquake-resistant, to the completed work of widening the decking and adding the ornamental lighting. Much of them were published in the book, published last year as part of the celebrations of the bridge’s 100th birthday. The book features some background information about the bridge and its dimensions, as well as its designer and bridge builder, before looking at the restoration process in pictures and the notes he took that were added in the book. Yet despite the fact that Olmos is a photographer, his book does not just feature photos of the entire restoration process. Articles written by people associated with the bridge and the project itself, which includes Claire Bogaard, the wife of the city mayor Bill Bogaard, members of the city public works, the city engineer and those involved with the project directly. These articles were written in simple terms, describing the restoration process to the public in 2-4 pages that are easy to read and understand, if the reader is interested in knowing more about the restoration process.
Sometimes less is more and simplicity can speak more volumes than complication ever can offer. With the Colorado Street Bridge project, Olmos did not need to describe the process beyond what was shown in the pictures and notes supporting them, giving the reader the visualization of how bridge restoration works both in general if arch bridges are involved, but also in such a tall structure like Pasadena’s beloved icon. For preservationists and interested readers wanting to know how a bridge can be restored, it is highly recommended to buy/order this book, look at the pictures and read the comments from those behind the restoration process.
At 101 years of age, the bridge still lives on, both in pictures as well as in its original form. It is hoped that this book will provide a guidance where the bridge is an example of other bridges of its kind, both big and small, that can be restored if people have the efforts and manpower to conduct it. If not, the book has some history behind the bridge and how it became an integral part of Pasadena’s history.
Author’s Note: Tavo Olmos, whose photos were used for this article, was asked a few questions about the book by the Chronicles. The information from the interview is to follow.
Olmos, Tavo. The Colorado Street Bridge: Restoration Project Photographs 1991-1993 Pasadena, CA: Balcony Press, 2013
As we wrap up the 2013 Ammann and Smith Awards, the author of the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles would like to make a few announcements regarding some changes and other items that will be brand new to the online column for this year. We’ll start off with the Ammann Awards:
Author’s Choice Award or Bridge Bowl?
After receiving an enormous amount of entries this year and having some issues with the voting ballot, the Chronicles will be making some changes in terms of the structure as well as the voting process. Apart from including the category of Tour Guide Award and changing the name of Smith’s Award to Author’s Choice Awards, the dates of the Awards will also change to a certain degree.
While the number of entries for the respective categories will not be limited nor will the deadline for entries be changed, the voting deadline will be pushed back to January 6th, the Day of Epiphany for the 2014 Awards and beyond. That means entries will be accepted throughout November, but you will have a chance to vote on the bridges and/or pontist through Christmas and New Year, so that you have a chance to have a look at the candidates in each category carefully before voting. The changes have already been made in the Ammann Awards page of the Chronicles, which you can see on bar in the home page.
In addition to that, the voting process will change in time for the 2014 Awards. This means that there will be more embrace in 2.0 technology and social networks, enabling voters to interact and vote more quickly and efficiently. This includes (but is not limited to) the usage of facebook, linkedIn and Pininterest, creating videos of the bridge candidates through YouTube and Go Animate to be made available on the ballot, including the ballot on this blog, and making the ballot in Word format more user friendly. In short, more options to vote will mean more participation and less complication. By the time the Awards starts up again in November, a new and improved voting process will take shape. Other suggestions can be brought up either in the comment section or via e-mail.
New RSS Feed
The Chronicles now has a new RSS feed, so that you can subscribe to the page and read it wherever you go. Just click on the orange symbol under Subscription Options and you can receive the page on any computer device. You can also receive an e-mail subscription of the Chronicles. Just click on the envelop symbol in the options and follow the instructions on how to obtain the articles via e-mail. Both RSS feeds are courtesy of FeedBurner, which cooperates with Yahoo and other engines. Other Subscription option symbols will be added in the next weeks, including that of flickr, PinInterest, Google+, LinkedIn, and others. Even the podcast of the Chronicles is being considered for experimental purposes. More information to come as some changes are made there.
New Stuff from the Chronicles:
While it has been experimented, the Chronicles will have more features for you to look at as you read along. For instance, a Glossary page has been set up, which will feature words associated with historic bridges and preservation practices and policies. While it is based on the Preservation ABCs, provided by Preservation in Pink, we will not be going in alphabetical order, but the words will be presented at random and through articles with some examples. While the author has some words to add to the Glossary via articles, you can also help. If you have some words to add to the Glossary, please submit them via e-mail with some examples to help, and they will be posted.
Also new will be the Bridge Tour Page, where articles about regions with a high concentration of bridges will be added, to provide you with an opportunity to plan your trip around visiting these bridges. As you saw in the 2013 Ammann Awards, there are plenty of places to see where you can photograph their bridges in a few hours’ time and still have fun at the beach or hiking in the woods. The Tour page will include regions once populated with historic bridges but are more or less gone- the “Lost Bridges” Tour page. If you know of regions in that category, write to the Chronicles about it and it will be added- along with the pictures, of course. Individual Success Stories and Book/Media of the Month will remain as well.
The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is looking for a few volunteer writers to write about the topics already mentioned here. If you would like to be a Guest Writer and write about some of your bridge topics, please contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles at firstname.lastname@example.org. There’s no obligation as to how often you should write, just as long as the topics you write about are interesting to the readers. Advantage: you can put in your resumé that you did some writing on the side as a way of enhancing your career chances in the fields of journalism, history and preservation.
Run-Off Vote due at Midnight!
To round things off, a reminder that the run-off vote for the Smith’s Awards for Spectacular Bridge Disasters will end this evening at 12:00am Central Time or 7:00am Berlin Time. The winner will be announced tomorrow. The candidates once again are the following:
It has been a few months since writing a review on a bridge book due to many commitments. But this first book review fits nicely with the topic on the Bridges of Lübeck in northern Germany, for it focuses on a landmark that should have been standing, but is no longer extant.
Located 6 kilometers north of the city in the suburb of Kucknitz, the Herrenbrücke has a history that is unique for the region and Europe. Located over the Trave and once hailed as the last bridge over this river before it empties into the Baltic Sea in Travemünde, only ten kilometers away, the Herrenbrücke was the only bridge in Germany that featured two single-leaf bascule bridges per roadway- four single leaf bascule spans all in all! Each span was 70 meters long. The height of the span over the Trave is over 50 meters tall. If one adds the approach spans, the total length of the bridge was over two kilometers. All in all, the Herrenbrücke was the largest bridge in Europe when it was bult in 1963 and opened to traffic at the beginning of 1964. Yet the 1964 span was the second crossing it this site. The very first crossing dates back to 1902 when a two-span swing deck truss bridge, using a Pratt design, was built. It was partially destroyed in a collision with the Swedish ship in 1909 and was rebuilt afterwards. In 1916, the bridge was electrified, allowing streetcars to cross the bridge providing a key connection between Siems and Kucknitz. The service was discontinued in 1958 and three years later, the suburbs and the City of Lübeck signed off on a contract to build the Herrenbrücke. Shortly after the new bridge was open to traffic, the steel truss swing bridge was removed.
