Mystery Bridge Nr. 149: An Inundated Bridge in Czechia with Possible Links to Melan and von Emperger

Photos taken by Lara Vajrychová

Our next mystery bridge returns us to Czechia, but this time to the far western part of the country, along the Odrava (CZ: Ohri/ D: Eger). The River Odrava starts in eastern Bavaria and snakes away along the foot of the Ore Mountains past Cheb and Carlsbad (Karoly Vary) before emptying into the River Elbe at Litomerice, south of Usti nad Labem (Aussig). The river is laden with dozens of historic bridges dating back to the early 1900s, many of which can even be seen via satillite in a geo-app, like Google Maps.

This bridge is one of them. The structure is located in the middle of Lake Jesenice, located east of the nearest city of Cheb. The structure features a through arch span made of concrete, yet the characteristics resemble the rainbow arch bridge that was invented and patented by James B. Marsh around 1909. While his patented rainbow arch bridges were built solely in the United States, his design was based on another bridge design that was patented by Austrian engineer, Josef Melan. Melan patented his arch design in 1890 and under the direction of another Austrian,  Frederick von Emperger, built the first arch bridge 1894 in Rock Rapids, Iowa. That bridge, now located at Emma Sater Park, was the first of its kind to use reinforced concrete arch in an elliptical fashion.

Melan Bridge at Emma Sater Park in Rock Rapids, Iowa. Photo taken in 2009

.

The Melan System, which links steel and concrete construction, won significant market-shares in European and American bridge-building as early as the 1890s and was awarded a gold medal at the World Exposition in Paris in 1900. Melan had published his work on concrete arches in conjunction with iron arches in 1893. Many Melan arch spans followed after the construction in Rock Rapids, including a multiple span arch bridge in Steyr in 1898 and the Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana.  While he left a mark in terms of bridges and buildings especially in the New York and Boston areas, von Emperger’s stay in the US was short-lived and therefore, only this example of the Melan Arch Bridge still exists. He returned to Vienna in 1898, where he was active both as a bridge builder as well as in politics until his death in 1942, one year after Melan’s and six years after Marsh’s.

When looking at the crossing at Lake Jesenice, the structure has a rainbow arch feature, yet unlike the Marsh arch, where the arches are anchored in the wingwall above the water level, the arches here start at the abutment on deck level. Nevertheless, as the region was once part of the Habsburg Kingdom (Austrian-Hungarian Empire) until their defeat after World War I in 1918, the possibility of either Melan or von Emperger having built this bridge exists, yet the question is solely, when was the bridge built. Judging by its appearance, the bridge is well over a century old, which falls into the era when the Marsh Arch bridges were being built by the dozens in the USA. It would be a possibility that Marsh’s design was modified in order for it to stand out in comparison with the original. Yet records revealed that Marsh had abandoned  the Melan arches and had developed his signature arch in order to avoid paying Melan royalties. The bridge at Lake Jenesice was most likely built between 1898 and 1912 using the Austrian design.

As for the history of Lake Jesenice , this is an artificial lake that was created through a dam project which ran from 1957 to its completion in 1961. The bridge used to carry a road between Velká Všeboř and Cheb. It used to span the Wondreb which was a tributary of the Odrava. When the dam was completed, the Wondreb and other smaller tributaries became part of the lake and the bridge was left to inundate. The towns of Jesenice and Dřenice also disappeared because of the creation of the lake.  At high levels one can only see the arch stick out, yet during the drough in recent years in Europe, the bridge has become fully accessible by foot.  The Lake has become a recreational point for campers and tourists wishing to explore the region along the Odrava, as the area has campgrounds and other natural parks. In the past, this lake as well as neighboring city Carlsbad were health resort regions where children and their families could recover from the illnesses caused by emissions of coal and other pollutants in the nearby Black Triangle Region, where the former Czechoslovakia, Poland and East Germany met. Yet with new forests being grown since the Revolution of 1989 and the subsequent Reunification of Germany in 1990, the area where Czechia, Poland and Germany meet today is becoming as equally important as the area around Lake Jenesice.

Close-up of the railings and its deteriorating state

.

