An Interview With John Marvig

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Photo of John Marvig in front of the (now extant) Wagon Wheel Bridge in Boone County, Iowa

When we think of historic bridges, we think of roadway bridges built of metal or stone, having truss, arch, suspension or beam designs, each of which has a well-documented history pertaining to the date of construction and the builders, as well as its significance to the community and infrastructure. It is rare to find history of railroad bridges that had made a different in a community…..

….that is unless you are John Marvig.

Since his 6th grade year, Marvig has been travelling the Midwestern US, photographing and documenting historic and modern railroad bridges for his website. Since its inauguration in 2011, the website has over 1200 bridges, big and small, covering eleven states and counting. The secret to the Chaska (Minnesota) native’s success as a railroad bridge photographer and writer I wanted to find out through this interview, as Marvig won the 2016 Ammann Awards for Lifetime Achievement, the youngest person to ever have received this distinction. Here are some Q&As conducted with this now sophomore at Iowa State University, majoring in Civil Engineering:

BHC: What got you interested in historic bridges; in particular, railroad bridges?

Marvig: When I was a kid, there was a bridge on I-494 in South Saint Paul known as the Wakota Bridge. That old tied arch structure always interested me, and I always took note when we drove to my grandparents farm in Wisconsin. Along the way, there were a number of other bridges I would take notice of from a young age. When I was younger, I had also wanted a model railroad. One thing led to another, and I would be taking pictures of a local railroad bridge by the fall of my 6th grade year. It grew from there, and became a full blown passion (or obsession, depending on how you look at it). Another bridge, an old railroad swing bridge located in my hometown of Chaska was always fascinating to me, since it only continued to exist in memory. Seeing the history that was lost really encouraged me to peruse my passion.

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North Redwood Railroad Bridge. Photos taken by John Marvig and avbailable via website.

BHC: What got you interested in historic bridges; in particular, railroad bridges?

Marvig: Creating my website was an idea that was formulated in a 7th grade technology class where we learned basic coding. John Weeks runs a website with numerous bridge photos on it, which also captivated my interest. From an early and very basic website to the full blown site it is now, it has steadily grown. I have well over 1000 bridges documented, I am just waiting to get the pages created! The hardest part is coding the pages. I manually code them, instead of using a form which automatically creates the pages (similar to Bridgehunter). This allows me the flexibility to change pages to meet the needs of the specific structure or the intended audience. However, this can be very time consuming. A page I have been working on for the Eads Bridge in Saint Louis took nearly 4 hours from start to finish to create. I continue to anticipate the site growing steadily. I have a waiting list of pages to add of over 350, and that list grows often.

 

BHC: Your focus on your website is railroad bridges. What makes them special in comparison to highway bridges?

Marvig: Railroad bridges, in my opinion, are the pinnacle of American engineering. While highway bridges were not built to carry a heavy load, railroad bridges were constructed to carry a load of many times a typical highway bridge. This results in some bridges that are engineered to perfection. In addition, railroad companies rarely reported construction of bridges and oftentimes did weird things such as relocation of spans. This makes it a unique challenge to document and research these structures.

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Crookston Railroad Bridge.

BHC:  Many railroad companies try to repel photographers and bridgehunters from photographing RR bridges. Why is that and how did you successfully managed to do that?

Marvig: Railroad companies are afraid of the liabilities of people being on their property. I have gotten around this by using public access, asking other landowners or walking along the riverbanks to the structure. My most important goal is to stay safe and set a positive example for others.

 

BHC:  Set a positive example- what examples?

Marvig: Two ways to look at this. The first is safety and to obey the rules. Walking on railroad property or bridges is very dangerous, and I try to use it as a last resort to get to bridges. On my site, I generally make notes of how I got to the bridge so others will hopefully follow that route. The other positive example I like to set is the strive for preservation and passion I demonstrate. I hope this spreads to others and we can see a positive turnaround in bridge preservation.

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Bergfeld Pond Bridge in Dubuque. This span was one of several from the 1868 span over the Mississippi River

BHC:  Did you have any confrontations with landowners accusing you of trespassing or other items? Many bridgehunters have dealt with this problem over the years- yours truly included on many occasions.

Marvig: I have. While I generally find that landowners are more than happy to talk to myself and my father, who often accompanies me on these trips, I have seen some people I hope not to deal with again. I would say 90% of people are nice and usually interested, and oftentimes tell their life story. I have however had instances of some real cranks. I’ve had hunters “accidentally” shoot my direction, I’ve had ladies in trailers yell at me because I’m parked on a public gravel road and I’ve had others claim a public road is theirs. However, a vast majority are some of the nicest people I’ve met; and in a few cases people I’ve kept in contact with.

 

BHC:  Bridge historians, like Eric Delony have often mentioned of railroad companies being very hesitant re. nominating railroad bridges deemed historic on the National Register because of their historic significance. From your experience, is this the case and if so, why is that?

