Iron Bridge Reopens After Six Months

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Century-old, two span pedestrian bridge to be part of new bike trail.

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AUE (SAXONY), GERMANY- Back in March of this year, many hikers were irritated with the fact that their favorite crossing over the Zwickau Mulde, connecting Bad Schlema with points to the east and south, was closed to all traffic. They were forced to take a detour 3-4 kilometers away or even ditch the notion of going by foot and driving by car. Since the beginning of this month, the Iron Bridge has been in use again, six months after it was closed to traffic. The two-span Parker bowstring arch bridge spans the Zwickau Mulde and was built in 1900, replacing a covered bridge that was destroyed in a flooding. And while the truss superstructure remains the same as is, some work was done on the bridge to ensure that it is safer for use, even for cyclists. For instance, new railings were installed to ensure that no one falls off the bridge. At 1.5 meters high, they are 0.5 meters higher than the originals. Furthermore, new acorn-colored varnished wooden decking replaced the previous one that was developing cracks and dry-rot after years of extremities due to weather. The decking is thicker and will be able to withstand stresses caused by increased in traffic by bikers and pedestrians.

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The rehabilitation is part of the project to construct the Mulde Bike Route, taking it off its current path that shares a street connecting Bad Schlema and Aue and running it along the river. At the same time, the Carlsbad Route is being extended, which will cross the bridge and end at Bad Schlema at the railway station. Currently, the bike trail starts in Carlsbad (Karoly Vary in the Czech Republic), and after going through the mountains and over the border at Johanngeorgenstadt, joins the Mulde Bike Trail at Wolfsgrün and terminates in Aue.  Despite the completion of the rehabilitation, which costed approximately 430,000 Euros, the realignment of the trail, combined with a new bridge over the rail-line Zwickau-Aue, a new picnic area on the eastern side of the Iron Bridge and the rehabilitation of the Stone Arch Bridge at Bad Schlema will delay the completion of the entire project until 2020, at the earliest.  Therefore the bridge will continue its local traffic until then, and people will have to put up with vehicular traffic along the original route along the Mulde.

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The Chronicles will continue to keep you posted on the latest regarding the project.

 

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The Rehab of the Hirschgrundbrücke in Glauchau: A Wine Glass Half-full or Half-Empty?

GLAUCHAU (SAXONY), GERMANY- The construction projects in and around the Castle Complex in Glauchau, which has been in motion since April (as a whole), is like eating in an exclusive restaurant: No matter what the menu offers, including drinks, there’s a lot to eat and a lot to discuss at the table.   The main course, which features lamb chops, is the front yard that leads to the gates of the castle. This is the meat of the project which one will find to the south of the city center, just a three minute walk from Market Square. This was once filled with lucious trees and bushes but also home to the ice skating rink that had occupied the area; it is being torn up in favor of a multi-complex featuring picnic areas, a pavilion and bike racks. This despite opposition from those who preferred to keep the area all green and in its natural form. A comment by one of the opponents, an architect, during a conversation on facebook recently, says it all.

Then we have the natural bridge, crossing the deep ravine connecting the castle’s south side and its adjacent park, sitting idle for many years, closed to all because of safety reasons and now blocked off to the castle park. This stone arch crossing is no more except for the pylons and the outer arches!

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The Hirschgrundbrücke has been the “vegetarian” main dish for dinner and conversation for many years for many reasons: 1. How to renovate the bridge after sitting idle for 40 years, 2. What is the real name of the bridge: Hirschgrund or Hirschgraben, and now this: Is this bridge a complete renovation/ rehabilitation or a complete tear-down and rebuild?

There are many ways of describing how the bridge is being put under the knife. Yet to better understand how this project is being carried out, I had a chance to talk to the city engineer who showed me the plans of rebuilding the structure during my frequent visits to the City Administration Building. He was also the engineer in charge of overseeing the design and construction of The Wave near Wernsdorf in 2017.  During my interview in March, he mentioned that the bridge was going to be stripped down to the bare bones, leaving the outer arches and the stem of the pylon that used to hold the center arches. The plan to leave them in place was based on an agreement with the Ministry of Cultural Heritage of Saxony (Dt.: Denkmalschutz) in order to keep the bridge listed in the Cultural Heritage Book (Denkmalschutzbuch), similar to what Americans have with the National Register of Historic Places. The old materials would (for the most part) be discarded, while some will be reused together with new materials made of sandstone and other rock-based materials to rebuild the structure to make it resemble its original form, when it was built in the 1700s. The project was announced in the Free Press in April and it is expected to be completed by November 2019.