But why did the bridge last for such a short time and had to be removed? Rainer Wiedemann, who lived near the bridge, documented the entire history of the bridge in his book, “Die Letzte Klappe: Abschied von der Herrenbrücke” (German for: The Last Word/Span: Farewell to the Herren-Bridge), which was published in 2011 and is available for ordering here. Mr. Wiedemann, who was born and raised in Lübeck and was a school teacher, documented the entire bridge prior to and during the removal process in 2005-06, which included detailed photos of the bridge, research into the bridge’s history (which included records of the bridge construction, old photos and postcards) and interviews with locals, city council members, and people who designed and built the Herren-Tunnel, the replacement of the Herrenbrücke which has been in service since 2005. Through this research, Wiedemann was able to look at the Herrenbrücke from all angles, including the reason why the Herrenbrücke had to be replaced after a short period in operation. The book is comparable with other books that were written about giant, popular crossings, such as the Sydney Harbor Bridge (75th anniversary book published in 2007), the Verrazano-Narrows and Brooklyn Bridges in New York City (former published in 2003, latter in 2013) and the Firth of Tay and Firth of Forth Bridges in the United Kingdom (published in 1991), where several aspects were combined into one- technical, sociological and historical- and formulated in a way where there is an equal balance of photos and text that is simple to understand, and even the reader who is a non-native speaker of German can follow the progress on the bridge’s history from start to finish.
This explains the reason behind the decision of the City of Lübeck and the suburbs to replace the Herrenbrücke with the Herrentunnel, which Wiedemann found substantial amounts of information on the bridge’s problems which dated back to shortly after the opening in 1964. In a nutshell, despite its popularity among its residents within a 20-km radius and beyond, the bridge was nothing but trouble for the city council. Technical problems resulted in a bascule span to not work resulting in a complicated detour. Traffic jams being 5-10 km long. But what doomed the bridge were the amount of cracks and corrosion on the bascule spans as a result of gas emitted from passing ships, weather extremities and salt used on the roadways. Despite undergoing rehabilitation on the bridge in 1981 to strengthen the concrete approaches and sandblast the bascule spans, it only delayed the inevitable, which was decided in 2001 in favor of a tunnel, financed solely by the private sector. Yet the process came at a price: many residents were displaced as their houses at the site of the tunnel were razed. Businesses were bought out, including the ship-builder Flender-Wirft, which was in business for over a century until it was bought by private investors in 2002. Almost immediately after the purchase, diggers and wrecking balls brought down the almost 400 square facility, reducing the warehouses and manufacturing buildings to a pile of rubble. This company was near the site where the 1902 swing bridge was located.
After the Herrentunnel was completed in July 2005, the Herrenbrücke was given its last hurrah on 26 August, 2005 the same time as the opening of the tunnel. Afterwards, it was demolished starting with the removal of the basule spans, then the approach viaduct spans and lastly the abutments and control tower- a process that took over two years to complete. There is almost nothing left of the bridge except for a pair of green cranes that have been placed there.
The author’s title is the subject for debate, depending on how the reader looks at the information. The Letzte Klappe could mean the last span, meaning the bridge stood the test of time, despite all the problems it had, and it stood to the very end, although its life was cut too short. Yet it could mean the last word, meaning the decision was final to get rid of the bridge, even if it was at the expense of more houses and businesses. But from the author’s standpoint, it could also mean the last word in terms of memories of the bridge and the area that is all but a ghost town. Siems and Kucknitz were affected by the bridge in a way that it became a key point that was replaced by the tunnel. But the tunnel came at the price of memories of the bridge and the businesses that once served the communities. As Wiedemann mentioned, Siems is almost non-existent, whereas Kucknitz has not fared better because of the tunnel. But progress can also bring its advantages, and perhaps the tunnel was for the best for commuters and tourists alike. Still to this day, people are trying to cope with the change, which will take getting used to.
And eventually people will adapt to the change, but the memories of the bridge and the region that once existed will remain, even through this book, which has become a must-buy for locals and pontists wanting to know about the Herrenbrücke, its rise and fall, and its legacy that will forever be part of Lübeck’s history as well as that of Schleswig-Holstein’s and Germany’s.
Grade: A+ (1,0)- for a well-detailed work on an iconic landmark that is comparable to other key bridges in Europe and the US. For engineers in Germany, a head-start for learning German! 🙂
There are many ways to write a book on bridges, let alone do a documentary for a TV program. One can focus on one bridge and its history, but that is more for locals who are closely attached to the bridge. One can focus on a region with a handful of bridges, like writing about bridges in a county or district. Again, the main focus would be the locals, but it would draw some attention from other bridge enthusiasts. As the region gets bigger, so do the number of people who are closely tied to the bridges, and the people from outside who are interested in these sturctures.
However, if you want to focus on bridges along the river, like we have here along the Rhine River, this is where one has to be walk a fine line. While documentaries like the one televised by German Public TV Station WDR can draw hundreds of thousands of viewers to the region, one has to be careful that the people do not become bored with each and every single bridge that is documented and told in the language that everyone can simply understand. This does not mean that it is impossible to talk about a tour of bridges along the rivers. The problem is when the length of the rivers are longer and there are more crossings, then one really needs to divide the project into segments dealing with region, history and in a certain degree, importance to the community.
One of the most successful projects is a two-volume book written by a former Iowa teacher, Mary Costello, on the bridges of the Mississippi River. Her book featured sketches of bridges she drew while on tour and some history to each one, yet it was divided unto the bridges along the Lower Mississippi (Gulf of Mexico to Iowa) and the Upper Mississippi (Iowa to Lake Itasca, Minnesota, where the river began). But what about another long river, the Rhine River?
For 1200 kilometers (or 760 miles), the Rhine starts in the Swiss Canton of Grisons in the southeastern part of Switzerland in the Alpine region and makes its way north, forming borders with Liechtenstein and Austria before entering Lake Constance and forming the border with Germany. After Basel, the river creates a border between the Bundesrepublik and France before flowing into Germany after Karlsruhe. After passing through Mannheim, Mainz, and Frankfurt, the river creates a deep gorge which slithers its way from Bingen to Bonn and later through the industrial metropolises of Duesseldorf, Cologne and Leverkusen. After turning west from there, it enters the Netherlands, where after passing through Rotterdam and Utrecht, it creates a delta where the river empties into the North Sea near Katwijk. Nearly 100 bridges cross the Rhine, half of them in Germany. Each of them has a history of its own, not only in terms of its design and construction, but also its involvement in history.
When WDR (an arm of Berlin-based German public TV channel ARD with its branch office in Cologne) produced the two-part documentary on the Rhine River crossings in 2010, it was aware of the fact that it had to narrow its focus to only a few bridges, for each one had its own personal history to it, and the broadcasters there were aware that they could not afford to lose their audience with too many bridges, nor get into conflict with other German public TV stations who could benefit from this experience, like HR, which covers Hesse and Rheinland Palatinate and SWR, which covers the Saarland and Baden Wurttemberg. Therefore, WDR focused its bridge documentary on just the bridges in North Rhine-Westphalia, covering the bridges of Cologne, Duesseldorf and Duisburg.
The End Result?
A two part series where the first part focuses on the historical aspect. The story there starts in 1945 where the Nazis, in a desparate attempt to fend off the Allied Troops that were enchroaching the country, blew up any bridges along the Rhine that were not destroyed. Yet the mission was unsuccessful because of one of the last standing bridges at Remagen, the Ludendorff Railway Bridge, which the Americans captured on 7 March, 1945. Yet the bridge collapsed 10 days later but not before the troops constructed the bridge heads on both sides of the Rhine so that they could construct a pontoon bridge in its place. The original bridge heads were kept in place and is now a memorial.
