Yesterday marked an anniversary of a tragedy in the history of bridge building and maintenance. 125 years ago on May 26, 1896, a street car tried to cross the Point Ellice Bridge, which spans the Upper Harbor on present-day Bay Street, connecting Victoria and Victoria West, let alone the island with the mainland. Thousands gathered to celebrate the 76th birthday of Queen Victoria and watch the reenactment of a naval battle at Esquimalt. Unfortunately on this tragic day, one of two spans of the pin-connected Whipple through truss bridge collapsed under the weight of the street car and the people who were traveling on it. An analysis of the disaster and reactions to the tragedy can be found in the video below:
The disaster was considered the worst in Canadian history at that time, still it is being talked about in class today, but on a regonal level. The bridge collapse signaled the beginning of the movement for truss bridges that were to be built to withstand increasing loads of traffic. This included the introduction of standardization of truss designs to be used for bridge construction. This was introduced beginning in 1910 in the United States. Steel was already replacing wood and iron because of their lack of quality- iron was too inflexible and brittle, while wood had a potential to rot due to weather and worms eating away at the material. The latter can be found in the example of the first crossing in Bisbrane, in Australia. And bit by bit, the introduction of a Good Roads Movement was presented, where roads and bridges were to be built using higher quality materials, yet at the same time, they were to be maintained. Even a simple paint job on a truss bridge span could prolong the span’s functional life.
Each bridge disaster presented challenges and ushered in changes to bridge building and maintenance. The Point Ellice Bridge collapse of 1896 is still being talked about to this day because it ushered in the necessary changes needed to improve the infrastructure not only in Canada, but in neighboring USA and even beyond…..
The Point Ellice House and Bridge were built at the same time, honoring Edward Ellice, who left a mark in Canadian history and later in Great Britain. The House has been preserved and designated a historic site. It still hosts events that talk about this tragic event. At the same time, the bridge was rebuilt after the disaster, yet the present-day structure, a concrete cantilever span, was built in 1958 and still serves traffic today. It was renovated last time in 2019.
One will find this one anywhere. Even on the backroads like this one: a single span truss span spanning Soldier River just south of Iowa Hwy. 141 in Crawford County. The bridge was erected here in 1957 to replace a span destroyed during the great flood of 1945. At 90 feet, one would think a through truss span could have fit here. Yet the span is a pony truss and it was put together in layers and put together with bolts. A set of Tinker Toys that was put together easily with the purpose of ensuring even the heaviest vehicles- in this case, farm equipment like tractors- would be allowed to cross it. One has to assume that it was imported somewhere where it had a purpose.
And it was. This span is an example of a Bailey Truss bridge. And even though one can find them here and there, in the farmlands of Iowa to the steep hills of central Saxony, even to the far east, such as India, Australia and New Zealand. Bailey Trusses were unique because all they require is a few metal beams and bolts, combined with manpower, and the bridge is put together in an instant. Bailey Trusses were the works of a brillant engineer and and without his expertise, it would not have won World War II. As Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery, the British commander, once said. ”It was the best thing in that line we ever had; without the Bailey Bridge we should not have won the war.”
Bailey was born on 15 September, 1901 in Rotherham in Yorkshire. He obtained a degree in Civil Engineering at the University of Sheffield in 1923 and was a civil servant in the War Department when the war broke out in 1939. The concept of the Bailey Truss was developed in 1936, when Bailey scribbled the design on the back of an envelope. His idea was that prefabricated sections that were interchangable could be deployed to the war front and, with steel pins, soldiers could construct the span, which would be anchored on one side and connected on the other side by the use of force. No heavy equipment would be needed to construct a temporary span, and the parts could be transported with the basic equipment or with man power from one place to another because of their lightweight. Constructing them would be easy for it could be achieved within hours, instead of months. For the war effort, the concept of makeshift bridge construction in the shortest time span possible was of utmost importance in order to win the war.