During my most recent visit in Glauchau, I decided to have a look at the progress of the bridge and found some observations worth noting:

Film and commentary on this bridge:

This was filmed from the castle side with my newly-acquired Motorola moto 6 out of Pittsburgh. Incredible phone/camera and Glauchau was an incredible place for “target practice.” 😉

My observations of this project is best compared to a glass of wine that is half-full; half-empty. One can technically consider this project a total rehabilitation, where the bridge is stripped down to its arches, the original materials reused for the rebuilding process. This has been done on thousands of bridges of this kind throughout Germany, including the bridges in Erfurt, Dresden, Magdeburg, and Berlin, just to name some examples. It is similar to the coined-term “in-kind” restoration but with arch bridges, not truss structures.  However one could call this a total replacement because 90% of the original structure is completely gone; the materials used for the structure recycled and being replaced with similar materials that are used for other arch bridges. From an American modernist’s point of view, when a superstructure is replaced but the approach spans or even the original piers remain, it is a complete replacement, regardless of how you look at it.  Leaving the outer arches and the pylon stems in place kept the bridge from being completely destroyed and replaced, something that had been considered given its condition of being on the verge of collapsing, as you can see in Glauchau’s bridge tour guide.

So to sum up, this rehabilitation  project is one that is considered a wine glass that is half-full and half- empty. It is half-full because some of the important historic elements are being left in place, to be used as a foundation for the new materials that will come on top of it to retain its historic appeal. It is however half-empty because much of the original materials are not being used for the rebuild. Nonetheless, the bridge will retain its historic status in the books, yet my question I have, which will be answered through photos and commentary  during the course of this project, will be whether the bridge- the vegetarian main dish- will be the same as before? Or if it will be totally different, just like with the new multi-complex at the entrance to the Castle Complex- the main course dinner with lamb chops?

In simpler languages: will the architect be right about the changes not conforming to the castle surroundings, or will the people embrace the new form of history which features a cosmetic makeover but keeping its original historic form?

Stay tuned! 🙂

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The Bridges of Bridgeport/ Frankenmuth (Michigan)

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Bronner’s Bridge south of Frankenmuth.  Photos taken in July 2018

There are tourist traps and then there are tourist traps with historic bridges involved. The tour guide provided here clearly belongs to the latter, and it has a story behind it. As we were travelling north on Interstate 75 in the direction of the Mackinac Bridge, we came across a bilboard that directed us to Bridgeport, home of Michigan’s number one historic bridge. I had known about the first bridge on the tour guide prior to the US trip, yet we also learned about Bridgeport’s next door neighbor, Frankenmuth, a typical German community that was full of surprises. We decided to pull off first at Bridgeport and then head over to Frankenmuth and found more surprises than what we learned about. What will a tourist find in the bridges in Bridgeport/Frankenmuth apart from what is highlighted by links and in the Instagram pages will motivate you to spend a couple days in the region that is only 10 miles south of Saginaw.