Marvig: This is true. One example is the Redstone Bridge in New Ulm, Minnesota. The railroad has refused to nominate the structure repeatedly, even though the state attempted to get them to. This structure is an 1880 swing span, and one of the oldest known in America. Despite this, if the railroad chooses to demolish it, nobody can do anything about it. Fortunately, the State of Minnesota has said they will not let Canadian pacific demolish the structure, and when it is abandoned it should be preserved.

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Redstone Bridge spanning the Minnesota River in New Ulm.

BHC: Is the Redstone Bridge still in service?

Marvig: Yeah, its part of a spur to a quarry. I’m really hoping it is abandoned soon. With CP not doing well financially, I really hope that we can see a step in preservation made within the next decade

For more on the bridge, please check out the Tour Guide on the Bridges of New Ulm by clicking here. People in New Ulm as well as officials at the State Historic Preservation Office in St. Paul are interested in saving this bridge and nominate it on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

BHC:  What can be done to convince railroad companies to nominate their bridges to the Nat. Reg. as well as restore the bridge for future use? What examples have been mentioned?

Marvig: In my opinion, the only real thing that can be done is to make it worth it for them financially.  If an incentive was offered to a railroad to bypass historic bridges and preserve them, I’m quite sure they would be willing.

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Colfax Railroad Bridge in Wisconsin

BHC: Which RR bridges have you been involved in which has been successfully inducted into the National Register?

Marvig: While I do not believe any of the bridges I’ve helped preserve are listed as a separate listing on the NR, the railroad bridge across Main Street in Carver, MN (about 10 minutes from home) was to be demolished in 2011, but I worked with the city to preserve it. I believe it might be listed as a contributing resource currently.

 

BHC:  Which RR Bridges you were involved in was converted into a Rails for Trails Crossing?

Marvig: Currently, I have not had any converted to trails. However, the bridge in Carver is eventually scheduled to become a trail. In addition, I’ve been working with the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis to preserve and convert the Short Line Bridge. The Missouri River Bridge in Bismarck is another example of a structure I am working to get preserved for this use.

 

BHC: Which Railroad Bridge is your all time favorite?

Marvig: It’s hard to determine what my favorite bridge is, as there are a large number of structures I love. The Redstone Bridge in New Ulm, as well as the northwestern bridge in Eau Claire are two of my favorite bridges. These were both built in 1880 and are extremely old examples of rare truss types.

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Chicago and Northwestern Viaduct in Eau Claire, Wisonsin. This quintuple Warren deck truss bridge is now a bike trail crossing.

 

BHC: If there is a person who is interested in bridge photography, what tips would you give him/her?

Marvig: As for tips for others, I would suggest starting with places you have passion for. If there is a bridge in town that you want to know more about, go take some pictures. Unique and historic bridges are going the way of the dodo bird in the United States, and photography is a form of preservation.

 

 BHC: And what about establishing a website like you have? The last question includes the use of social media, wordpress and the question of making a magazine out of it.

Marvig: To create a website, be prepared to have a large chunk of time taken up. The initial coding is tough, and manually adding pages is a long process. Research is also essential. I think I’ve spent several hundred dollars on research since 2010, as google doesn’t provide all answers. My biggest advice though is to create your website to be expandable. Make sure it has as many features as you want. I have 1200 pages on my site currently, and I’m working on reviewing and adding new features to these pages. It’s a lot easier to correct 12 pages than 1200.

Regarding social media, that isn’t my strong point. However it is essential to be able to reach out to a new audience to educate and inform about historic bridges. When I first started doing bridges in 2009, social media was a rather new invention, and I did not invest time heavily in it. Currently, I spread my message of bridges through both Facebook, and Instagram.

BHC: Thank you for your time for this interview.

Marvig: No problem.

To learn more about his work, click onto his website here. There you can find details of every bridge he’s visited, which includes its history and dimensions, as well as the number of trains crossing it daily (for most crossings). He has updated his website regularly and therefore, it is necessary to visit the site often. Enjoy some railroad facts and figures. 🙂

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2016 Ammann Awards Voting Underway

Devil's Elbow Bridge carrying US Hwy. 66 in Missouri. Photos courtesy of Roamin Rich
Devil’s Elbow Bridge carrying US Hwy. 66 in Missouri. Photos courtesy of Roamin Rich

After tallying and categorizing all the entries, in some categories the highest number on record, the voting process for this year’s Othmar H. Ammann Awards is currently underway. Between now and 6th January, you have an opportunity to select your favorite candidates in five categories: Best Photo, Lifetime Achievement, Best Kept Secret Tour Guide and Individual Bridge, Mystery Bridge, Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge, and Bridge of the Year. Because of a record high number of entries in all but two categories, for the first time this year there will be an unlimited number of voting allowed for each of the categories with the exception of Mystery Bridges. There, you are allowed four votes- two for the US and two for the International Scene (Int.). That means for all ofthe categories except what was just mentioned, you can vote for as many bridges and people as you want at any time. It will encourage you to have a look at the bridges more carefully, esp. with the pictures, before you decide which bridges deserve your vote.

