During the summer of 1998, I embarked on a bridgehunting tour along six rivers in northern Iowa, among them the Des Moines River. Before splitting into the East and West Forks, the river literally cut the state and its capital Des Moines into two up until Frank Gotch Park south of Humboldt. Then before entering Minnesota, the East branch snakes its way through Humboldt, Kossuth and Emmet Counties, whereas the West Fork stays in Humboldt County, nicking a corner of Pocahontas before halving Emmet County and its county seat Estherville. It was along the West Branch I saw the bridge in the photo above: the Murray Bridge. Located two river miles southeast of Bradgate, this Pratt through truss bridge with pinned connections had a very unique feature on its portal bracing: star-shaped heel bracings welded right through. That, plus the plaque indicating its builder’s date of 1905 all belonged to a local Iowa bridge builder, A.H. Austin. Little did I realize at that time was that although Mr. Austin may have been a local bridge builder, he left a legacy in northern Iowa that is still talked about to this day. And while three bridges were officially credited to his name in a state-wide survey conducted by the late James E. Hippen in the early 1990s, he built more than any of the historians knew about. And henceforth, we will look at his legacy and the bridges that he built up until now, plus the ones that still exist today.
Born Alva Hiram Austin in Colchester, Vermont on 7 September, 1848, he grew to manhood, having graduated at the University of Vermont. After many of his friends decided to heed to the advice of Horace Greeley, the young man of 27 years emigrated west to Webster City in 1875. After having worked for the county auditor and a local church, Alva became interested in bridge building, and in 1877, did an apprenticeship for a bridge builder in Cedar Falls, who was building bridges in Hamilton County, where Webster City is located. Shortly afterwards, he became a contractor, having established his bridge building business in Webster City at 737 Bank Street. For over 40 years, Mr. Austin built dozens of bridges in Hamilton County, as well as surrounding counties, although records have indicated him constructing bridges mainly in Humboldt and Kossuth Counties. It is possible that he built bridges in other counties but more research is needed to confirm these claims. Mr. Austin was known for his athleticism as a civil engineer, having walked 10 miles between his workplace and the bridge building site daily, and thus having known every village and field in the county and its surrounding neighbors.
Mr. Austin was also a committed civic leader, having served as a mayor of Webster City from 1898-1900 as well as the head of the school board from 1899 to 1901, having successfully spearheaded efforts in building the Webster City High School. He later worked as a city inspector, having overseen the construction of the public swimming pool to ensure the design suited the builder’s expectations.
When Alva died on 8 July, 1944 at the age of 96 years, he was survived by his three children, Roy, Jesse and Fred- all of whom had attended college at Iowa State University, yet his daughter Jesse became professor of economics at Cornell University in New York. Especially in his later years before his death, she became his caretaker. Alva’s wife, Chloe Rachel (née: Scullin) died in 1896 after having been married to Alva for 18 years. Another daughter, Grace, had preceded in death 18 years before his ultimate passing.
As far as bridges are concerned, at least 20+ bridges had been built by Austin in five counties, including Hamilton County, yet Kossuth County seemed to have been his primary customer for at least six bridges were built during his career as a bridge builder. One of them was later relocated to Emmet County. Three were reportedly built in Humboldt County, including the now extant Lewis Street Bridge in Humboldt and the aforementioned Murray Bridge near Bradgate. It is still unknown if and where Austin has built other bridges. However, here is the databank of the bridges that he had built. Information on its dimensions and other photos are available by clicking on the name of the bridge, which will take you to the bridge:
Murray Bridge- This 1905 bridge spans the West Fork Des Moines River southeast of Bradgate, in Humboldt County. The bridge is still open to traffic and considered eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It’s still open to traffic but plans for possible reuse for bikes and pedestrians are being considered.
Armstrong Gravel Pit Bridge- This bridge spans the East Fork of the Des Moines River north of Armstrong in Emmet County. It can be seen from 160th Street but is privately owned. The bridge was built in 1899 by Austin, but its original location was in Kossuth County. Emmet County’s engineer bought the bridge in 1940 for relocation to the gravel pit, where it served traffic until its closure in the 1970s. The bridge then sat abandoned for three decades until a new owner restored it for private use. The markings on the portals are typical of Austin’s design which could be seen with most of the structures built.
Albright Bridge- Spanning the Boone River at Inkpaduta Avenue south of Webster City, this 1907 bridge represents the common form of the Pratt through truss bridge with A-frame portal bracings and is one of the latest examples of Austin’s work. At 156 feet, this bridge is still one of the longest of its kind in Iowa.