The bridges laid in ruins together with the cities that were bombed out. Yet, one bridge, the Hollernzollern Bridge was rebuilt, using the through arch spans that were bombed off the piers and were sitting in the Rhine. Originally consisting of two three-span arch bridges, an additional one was added in the 1950s and today is the key link for trains travelling to Frankfurt and points to the east of Cologne Central Station. The Bridge serves as a symbol of love, as the railings are covered with padlocks with signs of love written all over them. Legend has it when lovers meet, the padlock was locked on the fenced railing with the keys thrown into the Rhine.
But the first part also featured a tour of the bridges, inspected by the city engineer on a regular basis to determine how stable the structure is and what repairs are recommended. Marc Neumann, the city engineer serving Cologne provided a tour of the inside portion of the Zoo Bridge in Cologne, one of the most heavily traveled vehicular bridges in Cologne that was built in 1962 and is a box girder bridge, the first built in Germany at that time. Other highway bridges in Cologne have dealt with problems with increased traffic and the city has desperately tried to keep up the pace by constant maintenance of the bridge, as shown with the Severin Bridge, a cable-stayed suspension bridge that was the first post-war modern bridge built over the Rhine in Cologne. The 1959 structure was the focus of structural issues with its stayed cables, which needed to be replaced with the rest of the bridge being painted lime green afterwards. The purpose: to protect the bridge from the salt and other debris that have a potential to make the bridge rust and corrode.
The second part of the series focused on other bridges in the state. Apart from the ones at Remagen, there were many cable-stayed and steel arch bridges that were mentioned in the documentary. While the Theodore Heuss Bridge, built in 1957, was the first cable-stayed suspension bridge built in Germany, there are two bridges are worth mentioning: The Bridge of Solidarity in Duisburg and the Oberkasseler Bridge in Duesseldorf. The Oberkasseler Bridge was built in 1973 replacing an ornamental arch bridge built in 1909 that was structurally deficient. The bridge was built alongside the old structure on the south end and after the old bridge was razed, the entire cable-stayed bridge featuring a set of towers planted in the middle of the roadway, was moved 47.5 meters to the original location of the 1909 bridge, a feat unimaginable for a bridge of that size and length, at 617 meters. The Bridge of Solidarity in Duisburg was built in 1950 replacing a similar bridge built in 1936. Yet the name stamms from a group of protesters who blocked traffic to the bridge to protest the closing of a steel plant nearby. From 10 December, 1987 until 20 January, 1988 the workers walked the picket line on the bridge and the nearby company they had worked, resulting in the state government discussing about the crisis in the steel industry and the bridge being renamed at the request of the protesters. A unique action that one can rarely see today unless one is in southern Europe protesting the European Union’s bailout package with the conditions, as seen in Spain, Greece and Cypern.
The Rhine Bridges in North Rhine-Westphalia are unique in a way that one has to go beyond the appearance of each structure to look at its history, how they were built and rebuilt, and how they are integrated into the lives of the people today. While focusing on safety and history were the key elements of the document series, the report also looked at how the people and their bridges go together, whether it is a person living inside a bridge or if there are musicians performing inside or underneath the bridge- both were found at Zoo Bridge in Cologne. The Rhine bridges in North Rhine-Westphalia, once a pile a rubble because of the war, are now a part of the lives of the residents who use it regularly to get from point A to point B. And even if we are in the post-modern era where sleek modern designs dominate the land and cityscapes, the memories of the bridges, how they looked like in the past and how they look like now will remain in their memories for generations to come.
With this in mind, I would like to close with a couple questions for the forum, and for those interested in producing a thorough and history and culturally enriched documentary similar to what was produced by WDR on the Rhine Bridges of North Rhine-Westphalia. The documentary covered many key points that were important for people to know about bridges, infrastructure, safety, culture and history, giving them some interest and perhaps an incentive to pursue something that is similar to what was shown on TV. But the questions posed here are something different from what was profiled here. Keeping the documentary in mind:
1. How would you do a documentary on bridges along the river? Would you chop the river up into segments or keep it the same? Which aspects would you include?
2. When looking at the documentaries enclosed below (in German), what is your opinion of the documentary? What words of advice would you give to people wanting to do what WDR did with the Rhine? This applies not only to the Rhine itself but other rivers.
3. Which other rivers would you imagine doing a documentary on apart from the Rhine and Mississippi Rivers?
Let’s start the very first Book of the Month for 2013 with a question for the forum:
Can you name a book or literary piece that features a bridge (or bridges) serving as a centerpiece to an even bigger story?
Speaking from a literary critic’s point of view, one of the most successful stories that feature bridges as a centerpiece is the book “The Bridges of Madison County,” by Robert James Waller. Published in 1992, the book was turned into a film three years later and became a smash hit. The Chronicles will summarize both works to compare the plot and sturcture for reasons to be mentioned below.
I was first introduced to the book while living in Germany as an exchange student 13 years ago, but in the German version. It was the first book I read in a language other than English and regardless of which language the book has been translated (it was translated into 50 languages), the book serves as a starting block and should be considered for reading material either in the classroom or in one’s leisure time.
The setting of the book is in Madison County Iowa, where Robert Kincaid, a photographer for the National Geographic, was looking for covered bridges, when he meets Francesca Johnson, a farmer’s wife whose husband and two children left for four days to exhibit their prized stier at the Illinois State Fair, while inquiring about the Roseman Bridge. She leads him to the bridge but after some photo sessions, she invites him to dinner. Robert returns the favor the next day by inviting her to a photo session of the Holliwell Bridge and they eventually opened the door to three days of romance and rediscovery of onesself, the sides of themselves that revealed their true identities in contrast to the ones they were accustomed to. Yet the last day of solitude brought a decision that would change their lives forever- whether Francesca should leave the farm in favor of Robert or if Robert should leave Francesca because of her devotion and love to her farm and family- the climatic conclusion in the story! While Francesca decided to stay put, despite the warning Robert gives him that “…the decision comes but just once in a lifetime,” as stated by Kincaid in the film (played by Clint Eastwood), the book led to discussions among literary critics, sociologists other people alike with the arguments going along the line I’m about to state: Francesca was in the middle of one of the covered bridges, with one side representing her farm, family and the way of life that she was used to, and the other side representing Robert, individualism and the way of life that she could have been. Either decision made would be hedonistic for one side will be hurt effectively, leaving scars, while the other may benefit but she would still suffer from the decision. The only way she could not do is jump from the bridge, for it would lead to questions that both sides would not be able to answer.
The kids, Michael and Caroline do not know about the affair until they went through the papers and other records after Francesca dies. This is where the story stops in the book, which in literary terms has an open plot until the very end, but is extended in the film, which features a closed plot, looking back into the past. In the film, the setting begins with Francesca dying and the children meeting at the farmstead. Both characters (Caroline played by Annie Corley and Michael played by Victor Slezak) have problems with their relationships with their spouses- the former is being cheated on; the latter is incompatible with his wife, Betty- which are exposed as they find the journals written by their mother about the relationship with Robert Kincaid. As they read the journals, they were taken to the past where it all happened as Francesca (played by Meryl Streep) unfolds the story in detail, going from a farmer’s hand on a small farm to one on an adventure with Robert.