To vote, please go to the wordpress version of the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. There you will have the ballot, which is divided up into Parts I & II. Part I has the categories of Best Photo (a gallery is enclosed), Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge, Lifetime Achievement and Mystery Bridge. In Part II, we have Best Kept Secret Tour Guide, Best Kept Secret Individual Bridge (both divided into US and International) and lastly, Bridge of the Year. Both Links are below.

BALLOT:

PART I

PART II

 

Bridges nominated but not on the list will be mentioned in the Author’s Choice Awards, which will be announced on January 6th, the same day as the last day of voting. They will most likely be candidates for the 2017 Awards as well.  Winners will be announced on January 11th.  As there are many entries from Germany, the announcement of voting in German can be found via sister column The Flensburg Files (click here for access)

If any questions of should some issues arise, please contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com.

Good luck and let the voting commence.

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An Interview With Christopher Marston of HABS-HAER

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As the National Register of Historic Places has the responsibility of designating and protecting historic places that have played a significant role in American history, another organizational arm of the National Park Service is just as important but its role is different. Established in 1933 by Charles Peterson, the Historic American Builders Survey (HABS) had the responsibility of documenting and photographing countless historic buildings with the purpose of addressing their significance to the NPS and the state and local governments. Many of these buildings at that time were at risk of demolition in the name of progress. Civil Engineering works (like bridges and tunnels) and other mechanical artefacts were later added under the helm The Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), which was established in 1969. Eric DeLony was the director of that part of the organization from 1971 until 2003. The Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) was formed in 2000, focusing on landscapes and their historic features.  But how does HABS/HAER/HALS work, especially when we look at historic bridges and ways to preserve them?

I had a chance to interview Christopher Marston (seen in the picture above), who has worked at this organization since 1989 and has focused on the infrastructural aspects of documenting and preserving history, esp. in terms of bridges. He provides us with an overview of the benefits and limitations of historic bridge preservation, including ways of educating the public. Here are his thoughts on the role of his organization and his work on historic bridges (feel free to click on the links to the bridges mentioned below):

 

  1. What is your favorite historic bridge (HB) in the US? The world?  

Here are some of my favorites that I’ve seen in person, by type:

Stone arch: Thomas Viaduct, MD; Cabin John Aqueduct Bridge, MD

Wood Truss: West Union Bridge, IN by J.J. Daniels

Metal Truss: Bollman Truss Bridge, Savage, MD; Smithfield St. Bridge, Pittsburgh; Eads Bridge, St. Louis

Concrete Arch: Westinghouse Bridge, Pittsburgh

Stone-covered Concrete Arch: Boulder Bridge, DC

Suspension: Wheeling Suspension Bridge, WV

 

  1. What makes a bridge historic?

Older technology and craftsmanship.  Continued use of original materials. Setting maintains its integrity.

 

  1. What is your role at HABS and HAER?

I’ve worked here for 27 years and am an architect and project leader. I started in 1989 when we had a field office in Homestead, PA. We started documenting the old Carnegie steel mills at Homestead and Duquesne. I documented my first bridge in 1991: Dunlap’s Creek Bridge, the 1839 cast-iron arch built for the National Road in Brownsville, PA. After moving to the DC office in 1994, I led teams documenting the Roads and Bridges in National Parks and Parkways: Colonial, Blue Ridge parkways, Skyline Drive. We also did several NY parkways: Bronx River, Henry Hudson, and Taconic State parkways. In 2009-2011, we recorded several large viaducts on the Western Maryland Railway, using a Leica laser scanner. In 2002, I was named the project leader for HAER’s involvement in the National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program. Since then we have recorded 88 bridges to HAER standards, put on a traveling exhibition with the Smithsonian, run two national conferences, done several in depth engineering studies, designated 5 National Historic Landmarks and nominated 2 others, and published Covered Bridges and the Birth of American Engineering in 2015. We are currently completing a second publication: Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Covered Bridges.  See: https://www.nps.gov/hdp/project/coveredbridges/index.htm

 

  1. What is the difference between HABS/HAER and NRHP in terms of documenting and preserving HBs?

HABS/HAER works on in depth documentation of sites. In-house HAER projects are typically done to Level I standards: measured & interpretive drawings, large format photography, and a historical report. Mitigation projects are typically to Level II standards: large format photography, and a historical report only. NR does a contextual history and 35mm or digital photography, so is typically less in depth.

