Sonnebrücke in Kirchberg (Saxony), Germany

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All  photos taken in March 2018

Between Schneeberg and Zwickau in western Saxony is a small town of Kirchberg. With a population of 8,700 inhabitants, Kirchberg straddles the Rödelbach River, which empties into the Zwickau Mulde River in Wilkau-Hasslau, approximately five kilometers north of the town. In addition to that, Kirchberg is known as the City with Seven Hills, as all seven hills surround the small community, protecting it from the weather extremities, especially in the winter time. Yet it is most difficult to get to the next available towns because of the winding roads one needs to go through. And Kirchberg is one of the most expanded communities with the least population density in Saxony, for 12 Kilometers of area in all directions belong to the community, including all of the small suburbs.

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While Kirchberg has a rather historic but sleepy town center (because buisness usually closes at 3:00pm on weekdays, non on Saturdays), a church on the hill and a couple notable historic bridges along the Rödelbach, one bridge in particular is the focus of this article because of ist unusual design and a classic example of a restored truss bridge. The Sonnebrücke Truss Bridge spans the Rödelbach on the east end of Kirchberg (see map below). The bridge, built in 1882, is unique because of its unusual design.

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For instance, the bridge is a pony truss built on a 45° skew. The skewed formation is easy to detect because one can see it from the main highway on ground level and from the hillside on the north bank of the river, it resembles a shoe. The harder part is identifying the truss type for from a distance, it appears to be a bowstring arch span. Yet when taking a closer look, the bridge is actually a Parker pony truss, mainly because of the slight bends of the upper chord per panel. The 24.5 meter truss bridge has nine panels with the highest panel being 1.7 meters tall.  How the bridge was built is the most difficult of all because you can only see the details up close while on the bridge. For instance, the bridge has welded connections, meaning that the beams are attached with gusset plates and welded nails. Given its age, this type of practice was first introduced in the 1880s and the Sonnebrücke is one of the first bridges built using this type of practice. It is one of the rarest bridges whose upper chord consists of a rare type that is seldomly found in truss bridges. While most truss bridges used H, I and T beams for their upper chords and end posts, this one has upper chords whose parts consists of L-shaped beams welded together making it appear like a cross-shaped beam. No truss bridge in the eastern half of Germany has such an unusual chord like that. It is even rarer when compared to the American Phoenix column, which was used on many iron truss bridges in the 1870s and 80s and has round-shaped columns with 4-8 points in the corners.

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The Kingdom of Saxony authorized the construction of the Sonnenbrücke in 1882 as part of the railroad project connecting Wilkau-Haslau with Carlsfeld via Kirchberg and Schönheide near the present-day Eibenstock Reservoir. From 1882 until its discontinuation in 1967, passenger and freight trains crossed this bridge daily. It was one of 54 bridges that the line went over, which included six viaducts in and near the Mulde River. Even though the line was discontinued in its entirety by 1980, the Sonnebrücke is one of only a handful of crossings remaining on the line, which has been dismantled in large sections but abandoned on other stretches of track, including the line between Schönheide and Carlsfeld. When the line was discontinued in sections and tracks were taken out, all the bridges and viaducts were removed with steel parts recycled for other uses. Attempts to save some of the viaducts were put down due to lack of financial resources and pressure by the East German government to support the communist system by making use of every resource possible. The Sonnebrücke remained hidden from view for another 40+ years until city officials collaborated with locals and a pair of restoration companies in Saxony to restore and repurpose the structure for recreational use. This happened in 2014 at a cost of 90,000 Euros. There, the bridge was sandblasted and repainted black, some parts were replaced because of the rust and corrosion, and a new flooring made of wood replaced the rail decking which no longer served its function.

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Today, the Sonnebrücke continues to cross the Rödelbach River but has a new function, which is to provide cyclists and pedestrians with an opportunity to explore the town along the river. This bridge and another crossing at the Hauptstrassebrücke are both part of the former rail line that had once had trains going through Kirchberg, stopping at two stations in town. Today, it carries as a bike trail and even though only a section of the former rail line is used as a rails to trails, the Sonnebrücke and the line that crossed over serves not only as a reminder of a railroad that had once been part of Kirchberg’s history and heritage but also as an example of an unusual truss bridge which had long since been forgotten but the city took care that it received a new purpose in life.  It definitely shows that even with a small portion of money, one can make use of it and make it like it was brand new.