While the climax between Robert and Frnacesca was kept in the book, the climax of their portion of the story comes at a park in the middle of the night where each one vents their frustration out about their spouses over a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey, and how the morals taught to them by their parents were put into question by Francesca’s affair with Robert. In the end, as Francesca made her sacrifice in favor of her husband, both Caroline and Michael made decisions to make themselves and their spouses happy, although it was unclear how their relationships would have ended- either redo the relationship with the same person or redo the whole relationship with someone else. The best quote came from Michael, who told his wife Betty (after worrying about him not contacting her) “Do I make you happy, because I want to, all the better.”
The film serves as a compliment to the book and has extended the discussion about happiness among all people associated with the book. While many films, based on literary pieces, either copied the work exactly as it was written, as seen in the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald or dilluted it to alter the meaning stated in the book, as happened in the book The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCollough, which was converted into a two-film series to the dismay of the author and the audience, the Bridges of Madison County was carefully crafted so that not only the story was kept the same but was extended in a way that it kept to the plot, even though the book featured an open plot (where many items were open, waiting to be closed) and a closed plot (where everything is closed and finished and it was just a matter of flashing back to the past). The setting was the same and takes a person back to the 1960s, where rural life was peaceful and moral, families were being established after being off to war (and this was mentioned in many scenes in the story), and rock music was in its infancy, taking over jazz music bit by bit. 57 Chevies ruled the Iowa landscape, even though No Passing Zone signs were not on the roadways just yet. And stories of the past were revealed so that all the characters can take them with, think about what they can do better in life, and share them with their children.
From an educator’s point of view, the Bridges of Madison County belongs to a certain canon dealing with post modern fiction in the period of social crossroads in the 1950s through the 1970s, where American culture suffers its own version of the Big Bang Theory, where tradition and modernism meet and coincide, romance and moral values have new meaning, and where new bridges were built between these two. It definitely will lead to discussion that will leave the classroom and out onto the street. From a historian’s point of view, the Bridges of Madison County has left a mark in the county’s history, which will be seen by many people who visit the region, not just in the forms of the remaining covered bridges that exist, but also the places where the film was shot, and where Waller wrote his piece. The book is a must for those who either has an interest in literature, culture and history or one who has an interest in reading. And if you are learning a foreign language, this book should be one you should read for it is easy to understand and it leads to discussions that can be conducted in a language other than the original English.
Author’s note: I would love to hear from you about this book or any literature that deals with bridges and its plot that people should read, based on the question I asked in the article. Please leave your answers and thoughts either here or in the facebook pages The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles.
Author’s Note: This article serves as a twofold function: 1. It is part of a multiple series on the Historic Bridge Conference, which took place last weekend (21-23 September) in Indiana, where the documentary was shown, and 2. This is the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles’ Book of the Month, but in a form of a DVD and documentary. An interview with Julie Bowers on historic bridge preservation was conducted earlier this year and can be viewed by clicking here.
There seems to be a belief from many people that historic metal truss bridges cannot be restored because the metal used for the structure has outlived its usefulness, and that restoration and/or relocation is either too expensive, outdated, or is not heard of. The last part was in connection with a comment made by a congresswoman in Ohio in May of this year.
Little do these critics realize is that restoration exists for metal truss bridges, and in the case of welding, the profession is making a comeback, as there is an increase in interest in this sort of work. And for the remaining truss bridges that are still standing in the country, this may be a blessing that could buck the trend of eliminating this truss type, especially after the I-35W Bridge Disaster of 2007 in Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA).
Using the Piano Bridge in Texas and the McIntyre Bowstring Arch Bridge in Iowa and with the support of songs by The Grateful Dead, Julie Bowers of Workin Bridges, a non-profit organization that deals with historic bridge restoration, produced a documentary on historic bridge restoration, bringing a profession back from the dead and, with step-by-step demonstrations and easy to explain concepts by the professionals, providing educational opportunities for welders, historians, agencies, bridge enthusiasts and people interested on how to restore a historic bridge.
The DVD starts with the McIntyre Bridge before and after the flood that destroyed the structure in August 2010 with the question of what to do with the structure. While Workin Bridges was in its infancy when this occurred, the organization’s biggest break came with the request from the people in Fayette County, Texas to restore the pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge, built in 1885 by the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio. Together with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) the restoration process started, first by taking the truss bridge off its original foundations, followed by taking it apart, putting rivets on the bridge, using heat to straighten out the eye bars, and doing other work with the parts, before putting the truss bridge together and placing it back on new foundations. The step-by-step process was filmed and photographed, with experts demonstrating to the viewer how these processes work, thus encouraging people to at least look at how restoration works, but with a long range goal of taking up the profession. Welding is an old technology that was developed in the 1800s, went into hibernation for many decades, but is making a comeback in a new form, which is restoring historic places made of metal. Yet for many people, the profession is new and exciting, but should be taken seriously, as it takes time and effort to form and reform structural parts to make a building or bridge look just like new.
Here are some interesting facts about welding that were in the film and are worth noting:
Rivets are more effective than nuts and bolts in a way that they keep the metals intact and ensure that rust and weather extremities do not cause the metal parts to crack. One of the cracked parts discovered on the Piano Bridge led to the structure’s closing and the quest for someone to come and fix it.
Heat stripping is a process of placing the torch on a section of metal, straightening it out with clamps.
The Piano Bridge is made of wrought iron, which has a low heating temperature. Therefore, one needs to be careful not to have heat on a section of metal for a long time or else the material falls apart like wood. This contributed to many structures failing during the Great Chicago Fire on 3 October, 1871, which destroyed 80% of the entire city.
Steel can be welded to wrought iron to ensure its stability for many years, despite claims that it can be bent to a point where it breaks.
Most interesting fact: rehabilitating historic bridges means adding parts to support the structure. It does not mean restoration, as in taking apart and reassembling the structure.
While the welding process was progressing on the Piano Bridge, there were discussions about historic bridges and their fate, especially in connection with the I-35W Bridge Disaster. While many agencies have striven to have certain bridge types eliminated, as well as those that are structurally deficient, including those in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio, for example, other agencies, like TxDOT have worked to find ways to restore historic bridges and/or relocate them for reuse if deemed necessary. It is part of a two-way approach where the costs are analyzed and engineering thought is put in to determine not whether a historic bridge can be restored but how. John Barton of TxDOT denounces the knee-jerk approach to historic bridge replacement, as it has happened in many places, but claims that engineering is a way to address the variables, both systematically and methodologically and should be taken seriously.
The film ends with some example bridges that have either been restored, like the State Street Bridge in Bridgeport, Michigan, or are targets for restoration efforts, like the Long Shoals Bridge in Kansas,the Cascade Bridge in Iowa, and the Enochs Knob Bridge in Missouri, the last two of which are being scheduled for demolition, although Workin Bridges is working to claim the Cascade Bridge to be restored. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will have that article for you as soon as the series on the Historic Bridge Conference in Indiana is finished. But it shows how each bridge could be restored thanks to the demonstrations that were presented in the film.