 

  1. What are the requirements for a HB to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP)?  And HABS/HAER?

HAER worked with state departments of transportation to develop and encourage bridge surveys beginning in the 1970s. Some were funded by the DOTs or FHWA or in partnership with universities. The first state bridge survey was in Virginia, beginning with the Humpback Covered Bridge, in 1970.   http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/hh/item/va0239/

Between 1986 and 2000, HAER Chief Eric DeLony developed HAER state bridge surveys in partnership with DOTs, and hired summer teams of engineers, architects and historians to do comprehensive documentation projects. Notable examples include surveys done in Ohio, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Arkansas, Oregon, Washington, Iowa, Texas, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Illinois, and California. Other significant projects that resulted in the documentation of hundreds of bridges include the FHWA-funded National Park Service Roads and Bridges Project, from 1988 to 2002. FHWA’s National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program resulted in HAER documentation of 88 bridges from 2002-2016, including several in-depth engineering projects. There are approximately 2,700 bridges listed in the HABS/HAER collection.

 

  1. If a HB is listed under the NRHP, how are they protected? 

NR-eligible bridges trigger Section 106. In some cases, the bridge may be saved or moved. If demolition is necessary, 106 may trigger mitigation, which often leads to HAER Level II documentation. Since 1980, 100s of bridges have been documented through mitigation.

 

  1. How are the following HB types preserved mainly, in your opinion? An example of each is needed, more are welcomed.

Metal Truss: Vern Mesler’s Calhoun Bridge Park, MI ; Piano Bridge by Charles Walker, TX

Wood Truss: Gilpin’s Falls Covered Bridge, MD, by Tim Andrews of Barns and Bridges of New England. See attached case study.

Masonry Arch: Catoctin Aqueduct, C & O Canal NHP, MD, by McMullan & Associates. http://www.apti.org/clientuploads/publications/2015/SampleArticle_46.4_McMullan.pdf

 

  1. What problems have you encountered over the years regarding preservation policies on the federal, state and local levels?

Glulam is favored over solid timber in covered bridge rehab projects

AASHTO Standards often require too heavy a live load requirement unrealistic for historic bridges.

 

  1. What about as far as preserving practices?

Would prefer to see real rivets used over high strength bolts when possible. Vern Mesler’s program at Lansing Community College is teaching this practice through his Iron & Steel Preservation Conferences. The Piano Bridge in Texas was a nice exception in that hot riveting was used in the rehab. Unfortunately, TXDOT stopped requiring riveting after Charles Walker retired.

 

  1. And ownership of a HB?

States such as Vermont, Ohio, Indiana, among others, do an excellent job inventorying, rehabilitating, and maintaining historic bridges. Invest in inventory and management programs, etc.

 

  1. What measures are needed to better protect HBs from being altered or destroyed, in your opinion?

Continue to educate DOTs and especially SHPOs on best practices for rehabilitation.

 

  1. What HBs are being nominated today in comparison to 1970?

We still get a lot of bridges in the collection. HAER has documented several covered wooden bridges;  Mead & Hunt is doing movable bridges in Louisiana, and did a bridge over the US/Mexico border; M&H and Berger teamed together to document 8 examples of common post-1945 bridge types.

I’m glad to see that bridges are getting nominated as National Historic Landmarks. Prior to 2010, there were only 11 bridges listed as NHLs: Eads, Bollman, Brooklyn, Casselman, Carrollton Viaduct, Thomas Viaduct, Old Blenheim (removed 2015), Covington-Cincinnati, S Bridge, Smithfield, Wheeling.

Since 2012, HAER has designated 5 bridges, and nominated 2 more: Powder Works, CA; Knight’s Ferry, CA; Brown Bridge, VT; Humpback, VA; Duck Creek Aqueduct, IN. Pending: Eldean, OH; West Union, IN. IN addition, the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, AL was designated in 2013.

 

  1. What would Eric DeLony, the person who spearheaded the preservation of HBs in the 1970s and 80s say about America’s HBs these days? 

I think Eric would be pleased with many of the successes in bridge preservation and documentation since he retired: The National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program, which he helped launch, has preserved over 200 covered bridges on top of the initiatives listed above; groups such as the Historic Bridge Foundation and historic bridge websites have proliferated, Vern Mesler’s Iron and Steel Conferences, and other preservation conferences continue to get the word out, and several important historic bridges have been preserved.

However, he would still troubled by the loss of bridges due to flooding, arson, neglect and detierioration. The lack of federal funding for preservation and documentation programs like those in the 1990s and 2000s is also alarming.

 

What was concluded in the interview? Preservation policies work when there is enough governmental support (including funding) to help document the structures and come up with ways to preserve them, ensuring that if possible, no mitigation is involved. However, private organizations and preservationists have stepped up in the efforts to better inform the public about ways of preserving historic bridges without having the excuse of “bridges meeting the end of their useful life” being used as justification for demolishing them. Many channels have been implemented to make preservation happen and keep history alive, whether it is through media outlets like this one or  Preservation in Pink, advocacy groups, like Nathan Holth’s Historic Bridge.org, foundations like Historic Bridge Foundation, or even mechanics and steel welders who are doing the actual work, like Bach Steel, Workin Bridges, Mead and Hunt or even local bridge builders. We will be looking at these examples later on to show that while there is not much history left to save in the progressing mondernized society, there are plenty of historic works that need our attention, even if we turn to unexpected sources who have the same nostalgia as we do.