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State Street Bridge (Bridgeport):  When travelling North on Interstate 75, one will come across a bilboard that says Bridgeport, home of Michigan’s number one historic bridge. A first where a bridge is a centerpiece, a tourist attraction, a magnet. However, from a bridgehunter’s point of view, together with his family members who were also armed and dangerous with Lumixes and Pentaxes, the city’s chamber of commerce was right and then some. 🙂  The Bridgeport Bridge spans Cass River at State Street. Built in 1906 by the Joliet Bridge and Iron Company, the bridge features a pin-connected, two-span Pratt through truss bridge with three-rhombus Howe lattice portal bracings with 45° heels. The bridge is a distant cousin of one in Jackson, Minnesota at Petersburg Road, which was built a year later but was removed after flood damage in 1995. The difference is the length of the structure, which is nearly twice as long as the one in Jackson: two 126-foot long truss spans with a total length of 252 feet. Jackson’s was 130 feet, but the total length was 150. After serving vehicular traffic for almost a century years, the bridge was closed to traffic because the center pier was being undermined by the currents, causing the western span to tip over. Yet thanks to efforts conducted by Nathan Holth of historicbridges.org, who documented the Bridge in detail from 2004 to date, the Bridgeport community collaborated with the state and an engineering group, Spicer Group to conduct an in-kind restoration, overseen by Vern Mesler. This was done in 2010 and consisted of dismantling the two trusses off site, sandblasting the bridge parts, and reassemble the bridge exactly as it was built, but with new bolts and eyebars in many cases. The only “new” aspects of the bridge was the new center pier, new abutments, railings and the approaches to the Bridge. That was in addition to a picnic area and pavillion as a bike trail connecting Bridgeport and Frankenmuth was being constructed. The bridge today looks just like it was when it was originally built, including the wooden decking, thus presenting a historic appeal.  Yet there are two more reasons to visit the bridge and pay homage to those who restored it. First of all, there is a historic town park on the eastern bank of the river, where a “revived” main street is lined with historic stores, church and houses dating back a century ago. The Bridgeport Museum, which owns the property, is located along this historic street. Yet it would be a crime to miss out on reason number two, which is the eateries that are located across the Dixie Highway from the bridge, going to the east. The Butter Crust Bakery is located on the corner of Sherman Road and Dixie, and from 6:00 in the morning until 5:00pm on all but Sunday and Monday, one can enjoy jelly-filled donuts, long-johns, mini-cakes and even a glazed ugly (caramel filled pastry with hazelnuts and/or almonds for a very low Price. All of them are locally made and use all natural ingredients- have been doing so for over a half-century. 🙂  An ice cream parlor at State Street just off the highway offers the finest ice cream in the region, including Rocky Road (ice cream with fudge, dark chocolate and marshmallows) and Michigan Pothole (dark chocolate with chips), the latter is named after a typical curse one will find on all Michigan’s roads- potholes, big and small. Both of which are highly recommended, whereas one can see the bridge from the parlor and can even enjoy watching people cross it from the inside.  🙂

 

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Bridgeport (CSX) Railroad Bridge: To the north of the Bridgeport Bridge at State Street is another through truss bridge that gives the photographer on the State Street crossing a chance to get a few shots. The Bridgeport Railroad Bridge spans the Cass River, carrying the CSX Railroad, located approximately 300 feet away. The bridge is considered the longest of the bridges profiled here in the Bridgeport/Frankenburg area, for even though the main span- a Warren through truss with riveted connections and heel portal bracings- is 130 feet long, if one counts the trestle approaches, especially on the southern end, the total length is 530 feet. The bridge was constructed in 1908-09 by the American Bridge Company in New York. The 1908 date came from the concrete abutment, whereas the truss bridge was brought in a year later; the plaque is on the bridge. Together with the Bridgeport Bridge at State Street, the CSX crossing is one of a handful of bridges that still has a railroad and a road crossing running along side or adjacent of each other, but are trussed. The bridge is basically an accessory to the other one nearby and all its historic places located next to it, that it is basically a win-win situation for bridgehunters and historians alike. One cannot photograph one without getting the other.

 

Photo by James Baughn

Gugel Bridge at Beyer Road: Spanning the Cass River, this unique crossing has had a share of its own history as the 114-year old structure is the oldest surviving bridge in the county. The pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with Town Lattice portal bracings and a pony truss approach span, was originally built to accommodate the Dixie Highway until 1919. It was then relocated to this site where it served traffic until it was closed down in 1979. 25 years later, William ‘Tiny’ Zehnder led efforts to restore the bridge to reincorporate it into the bike trail connecting Bridgeport and Frankenmuth. There are historic markers and benches at the bridge for people to relax when taking a break, while enjoying the natural surroundings of the Cass.

 

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Frankenmuth Covered Bridge:

In the eyes of fans of iron bridges, this bridge is a modern “Schande” to the City of Frankenmuth. In the eyes of German tourists this bridge is too “Kitschisch” just like with the rest of the predominantly- German community whose resorts and restaurants resemble those in the Alps, even though the origin of Frankenmuth is from the Franconian Region of Bavaria. Yet in the eyes of covered bridge fans and those who have never seen Frankenmuth before, this bridge is considered the crown jewel for the community, competing with the Bridgeport Bridge at State Street for the best historic Bridge in this tour guide.