There are many demonstrations on welding techniques that are either available online or through seminars, like the annual welding seminar offered by Vern Mesler in Michigan. The DVD takes you up close to see how historic bridges can be restored through welding techniques that exist. It provides people with a chance to see how the process works and has the dos and don’ts to welding, let alone to restoring a historic bridge. Furthermore it advocates the need to do restoration work instead of rehabilitation, setting the standards very high for reasons of safety and integrity, while at the same time, restoring the bridge is more cost effective than rehabilitation or replacement.
The video is 47 minutes long and from a teacher’s point of view, if you have a class of students of civil engineering, conservation and restoration or even architecture, it is recommended that they see the film to provide them with a glimpse of the work and to spark their interest in possibly joining the profession, which has been growing since 2008. Chances are likely that at least a quarter of the students in the classroom will be interested in the work. And even if no one is interested in the profession and is only curious about how a bridge is restored, the content of the film is easy to understand and the demonstrations are up front and not too technical. For agencies and politicians who advocate bridge replacement, the DVD provides them with an alternative to demolition, convincing them that restoration is more cost effective and will prolong the life of a bridge for many decades to come.
I would like to end this review with a food for thought involving a question that I posed to many of my students: suppose you have a 120 year old truss bridge that is due for replacement and you have the following choices, which one would you take:
Replace the bridge with a concrete structure
Replace the bridge but leave the truss bridge in tact
Rehabilitate the truss bridge and leave it open to traffic?
Keep in mind the cost analysis for each option, the resources that are available, but most importantly, the interest of the people and their association with the structure. Without the interest, the truss bridge is history. Yet if the interest in saving the bridge is high, then one should look at the resources available and in particular, listen to the public and their suggestions. Chances are one of them may have seen this DVD and knows what he/she is talking about.
The DVD can also be viewed on YouTube, which you can watch below:
Some of us have a sixth sense- when one senses something that will happen in the future in the present and take action to avoid it. Some of us see something that happened and takes measures to save face and avoid further trouble. In this case, it is the latter. Yesterday, I posted the Book of the Month column on Denis Gardner’s book, “Wood, Concrete, Stone and Steel: Minnesota’s Historic Bridges,” encouraging people to read the literature. Early this morning, I received the interview questions from author Denis Gardner himself, which I sent prior to my vacation in Schleswig Holstein two weeks earlier. Contrary to what I wrote about his work, Gardner provides a few answers to my questions from his own point of view, which includes a hint that a book on the history of bridge builders in Minnesota should be on the “To do” List for any author wanting to tackle this project.
Without further ado, here is the interview with the author:
1. BACKGROUND INFORMATION (A SHORT SUMMARY OF YOUR OCCUPATION AND BACKGROUND IN HISTORY):
My B.A. is in history. And, not surprisingly, I never thought I would end up in an occupation with history at its core, but sometimes we get lucky. I also have a Master of Liberal Studies degree.
I was fortunate enough to be hired by a historical consulting firm in Minneapolis that specialized in studying buildings and structures. In other words, the firm frequently was hired by governmental agencies and others to complete studies in areas with cultural resources (buildings, structures, etc.) that may be impacted by a project. For example, if the Minnesota Department of Transportation was completing a road project through a particular community, our firm may be contracted to study the area to determine if there were any historic buildings or structures in the area that may be impacted by the project. Such a study stems from the Historic Preservation Act of 1966, a section of which requires agencies receiving federal funding or federal licensing to discover if their projects negatively affect any properties believed historic—that is, any properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places or any properties eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
Initially, I began working as a researcher for the firm. Over time my role expanded to include surveying and writing as well. Eventually, I wrote many studies on various building and structure types. I also wrote two books that cover these subjects. The first book was Minnesota Treasures: Stories Behind the State’s Historic Places (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2004) and the second was Wood, Concrete, Stone, and Steel: Minnesota’s Historic Bridges (University of Minnesota Press, 2008). In late 2011, I became the National Register Historian in Minnesota, replacing Susan Roth, who retired after occupying the position for many years.
2. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TYPE OF HISTORY THAT YOU ENJOY WRITING AND/OR VISITING? (BRIDGES, WARS, NATIVE AMERICAN, BUILDINGS, OR OTHERS)
It is difficult for me to pick only one type of history as a favorite. I find the subject of history in general fascinating, and I will read just about any historical subject. The field within which I work, however, is that of the built environment (buildings, structures, objects, districts, and sites). My work is intimately tied to the National Register of Historic Places. As a result, much of my reading surrounds this subject. My visits are often to buildings/structures that are either in the National Register or are being considered for listing in the National Register. Still, I enjoy a wide variety of historical subjects and read and visit other things as well when I have the opportunity.
3. HOW DID YOU BECOME INTERESTED IN HISTORIC BRIDGES?
I became interested in bridges many years ago when I began working in the field of architectural history/historic preservation. When I was hired as a researcher for the Minneapolis historical consulting company, the firm was in the middle of completing a statewide bridge survey. The survey came about because the Minnesota Department of Transportation needed to know which bridges on Minnesota roadways were eligible for listing in the National Register. For Mn/DOT, knowing this allowed the agency to plan ahead, to recognize in advance which bridges were historic via National Register standards and which ones were not. During my first six months at the consulting company I spent every other week on the road traveling about the state, visiting county and state highway departments, local historical societies and libraries, county courthouses, and wherever else research on bridges guided me. I became quite fond of bridges.
. 4. YOU MENTIONED IN YOUR BOOK THAT THERE WERE TWO OTHER HISTORIANS (ROISE AND HESS) WHO WANTED TO WRITE ABOUT MINNESOTA’S HISTORIC BRIDGES BUT DECIDED AGAINST IT BECAUSE OF CONFLICTS. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO PURSUE THIS PROJECT? WHAT WERE YOUR MOTIVES?
In truth, there is another historian that I thought might write the book, Robert Frame III. Frame, like Jeffrey Hess and Charlene Roise, was one of the first to study Minnesota’s bridging history in depth.
Author’s Note: Frame wrote at least three reports on historic bridges in Minnesota including a comprehensive report in 1985 which focused on all bridges built prior to World War II, most of them being metal truss bridges whose history was brought to the interest of many people working with historic bridge preservation.
After completing my first book, and concluding that someone else was probably not going to write a Minnesota bridge book anytime soon, I decided that I would write it. Doing it almost immediately after the first book seemed a good idea since I was still in the book-writing mode—I thought that if I did not do it then, I may never get to it.
5. IT IS SOMETIMES UNUSUAL FOR FAMILY MEMBERS TO BE INVOLVED IN A BRIDGE PROJECT. WHY WERE YOUR MOTHER AND BROTHER INVOLVED?
My mother was only involved to the extent that she liked traveling around and seeing things. So, when I was completing the photography on bridges—running around the state—she often was a companion. Like myself, my brother enjoys photography. As it was going to be difficult for me to get all of the bridges photographed in the allotted time period, I asked if he would be interested in completing some of the photography.
6. WHY DID YOU STRUCTURE THE BOOK THE WAY YOU DID- BASED ON THE MATERIALS USED AND IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER?
Simply put, it seemed the logical way to parcel the book. Bridges evolved largely according to the material used to build them—wood and stone bridges came first, then metal bridges (first iron and then steel), and then reinforced-concrete bridges. By dividing the book in this way I could provide a mostly chronological history.