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Special thanks to Christopher Marston for his help. 

Note: A tribute to Eric will follow when the Ammann Awards are announced in January 2017. The Blenheim Covered Bridge, which was built in 1855, was destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011

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Experience and Common Sense Are Key

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bhc interview new The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles interviews an experienced truck driver and talks about bridges, GPS, and self-responsibility on the highway. 

This article starts off with a quote by former Temple men’s basketball coach John Chaney, who lectured a rowdy crowd during a basketball game in 2005, in response to someone throwing an object onto the court, by saying these words: “Stupid is forever. You can’t change stupidity.”  Yet stupidity can be changed; it depends on whether the person does it himself or if it is done for him- in almost every case, with consequences.

Truck drivers ignoring weight limits and height restrictions on bridges and underpasses have been a major problem in the past 10+ years, as incidents like the one in the video below have been in the news once every two days…..

And since the incident that involved the Gospel Street Bridge in Paoli, Indiana in December 2015, discussions as to how competent the truck driver was, let alone what the bridge’s future holds have flared up among networks of pontists, engineers, historians and even truckers alike.

But how would a driver react to the situation where, regardless of the dependency on the GPS, he/she ends up in the situation as Mary Lambright was in, when she disregarded the signs as seen by a pic below and made that fateful crossing?

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Photo taken by James Baughn

In response to a question posed to one trucker, his response was simple: “If you ever get in a situation where you need to turn around and can’t, you stop, call the local police and put your emergency blinkers on, and wait for assistance to come and help you out of the situation.” In reaction to the incident, Jeremy Johnson’s diagnosis of Ms. Lambright’s will to cross the bridge was simple, “This is a classic example of lack of common sense. First her truck was way too tall to go on this bridge and second, it was far too heavy.” The bridge had a weight limit of six tons and a vertical clearance of 10 feet and six inches at the time of the incident, the former Ms. Lambright later claimed that she didn’t know what six tons meant in pounds. The latter should have served as an alarm signal when approaching the bridge, according to Johnson. “Most trucks have a height of 13’6″. It’s pretty self explanatory that when you see a sign that says 11’6 bridge ahead, you’re not going to make it.”

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Jeremy Johnson’s semi-truck, idle in the parking lot while its owner is having lunch.

Jeremy Johnson has been in the trucking business for many years, having first driven for a local brewery after obtaining his CDL trucking license in 1998. After a short hiatus, he went into the trucking business full time in 2003, having worked for the farm industry, hauling livestock for 10 years, before starting his own business in his hometown of Marshall, Minnesota, three years ago. Today, he hauls dried and refrigerated goods all over the country, having seen some of the most unusual places along the way, like the largest stockyard in the country located in Oklahoma, or an underground warehouse in Missouri.

He has also seen some of the incidents on the road which makes him and other truckers both cringe and shake their heads, whether it is a trucker trying to turn around while being stuck in the mud or one cutting off a car driver on an Interstate highway.  “I have seen many things in my 10 years on the road that I guess you could say I’ve been desensitized to a point,” Johnson commented in an interview with the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles.  “I’ve seen a lot of accidents and a lot more near misses.” In terms of a good road relationship between the trucker and the car driver, Johnson adds,  “People in cars do not respect the power of a semi. They will cut you off just to save a split second and risk everyone’s lives in doing so.”

The statistics involving truckers and accidents are alarming and sober. According to a 2014 report released by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 52,360 of the accidents on the road in the US involve trucks of all kinds; of which, 48.2% involve a truck with a semi-trailer, the kind Johnson uses for transporting goods. 3,744 of the accidents resulted in a fatality, 62.5% of which come from the rig.  The causes of these accidents have been narrowed down to the top five factors, identified by another report: driver fatigue, improper maintenance of the vehicles involved, improper loading of goods, distracted driving and lastly, inexperience. While the US government is working on a plan of regulating the amount of hours of driving on the road and governing the speed limit of semi-trucks on the highway, following examples set in Europe, much of the accidents can be avoided by experience and common sense, something Johnson says is the bread and butter of truck driving:  “There is no such thing as a great truck driver, but there is experience. Experience prepares you for the unexpected situations.”  But experience requires a driver to be fully equipped with knowledge of your truck and having the basic necessities needed to ensure that accidents like what happened at the Paoli Bridge can be avoided.

Most semi-trucks have trailers with a height of 13.5 feet, according to Johnson.  Therefore it is important to know the truck’s height and weight before departing to deliver the next goods somewhere. Even more important is to have a proper GPS device, suitable for trucks,  to ensure that the truck stays on the highway. “The GPS will sometimes route you on a non-truck route if you don’t have a truck-routed GPS system,” says Johnson. And what would be the best GPS system to use while trucking on the highway?