Yes, the Frankenmuth Covered Bridge, built in 1979 by Milton Graton & Son of Ashland, New Hampshire, is considered historic, even though in ten years time, it could be listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its unique truss design, its aesthetic features and its association with the community. The bridge is 239 feet long and has an A-Frame gable roofing which covers not only the one-lane road deck but also the pedestrian walkway that is on the outside of the bridge, separated by its Town Lattice truss design. Its gabled attic roofing on the sides make it resemble a covered Bridge in the Swiss  For cyclists going from Zehnder’s Restaurant on the west bank to the Bavarian Inn Lodge on the eastern side it is best to push your bike across on the pedestrian walkway as this covered Bridge sees a lot of traffic on a regular basis. The bridge, which carries a weight Limit of 7 tons, is a backdrop to the scenery on both sides of the river. On the east end, there is the Bavarian Inn and Restaurants which includes a park and many acres of green. On the western end there is the Business district, which includes small shops, restaurants and an open-air stage where polka and Bavarian-style music are played daily.  The bridge is next to the docks where boat tours are available to explore Frankenmuth. The Frankenmuth Covered Bridge has several names, but the most common is Holz Brücke (although the words are together in German), whereas Zehnder’s is also used for the masterminder behind the bridge was the town’s entrepreneur, William “Tiny” Zehnder (1919-2006).  Zehnder was the face of Frankenmuth because of his establishment of the Bavarian Inn in 1959, which was basically an extension of one of the restaurants he had owned prior to that. From that time until his retirement in 2004, Tiny carved a place in the history of Michigan by turning original small-town businesses into that of a Bavarian-style architecture which not only revived the town’s Franconian heritage but also made the community of over 6,500 people a popular attraction. Tiny died in 2006, but his family still runs the Bavarian Inn complex today.

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Frankenmuth Pedestrian Bridge  Perhaps the most interesting bridge in Frankenmuth and on this tour guide that is worth mentioning is this pedestrian bridge. The bridge is the newest one on the block and can be seen from both the covered bridge as well as the Highway 83 Bridge leading into downtown. The bridge is a concrete pony girder, using a similar art Greco design and flanked by flags and ornamental street lanterns on both sides. The bridge is estimated to be between 150 and 170 feet Long and about 10-12 feet wide. The first impression was that with a design like that, it was probably 80 years old. Yet with the structure being between 15 and 30 years old, one could conclude that the bridge could serve as an example of fancy pedestrian bridges that can be built if engineers and city leaders would not worry about the costs but more on the Geschmack the community would like to live with. Not everything needs to be made of just a slab of concrete.

 

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Bronner’s (Black) Bridge:  When entering Frankenmuth from the south along Michigan Highway 83, this is the first bridge you will see. Bronner’s was once located over Cass River at Dehmel Road, having been built in 1907 by the Joliet Bridge and Iron Company. The bridge features a Pratt through truss design with A-Frame portals, whose top chord is decorated with curved lower-cased m and n patterns. The bridge has a total length of 180 feet with the main span being 151 feet long. The decking is 16 feet wide and the height clearance is 14 feet. After 75 years in service, the bridge was relocated to this site, over Dead Creek at Grandpa Tiny’s Farm, one of the ideas concocted by William “Tiny” Zehnder because of his years of farming, alongside his role as Frankenmuth’s well-known entrepreneuer. It has been in its place ever since then, yet it is heavily fenced and secured with cameras to ensure no one walks onto the property unless it is open to tourists. However, you can photograph the structure from both the highway as well as the road going past the farm, at Townline Road. The bridge is located only 500 feet from Bronner’s, the largest store in the world that sells Christmas ornaments and lighting. Regardless of which country and the nostalgia, if you are looking for as special ornament or lights, you will find it there. That includes bubble lights, an American past time that is trying to make its comeback yet they are rare to see.

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There are more along the Cass River, but this tour guide will hopefully Show you the bridges you can visit while experiencing a mixture of German heritage on the part of Frankenmuth and local heritage on the side of Bridgeport. Being only six miles apart, the bridges are easily accessible, both by car as well as by bike or foot. The evidence can be seen in the map below as well as by clicking onto the highlighted links in the guide. There one will see that the Bridgeport/Frankenmuth Region is Michigan’s number one hot spot for bridges spanning over a century’s worth. It is definitely worth a stop for a few hours before travelling to the Mackinac Bridge and the state’s Upper Peninsula to the north.

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Saving the Bockau Arch Bridge Day 8: Update and Marketing Ideas

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It has been a few weeks since my last posting about the Bockau Arch Bridge and the fight against time and the elements to save the 150-year old structure. But as you can see here as well as on the Facebook page (click here), progress is being made in leaps and bounds to have the new structure, built on alignment, ready to go by next year. Already the piers and the concrete decking are in place, and a barrier is in place, permanently blocking access to the old bridge on the north end. Many have written off the old Bridge, however…..