Second Street Bridge- Spanning the Boone River in Webster City, this two-span Pratt through truss bridge with Town lattice portal bracings with curved heel bracings was one of the first bridges built by Austin in 1878-9. It served US Hwy. 20 when it was designated in 1926. Sadly, a truck crashed into the bridge in 1949 and it was subsequentially replaced in 1950.
Blackford Bridge- Spanning the East Fork Des Moines River west of Algona, this bridge was one of the earliest structures built by Austin. It was one of the first with its star-formed heel bracings but one of the last using the Town Lattice portal bracing. The bridge was replaced in 1942 for unknown reasons except that the steel was probably reused for the war efforts.
Lewis Street Bridge- Located in Humboldt, this two-span Pratt through truss with Town Lattice portal and heel bracings used to carry this thoroughfare until the late 1960s, when it was bypassed by the Hwy. 169 bridge to the west. The bridge closed to traffic in 1970, yet attempts were made to convert it to first pedestrian then afterwards a pipeline crossing. Heeding to the demands of the county engineer to have the structure removed with haste, the bridge was removed in 1981. Today, only the center pier and the abutments can be seen.
Riverdale Bridge- Located over the East Fork Des Moines River at 150th Street, south of Algona and west of Hwy. 169, the Riverdale Bridge was a late example of a bridge built by A.H. Austin. He was awarded a contract to build the bridge in October, having completed it in 1900. The 142-foot Pratt through truss bridge with M-frame portal bracings functioned in place until its replacement in 1991.
Bancroft Bridge- Spanning the East Branch Des Moines River west of Bancroft, this Pratt through truss bridge is similar to the bridge at Armstrong in Emmet County. It was built in 1899 yet it was replaced before 1990, when the statewide Iowa historic bridge survey was carried out.
(Blue highlighted bridges denotes link to bridgehunter.com website; yellow denotes no info outside this page to date)
According to the surveys carried out by Hippen and Clayton Fraser, several other bridges may have been credited to Austin’s name, yet there has not been any full confirmation. Therefore, there is a plea from you. Do you know of other bridges that Austin built? If so, when was it built, where was it located and most importantly, what did it look like prior to its replacement?
All of these bridges will be added to this page on A.H. Austin in the Chronicles’ Bridge Directory. Stories are also welcomed.
Special thanks to Martin Nass of Webster City for the information on A.H. Austin and Doug Miller at the Kossuth County Highway Department for the photos and information on the bridges in the county.
Location: Baltic-North Sea Canal at Rendsburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany
Description: Main span: Cantilever Warren through truss with transporter (main span), steel trestle approach span (south) and loop approach (north)
Length: 7 km (total) Of which: 2468 main span; loop approach 4.5 km
Built: 1913 by Friedrich Voss and C.H. Jocho of Dortmund
Travelling north to Flensburg on the Schleswig-Holstein-Express (the SHE) one evening in May 2010, I was chatting with four passengers heading home to the Rum capital of the world, talking about break-ups, broken marriages and partners cheating on them, when we suddenly found ourselves taking off from the ground. To think that most of the German state is flat consists of mainly farmland and coastal areas, to go from travelling on the ground to travelling in the air in a matter of seconds is like Eliott and E.T. flying in the air by bike. Yet the sound of metal to metal contact, especially when going over the steel towers revealed that whatever we were crossing was huge, the spectacular view of the lights of the town below and the body of water covered in emerald green lights was gorgeous. After going through the steel truss mechanism, we made our descent in a curly-Q fashion before touching the ground and stopping at our next station. Our conversation had stopped in favor of the structure’s admiration, a sign that homage needed to be paid to a gigantic symbol that bridges the past with the present, the lover on one place with one in the other, and the impossible with the reality.
Especially the last one is what describes the Rendsburg High Bridge, spanning the Baltic-North Sea Canal in Rendsburg, located between Hamburg and Flensburg. The bridge was the masterpiece of Friedrich Voss, who had built two other structures along the Grand Canal at Hochdonn and Kiel as well as numerous others in the northern half of the country, concluding the two-span arch bridge at Friedrichstadt. It took 1.5 years to build the main attraction along the canal, which after 104 years, it still serves as the anchor that makes the Grand Canal and Rendsburg the place to visit. What Voss did with the bridge was unthinkable, impossible and even insane in the eyes of many locals during that time. While steel trestles and a through truss design were his signatures for long-span structures like the aforementioned bridges, Voss needed a main span that would carry both horse and buggy (and later cars) as well as rail traffic. Henceforth as one of the feats, Voss chose the cantilever Warren span, whose roadway would serve rail traffic connecting Hamburg and Neumünster to the south and Flensburg and Scandanavia to the north. Hanging from the main span is the transporter span, which even today carries cars, bikes and pedestrians across the canal between Rendsburg and Aldorf. The transporter operates four times an hour in both directions during the day and takes 4-5 minutes to cross, half as long as when crossing the entire bridge via SHE.