7. HOW DID THE USAGE OF MATERIALS INFLUENCE THE DEVELOPMENT OF BRIDGE TYPES (TRUSS, SUSPENSION, ETC.)?
Wood bridges always suffer from the fact that wood does not last as long as other materials. As a result, wood bridges are frequently replaced with bridges made from another material. Stone bridges may last a very long time, but are exceedingly expensive and labor intensive. It is extremely doubtful that we will ever see another large stone arch bridge. We may never see another small one, at least in Minnesota.
Metal and reinforced-concrete provided engineers with flexibility. Metal truss bridges supported substantial loads and yet their members (diagonals, verticals, etc.) did not need to be nearly as large and cumbersome as the members for wood bridges. And again, metal bridges generally lasted longer than wood bridges.
As concrete is relatively plastic, this allowed bridge builders to shape bridges, perhaps adding an aesthetic to them that was not available with previous materials. Concrete is very strong in compression but rather weak in tension, so metal reinforcing was introduced into the concrete to ameliorate this problem. All manner of bridges have been built with reinforced concrete: slabs, girders, arches, culverts. With reinforced-concrete a monumental arch bridge could be erected without the labor and expense that comes with building an arch made of stone. The material is so versatile that I don’t envision it falling from favor anytime soon.
As for suspension bridges—I am hardly an expert, but it appears that these have typically been made from metal, although concrete may sometimes encase metal. For example, the girders beneath the deck of the Hennepin Avenue Bridge are steel girders. However, the towers, from which the cables descend that carry the deck, are made of reinforced concrete. Concrete allowed engineers to shape the towers relatively easily into a pleasing form. Very large suspension bridges (such as the Golden Gate) are acted upon by terrific forces. The gales blowing through the bay would likely wreak havoc on bridge reinforced-concrete members that were employed in areas of great tensile stress. I assume that such members would begin to wear and crack in a short period of time.
8. WHEN THE 28 BRIDGE BUILDERS CONSOLIDATED TO CREATE THE AMERICAN BRIDGE COMPANY, THE BRIDGE BUILDERS FROM MINNEAPOLIS (SPECIFICALLY, THE DYNASTIES OF HEWETT, JONES AND BAYNE) FILLED IN THE VACUUM AND BECAME THE COUNTERPART TO AMBC. HOW INFLUENTIAL WERE THEY IN MINNESOTA AND BEYOND IN COMPARISON WITH AMBC?
I hate to admit it, but I cannot truly answer this question. As I note immediately below, we need someone to write the book on Minnesota’s bridge builders. With my bridge book, the focus was chiefly on the bridges themselves. There was discussion of bridge builders, certainly, but it was mostly peripheral to the bridges. The question that you raise is an interesting one, but I simply cannot answer it with confidence. We need more information on the builders.
9. ANOTHER BRIDGE BUILDER, LAWRENCE JOHNSON WAS AN IMMIGRANT FROM FLENSBURG IN PRUSSIA (NOW SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN GERMANY). HOW INFLUENTIAL WAS HE AND IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT CAUSED HIM TO GO INTO POLITICS? (NOTE: IT IS RARE FOR BRIDGE BUILDERS TO BECOME POLITICIANS, OR IS IT?)
Similar to my comment above, I don’t think that I can do justice to this question. I have always felt that the early bridge builders in the Upper Midwest deserved an entire book. We know so little about them, yet they built so much of our infrastructure. Fredric Quivik penned “Montana’s Minneapolis Bridge Builders,” which offers more history on area bridge builders in one source than just about any other source. My assumption is that Johnson was influential, for he was one of these early bridge builders—in truth, it was a rather small fraternity. Am I surprised that he became part of the Minnesota legislature for a spell? Not really. Early Minnesota was littered with personalities that were prominent within their field of expertise. Many of these individuals transferred their skills to politics—at least for a time. It was not uncommon for prominent men within a relatively new community to become representatives in the state legislature. I’m assuming Johnson was a prominent personality within the community or region that he lived. We would know for certain once someone takes on the task of penning a book on Minnesota’s early bridge builders.
Author’s Note: The information in the book was only meant to scratch the surface as focusing on the tiniest aspects of the bridge engineers would warrant not only a book on Minnesota’s bridge builders, but also on the dynasties themselves, like the Hewetts, for example.
10. HOW HAS THE I-35W BRIDGE DISASTER OF 1 AUGUST 2007 INFLUENCED THE WAY WE THINK OF BRIDGES AND INFRASTRUCTURE IN GENERAL?
I think that it has made us more aware of bridges, and perhaps it has made us worry more about bridges. This worry is sometimes warranted, since many bridges are exhibiting wear, sometimes substantial wear. Bridges can last a long time, but like anything else they need regular maintenance. I don’t think most people defer maintenance on their houses for years, yet it seems that some of our bridges have been left to wither. I don’t think we can necessarily blame the counties for this (the counties oversee most, but not all, of the bridges in Minnesota). If the counties do not have the money to complete required maintenance, it is difficult to place blame at their door. The state highway department may be in a similar predicament with some of its bridges. The simple fact is that we need funds to take care of our bridges—indeed, to take care of our infrastructure as a whole, as it is plainly suffering.
11. AND WHAT ABOUT THE HISTORIC BRIDGES? MANY OF THEM HAVE BEEN REPLACED SINCE THAT TIME CREATING THE DISTINCTION THAT THEY WILL BECOME EXTINCT IN 20 YEARS.
This has long been a topic that has bothered preservationist. The convention in Minnesota has been that the Minnesota Department of Transportation (in other words, the state) will take care of its historic bridges; it will do its best to do right by those bridges it oversees that have been determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. However, it has been left to the counties to decide what each will do with its bridges that have been determined eligible for listing in the National Register. The general consensus among those familiar with the topic is that the counties have not been anxious to preserve these bridges. To Mn/DOT’s credit it created a bridge preservation plan, which it distributed to the counties in hopes that it would spur counties to preserve historic bridges. My sense, however, is that it has not been all that successful.
12. DO YOU THINK THE STATE AND FEDERAL GOVERNMENTS ARE DOING A GOOD JOB IN ADDRESSING THE ISSUE OF STRUCTURALLY DEFICIENT BRIDGES?
The simple answer is “No.” As I noted above, our infrastructure is suffering. Money, of course, solves the problem, but we just don’t have the funds to take care of everything we would like. Again, a bridge can last for a very long time but, like anything else, it must be maintained, and that takes dollars.
13. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MORE OF WITH REGARDS TO HISTORIC BRIDGES AND PRESERVING THEM?
I would like to see the counties preserve more bridges. The counties have oversight over the vast majority of bridges in Minnesota. Regrettably, the counties often view older bridges (some may even be historic via National Register standards) as something of a nuisance. I welcome Mn/DOT’s bridge preservation inclinations, but I wish those notions would filter down to the counties. Again, if the counties had more money to maintain their bridges, preservation would likely be more of a focus.
14. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE BRIDGE IN MINNESOTA? THE US? INTERNATIONALLY?