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And with few historic artefacts left in our world, we need more examples of history being restored for generations to learn about. 🙂

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The Bridges of Markersbach (Saxony), Germany

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There is a proverb that I’ve been going by while bridgehunting recently, especially in the eastern part of Germany: The smaller the community the more historic bridges one can find. While cities, like Chemnitz and Zwickau have numerous bridges, the number of century+ old structures are relatively small in terms of numbers and ratio compared to modern bridges, smaller towns like Glauchau, Aue and even Rochlitz have a higher number of historic bridges. The trend is similar in many small cities and towns in Europe which makes finding historic bridges much easier. Yet when a person finds such a small community that has an important historic bridge, like you are about to read about here, chances are more likely that the person will find more than what they bargained for in terms of finding other structures that are just as significant as the town’s centerpiece.

And this is where the tour takes us back to the Ore Mountains but this time, a bit further east of Aue by about 15 kilometers to a town called Markersbach. With a population of only 1600, the town lies deep in the valley of the Bigger Mitweida Creek, which effectively cuts the community and its neighbor Rauschau into two. First mentioned in the history books in 1210, it was part of the Cisterician Monestary and later the Peter and Paul. The Church of St. Barbara, built in 1610, is one of the oldest churches in the mountain regions. The water pump power plant is located at the upper basin of the Mitweida serves the region. The Jenaplan School, based on the concept created by Peter Petersen in the 1920s, is located in Markersbach but the community school’s origins dates back to the 1500s.  Since 2007, Markersbach is a joint-community with neighboring Raschau, which has as many people as its neighbor. The city is served by a major highway connecting Schwarzenberg and Aue to the west and Annaberg-Buchholz to the east. A railroad line connecting Schwarzenberg and Annaberg rarely provides service.

And the centerpiece surrounding the community is also the highest viaduct in the region, the Markersbach Viaduct, nicknamed as the Matchstick Bridge, for the structure was built using thin but heavy steel parts.  The bridge was the primary reason for my visit. However arriving there, I found three more significant railroad bridges, a few smaller bridges that are at least 70 years old, a highway viaduct that somewhat fits into the landscape with its color.  That means five major bridges and a couple smaller stone arch bridges can be seen as one travels along the main street that runs parallel to the Bigger Mittweida. This large number of bridges was one of the factors in having a bridge festival in 2010, which included a tour of the viaducts by train and fireworks.

Yet given the number of houses and trees that are skewing the view of the bridges, combined with a lack of parking with the car, it is rather difficult to get to the structures without asking the property owners to climb onto the rooves of their houses just to get a good shot of the bridge. Or stand in the middle of the street ensuring one doesn’t get hit from behind by a car.

This tour will look at the bridges in Markersbach, beginning with the centerpiece, for it symbolizes the community’s history and existence, followed by the less mentioned ones but also have some charm to it. The information is scarce for all but the Matchstick Bridge and therefore will be updated as more people step up with their stories and facts about the bridges. One has to keep in mind that Markersbach can be easily passed over, thanks to the new viaduct (a.k.a. The Flyover) that has been in service for over seven years. Therefore before entering the viaduct, one has to turn off: to the right and down the hill past the loop before seeing the first bridge; to the left there is the grand view of…..

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this viaduct!

Markersbach Viaduct:

The Markersbach Viaduct is one of the key historic bridges in Saxony one needs to visit. The viaduct spans one of the tributaries that empties into the Bigger Mitweida. With a total length of 236.5 meters and a height of 36.5 meters, the viaduct is the tallest of its kind in the Ore Mountain region. Under the direction of bridge engineer Claus Koepke and built using steel manufactured by the Queen Marie Steel in Cainsdorf (near Zwickau), construction of the bridge took two years, with the completion being 1889, coinciding with the opening of the Schwarzenberg-Annaberg rail line. The line provided train traffic all the way to Leipzig and Berlin until World War II. It was later reduced to Zwickau and then later to Aue. The line no longer serves regular traffic but has special services that provides tourists with a splendid view of Markersbach, the valley and the mountain areas surrounding them. The bridge features nine spans supported by eight trapezoidal towers with X-laced framing. The spans are lenticular deck trusses, whereby the longest spans (two) have curved Warren trusses with 25m each, three 20m spans have polygonal Warren trusses and four 12.5 meter spans have camelback Warren trusses. For each truss type are the triangular panels subdivided. Photos of the viaduct are difficult to do due to the obstruction by the houses. Even getting up close to the bridge is difficult because it requires walking up narrow and winding streets, all but a couple of which are cul-de-sacs occupied by houses and cars. Getting to the opposite side of the viaduct is possible but only through walking through fields and forests. And even then it is hard to come by- one has to be lucky to get up close and personal with the bridge. However a grand view of the entire bridge can be found off the highway at the intersection where the bridge bypass and the road leading to Markersbach meet. That impromtu observation platform is nothing more than a road that used to enter Markersbach before the bypass and the highway viaduct were built.