Even more unique is the north approach. Already in existence was the train station for it served rail traffic between Kiel and Husum, the problem came with how the approach span should descend from 50 meters above water to just over zero. This was where Voss referred to the history books and chose the loop approach. Using the Hastings Spiral Bridge as reference, the loop approach provides travelers with an opportunity to gradually glide down from the bridge, making a circle of 360°. The 1895 bridge over the Mississippi River was the first bridge to feature this loop approach for engineers and bridge builders at Wisconsin Bridge and Iron Works had the problem of the bridge extending into Hasting’s business district, which already had numerous buildings and traffic at that time. Therefore, the south approach consisted of the loop approach, thus encouraging cars to glide down into the city center like a marble.
The problem was similar with the north approach, as it consisted of much of Rendsburg’s city center and housing area, combined with remnants of the old canal and the harbor area connected with the new canal. Therefore, Voss and his men devised a plan where a loop approach would feature first a series of steel trestles at the height of between 40 and 50 meters above water level, followed by earthen berms with concrete arch spans crossing main streets, after the descent of 40 meters. A Warren deck truss span crosses the rail line as it approaches the end of the loop. The total length of this loop approach alone is 4.5 km. The area the loop encircles consists of housing and therefore was later named Schleife.
On 1 October, 1913, after 1.5 years of work, Voss and 350 of his men from the bridge-building firm C.H. Jucho of Dortmund completed the work, and the bridge was open to traffic. The bridge and transporter complex has operated almost unaltered ever since, sustaining minimal damage in World War II. The bridge was rehabilitated with rust protectant being added to the steel bridge between 1993 and 2012. The rail line was electrified in 1995, which resulted in the portal and strut bracings of the through truss span being lifted. Instead of the two-rhombus portal bracing, the main span now had A-frame portals, high enough for trains to pass through. Sadly though, the transporter portion of the bridge is being replaced even as this article is being reproduced for this page. On 8 January 2016, the transporter collided with a ship as it was passing underneath the bridge. The boat operator and another passenger were injured in the wreck. After thorough investigations by the local authorities and the Ministry of Transportation, it was concluded that the transporter could not be salvaged and was therefore removed from the bridge. A replacement replicating the original transporter is currently being constructed and should be installed by 2017/18.
I had a chance to visit the bridge again in 2011, this time filming the crossing of the bridge and its transporter, but also following the path of the bridge from the start of the loop approach on the ground to the main span. While I never got a chance to see the Spiral Bridge as it was torn down in 1951, the Rendsburg High Bridge is nothing anyone has ever seen before. It is amazing just to be in a small suburb that is encircled by the loop approach, listening to trains cross it on an hourly basis. Its tall and towering trestles cannot be missed when travelling through Rendsburg. But the main span is just as amazing, for it has a total height of 68 meters, visible from 20 kilometers, making it one of the tallest structures along the Grand Canal. But I also noticed that the bridge with its wonderful work of art has not yet been recognized on the national and international scale. With the Vizcaya Bridge being nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013, the Firth of Forth Bridge scheduled to be nominated in 2015, the Rendsburg High Bridge Complex should be considered another UNESCO site as well because of the engineering feats that Voss accomplished in building this superstructure but also because the bridge still functions as a normal crossing of its kind today, just like it did when it opened to traffic in 1913. This is something that has made Rendsburg famous and makes it one of the wonderful works of art in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany and central Europe. Already it was given the Historische Wahrzeichen der Ingenieurbaukunst in Deutschland Award (Historic Recognition of the Works of Engineering in Germany) in 2013, on its 100th birthday. Chances are, more accolades will follow for this iron lady, whose total length of 7 kilometers (2,400 m main span) still makes it the longest railway bridge in Germany.
To close this documentary about this bridge, the third and most important part of the Tour along the Grand Canal, there is a saying that applies to any bridge enthusiast. You are never a true pontist unless you visit at least a couple key engineering works. In my book, one should really pay homage to the Rendsburg High Bridge. It is an engineering work of achievement that is underrated and something that awes every engineer to this day. Every engineer has his creative talents, which Voss had when building this bridge. It has withstood the test of time and is still a work of art one should see, when visiting Germany. It is hoped that it will one day be a UNESCO site. It will eventually for it deserves this honor.