….it’s not over yet. The decision regarding whether the state government will accept our petition and decision to allow for time to claim ownership of the structure before it is demolished in mid-2019 is still out. We’re looking at 4-6 weeks before Dresden decides.  Another petition going one level up further is in the making, an alliance to create a bridge association is being formed, and there is ever growing support for keeping the old structure in place, this despite the claims by the communities nearby that they will not take ownership once the new bridge is open.

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The author displaying the T-shirt with Pittsburgh’s bridges at our last Meeting at the Bockau Arch Bridge and Rechenhaus Restaurant

And then we have this marketing strategy, one of many that are being sought. 🙂

A friend of mine from Pittsburgh gave me this T-shirt containing all of the city’s bridges along the Allegheny,  Monongahela and Ohio Rivers before leaving for Niagara Falls during the road trip through the Great Lakes and the Committee Friends of the Bockau Arch Bridge would like to have a Shirt similar like this, but with the bridges along the Zwickau Mulde River.

That’s right! We have 40 bridges to choose from, ranging from the Jähn-Brücke at Morgenröthe-Rautenkranz (named after the lone East German astronaut, Sigmund Jähn) to Paradiesbrücke in Zwickau; The Wave in Glauchau to the Göhren Viaduct in Lunzenau; The Bridges of Rochlitz to the Suspension Bridge in Grimma. But the question is which ones deserve to be on the T-shirt?

From now until September 15th, you have the chance to vote which bridge along the Zwickau Mulde deserves to be on the T-shirt. Go to the link provided below, which will take you to the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles’ Facebook page and its photo album. Look at the photos selected and like the ones that are your favorite. If there is a bridge that is not listed but you want it on there, comment on it. The votes will then be tallied and the top 10-16  bridges liked on facebook will be placed on the T-shirt.

Link to the photo contest here.

For those who don’t facebook and still want to vote, you can also here:

The winners will be announced on the 17th of September. The T-Shirts will be designed similar to the one on the bridges in Pittsburgh, yet the colors will be different, reflecting on the region in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) as well as along the river. Right now, blue, green and white/grey are being considered, but we are open to other color combinations. Please send an E-Mail if you have a suggestion in colors that you would like to see appear on the T-shirts. Furthermore, as the Zwickau Mulde has one of the highest number of castles, competing with the likes of the Rhine and Rhone Rivers, each bridge will feature a place of interest in the background that is typical of the community. 

Once the design is complete and the T-shirts are available to the market, orders will be taken with proceeds going toward the Bockau Arch Bridge. You will be notified once the project is completed and available for sale.

In addition, postcards, coffee cups, a film about the Bockau Arch Bridge, another one on the bridges along the Zwickau Mulde and a book on the bridges in the region are being considered, but unlike the postcards and coffee cups, which are easy to do, the rest will need some time and planning for them to be realized. But we are starting to like this approach with the T-shirt. While more details are coming, you should really go out and choose your favorite bridges for the T-shirt project.

Good luck! 🙂

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Historic Truss Bridge in Chemnitz to be torn down

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The Bridge at Eckstrasse in Chemnitz. Photo taken in December 2016

CHEMNITZ, GERMANY- Located in the central part of the German state of Saxony, Chemnitz, with a population of 245,000 inhabitants, is the third largest city in the state. It also has one of the largest number of historic bridges in the state, competing with the likes of Dresden, Leipzig and even some smaller communities, like Plauen, Glauchau, Rochlitz and Waldheim, just to name a few.   Among the historic bridges, Chemnitz has five truss bridges, half as many as the city’s arch bridges. This includes the Chemnitz Viaduct, the railroad overpass near the Central Railway Station, and in the photo above, the bridge at Eckstrasse in the northern part of the city center.

Spanning the River Chemnitz, this 25 meter long span is a bedstead Pratt pony truss bridge with riveted connections. The vertical beams are V-laced and there are parallel diagonal beams. Although there are no records about its builder, the bridge was constructed in 1893 and survived two World Wars and the Cold War unscathed, which is in contrast to the buildings that had once stood before the bombings in February and March 1945. Sadly the bridge was also the subject of neglect as there were no repairs or rehabilitations done with the structure. It was closed to motorized vehicles in 2006 and was voted Germany’s worst bridge by the automobile association ADAC, a year later.