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Highway 101 Flyover Viaduct

In 2005, construction began to construct a nearly 2 km bypass to alleviate traffic going into and through Markersbach. The plan: To construct a tall viaduct which would not only “fly” over the community crossing the Mitweida Valley, but it would also make travel between Annaberg and Schwarzenberg much smoother, especially for trucks. Furthermore, it would provide passers-by with a splendid view of Markersbach, its prized viaduct and much of the mountain while driving “in the air.” 😉  The project was not easy as erosion, causing mudslides hindered consturction, the worst having occurred on the eastern slope in October 2006. The next problem was establishing a firm foundation for the pylons, which was discovered the following July.  When the bridge finally opened in November 2011, it was four years behind schedule. However, the delay was worth it for the jeans-blue steel deck girder with cantilever features now hovers the community and its valley, narrowly surpassing the railroad viaduct by only 7.5 meters. The Flyover is 317 meters long and has two lanes totalling 25 meters. The cost for the project: 25 million Euros, twice as much as previously planned. Yet the Flyover is still most travelled today giving residents a piece of mind without having to worry about their children running across the street and risk getting hit by trucks and racing cars.

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Mitweidathal Viaduct:

When entering Markersbach by turning off at the Flyover, one will be driving down the hill along the winding stretch of what was Highway 101 (German: B101), flanked by trees on both sides. Yet at at the loop where one crosses the Mitweida Creek, one enters the community, greeted by houses on both sides of the street and this bridge. One should not be fooled by its appearance. It is definitely not the Markersbach Viaduct because of its height. One can even see the difference from a distance- either at the observation point at the Flyover or even along the former highway on the left entering town. The Mittweidathal Viaduct is shorter in length but it is not just simply a bridge, whose characteristics are its curve towards the Markersbach Viaduct as well as its brick piers. When looking closely at the 86 meter long and 10 meter high viaduct, it features brick piers with quarzite-like stripes and six spans, each one featuring a deck plate girder supported by polygonal Vierendeel trusses. Because of the absence of diagonal beams they are not Parker trusses, yet they have an appearance of a lenticular truss. So to categorize the truss style, it is considered a half-lenticular polygonal Vierendeel truss with welded connections. The bridge has existed as long as the rail line itself. Yet because of its seldom use, age caused by weather extremities has taken its toll. Should the line be used again, either as train service or as a bike trail, some repairs will be needed to ensure the bridge continues to function in its original form.

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St. Barbara/ Annaberg Street Viaduct:

About 400 meters away from the Mitweida Viaduct and following the former highway through Markersbach is this viaduct. The St. Barbara Viaduct was named after the nearby church- the oldest one in Markersbach- which is located on the same street as the viaduct crosses: Annaberg Street. The 70-meter long viaduct features four spans of deck plate girders, the longest is 30 meters and features a Camelback girder design which hovers over a side street that is opposite Abrahamsbach Creek) and runs pararell to Annaberg Street. Where that span crosses is near houses that line up along two sharp curves, which is dangerous for all vehicles.  The viaduct looks like one of the newer spans that had replaced a previous bridge, but it is unknown when the replacement date was. We know that the bridge is 200 meters away from the Markersbach Viaduct and is located near some key points in the community: the afreoemntioned church, a Methodist Church, a park and the Jenaplan School. Even though the viaduct is seldomly used today, a curious question I have is how people tolerated living right next to the viaduct, especially during Sunday mass at church? 😉

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Raschau Viaduct:

The last bridge on the tour takes us one kilometer west to neighboring Raschau and this bridge, the Raschau Viaduct. Like the Markersbach Viaduct, the Raschau Viaduct is the most original of the bridges profiled here, as the bridge dates back to the construction of the rail line. This is especially noticeable as the seven-span viaduct, built on stone piers, features Town Lattice deck trusses, built using welded connections and a thick network of diagonal beams both in the inner and outer portions of the spans. The bridge has a total length of 112 meters, making it the second longest crossing along the Schwarzenberg-Annaberg rail line. The width is 12 meters. The height above the streets is four meters, making it the lowest crossing above ground level along the line as well. Height restrictions have been enforced to discourage truck drivers from using the streets. With the Flyover, combined with access on both ends of Markersbach and Raschau, the bridge has not sustained any damage, even though German laws have also played a role in forbidding overweight and oversized vehicles from using the road. Had this bridge been located in the States, with its lack of laws forbidding such vehicles, the Raschau Viaduct would not have survived such careless driving, and the driver would most likely have been forced to pay for a new bridge. However, because of its conformity to the landscape and its beauty, this viaduct will most likely remain for a long time.