You can view the photos of the Rendsburg High Bridge via facebook site. Click here to have a look at every aspect photographed during my visit in 2011.
Some videos of the bridge can be viewed below as well:
And some links to provide you with some more information on the Rendsburg High Bridge:
This bridge was used as a logo for the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles from 2011 until its retirement and replacement with the current logo in 2015 using another Schleswig-Holstein bridge in its place, the Fehmarn Bridge. This is what the Rendsburg variant looked like.
The location of the Rendsburg High Bridge and the train station can be found on the map here:
Located seven km (or four miles) south of the fourth largest city in Schleswig-Holstein, Husum, at the junction of the Eider and Treene Rivers, seven kilometers inward from the North Sea, Friedrichstadt appears to be a typical small town in the northernmost state of Germany with rows of small houses, farmland scenery with cattle and sheep grazing in the fields, and people greeting each other with “Moin! Moin!”. The town prides itself on its tourism and the typical specialties with fish, just like the rest of the cities up north. But Friedrichstadt also prides itself on its history and multiculture. Founded in 1623 by King Friedrich III and despite surviving four wars with its neighbors plus persecution of certain races, Friedrichstadt is one of the cultural points of interest, where large groups of Dutch, Frisans, Danes, Jews and Germans speaking northern dialects have lived for almost 400 years. It was a center commerce point for trade with empires from Russia, Scandanavia and Prussia, but is now a tourist attraction, where thousands of tourists from over 100 countries visit every year.
The town was built using Amsterdam as the ante-type, featuring canals that slice through the town of 2,300, but encircling its beloved Dutch-style houses, and like the Dutch capital, the city is loaded with bridges of different types and coming from different eras of time. Eighteen Bridges can be found in this city, including two major crossings over the Eider just outside the city limits and some key notables in the town itself. Each of the crossings can be reached by foot, by bike, or by boat, with most of them telling a story or having a picture showing its history, making the town proud of its history and heritage. While one can write a library about the town’s 18 bridges, which is unusual for small town standards (a town of that size could have 3-5 bridges on average pending on location), this guide shows you the most important bridges you will see when spending a few hours in this quiet but important historic town. Each bridge has a brief history, but photos for you to see, courtesy of not only yours truly, but also many contributors, who were willing to step forward to help. The credits will be provided at the end of the article. So without further ado, we’ll start with the outer edge of town with the two Eider Bridges and work our way towards the Treene.
Friedrichstadt Arch Bridge
Spanning the Eider River at the southwest end of town, this bridge represents one of the finest works of Friedrich Voss, who had constructed six bridges along the Baltic-North Sea Canal, including the Rendsburg High Bridge. Built in 1916, three years after the world-renowned bridge was open to rail traffic, the Friedrichstadt Arch Bridge features three spans- the center span being a two-part draw bridge; the outer spans being steel through arch bridges. Up until the 1950s, it was a toll bridge, where money was gathered based on the size of the vehicles and the goods being carried across. That means one could pay 400 Pfennig for driving a truck across but only 20 Pfennig when walking across. The tolls have long since been lifted and the draw bridge span is seldom used nowadays, the bridge has received its regular wear and tear as it serves traffic in and out of Friedirchstadt from the south, connecting the town with Heide. It just recently celebrated its 100th anniversary with a marathon and other celebrations. Despite being renovated only once (in 2006), the bridge still can handle a sizeable amount of traffic today and is expected to continue to do so.
View of the Friedrichstadt Railroad Bridge from the Friedrichstadt Arch Bridge. Photo taken in August 2012
The Friedrichstadt Railroad Bridge
This bridge is one of the more popular structures in Schleswig Holstein and northern Germany. First built in 1887, the bridge featured multiple-span truss bridges with a swing span at the river crossing, with the purpose of providing passengers with rail service between Hamburg and the Island of Sylt, located in the North Sea at the Danish Border. The first bridge featured five bowstring arch spans on the north end of the Eider, followed by two Whipple through truss spans that were separated by a bowstring arch span, as shown in the picture below:
In 1908, the spans were replaced, one by one with another set of trusses, which featured from south to north one Pennsylvania through truss with A-frame portal bracings, one bowstring arch swing span, another Pennsylvania through truss and five polygonal Warren through truss spans. Photographer H.D. Kienitz provided a diagram of what the spans looked like below:
Five years later, an identical was built alongside the 1908 bridge and for 74 years, the bridge provided two-way traffic before a major reconstruction job took place in 1987 and lasted seven years. It consisted of replacing the bowstring arch swing span with a polygonal Warren through truss swing span that was operated electronically and removing the 1908 span in its entirety, reducing the number of tracks on the railline to only one. This is what the bridge looks like before and after the facelift:
The Friedrichstadt Railroad bridge still serves traffic today, which consists of the NOB Train services, which stops regularly at Friedrichstadt, and the InterCity lines, which starts at Westerland on the Island of Sylt and runs through Hamburg going to destinations in the south. It is unknown whether there will be another two-track bridge built at this site soon. It depends on the number of passengers travelling through the western part of Schleswig-Holstein and the problem with bottlenecks at this site. Right now, with four national raillines and the options available for rail travel in the region, it appears unlikely. That might change in the five years….