“I personally have a Rand-McNally truck GPS which gives me truck route only maps.” But that’s not all that he uses: “I also use my i-pad with Google Maps to have a general idea where I’m going,” Johnson adds.  It is unknown whether Lambright had a functioning GPS device in her possession at the time of the accident, but reports indicated that she had missed her turnoff as she was entering Paoli and continued travelling on the least travelled Gospel Street with her cousin, driving past the warning signs of the bridge and crossing the structure before it gave way.

The Gospel Bridge was located one block west of another crossing that was suitable for truck traffic, thus leading to the question of why the bridge was even open to traffic, in addition to the issues of fatigue and lack of essential equipment that Lambright might have had while travelling. Many engineers and transportation officials have tried to accomodate truckers by eliminating crossings like this, as well as  the Niland Corner junction at Colo, Iowa. Yet despite the attempt to give truckers the most efficient route, such projects come at a price where places not meant for truck crossings are converted into unnecessary freeway interchanges, losing not just a piece of history but also a piece of life, if a fatal accident occurs.

Speaking from a trucker’s point of view, Johnson believes that the most travelled highways suitable for trucks should be made trucker friendly whereas less-travelled highways and bridges should be left as is. “There are bridges that were built that just weren’t made for trucks, but there are truck routes in every single city and originally they were built for trucks.” He adds, “In my opinion, if a new bridge is going up then you need to make it suitable for present and future traffic and try to think ahead, but for existing bridges not made for trucks, I think they should just leave them alone.” Looking at the Niland Corner Bridge, opposition to the proposal has gone up sporatically but for a good reason: The Jefferson Highway (US Hwy. 65) runs parallel to Interstate 35, which is 10 miles to the west!

Inspite of all the accomodation attempts, the bottom line when trucking on the highway and crossing bridges are two things: common sense and experience. The more experience on the highway, the more the person will learn. Sometimes it takes some shadow training to see if the job fits like a glove, as Johnson pointed out. “In my opinion if you want to become a truck driver, then ride along with one for a month. The only way you get better is through experience.”  And in the end, if one is dedicated, experience will reap rewards as a trucker. “I learn something new out here every week. When you think you know it all its time to retire,” Johnson adds.

While Lambright lost her job, and the trucking company she worked for, based in Louisville, Kentucky, closed its doors right after the collapse of the bridge in Paoli, she still intends on returning to her career as a trucker as soon as she climbs out of her legal holes she is facing at present, which includes fines, suspension of her trucking license and possible jail time. Still, at the age of 23 years, she will need more lessons for the road, on top of what she learned from her experience at the bridge. One of the things that is important, as Johnson mentioned in the interview, is that “….people have very short memories, they forget that trucks bring them everything and I mean everything that a person uses and makes people’s lives more convenient on an everyday basis.” In other words, a trucker’s job is a privilege to be handled by those who are well-equipped with experience and common sense to deliver from point A to point B without the cost of life and property!

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Author’s Note:

  1. Thanks to Jeremy Johnson for his help in answering my questions for the article. He and I knew each other from our days at Marshall High School, playing football and basketball together before I moved to another town to finish high school. He graduated in 1996, the same year I did. 
  2. There is still no word on whether and how the Gospel Street Bridge will be rebuilt. Orange County estimates that the cost for the project will be over $1 million. The community is still set on seeing the bridge rebuilt to its original form because of its popularity in the community. More on the bridge’s future will follow.
  3. The photos of the collapsed Gospel Street Bridge are all courtesy of Greg McDuffee, who visited the bridge recently. A big thanks to him for allowing use for this article.

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Mead Avenue Bridge in Pennsylvania Saved- On its Way to New Home

Photos taken in August 2010
Photos taken in August 2010

Mead Avenue Bridge in Meadville, Pennsylvania. One of the most unique bridges in the US and perhaps even beyond. Spanning French Creek, the two-span through truss bridge featured an 1871 worught iron Whipple span encased with a 1912 Baltimore span.  When I visited the bridge during the 2010 Historic Bridge Weekend, the blue-colored span was closed to traffic with a bleak future in its midst. The majority of the city’s population wanted the bridge gone. But efforts were being undertaken to try and preserve at least half the span. This bridge was the first one profiled in the very first aricle I wrote for the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles blog, when it was launched in October of that same year. Click here for the article.

Fast forward to the present and the situation has changed completely. The bridge is being profiled again as the first article produced by the Chronicles as a website, yet the bridge is no more.

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Well, not quite. 🙂

Most of the historic bridges like this one would be cut up into pieces and hauled away to be recycled. In Pennsylvania it is no exception for many of them are being replaced through the rapid replacement program initiated by PennDOT and many bridge builders in the private sector last year. Yet a last-minute attempt by one pontist has paid off. The bridge is being distmantled, the parts will be hauled, BUT it will be relocated. The question is how?