The days of the arch bridge at Lake Jesenice may be numbered, sadly. According to bridgehunter, Lara Vajrychová, there have been talks of tearing down the arch bridge for safety reasons. Whether or not that will happen remains open. Still it would be a sad loss to see a piece of architectural work that had once belonged to one of the villages that was inundated by the dam project disappear, especially one that may have been built by the founding fathers of the Melan arch whose design was picked up by James Marsh for his design. Nevertheless, before its final demise, one needs to find out more about the bridge in terms of the date of construction and the bridge contractor to answer the questions that were made with regard to its possible connection with either Melan or von Emperger.

.

Happy Birthday to Mouse TV (Sendung mit der Maus) in Germany

Statue of the Orange Mouse- The Star of the Show that is 50 years old. Source: Steffen Prößdorf, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en, via Wikimedia Commons

COLOGNE, GERMANY- March 7, 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the German-speaking children’s show „Die Sendung mit der Maus“ (in English: Mouse TV), which is officially presented as „Lach- und Sachgeschichte“ (in English: Stories for Laughing and Learning). On this day in 1971, the first episode of the Mouse was introduced on public TV through the West-German channel WDR, located in the city of Cologne.

Featuring the Orange Mouse, the TV show runs along the same pattern as our American counterpart, Sesame Street, which debuted two years earlier. Unlike the Muppet characters, like Big Bird, Kermit, Elmo, the Count and the Cookie Monster, who take up most oft he show’s time through conversation and lessons, the Mouse features only three characters- the Mouse himself, the Blue Elephant and the Yellow Duck, yet the show features various cartoon clips from other shows but half the time is spent showing the viewers how things are built and how certain devices work- in live time. Like in Sesame Street, the Mouse is televised in many languages and can be seen even on American TV.

The Mouse has garnered dozens of awards, some of which have gone to two of the moderators who have been with the mouse for as long as the show: Armin Maiwald and Christoph Bienmann. While we’re talking about how things are being built in live time, I stumbled across some films that featured the bridge, while I was finding some older series to be presented in another commentary in my other column, the Flensburg Files. Some were quite funny and even if they are over 30 years old, some people will get a laugh out of them. Yet there are some that educational and quite useful for everyone to watch. We’re going to show the Chronicles‘ greatest bridge hits that were presented by the Mouse over the years. While the target language is German, the videos presented here speak more volumes than what is spoken in any language. 🙂

In the first video shown above, there are the many attempts of Christoph trying to cross the river All of the attempts were worth the laughs. Yet given the fact he was an exchange student in the United States prior to joining the Mouse in 1972, he added some American flair to the film, which was released in 1982.

The next bridge video was the first to show the actual bridge building process. This two-part series, released in 1994 takes you through a step-by-step process from planning to the actual building of the viaduct that now spans a road, river and railroad tracks.

Then there’s the bridge replacement aspect with a focus on replacing the motorway bridge in Leverkusen. Started in 2014, the series is ongoing and there will be much more to come as the project progresses, for the bridge replacement is expected to take a decade to complete.

And lastly, we have the newest among the bunch, the slide-in replacement of a railroad bridge near Cologne and the process that took a full weekend to complete, yet the filming was enough for one episode.

Especially in the past decade, the videos on building bridges have become more popular for people of all ages for much of the infrastructure is getting older and becoming unable to handle today’s traffic in terms of volume and weight. Nevertheless, they are interesting to watch as each structure is inspected and when it is concluded that replacement is inevitable, the planning, design and construction is carried out.

Even if one is not interested in bridges, the Mouse presents virtually every aspect of manufacturing or making the basics for every day life with the purpose of making it entertaining but most importantly, educational.  I started watching the Mouse when my daughter was born in 2008 and since then, it has become a cornerstone to our Sunday ritual: Mouse TV with pancakes for breakfast, all on the sofa in the living room, something that many of us in Germany enjoy doing on a Sunday morning when the show is televised on TV, either on ARD or KIKA.

And therefore, the bridge community and this columnist of the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles would like to wish the Mouse a happy golden birthday and many thanks to Armin, Christoph and crew many thanks for making the show a „bridge building“ experience for all ages, especially those who wish to become engineers in the future.

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag/ Happy Birthday!

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

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

.

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

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

.

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

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

.

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

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

.

The Lane Truss

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

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

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

.

The Miller-Borcherding Truss:

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

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

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

.

Fazit:

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

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

.