Fast Fact:Apart from the InterCity line connecting Sylt and Hamburg, the three other national lines include Hamburg-Luebeck- Copenhagen (crossing the Fehmarnsund Bridge), Hamburg-Rendsburg-Flensburg-Kolding (crossing the Rendsburg High Bridge) and Hamburg-Neumuenster-Kiel, the latter two of which carry ICE-Train services, whereas the second and third lines have international connections to Scandanavia.
The Arch Bridges of Friedrichstadt:
It is unknown how many arch bridges were built during the time of the town’s infancy. But if one counts the Eider crossing, there are four arch bridges that still serve Friedrichstadt today, regardless of its shape and form. While there is little to no information about the Red Arch Bridge, located behind the main highway, as well as the modern arch bridge located near the police station (both in Ostersielzug), the most famous of the bridges is the Stone Arch Bridge, which is located at the eastern entrance to the market square. Built in 1773, the bridge is one of the oldest structures still standing in Germany. The one-span structure was renovated in 1981 by strengthening and widening it to provide traffic across the canal, which continues to do so today. It is one of the most photographed places in the town and provides tourists who eat at the ice cream parlor next to it with a picturesque background of the city.
Wooden Bridges in Friedrichstadt
It is unknown how many wooden bridges existed in Friedrichstadt, for they differed on location and design. But today there are at least four bridges remaining that were built made of wood, most of which feature triangular deck trusses supporting wooden support piers and three of which can be found along the northern Mitteburgwall canal, the same one where the Stone Arch Bridge is located. A pair of notable bridges should be noted here. The Middle Bridge, located next to the Stone Arch Bridge, is known as the Holmertor Bridge and featured a bascule bridge supported by a wooden tower, as depicted in a painting provided by the city. It was replaced at the end of the 19th century. The Kuhbruecke (Cows Bridge) is located at the mouth of the Treene adjacent to the Blue Bridge and is the third bridge located at the site. A lock is located right next to it and protects the town from flooding from the Treene River.
Blue Bridge. Photo taken by the author in 2012
The final bridge on this tour is the Blue Bridge. Located over the Treene River in the district of Westersielzug, this bridge is the only one in the city that features a double leaf bascule bridge, one of the most common types of bridges to be found in Schleswig-Holstein. Yet this bridge represents a historic symbol for the city as about a handful of these bridges were constructed in the 1800s, including this bridge which was recently profiled as a Mystery Bridge and is also in the running for the Ammann Awards. That bridge was located in the same district as the Blue Bridge, according to the City Archives. Serving as a gateway to the historic city center from the north (and the train station), the Blue Bridge was constructed in 1991 to serve as a historic marker to the bridges that have long since been lost. However, the main spans were lifted only once in its lifetime. Reason? While the plan was to use the Treene as a thoroughfare, it was blocked thanks to a fixed span located to the west of the bridge. Since then, the bridge practically serves as a fixed span, even though technically it is a bascule bridge. Nevertheless, it is mentioned a great deal through boat tours and other notes in the travel guides and is a treat to those wanting to visit Friedrichstadt.
Author’s Note: The fixed span mentioned here has been in service since the 1970s. Its predecessor was the Kreisbahnbrücke, a polygonal Warren pony truss bridge that used to carry trolly traffic to the city from the train station.
To sum up, Friedrichstadt is a city full of history and surprises, no matter which aspect one is interested in. The city has 18 bridges, which is unusual, however, each one tells a story, which is worth listening to or reading about when spending time there, regardless of bridge type and size. The city may be small, but its history and heritage makes Friedrichstadt a must-see place when visiting Schleswig-Holstein.
A map of the bridges is enclosed so you know of their location:
The author would like to thank Christiane Thomsen at the Friedrichstadt City Archives, Rainer Butenschoen, Dietrich Doose and H.D. Kienitz for their help in providing information and photos on the bridges in Friedrichstadt.