The Chronicles had a chance to talk about the plan to restore the bridge with Art Suckewer, the pontist who is spearheading the efforts and pulled off the last minute trick to saving the artefact from becoming a thing of the past. What he is going to do with the bridge and the challenges that he and his crew are facing at the moment you can find in the interview by clicking here, which will direct you to the Chronicles’ website.

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Interview with Jet Lowe

Photo taken by John O’connell Link: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/24/George_Washington_Bridge_from_New_Jersey-edit.jpg

If there is a word of advice to give to a person wanting to engage in the hobby of photography, it would be this:

1. Look the surroundings. What do you see beyond the naked eye? What is most unique about the surrounding that is worth photographing?

2. Choose an object and/or a person you find attractive. Why choose this subject and how unique is it from the eye of a photographer?

Photography has become a popular hobby for many people, as they find the best spot/subject for a good photo opportunity and after taking dozens of snap shots, find the best photo that they are proud of- that they display for others to see, and benefit from the prize money from the photo contests sometimes. 🙂

For Jet Lowe, photography has been a major part of his life for almost five decades. Ranging from skyscrapers to bridges, Lowe has produced some of the most unique shots of his subjects from angles that even some of the amateur photographers today can even dream of doing.  Lowe was selected as the winner of the 2014 Ammann Awards in the category of Lifetime Achievement for his role in photographing hundreds of bridges in the US, Europe and elsewhere, and the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles had an opportunity to interview him about his experiences and the secret to being a great photographer. Here is what we found out about him:

1.      Tell us about yourself: how did your career start, and how did it lead you to HABS-HAER?

I owe my career to an academic trip to Haiti in 1966.  A faculty member of the school I was attending loaned me his Pentax h3v with which to take pictures.  It was a one month trip, film was expensive so I rolled my own cassettes of 20 or more black and white tri-x, a dozen rolls of kodachrome and basically got hooked.  This was my first year of college, from that point on I knew I wanted to be a photographer, did not know exactly how to go about it so I ended up majoring in Art History which in retrospect was a great choice.  Straight out of college I landed a job as the staff photographer for the Georgia Historical Commission doing museum photography as well as photographing historic districts for the then new federal program of the National Register of Historic Places.  It was working for the Historical Commision that put the bee in my bonnet about how it might be neat to work for HABS some day ( I did not know about HAER at the time which in retrospect was a much better match).

2.      How did you become interested in photography?While traveling in Haiti with my professor’s loaned camera I found myself ending up in places that I might not have been in had I not been in search of images,  and meeting people.  The Haitians although quite poor economically have a strong and magical spirit.

3.      A large portion of your photos posted on HABS-HAER have been historic bridges. Are they your primary targets, or do you also photograph other historic places, such as buildings, stadiums, etc.?As the staff photographer for HAER our mandate was and is to photograph the engineered and built environment of the United States. From windmills to the Space Shuttle,  No small mandate!  I like to think of bridges as a subject matter for HAER(Historic American Engineering Record) like houses have been for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS).  Bridges tend to encapsulate the structural engineering thought of any given time period.  

4.      Which bridge you photographed was your favorite?The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson always comes first to mind for its complexity, significance, as well as photogeneity.

5.      Which bridge was the most difficult to photograph? How did you overcome this difficulty?  I would have to say the Brooklyn Bridge because it was my first major documentation of a nationally significant bridge.  The documentation was to involve getting to the towers via walking up the cables.  Never having done this caused me a bit of anxiety in the week leading up to the day of working on the bridge.  The maintenance men who were my hosts drily assured me they had not lost any one yet walking up the cables.  The Brooklyn Bridge was also the first one that I photographed from the air using a world war II vintage aerial camera.  One thing that helped in overcoming the more difficult hurdles of the assignment was a week spent in New York getting as many photographs completed on the ground before climbing the towers.  When the big day finally arrived I was at least fairly familiar with the structure.  One of the great privileges of my job at HAER was the opportunity to climb around on numerous other big suspension bridges,including the Takoma Narrows,  Oakland, Golden Gate, and Verrazanno Narrows to name a few that are now housed in the HAER collection.

6.      Which bridge that you had photographed but was later demolished was one that you wished to have preserved and why?The Bellows Falls (Vermont) arch suspension bridge was amongst the most elegant of bridges I have photographed and represented also one of the greatest losses to our patrimony.

The Bellows Falls Bridge: one of many bridges photographed by Jet Lowe. Photo taken before its demise in 1982. Source: HABS-HAER
7.      Many other photographers, including James Baughn (who finished second in the Lifetime Achievement category) and (Nathan Holth, who finished third) have done a great deal of contributions of photos for their historic bridge websites. How important has photography been in addressing the importance of historic bridges and ways to preserve them? Photography is still the most palpable way of showing us the way a bridge structure looked, and occupied its environment.  I think the photographer David Plowden deserves credit for being one of the first photographers to focus attention on the contribution and richness that bridges add to our built environment.