This is a difficult question. I really like the stone arch Point Douglas-St. Louis River Road Bridge in Stillwater. It is the oldest bridge in Minnesota that we have found, although we are not precisely sure how old—perhaps early 1860s, or maybe even 1850s. It is in rough shape at the moment. I also like Split Rock Bridge in Pipestone County. It is the last stone arch to be built in Minnesota (1938). It was a Works Progress Administration Project that used pink Sioux quartzite to shape the bridge. But I also need to acknowledge the Soo Line High Bridge. Frankly, it is one of the most impressive arch bridges in Minnesota, but few ever see it because it is hidden in the St. Croix River Valley north of Stillwater. It is a huge open-spandrel, steel arch built by the Soo Line Railway. Besides looking rather elegant, its engineering is fascinating. It is a three-hinged arch (which means it is not terribly rigid) but it becomes a two-hinged arch when a load passes over the bridge (in other words, it becomes more rigid).
Nationally, I like the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge in Boston. It is relatively new and it is a big cable-stayed bridge. We don’t have a roadway bridge in Minnesota like this, which is probably one reason I like it—it is novel. Also, its aesthetic is impressive, and the aesthetic is a product of the engineering. In other words, we get this wonderful impression of sails, but the sails come about simply because that is how a cable-stayed bridge is put together.
There are many notable bridges around the world, but I have always been greatly impressed by the Forth Bridge over the Firth of Forth in Scotland. It is located in an unforgiving location and it is so monumental. It almost looks as if it could stand forever. For me, it resembles three Apatosaurus dinosaurs nose to tail.
15. IF YOU HAVE A WORD OF ADVICE TO ANYONE WANTING TO WRITE A BOOK ON HISTORIC BRIDGES, WHAT WOULD YOU GIVE THEM? WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH THE PROJECT?
Studying bridges is very much like studying other types of structures in the sense that you must thoroughly enjoy history and welcome researching for hours on end. But I also would add that if one does not appreciate technology/engineering, then one probably should not be writing a history on bridges, as these things are central to in-depth study of the resource. Of course, if one was penning a bridge book that was largely literary, perhaps even romantic, that is somewhat different.
15a. WHAT WAS THE ROLE OF ERIC DELONY WITH THE BOOK?
Eric was kind enough to write the Afterword for the book. Eric has years of experience with bridges. He was chief of the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) program for years. As a result, he is very familiar with engineering subjects, especially bridges. I was grateful that he was willing to offer his bridge knowledge to the book on Minnesota bridges.
16. DO YOU HAVE ANY FUTURE PLANS REGARDING WRITING BOOKS (ON BRIDGES)?
I would not be surprised if I wrote another book or two, although I am not sure if they will be on bridges. A few years back I was approached about doing another bridge book, but one that looks at bridges beyond the state of Minnesota. The idea is interesting, but I have not pursued it. Committing to a book is committing to a lot of time and work. I will always be fascinated by bridges, of course, but at the same time there are other subjects I would like to study and write about. Also, I found the directory of the existing historic bridges in MN to be very helpful. Could you summarize why you did that and would you recommend any author doing that?
It seemed like a commonsense thing to do. My feeling, and my publishers feeling, was that readers naturally would like to know what other historic bridges are out there. Providing the appendix gives readers a guide to the other Minnesota historic bridges (by “historic,” I mean bridges that are in the National Register of Historic Places or bridges that are eligible for listing in the National Register). And yes, I think it a good idea to include such information in books like this. Whenever we address subjects of tangible things like buildings, bridges, grain elevators, etc.—it is a courtesy to give others an idea of what else may be worth exploring.
Book of the Month for August 2012: How Gardner’s book brings the materials together in chronological order
In the summer of 2008, while compiling a book on the bridges in my county of childhood, Jackson County, Minnesota, Denis Gardner, a historian at the Minnesota Historical Society, published a book on the history of bridges in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, where I was born and raised. I purchased the book not only for the use of information for my book, but also to find out more about the development of the bridges in Minnesota from the time of its statehood in 1858 to date. Furthermore, I wanted to find out more about the I-35W Bridge Disaster in 2007 and its effect on the future of the remaining historic bridges in the state. After all, Gardner was in the finishing stages of his work when the Minneapolis Bridge disaster happened on 1 August, 2007 and some information on this event was mentioned in the work. Yet, the book deals with the historic aspect of the bridges that helped shape the way people traveled throughout the state, thanks in part to the bridge builders that contributed a great deal to the state’s infrastructure. Yet the way Gardner structured the book, he may have set the precedent for other bridge book authors to follow.
Gardner divided his piece up into materials that were used for the development of bridges in the state: stone, wood, iron/steel and concrete, and arranged them in chronological order for a simple reason: these were the materials that were readily available for use. When the materials were exhausted or had enough flaws to cause potential disasters, they were replaced with newer materials that were sturdier and lasted longer. While it was used mainly for log cabins, wood was abundant and also used for the first bridges designed to bring commerce to the settlement and visitors to the farmsteads. Stone was also used for bridge crossings, but they needed to be quarried and transported, which took an ample of innovative efforts, money and especially, manpower. Both were prone to natural disasters, with wooden bridges being destroyed by the spring thaw and floods and the stone arch bridges failing due to erosion. Then there was the usage of iron and steel for bridge construction, whose advantages included being lightweight and can be (re-) assembled, yet the problem with these structures have to do with rust and corrosion caused by not maintaining (and painting) the bridge on a regular basis. Then there is concrete, which most bridge builders use today, despite the fact that the lifespan of these bridges are shorter than those made of metal.
Gardner connects the usage of materials with the development of bridges in the state, and the bridge builders and engineers who contributed to the construction of these structures. While some background information on the bridge types (as with the diagrams) were deemed necessary for the readers to understand, Gardner focused more on the role of the bridge builders in Minnesota, for the state became a primary breeding ground for bridge building empires to rise and dominate the landscape west of the Mississippi River beginning in the 1890s. This includes the empire consisting of Commodore P. Jones, the Hewett Family (Seth M., William S. and Arthur), Alexander Bayne and later Milo Adams. These gentlemen established numerous bridge companies based in Minneapolis and were in business for a total of five decades. There was also Horace Horton before he emigrated to Chicago, and Lawrence Johnson, an immigrant from Flensburg (Germany) who later became a politician after establishing his own bridge company. Gardner takes the reader behind the scenes to reveal how these bridge companies filled the vacuum that was left behind after many bridge companies based in Chicago and eastward became part of the American Bridge Company consortium in 1901 and for the most part, left the bridge building scene in Minnesota afterwards.
Gardner presented many examples of historic bridges in the present that are historically significant because of their design and connection with the bridge builders of that time, but are in danger of being replaced, especially in light of the I-35W Bridge tragedy of 2007. Most helpful was a directory containing a list of bridges that are either listed or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places with information about its design and history and (for most cases), bridge photos accompanying them. This provides the reader with an opportunity to examine them, plan a trip to these structures (assuming they are still standing, for the number has dropped dramatically since the book was published), and further their research on bridge builders and other bridge designs for their own projects.
Gardner made sure that the bridge book was not too technical and that the history behind the construction of these bridges and the photos that accompanied the examples presented were easy for the people to understand. As a pontist, this book is very easy to read in comparison to the works written by authors that were too technical and lack the photos and diagrams needed to support their arguments. But for a non-pontist, the book provides some easily accessible information on the history of bridges in the state and how it contributed to the history of the USA in general. There have been many books written on the bridges in certain states. Yet this one brings bridge building and history together, putting the materials used for bridge construction in chronological order and bringing historic bridges home to the people who grew up knowing them, people who knew about them and the people who want to know more about them for their own purpose.