This tour guide takes us to southeastern Iowa, where we have not only one but six bridges in the area where Harvey and Tracy are located. One mystery bridge, one extremely haunted one carrying a dead end low maintenance road, one railroad bridge that had a tragic end, another railroad bridge that was located next to a sunken ferry and two abandoned ones that are being considered for a bike trail. All of them span(-ned) the Des Moines River within a 10-mile radius of a small town of Harvey. Located approximately seven miles east of the county seat of Knoxville in Marion County, Harvey has a population of roughly 250 inhabitants. Judging by the appearance of the houses and even the two churches, the town had seen its better days, as the majority of them live at or below the poverty line and most of the buildings are run down, the yards littered with junk needed to be removed if the assistance is available. It doesn’t look any better for the town of Tracy, located three miles down river in Mahaska County. The town of 150 inhabitants had once seen better days with the railroad in business, connecting it with Oskaloosa, which is 10 miles to the east and the county seat.
But looking at Harvey, these characteristics are only scratching the surface, as the town, and the surrounding area, and the crossings along the Des Moines River are all haunted in one way or another. Photographing the bridges, there is a sense of eeriness that makes a person stay close to the car and not wander off, fearing that he will not return. The region used to be bustling with railway and commercial traffic in the 1800s and early 1900s. In fact, Harvey was plotted in 1876 by the railroad with a line passing through later that year, connecting Knoxville and points east through the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy. But the line that passed through Harvey was abandoned, and one by one, commerce moved away to nearby towns, but leaving traces of the past in the forms of ghosts and other paranormal activity that makes the region haunted, but researchers curious about its history. If there is a word of advice I have for the passers-by it is this: Never travel alone in the dark, for you are being watched. Travel in groups and in the day time to ensure that you are safe and sound. Make sure you do not wander off away from the cars, and never ever get lost when photographing in the area!
On one of the evenings in August of 2011, I took a tour of the region and its bridges. There were five historic truss bridges that I found and spent some time photographing them: The Horn’s Ferry, Wabash Railroad, Harvey Railroad, Belle Fountain, and Eveland Bridges. While the Horn’s Ferry Bridge has a topic of its own (click here), the primary focus of this tour is on the other four bridges. In addition to that, there is an abandoned highway that used to pass through Harvey in a form of Iowa Highway 92, the same highway that used to crisscross Madison County, and its numerous covered bridges that existed (now there’s only six fully restored structures). It snaked its way towards the Des Moines River before crossing north of Tracy. The highway was straightened and bypassed in 1978 but numerous questions remain about the highway. And lastly, east of Tracy is the remains of a railroad bridge which has a history of its own, including that of its tragic end 60 years ago.
This article provides you with a tour of the area and its bridges with some insight from the author on the structure and its significance. It will also include some stories of his encounters with some rather strange things that happened while on tour. We’ll start off with our first bridge:
The first bridge on the tour is one of two that used to be a railroad crossing but was repurposed to serve cars. The Wabash Railroad Bridge can be found spanning the Des Moines River just south of the present crossing at Keokuk Drive (CSAH T-17). It was built in 1881 by the Oliver Iron and Steel Company, even though it is unclear whether it was the company that had been operated by Henry Oliver in Pittsburgh or James Oliver in the state of Indiana. It consists of three Pratt through truss spans with pinned connections and Lattice portal bracings. The overhead bracings are V-laced with 45° heel supports. The center span was replaced in 1905. The total length is 545 feet long, meaning three 150-foot long spans plus an approach constructed in 1951 when it was converted to vehicular traffic. The Wabash Railroad was created in 1837 but started using the name out of the creation of several small railroads in 1865. The company served the Midwestern states which included an area between Kansas City and St. Louis to Chicago, Detroit, parts of Ontario and ending in Buffalo. This included the line going through Harvey and Tracy enroute to the Quad Cities (E) and Omaha (W). After its receivership in 1931 and purchase by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1933, several tracks were sold off, including this line and the bridge, which Marion County purchased in 1946. The bridge was eventually converted to a vehicular crossing by 1951 and the line was turned into a gravel road connecting Harvey and Oskaloosa. The bridge was bypassed by a newer crossing in the late 1980s but remained a crossing as a gravel road until its closure a few years ago. Today, it is a pedestrian crossing with each ends being barricaded and steel fencing having been installed. Plans are in the making to include the crossing into the bike trail network connecting Pella and Van Buren County. In 2013, the remains of an antique ferry boat were found 500 feet south of the crossing. It is possible that a ferry used to serve locals during the time the Wabash Railroad was in service, but more information is needed to prove these claims. The Wabash folded into Norfolk and Southern in 1991, ending its storied 153 year run.