After years of neglect, the bridge’s days are officially number, according to the Chemnitz Free Press in connection with the city council’s decision. Beginning 13 August 2018, the bridge will be permanently closed to all traffic including cyclists and pedestrians. At the cost of 30,000 Euros, the construction crews will remove the truss structure in its entirety. No replacement is expected, which means cyclists and pedestrians will be forced to use the nearest crossings at Shoe Bridge and Müller Bridge. A map below shows you the three bridges:

The project is expected to take two weeks to complete. The reason behind the decision to remove the bridge does not have much to do with the cost for rehabilitating the bridge but more on the practicality of doing it, for many structural elements on the truss bridge is kaputt. Even during the visit in December 2016, one of the first impressions was the rust and corrosion on the truss superstructure itself. That went along with the rough decking with dips and cracks. These were issues that could have been fixed at the time prior to its closing in 2006, yet lack of funding may have played a role in delaying the rehabilitation process, eventually to a point of no return in the end. With over two dozen bridges over the River Chemnitz, with four bridges in the north of the city center, the Eckstrasse crossing was considered expendable because of the nearest crossings at Shoe Bridge and Müller Bridge, each were approx. 250 meters apart from this bridge.

The Eckstrasse Bridge will leave the cityscape with two opposite impressions. On the one hand, it will leave as one of the rarest historic bridges in Saxony that withstood history and the test of time. Yet it will be relieved of the humility of being the most neglected bridge that, if there had been expertise and financial resources, it could’ve been rehabbed and reused. Sometimes one has to follow the Indiana rule, which is if the bridge cannot carry vehicular traffic, it is rehabbed right away instead of being abandoned first. 80% of historic bridges in the Hoosier state were preserved that way. And while it is too late to save this rare jewel in Chemnitz, the state of Saxony should be put on notice should another historic bridge be put under the knife for structural deficiencies.

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Full Throttle Bridges Relocated

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Bridges relocated to the new site; to be rehabilitated and reused for concert purposes

STURGIS (SOUTH DAKOTA), USA-  Almost three years ago, after celebrating the 75th anniversary of the world famous saloon located out in the mountainous region of South Dakota, a fire wiped out the entire Full Throttle Saloon complex, destroying buildings and damaging two historic bridges, brought in for the fans to watch their favorite musicians rock on stage. The bridges– products of the Canton Bridge Company and built in  1912- were in dire condition and it was unknown whether they could be salvaged or not.

Fast forward to 2018 and we see a totally different story! 🙂  As with the rest of the Full Throttle complex, these two through truss bridges have been relocated to the new site, approximately six miles north of the one that was charred by the inferno of 2015. A video of the unloading process of one of the spans can be seen below:

Video of the Bridge Relocation:

There is a lot of work to be done on the bridge before it can be used again as an overlook for concerts. The trusses located were missing the floor beams- burned along with the rest of the buildings at its original site- thus exposing the bottom chord. Damage was discovered in the vertical and diaginal beams which will require some reconstruction before a new flooring system can be installed. The rest of the bridge appears to be in good condition as it survived being loaded and carried onto trailers to the new site.

The Full Throttle Saloon Bridges won the Ammann Awards in the category of best example of a restored historic bridge in 2011. Yet if the project of restoration is completed, it may be up for another Amman Award and then some. But nevertheless, thanks to donations and a lot of loving and support, the saloon is being resurrected, bit by bit. With the full restoration of the two bridges coming, it may be the crown of a sucess story which really rose from the ashes to become a more popular attraction for cyclists and tourists. I’m really looking forward to the bridges when they are completed and the saloon complex finally goes full throttle. Ride on, gang! 🙂

 

Check out the Full Throttle Saloon’s facebook page so you can follow up on the events that are happening at the largest complex in the region, as well as the attempts to finish rebuilding the bridge to be used again for concerts.

Photos courtesy of James MacCray

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Historic Structures and Glasses: Restore vs. Replacement in Simpler Terms

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Co-written with sister column, FF new logo

The discussion about the preservation and reuse of historic places has existed since the 1950s, thanks to the preservation laws that have been in place. The German Preservation Laws were passed in 1958, whereas the Historic Preservation Laws that established the National Park Service and National Register of Historic Places in the USA were enacted in 1966. Both serve the lone purpose of identifying and designating places unique to the cultural identity and history of their respective countries. Furthermore, these places are protected from any sort of modernization that would otherwise alter or destroy the structure in its original form. Protected places often receive tax credits, grants and other amenities that are normally and often not granted if it is not protected or even nominated for listing as a historic site.  This applies to not only buildings and bridges but also to roadways and highways, windmills, towers of any sorts, forts and castles, citadels and educational institutions and even memorials commemorating important events.