Firstly ignored, Bailey’s truss design was accepted in 1941 when the Ministry of Supply requested that Bailey construct a full scale span completed by May 1st. The design was successfully tested at the Experimental Bridging Establishment (EBE), in Christchurch, Hampshire, with several parts being provided by Braithwaite & Co. The first prototype was tested in 1941. For early tests, the bridge was laid across a field, about 2 feet (0.61 m) above the ground, and several Mark V tanks were filled with pig iron and stacked upon each other. Another prototype was constructed in 1943 at Stanpit Marsh also in Dorset and was proven successful. That span still exists to this day. After a series of successful trials, the Corps of Royal Engineers introduced the Bailey Truss as a means of construction in 1942 and companies began constructing parts for the Bailey Truss to be transported to the war front.
Use in World War II:
The first Bailey Truss was constructed over Medjerda River near Medjez el Bab in Tunisia on the night of 26 November 1942 by the by 237 Field Company R.E. After learning about the bridge‘s success, both the Canadians and Americans embraced the truss and started their own production to complement that of Britain. Detroit Steel Products Company, the American Elevator Company and the Commercial Shearing and Stamping Company were three of dozens of companies that constructed the Bailey Trusses in the US, which was known as the Portable Panel Bridge. In total, over 600 firms were involved in the making of over 200 miles of bridges using the Bailey design, composing of 500,000 tons, or 700,000 panels of bridging during the war- at the height of the war, the number was at 20,000 panels that were produced and transported. Bailey Trusses were used successfully for transporting military equipment and supplies during the war, including the Normandy and Italy. American troops built over 3200 Bailey Trusses in Italy as they advanced through the Alps into Germany from the south. The longest bridge there was located over the Sangro and had a span of 1200 feet.
Bailey Trusses were also implemented in Germany, when hundreds of key structures were imploded by the Nazis as a way to slowing or stopping the advancement of Allied Troops. This included the bridges along the Rivers Rhine and Main. Canadians were credited for building the longest Bailey Bridge during the war. The Blackfriars Bridge, a 1814 foot long (558 meters) over the River Rhine at Rees, in North Rhine-Westphalia, was the longest span in the world when it opened to traffic on 28 March, 1945.
Even when the war ended on May 7th, 1945, Bailey trusses were in use as temporary crossings while the bridges were either repaired or rebuilt throughout Germany. It had a dual purpose: To help displaced residence get around and to allow for the transportation of necessary goods needed while the country was being rebuilt. Some of them were made permanent, while others, including the major crossings along the Rhine, Main and Elbe were temporary, allowing time for the original structures to be either repaired or rebuilt fully.
After World War II:
When the war was over, there was a surplus of Bailey spans that were available for reuse. This allowed for Americans, British and Canadians alike to reuse them for various projects. Many of them made their way to Iowa, Missouri and Kansas, where counties in the western half of the state needed at least temporary crossings to replace the spans that were destroyed during the floods of 1945 and again in 1952. Some examples still remain in use today. Bailey trusses were used as temporary crossings as bridges were being replaced. In the case of a viaduct in Maryland, the Bailey spans were built prior to the original trestle being replaced with steel trestles.
Large numbers of Bailey truss spans were built in mountainous areas in California where constructing bridges to accomodate travelers was difficult because of the steep, rocky terrain. Some of the spans were part of the ACROW bridge- temporarily built as moveable bridges. The Fore River Bridge and the Lynn Baschule Bridge both in Massachusetts are classic examples of such Bailey Trusses used. Bailey trusses were also used as extra support for the truss bridge, as is the case with the Haiti Island Bridge in New York, which happened in 2007. The span and the truss bridge itself were replaced three years later.
Ontario had the largest number of Bailey truss spans for the years after the war, with the spans being built in and around Toronto in response to damages caused by Hurricane Hazel. The Finch Avenue Bridge is the last of its kind and is now a historic landmark. The Ontario Hydro-Electric Power Commission used some for their office and as walkways. And lastly, Australia built several Bailey bridges, including the world record holder, a 2585-foot (788 meter), two-lane structure over the Derwent River at Hobart, which was constructed in 1975. It served as a temporary structure before the Tasman Bridge was opened to traffic on October 8, 1977. Later, Bailey Truss Bridges were constructed in the far east, including northern Africa, Suriname, and India. Many of them, like the trestle at Wadi el Kuf in Lybia were built by the British during the time of its Empire.