Built in 1878 by the American Bridge Company, this four-span Pratt through truss bridge was one of the first bridges that featured the bridge company’s signature portal bracings (as you can see in the pictures below). They were used often for railroad crossings with most of them built after the consolidation of 26 bridge companies in 1901. The bridge served rail traffic until it was abandoned in 1938 and purchased by the county, which then converted it into a roadway bridge. At some time later, the Des Moines River was re-channeled making the road expendable. Yet it still serves this dead end road to nearby farms along the river today. The railroad that used the bridge was the Rock Island, which started its decline at the time the bridge and the line were sold off and was eventually liquidated in 1980.
The bridge is surrounded by thick trees, which covers the structure and makes the tall and narrow structure a haunted place to visit. During my visit to the bridge, the first impression after looking at the entrance was that of walking through a dark black hole filled with bats, owls, and creepy insects. Crickets were already out in full force chirping away. Everything else was deathly still as I was crossing the structure, taking pictures of it. Yet as I was at the easternmost portal entrance to the bridge, I heard gunshots ringing out from the opposite end of the bridge. The first shot did not stir me but it did scare off the birds that had been dining in the nests. The second shot however made me rethink my stay on the bridge as there was speculation that someone was shooting at me (or trying to). There was no one approaching me on the bridge and no other people in the vicinity of the structure. The third gunshot was the final signal for me to make my exit as I rush towards the car, hearing more gunshots along the way, got in and took off. As I was leaving, a party of two people on an ATV rushed onto the bridge. If this was a way of shooing someone from the bridge just so they could have it, then they could have done better than that. Yet even if no guns were being used, the bridge is probably one of the most haunted structures you can ever cross, ranking up there with the Enoch’s Knob Bridge in Missouri. The best time to visit the bridge is in the daylight, where you can get the best pics and are most likely not be frightened by spooky creatures and guns going off without knowing where it came from.
Old Highway 92 Bridge:
Among the four being profiled here is another mystery bridge- the first in Mahaska County, Marion’s neighbor to the east. The first time this crossing came to my attention was on a GoogleMap, where there are two crossings bearing the name Hwy. 92- the present one in Marion County and what is left of the previous crossing on the Mahaska side, approximately 1.5 miles south of the present crossing. The road approaching the previous crossing is still in its original form- concrete from the 1930s and really narrow. Yet when arriving at the crossing, it is barricaded with signs and broken down excavators on each end, with the road turning to the south and becoming gravel. Another piece of evidence to be presented was the fact that a US geological survey map of the 1930s indicated that the crossing consisted of four spans and a truss design, similar to a Parker design. And lastly, National Bridge Inventory records indicated that the present Hwy. 92 bridge on the Marion side was built in 1978. Given the fact that the Belle Fountain Bridge is located a half mile downstream, it is possible that the Old 92 Bridge was removed as it was deemed expendable and obsolete. Yet we do not know whether it is true or not.
What we do know is there are many questions that need to be answered about this bridge, such as: 1. What did the old bridge look like? Was it a Parker truss bridge or another truss type? 2. When was the bridge built? Who built the structure? and 3. When was the bridge removed? Was it in 1978 or afterwards? And why was it removed?
This bridge is located in a small unincorporated village of Belle Fountain, located 1.5 miles south of Hwy. 92 on the west bank of the Des Moines River. It is one of the earliest bridges built by a prominent bridge builder in Iowa, the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works Company, which built the structure at a cost of $9750 in 1898. The four-span Pratt through truss super-structure features A-frame portal and strut bracing and pin connections, the former of which was recently introduced to replace the Lattice portal bracing. The bridge is 595 feet long with each span being 145 feet. The bridge has been a subject of neglect, especially after the Old 92 Bridge was built in 1930 and located 0.5 miles upstream. The lack of maintenance of the structure for unknown reasons prompted its closure. Since then the truss bridge has been allowed to remain in place with the flooring rotting away to expose the bottom chord. However, given the awareness of the bridge and its historic significance and connection with Belle Fountain, interest is being garnered in restoring the bridge and reincorporating it into a bike trail. When and if that will happen remains to be seen. One of the factors to keep in mind is to rid the bridge of the overgrowth, which has been ruling the eastern truss bridge for some time, as you can see in the photos. Given the fact that the bridge has been sitting abandoned for a long time, it is possible that the bridge may have to be disassembled, with the parts being sandblasted and replaced, and the foundations being rebuilt, before reassembling it back into place. The cost for the whole work would be a fraction of the cost for replacing the bridge outright. Having a restored bridge like this one would be a blessing for the community and the county, which seems to have embraced preservation given the importance of this bridge.