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

Thomas Viaduct in Maryland

Photo courtesy of HABS/ HAER

Film clip

One of the most historic of bridges in the US a person should visit is the Thomas Viaduct. The viaduct features eight spans of stone arch (each one has a span of 58 feet or 18 meters) with a total length of 612 feet (187 meters). It’s 59 feet in height. Built in 1835, it was named after Philip Thomas, the first president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, which had built, owned and operated the viaduct. The bridge’s last rehabilitation project happened almost 90 years ago. Since then, it has been in use with no known repairs done to it. The bridge can be found in Maryland, between Elkridge and Relay, along the Patapsco River.

The rest of the story and photos can be seen in this film produced by an avid railroader. Produced in 2019, this narrator shows you all the views of this gorgeous viaduct while telling you some more interesting facts about it.  Hope you enjoy it! 🙂

 

bhc fast fact new

The bridge is the world’s oldest bridge of its kind that is in operation. CSX runs its trains over the viaduct today. It has received numerous accolades, including a National Historic Landmark in 1964. In 2010, the bridge designated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

 

BHC 10th anniversary logo1

How Bridges were Constructed

Film clip

Have you ever wondered how bridges were built over a century ago? What types of tools and manpower were used to complete the crossing? And most of all, how workers took pride in their completed artwork spanning a major river?

While we’ve advanced much further in our technologies in making fancier bridges, many of the civil engineers and bridge lovers have probably come across a film clip similar to this one above.  It’s basically a clip featuring workers putting together a major crossing made of steel. It’s a silent film that was produced over a century ago and the construction of the bridge resembled a boy putting a building together- first with an Erector set when it was introduced at the beginning of the 20th Century, then later with other construction sets which require the use of steel parts, nuts and bolts  and the like, just to produce a prized work. Every engineering and bridge building great started off small with an Erector set.

Nowadays, we put our bridges together with Lego blocks, and even though the artwork looks nice, it takes away much of the fun it would be needed just to screw something together. With Legoes come the change in technological ways of building a bridge. The question is how.

Take a look at this video and ask yourselves the following questions:

  1. How were bridges built together then in comparison with today?
  2. What technologies existed between then and now?
  3. How much time do you think it took to build a bridge like in the clip? How is that in today’s world?
  4. Do you think modern bridges or “oldtimer” bridges are easier to build? What about safer?
  5. If there was an opportunity to bring back old technological tactics that worked for bridge building, what would it be and why?
  6. What lessons could we learn in bridge building from this clip?

 

And lastly, where was this bridge located? 🙂

bhc-logo-newest1

 

Bridges Should Be Beautiful by Ian Firth

IMGP0236

Abstract from ted.com: Bridges need to be functional, safe and durable, but they should also be elegant and beautiful, says structural engineer Ian Firth. In this mesmerizing tour of bridges old and new, Firth explores the potential for innovation and variety in this essential structure — and how spectacular ones reveal our connectivity, unleash our creativity and hint at our identity.

Author’s Note: This video came about via tip from one of the pontists in one of the social network sites devoted to historic bridges and serves as a reminder to another article published a week earlier on by Scottish engineers suggesting American bridge builders look for sources of inspiration in places outside their borders. In the past two decades, many new structures have been built to supplant other, fancier historic bridges, whose design presents an appealing taste to the public. The mentality of quantity versus quality at the lowest possible cost but at the same time with little or no maintenance for a century has resulted in blocks of concrete with no character ruling the rivers and streams with little or no aesthetic value. This myth is just a fantasy and is miles away from reality that we see on highways and in cities today. No wonder that protests against such projects to replace historic bridges with boring, bland modern structures presented by agencies with dilluted and questionable facts are increasing sharply, as we are seeing with the debate over the future of Frank Wood Memorial Bridge in Maine, for example.  The advice to take from the article (accessed here) and by looking at the video below is this: If a bridge needs to be replaced, find a way to reuse the structure for other purposes and if a new bridge is needed, please with an aesthetic appeal that the community will be happy with. Sometimes looking to Europe, Asia or even Africa will help engineers be creative and place quality over quantity. Better is looking at the bridge designs that have been discarded and experimenting with them. After all, money does not matter to bridge building. Communities and the lives of the People living there do, though.

Enjoy the Ted Talk Video  below. 🙂

Video:

 

bhc-logo-newest1