8.      If someone is interested in photography as a profession, what advice would you give him/her and what is the outlook in your opinion?I think there will always be a market out there for photographers that have a special vision and are obsessed with their work. Young photographers should look at the work of others and study the great prints in the museums and also think in terms of converting their favorite images in to a photographic print, not just an electronic entity.   It is probably even more difficult to break into the discipline as a means of making a living now because of the dilution of the medium via iPhones and the internet.  The outlook is difficult, however I can not stress enough the rewards for following one’s muse.

 The last sentence stated by Jet Lowe could not be any clearer than that. With social networks and iPhones dominating our livelihoods, many of us have a canny for selfie shots, shooting events in our lives, or even getting some shots of places of interest while travelling. However, the quality of real photography has declined because of the flooding of pictures that would be considered null and void in the eyes of the professionals. However, it does not mean that professional and amateur photography will die off. Many of us will specialize in areas once considered unknown, such as night photography, landscape photography and forms of architectural photography (and in particular, bridge photography) because they are important for people  interested in not only looking at them on display but also to document the historical importance, using them as a springboard for preservation efforts. Therefore, one should not be afraid of engaging in such a unique hobby. It may not be a full-time profession, but it is one that will satisfy the interest of the photographer and those interested in taking a look at his/her work.  So to close the interview, take the camera, take your girlfriend out with you, take some shots of what you think is beautiful and show her life from your perspective- from your own lens. You may never know what your photos will look like, let alone be worth when selling them on the market or entering them in a contest. Henceforth, click-click!
Photo taken by the author in December, 2014


World’s Oldest Concrete Bridge turns 75

Photo taken by Frank Selke, used with permission

Concrete bridges- today’s modern bridge types you see while travelling. Made of granular materials that is bound together by cement (crushed rock with burnt lime), concrete existed as far back as the period of the Roman Empire and used for infrastructures and buildings, many of which can still be found today when travelling through the regions of southern and eastern Europe once dominated by the likes of Caesar.  Concrete was first used for closed spandrel arch bridges, but its expanded usage can be found in the first three decades of the 20th century, when concrete was used for open spandrel arches, Marsh arches, slabs, girders and Luten arches– with the oval shaped arch span.

In Germany, concrete was used for the Autobahn motorways in the 1920s with several concrete slabs resembling square-shaped arches being built along the highway connecting Berlin and Munich.  But they were not the only types that were used.  In 1938, shortly before the start of World War II, a new concrete bridge type was introduced in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia: the prestressed, pretensioned concrete girder bridge, known to Germans as the Spannbetonbrücke.  The concept was invented by a French engineer, Eugéne Freyssinet (1879- 1962), where tensile steel rods are inserted into the concrete bridge to provide compressive stress as a complement to tensile stress that is normally exerted onto the concrete through live load on the bridge as well as through weather extremities (concrete expanding in warm weather and compressing in cold weather).

The concept was first used on an Autobahn overpass between Beckum and Oelde, located near the cities of Hamm and Münster in eastern North Rhine-Westphalia. There four different girders were assembled in a way that they were placed in a prestressed steel encasing and supported by I-beam suspenders. They were then fasted together and placed over the Autobahn A2, and crossing was open to traffic on 12 November, 1938. Albeit the bridge was 40 meters long, this concept was later used for spans up to three times the length. Gotthard Franz (1904-1991) of the firm Wayss and Freitag oversaw the construction using the Freyssinet concept, together with the French engineer himself, who later built several bridges of this kind, including the Railway Station Bridge in Aue (Saxony) as well as bridges in Hamburg, Kiel and Brunsbuttel (near the Baltic-North Sea Canal). The concept was later used in other countries, including the US, where one can see many of these bridges built from the 1980s onwards crossing ravines and roads today.

The Beckum-Oelde (Hesseler Weg) Overpass served traffic for 74 years until it was relocated to a rest area last year. Because it was declared a national technical landmark (technische Denkmal) in 1991, the demolition of the bridge was not allowed. Today, one can see the historic landmark, hoisted by two modern concrete piers at the rest area in Vellern-Süd.  The overpass signaled the beginning of innovation and proliferation of concrete bridges, something that would happen beginning in the 1950s, when the shortage of steel because of its usage in World War combined with the destruction of steel mills in Germany and Europe prompted the creativity of engineers to find ways to build crossings using other materials. Concrete was cheap and using the design of inventors like Freyssinet, the 1950s marked the beginning of the proliferation of concrete bridges, first used to replace structures destroyed in the war, and later used to replaced functionally obsolete bridges made of iron and steel, as seen in the US and Canada. While Freyssinet is not to blame for the invention but more to thank for ushering the era of concrete bridges, we have the honor of introducing the age of modernization, something that we still see today on our city streets and highways.

Author’s note: Nicolas Janberg wrote an article about this bridge, which you can click here.  The bridge is one of many listed as candidates for the 2013 Ammann Awards for Bridge of the Year and Best Example of a Preserved Historic Bridge. Thanks to Frank Selke for the use of his photo.