Note: The author took an opportunity to interview the author of the book, Denis Gardner. To view the interview, click here.
There are many ways to look at a bridge and determine its value, both aesthetically as well as historically. From an engineer’s point of view, the bridge is built to function as a vehicular crossing until it is rendered obsolete and considered for replacement. From a historian’s point of view, each bridge has its own history and identity to the community, going beyond the bridge builder, the dimensions and unique value that make it eligible to be protected by preservation laws. From a photographer’s point of view, each bridge has a beauty that makes it fit into the landscape, whether it is a truss, arch, cable-stayed or suspension bridge. In the case of David Plowden, each bridge not only presents a beauty that warrants a black and white photo worth remembering, but it contributes to the history of the American architecture, infrastructure and transportation.
Born in 1932, Plowden started his photography career at the age of 25, providing the readers with a look at the development of American society, from the steel mills to the farming community, from the slums of the big cities, to Main Street USA, where small talk and hard work are the norms. He has published over 20 books including his latest one on the state of Iowa (which was released earlier this year), where a traveling photography exhibition of the state and its hilly landscape is currently taking place until 2014. In the book Bridges: The Spans of North America, published in 2002, Plowden combined his photographic genius with some history to provide readers with an insight into the development of bridges in North America, beginning with those made of wood in a form of covered bridges, followed by brick and stone bridges, the metal bridges (both in terms of short- and long river crossings) and finishing with the bridges made of concrete. The over 400-page work provides the reader with an in depth look at the types of bridges that were developed, the bridge builders who used them for their crossings and where the bridges were located. While some of the bridge types mentioned in the book are well-known to the bridge community and historians, such as the Bollmann Truss Bridge at Savage, Maryland the concrete arch bridges of Pennsylvania and Oregon, and the common suspension bridges, like John Roebling’s suspension bridges, there are some others that had been mentioned briefly in other documents but were brought to life in this book, like the Whipple-Murphy truss bridges, many of which were constructed along the Missouri River between Sioux City and Kansas City under George S. Morrison in the 1880s, the Poughkeepsie Suspension and Railroad Bridges in upstate New York or even local bridges like the Bellefountain Bridge in Mahaska County, Iowa. Plowden provides a tour into the life of each bridge engineer and his contribution to the American landscape with examples of bridges that bear his name and were meant to serve traffic for many years.
As for the bridges themselves, the photos taken by Plowden were genuine and provide the reader with an inside look at the structure’s appearance from a photographer’s point of view. Some bridges were photographed in areas that were run down and were not part of the urbanization movement in the 1960s, such as the outer suburbs of Pittsburgh, for example. Some bridges in his book were taken in heavily industrialized areas, like New Jersey. And then there are others in the book that had a unique natural background, like the bridges of Oregon and western Canada. In terms of how they were photographed, there were many bridges that were photographed at a portal view- meaning the entrance of the bridge, presenting the reader the bridge’s facial feature before entering the structure. This includes the past bridges, like the Point Bridge in Pittsburgh as well as those in the present, like the railroad bridge at Beaver, Pennsylvania. While some of the bridges are known to the bridge community today, there are many that were rarely recognized but brought to the light by pushing the snapshot button and presenting a black and white picturesque view that definitely belongs to an art gallery somewhere. While many of these bridges, such as the Central Bridge over the Ohio River in Cincinnati and the St. Mary’s Bridge in West Virginia, a sister of the Silver Bridge, which collapsed in 1967 killing 46 people, have long since been demolished, Plowden photographed most of them in the 1960s and 70s, giving the reader an idea what they looked like before they were replaced. Each bridge photographed in the book has some information on its history and the status at the time of its publication.
. It is very difficult to write a book on the history of bridges and how they were developed without having to narrow the focus down to the key aspects. In the case of the books on the bridges of Erfurt, Germany, one was focused on the technical aspects; the other on the historical aspects. One cannot have insight into the bridges without having to read both pieces of literature, even though they are both in German. In the case of Plowden’s book, he divided the subject up into the materials used for bridge construction, followed by the bridge types that were used and the engineers who built the bridges. To a certain degree, when focusing on bridges on a scale as large as North America’s it is a good idea, for it provides an overview into the development of the bridges from the beginning to the present time. This has been used in a couple other literary pieces, the latest of which will be the book of the month for August on Minnesota’s bridges by Denis Gardner (which falls nicely into the five-year anniversary of the I-35W bridge disaster in Minneapolis).
Yet when looking at the content of the book, most of its focus was on the development of bridges in the United States, together with the photos he took, with a small fraction being focused on Canada’s bridges (like the Lethbridge Viaduct in the province of Alberta and the Quebec Bridge). Most of the information and photos of the bridges came from those in the northern half of the US along the major rivers and in the northeastern part of the US, such as the Ohio River Valley, the Hudson River, and the Mississippi. These areas were the breeding ground for bridge development that spanned over 150 years and expanded into the Plains Region and beyond. If a person was to be picky about the content of the book, and focus on the history and development of bridges per se, then perhaps Plowden could have had two different books on the subject- one for the US and one for Canada. After all, despite the fact that this history run parallel in both countries, each one had its own set of bridge builders and bridge types with much of Canada’s bridge designs being imported from Europe as it had close ties with Great Britain and France.
. But there are two main reasons why Plowden chose to incorporate the two countries into one for the book. First of all, the history and development of the bridges were interchangeable. Canadian bridge builders immigrated to America to start their business and prosper. Bridge companies in the US had exceptional influence in Canada. The designs used for bridge construction were mostly similar in both countries, with a few minor exceptions. That means we have cantilever truss bridges in both countries, and we competed with each other to construct the longest and tallest bridges. And through their exchanges in information and designers, both prospered during the Industrial Age of the late 1800s.
. The other reason is the fact that Plowden is a photographer by heart. He not only provides people with a look into the lives of others in black and white, but he also provides them with unique scenery through the photos of antique works of art that still rules the streets (even though the numbers have dwindled rapidly over the years). He does not just showcase the photos for people to see. That would be too easy to do, especially in today’s technological age where anyone can post their pics on facebook, flickr and other websites. But each bridge that is photographed is accompanied by a story of its existence and the bridge builder responsible for erecting the structure and sharing his success to others so that they can either follow the lead or challenge it. The book provides the reader with general knowledge of the development of the bridges and the role of the engineers that contributed their history. And even if the majority of the readers are not engineers, bridge fanatics or historians, and even if one is unable to read the entire book from cover to cover, looking at the bridge photos themselves is enough to tell the story of how it was built and how it became part of North American history.
. So to end this review process, get your cameras ready and set out to go bridgehunting. Find a bridge that means a great deal to you, regardless of its appearance and surroundings, its history and identity to the region and regardless of its age and whether you can cross it or spend time walking to it. As soon as you find it, start shooting. Show the bridge to others and make it known to the public of its value through your camera lens and point of view. After all, there are more people interested in historic bridges than you know. Plowden knew about it and therefore, the book is sitting in my bridge library, waiting for me to open the page and have a look at the work that he did. Pride can help you prosper and people will take note of that.