The Legacy of Bailey:
Many scholars and even those who served in the military during WWII believed that the Bailey Truss was the key to mobilizing Allied Troops and securing a victory over Germany and Italy in World War II. As a result, Mr. Bailey received several international accolades for his work. In Britain alone, he was given the Knighthood on 1 January, 1946 and the Commander of the Order of Orange-Nassau exactly two years later. By that time, Bailey was living in Southbourne in Bournemouth and was unaware that he had been knighted until one of the girls at the bank had informed him about it. Bailey would live out his days in Bournemouth, where he died in 1985.
He was considered a quiet man but one where he left a footprint with his truss bridge design, which is still widely used in bridge construction, big and small. And while the successes of World War II fell to the common person who fought for freedom and democracy, Bailey was considered one that played a key role, not only in helping bring an end to the war, but to help rebuild the areas ravaged by war with the Bailey Truss. And when you see a bridge like this one below, one will see how the use of simple parts and tools, combined with the use of manpower could make a work of simple art, something we still see today on our roads.
There are not many memorials dedicated to Bailey, even in Britain, for most of the places where he lived have been razed and replaced with newer housing. Yet the prototype Bailey span at Stanpit Marsh still exists today and his birthplace at 24 Albany Street in Rotherham still stands albeit privately owned. Yet there are some companies that specialize in Bailey trusses, including one in Alabama that bears its name. Bailey trusses were rarely used in films, except one based on the battle of Arnhem, A Bridge Too Far, released in 1977. There, the Bailey Truss Bridge was used in the film.
It is really hoped that a statue and/or additional honors, even a museum would be created honoring Bailey for his life and works. 75 years after the end of the great war, nothing of that sort has been considered. This should be considered, especially as talk of the significance of World War II is disappearing together with the War Generation and the children of the Baby Boom that followed. For historians, bridge enthusiasts, teachers and the public in general, it would produce some great talks about the common man who did great things and became Sir Donald Bailey in the end.
CHEMIN HAMEL/ SHERBROOKE/ QUEBEC CITY, QUEBEC, CANADA-
A rare gem of a historic bridge is no more, and police suspect faul play. The Pont Davy was a wooden deck truss bridge, whose design resembles a truss bridge built almost two centuries ago but it was 70 years old when it met its demise. The bridge was a two-span Town Lattice deck truss bridge, with a total length of 200 meters. Built in 1951, the bridge carried a local road until its abandonment a couple decades ago. It was first discovered by pontists 10 years ago and the bridge has become a popular tourist attraction. Its red Town lattice trusswork is one of the youngest that was built, and its natural surroundings made it a popular stop for hikers and photographers alike. Work had been progressing on finding out its history prior to its destruction.
Police and criminal investigators are looking into the cause of the fire, which occurred at the bridge on 23 September, causing the entire structure to collapse. No one was injured in the disaster. Since then, authorities have suspected arson and are looking for person(s) responsible for the fire. Information and leads should be reported to the local authorities immediately.
More information and photos of the bridge can be found via link here:
The Pont Davy was one of over a dozen covered bridges that are remaining in Quebec. A tour guide on the bridges can be found here:
It’s also in the Tour Guide page of the Chronicles. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest on the arson at the bridge.
Calls are being given to all drivers to obey weight and height limits on bridges after historic bridge collapses in Nova Scotia, Canada
CANSO (NOVA SCOTIA), CANADA/ REDWOOD FALLS (MINNESOTA), USA- Government officials on local, state and national levels are urgently calling on truck drivers to beware of weight and height restrictions on bridges before crossing. This includes crossing bridges with overhead coverings, such as through truss bridges and covered bridges, but also light weight bridges and underpasses.
This is in response to an incident that happened yesterday in the town of Canso, in the Canadian Province of Nova Scotia. There, a semi truck tried to cross the Canso Truss Bridge, a riveted Pratt through truss bridge connecting Durell’s Island with the main land. The truck made it halfway across the structure when the decking gave out and the trusses folded like a deck of cards, sending the truck and the driver 7 meters into the water. The driver was taken to the hospital for injuries. Another person who guided the truck onto the bridge got off before the collapse happened. A video and a link to the article about the incident is below.
The bridge, which was the main link to the island was scheduled to be replaced because of its age and structural obsoleteness. Workers had been doing some prep work for a new bridge built alongside the nearly century old structure. A temporary crossing is in the works, yet ferry service has been made available for the island’s residents.