Dedicating and designating sites often receive mixed reactions, from overwhelming joy because they can better enjoy the sites and educate the younger generations, to disgruntlement because they want to relieve themselves of a potential liability.

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Since working with a preservation group in western Saxony on saving the Bockau Arch Bridge, a seven-span stone arch bridge that spans the Zwickau Mulde between Bockau and Zschorlau, six kilometers southwest of Aue, the theme involving this structure has been ownership. The bridge has been closed to all traffic since August 2017 while a replacement is being built on a new alignment. Once the new bridge opens, the 150-year old structure will come down unless someone is willing to step in and take over ownership and the responsibilities involved. . Taking the structure means paying for its maintenance and assuming all responsibility for anything that could potentially happen. And this is the key here: Ownership.

Who wants to own a piece of history? To examine this, let’s look at a basic example of a commodity where two thirds of the world’s population wear on a regular basis- the author included as well: glasses.

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The author’s sunglasses: the older model from 2005 on top; the newest pair from 2018 at the bottom.

Ever since Marco Polo’s invention, glasses have been improved, innovated and modernized to not only make the person look great in appearance. It also helps them to better see the environment surrounding them, regardless of whether they are near-sighted or far sighted, have astigmatism or require bi-focals to read, or if they want protect their eyes from the sun in the form of shades. Glasses can be plastic or metal (or even both). And like the historic structures, the materials can be recycled if no one wants them. Yet by the same token, many of us love to keep them for the purpose of memories or give them away to those who need them. For over 30 years, I have worn nine pairs of glasses and two pairs of sunglasses; this does not count the eight years that I primarily wore contact lenses, which was during my time in high school and college. Like our historic structures, glasses have a life span. They are worn until the frames develop rust and corrosion, the vision changes or they are broken.

In some cases, many look for a new frames because they want to “look cool” in front of their peers. The “look cool” mentality has overtaken society to a point where it can be applicable to about everything: cars, clothing, houses and especially historic places and structures of interest. Basically, people just ignore the significance of these structures and things that had been built in the past, which hold memories, contribute to the development of a country, region or even community, or are simply fashionable. Still in spite of all this, one has to do something about the glasses, just as much one has to do something about the historic building.

So let’s take these two pairs of sunglasses, for example. Like in the picture above, the top one I was prescribed by an optometrist in 2005; the bottom one most recently in June 2018. The top one is a combination of plastic and steel- the temples, ends and hinges are made of steel; the eye wires are plastic. The lenses are made with Carl Zeiss branded glass with a sealcoat covering to protect it from scratches.  The bottom ones are plastic- frames, temples and nosepiece; the lenses are plastic but with a sealcoat protectant and dimmers to protect the eyes from the sun. The brand name is generic- no name.  The difference is that the changes in the eyes required new sunglasses for the purpose of driving or doing work outside.  As I wear the new sunglasses, which are not as high quality but is “cool,” according to standards, the question is what to do with the old sunglasses?

There are enough options to go around, even if the sunglasses are not considered significant. One can keep the old pair for memory purposes. Good if you have enough space for them. One can give them away to someone who needs them. If they are non-prescription lenses, that is much easier than those with a prescription. With the prescription lenses, one will need to remove them from the frame before giving them away. Then there is the option of handing them into the glasses provider, who takes the pair apart and allows for the materials to be recycled.  More likely one will return the old pair to the provider to be recycled and reused than it would be to give them away because of the factors of age, quality of the materials and glass parts and especially the questions with the lenses themselves. One can keep the pair, but it would be the same as leaving them out of sight and out of mind.

And this mentality can be implemented to any historic structure. People strive for cooler, more modern buildings, infrastructure or the like, but do not pay attention to the significance of the structure they are replacing in terms of learning about the past and figuring its reuse in the future. While some of  these “oldtimers “ are eventually vacated and abandoned, most of them are eventually torn down with the materials being reused for other purposes; parts of sentimental values, such as finials, statues and plaques, are donated to museums and other associations to be put on display.

The Bridge at Pointer’s Ridge. Built in 1910 by the Western Bridge Company of Omaha, NE. The Big Sioux River crossing was one of five bridges removed after years of abandonment in 2012. Photo taken in 1999 when it was still open.