The next bridge on the tour is the Eveland Bridge. Like the Belle Fountain Bridge, this bridge replaced a ferry that was used to cross the river. It is perhaps the only bridge originally built by a bridge company in Indiana, the Fort Wayne Bridge Works, which built the foundations in 1876 and erected the three-span truss bridge in the spring of the following year. It featured three spans of the Whipple through truss with the portal bracing representing the exact truss design. The structure was made of iron and featured pin-connections. Flooding wiped out the center span in 1903 and was subsequentially replaced with a pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge made of steel. Since its closure in the early 1990s, it has sat in its place waiting to be reused, but not before replacing the decking (which has rotted away substantially) and possibly reconstructing the trusses. Photographing the bridge is really difficult as both sides of the river are heavily forested with the southern bank being littered with trailer homes and small houses. It also does not present a welcoming feeling when driving past the structure, especially as there are many dogs roaming around, waiting to chase the next person away from the area. With a lack of lighting in the area, it is especially creepy at night when driving, let alone walking. But nevertheless, I took advantage of the little daylight that was left and got a pair of pics before anything unusual happened, and then drove back to the hotel in Des Moines, which was a good hour’s drive away. Like the Belle Fountain Bridge, the Eveland may be getting a new lease on life, as plans are in the preliminary stages to convert the bridge into a bike trail. Given its remote location, the whole area surrounding the bridge may benefit from having a bike trail pass through, as business and other services could be established to serve the bikers and tourists. It will also mean more lighting in the evening for those going on an evening stroll, something that this area and the bridge itself need very badly. It all depends on the costs, the interest and the question of what can be realized and what can be scrapped.
The last bridge on the tour is one with a long history- and one that ended in tragedy. The Tracy Railroad Bridge consisted of two Whipple through truss spans with an X-frame portal bracing, all being pin connected. The bridge was originally built in 1882 by George S. Morrison for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (later became part of the BNSF Railways), spanning the Missouri River near Plattsmouth, Nebraska. Three bridge builders were behind the construction of the bridge, one of which- Keystone Bridge Company in Pittsburgh- had a hand in relocating and rebuilding the bridge at Tracy in 1903 for the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad. This was part of the plan to build a sturdier three-span Pennsylvania truss bridge at Plattsmouth while the 1882 bridge was needed for the line at Tracy. From 1903 to its removal in 1950, the bridge was located over the Des Moines River near the site of present-day Cedar Bluffs Natural Area, while the line connected Eddyville with Knoxville. After many years of disuse, workers in 1950 dismantled the structure and sold the parts for scrap. But it came at a price of one life, for one person was crushed to death as the eastern span fell thirty feet into the river. Another person was on that bridge and jumped into the river as it fell. He suffered only minor injuries. The accident happened after the western half of the bridge was removed. The rest of the eastern half was pulled out of the water and hauled away by another demolition company, months after the incident. The Tracy Bridge was a work of art of one prominent bridge builder, yet its life ended on a sour note, even though had the preservation movement started after World War II, there might have been a chance for this bridge, just like its neighbors to the north.
It will be interesting to see what the future brings for the bridges in the greater Harvey area. Plans are in the making for a bike trail network going from its terminus at the Horn’s Ferry Bridge to Eddyville, possibly using the crossings for cyclists to pass through. This will bring a new lease in life for the ones that have been unused for a long time but whose history can be contributed to the development of the infrastructure in the state of Iowa over the past 150 years. And while it will take up to seven years to finalize the plans and actually build the network, when it is completed, people will take advantage of the trail and learn about the history of each village and bridge they pass by. And even if some of the bridges are haunted, it is unlikely that anyone will actually be taking the trail at night, unless they are as gutsy as I was when visiting the bridges last year. But it is a sure bet that safety features, including lighting, will be considered to accommodate those who dare to encounter the paranormal at night. As for the towns of Harvey and Tracy, the coming of the bike trail may help turn things around for a community that had seen its better days. Having the trail will boost commerce, like it did during the days of the railroad. And with that will bring good fortunes for the community, something that the people surely have been waiting for that for a long time and owe themselves to that share of the pie of prosperity.
A map of the bridges can be seen here. Should you be interested in helping out with the bike trail project in one way or another, please contact the county conservation board, historical societies and other groups involved and see what you can do for them.