The incident came as officials in Redwood and Renville Counties in Minnesota recently installed “headache” bars at another historic bridge. The Gold Mine Bridge is a Parker through truss bridge spanning the Minnesota River at county highway 17 near the village of Delhi. It was one of two known surviving works of German engineer- later politician, Lawrence H. Johnson, who built the structure in 1903. Truck drivers have reported to have crossed the bridge despite it having a five ton weight limit. Currently, nearby bridges at county highways 6 and 101 are being rebuilt. A bar with the height of 8.5 feet (2 meters) has been erected at both ends of the bridge and a speed limit of 10 mph has been enforced.Truckers needing to cross the Minnesota River are urged to use the Hwy. 71 and 19 Bridges at Morton.
Bridge collapses as a result of disregarding weight and height restrictions are nothing new, for an average of 25-30 bridges worldwide have either been severely damaged or totally destroyed- a third of which come from the United States and Canada. Truckers have complained of being dependent on the GPS system and finding short cuts, yet part of the problem stems from the lack of education, in particular math and sciences, that has become important for all businesses in general. Truckers need it to understand weight and gravity, but also to calculate the difference between convenience versus safety. Other factors like working conditions with poor pay must also be taken into account. While many are annoyed that these bridges have restrictions and signs are needed to inform them, as one engineer stated in response to a collapse of another historic bridge in Iowa in 2017: Signs are there to save lives.
Tips on how to avoid areas, including bridges, that are restricted can be found in an interview done in 2015, which you can click here.
After processing the candidates and adding some information to some of them, the time has come to vote for our favorite candidates in nine categories for the 2019 Bridgehunter Awards, powered by the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. As mentioned earlier in the year, the Ammann Awards were changed to this name to honor some of the pontists, whose category and prizes have been named in their honor. Nevertheless though, the format is the same as in the previous awards. There are two voting ballots- one here and one on the next page (which you can click here). With the exception of the category Best Photo, each candidate has a link which you can access so that you can look at them more closely in terms of photos and information.
For Best Photo, I’ve decided to do it differently. One simply looks at the photos and votes. The names of the top six (including the winner) will be announced.
Voting is unlimited due to the high number of candidates in each of the categories- both on the US level as well as on the international level- and because many of us have multiple preferences than just one. 😉
Without further ado, here’s part I of the voting ballot and have fun voting. 🙂
After voting in the first part of the ballot, here is the second part and the same procedure as in the first. Information on the Lifetime Achievement Candidates you will find at the end of the ballot, including links. The deadline to vote is 11:59pm your local time on 10th January, 2020. The winners will be announced two days later. Good luck with the voting! 🙂
Information on the Lifetime Achievement Candidates:
Workin Bridges: In business since 2009, Workin Bridges has been the leader in restoring historic bridges in the United States, both big and small. Consisting of a crew of bridge restoration experts, the company has garnered up lots of awards for bridge restoration, plus documentaries on a couple key historic bridges. Link: https://www.workinbridges.org/
James Schiffer: Founder of Schiffer Group, based in Michigan, Mr. Schiffer brings over 30 years of experience in the world of civil engineering and has worked with several preservation groups in restoring some historic bridges; among them the Paper Mill Bridge, now in Delaware. Link:http://www.schiffergroup.com/
John Marvig: Mr. Marvig brings over a decade of experience in historic railroad bridges in the upper half of the United States. You can find them on his website: http://johnmarvigbridges.org/
Friends of Brunel’s Swivel Bridge in Bristol, England: This bridge celebrated its 170th birthday this year and the group has been working to restore and reactivate I.K. Brunel’s bridge over the canal and River Avon for almost a decade. This features bridge (preservation) experts, historians, welders, city officials and the like- both past and present. Link: https://www.brunelsotherbridge.org.uk/
James Baughn of bridgehunter.com: For almost two decades, Mr. Baughn has run Bridgehunter.com, a database containing millions of historic bridges in the United States and Puerto Rico, both past and present. It still is active in collecting and storing information for people to use. Link: http://bridgehunter.com/
Author’s Note:Should you have problems accessing the links in the different categories, highlight and copy (Ctrl. + C) the link you want to open, then paste (Ctrl. + V) it onto the bar of a new window. In case of further problems with the ballot, feel free to contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles, using the contact form here.