One of examples that comes to mind when looking at this mentality are the bridges of Minnehaha County in South Dakota. The most populous county in the state whose county seat is Sioux Falls (also the largest city in the state), the county used to have dozens of historic truss bridges that served rail and automobile traffic. As of present, 30 known truss bridges exists in the county, down from 43 in 1990, and half as many as in 1980.  At least six of them are abandoned awaiting reuse. This includes a rails-to-road bridge that was replaced in 1997 but has been sitting alongside a gravel road just outside Dell Rapids ever since.  A big highlight came with the fall of five truss bridges between Dell Rapids and Crooks in 2012, which included three through truss spans- two of which had crossed the Big Sioux. All three were eligible for the National Register. The reasons behind the removal were simple: Abandoned for too long and liability was too much to handle

This leads me to my last point on the glasses principle: what if the structures are protected by law, listed as a historic monument?  Let’s look at the glasses principle again to answer that question. Imagine you have a couple sets of glasses you don’t want to part ways with, even as you clean your room or  flat. What do you do with them? In the case of my old sunglasses, the answer is simple- I keep them for one can reuse them for other purposes. Even if I allow my own daughter to use them for decorating dolls or giant teddy bears, or even for artwork, the old pair is mine, if and only if I want to keep them and allow for use by someone else under my care.  The only way I would not keep the old sunglasses is if I really want to get rid of them and no one wants them.

Big Sioux River Crossing at 255th Street: One of five bridges removed in 2012 after decades of abandonment. Photo taken in 1999.

For historic places, this is where we have somewhat of a grey area. If you treat the historic place as if it is protected and provide great care for it, then there is a guarantee that it will remain in its original, pristine condition. The problem is if you want to get rid of it and your place is protected by law. Here you must find the right person who will take as good care of it as you do with your glasses. And that is not easy because the owner must have the financial security and the willpower just to do that. Then the person taking it over does not automatically do what he/she pleases. If protected under preservation laws you must treat it as if it is yours but it is actually not, just like renting a house.  Half the places that have been torn down despite its designation as a historical site was because of the lack of ownership and their willingness to do something to their liking. Even if there are options for restoration available, if no one wants it, it has to go, even if it means taking it off the historic registry list to do that.  Sometimes properties are reclaimed at the very last second, just like the old glasses, because of the need to save it. While one can easily do that with glasses, it is difficult to do that with historic places, for replacement contracts often include removal clauses for the old structure, something that is very difficult to rescind without taking the matter to court.

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In reference to the project on the Bockau Arch Bridge in Germany, we are actually at that point. Despite its protection as a historic structure, its designation was taken off recently, thus allowing for the contract for the new bridge at the expense of the old structure to proceed. Yet, like with the pair of old glasses, last ditch attempts are being made to stop the process for there are possible suitors willing to take over the old structure and repurpose it for bike and pedestrian use. While neither of the communities have expressed interest, despite convincing arguments that the bridge can be maintained at a price that is 100 times less than the calculated amount, the group working to save the bridge is forming an association which will feature a network of patrons in the region, willing to chip in to own the bridge privately. Despite this, the debate on ownership and the bridge’s future lies in the hands of the state parliament because the bridge carries a federal highway, which is maintained on the state and national levels. Will it become like the old pair of glasses that is saved the last second will be decided upon later this fall.

To summarize briefly on the glasses principle, glasses and buildings each have a short lifespan because of their functionality and appearance. We tend to favor the latter more than the former and therefore, replace them with newer, more modern and stylish things to keep up with the pace. However, the older structures, just like the discarded pair of glasses, are downgraded on the scale, despite its protection under laws and ownership. When listed as a historical site, the proprietor works for and together with the government to ensure its upkeep, just like lending old glasses to someone for use, as long as the person knows he/she is “borrowing” it. When it is not listed , they are either abandoned or torn down, just like storing the glasses in the drawers or even having them recycled. However the decision is final if and only if no one wants it, and this could be a last-second thing.

The Bridge at Iverson Crossing south of Sioux Falls. Built in 1897, added to the National Register in 1996. Now privately owned. Photo taken in 1998.

We cannot plan ahead for things that need to be built, expanded or even replaced, for there may be someone with a strong backbone and staunch support who will step in the last minute to stake their claim. This applies to replacing older, historic structures with modern ones that have less taste and value. In the face of environmental issues we’re seeing globally on a daily basis, we have to use and reuse buildings and other structures to prevent the waste of materials that are becoming rarer to use, the destruction of natural habitats that may never recover but most importantly, remind the younger generations of our history and how we got this far. While some of us have little memories of our old glasses in schools with the exception of school class and party photos, almost all of us have memories of our experiences at, in, or on a historic structure that deserves to be recognized and kept for others to see. It’s just a matter of handling them, like the glasses we are wearing.

 

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