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There are a few single-span arch bridges but with the exception of a railroad overpass, these structures are only short spans and are difficult to photograph. A couple points of interest are worth photgraphing, which are noted in the Google Map. The bridges presented in this tour guide are examples of structures that represent a small community, whose history play a role in establishing the community and bringing it together. And while all but one are seldomly used today, the bridges at Markersbach are indeed diamonds in the rough, which is worth a couple hours of visiting and taking some photos. Even more so if the community has bridge festivals and other local celebrations throughout the year. 🙂

 

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 92: The Unusual Truss/Arch Bridge at Van Loon

This next mystery bridge takes us to a place out in the middle of nowhere east of a larger city in Indiana. The Van Loon Bridge was one of the most unusual truss bridges found on record. The bridge used to span the Little Calumet River east of Hammond and features a two-span pony arch bridge with Warren truss features and riveted connections. According to an article in the Engineering News Magazine  dated in 1915, the bridge was assembled using scrap metal from an unknown source in Van Loon, Indiana. Unfortunately there were no records that indicated the existence of the community except that it was probably located somewhere outside Hammond. While fellow pontist Nathan Holth pinpointed the bridge’s location to the east, it is not 100% correct and chances are most likely that it could be either to the west or even somewhere along the Calumet. The same applies to the community of Van Loon for the community may have existed for a few years before having disappeared even from the record books.  What we do know is that the bridge, which is approximately 100-120 feet long and 13 feet wide has been extant for many years. This leads to several questions that need explaining about this bridge:

  1. Where exactly along the Calumet was this bridge located?
  2. Where was Van Loon located? When was the community founded, let alone when it vanished?
  3. If the bridge was built using scrap metal, where (in or around Van Loon) did the metal come from?
  4. When was the bridge built and by whom?
  5. When was the bridge demolished?
  6. Was there a replacement for the bridge?

This mystery bridge is unique for we are not only looking for the history of the bridge itself but also the community that only existed for a Brief time. Henceforth if you have any history of Van Loon that would be of great help for to better understand about the bridge’s history, one Needs to know more about the community it served. This includes the people who lived there, the businesses and the events that affected the community, including the factors that led to ist disappearance. You can provide one or both here or through the bridgehunter.com website.

While we have seen fancy bridges, like the one constructed using the remains of a Ferris Wheel, a car dealership, a stadium and the like, nothing is as fancy and interesting is a unique bridge built using parts from an unknown location. The bridge at Van Loon is one of those particular bridges that has that beauty.

 

Venice: City of Bridges- Guest Column

There are two different types of historic bridges: One that stands out in terms of its design and history and one that integrates itself in a setting, where if visited, one can experience the culture that both the bridge and the area surrounding it offer. One cannot modernize with a new crossing without understanding the implications they have with the neighborhood or landscape. And this is where this guest column comes about.

I happened to stumble across this column by accident and wished I hadn’t for I have yet to visit Italy and explore some of the finest bridges in the country. Italy is home to thousands of crossings dating as far back as the Roman Empire. This include some of the bridges that were built before and rebuilt after the fall of the Empire, including some by King Theoderich (see my article on this topic), such as the aqueducts in Rome (as described in another article here.) Then there are the bridges serving the waters of Florence……

….and this city, Venice.

Home to over 2.5 million inhabitants (with 260,000 living directly in the city center), the city is home to over 430 bridges, including two of the most famous landmarks of the city: The Ponte di Rialto and the Bridge of Sighs. Both of these bridges, dating back to the late 1500s, are part of the majority that can be easily reached by boat or gondola. A guide to the highly recommended bridges to visit in Venice can be accessed by link here.

Yet this guest column written by a columnist who focuses on life in cities and sunsets, puts together Venice’s historic bridges with the colorful faces that the city has to offer. It is a long column about her adventures through the city, and her impressions lead to readers like this one to add this city to the places to visit and bridgehunt- very high up in the Top 3. To look at Venice’s bridges, have a look at the summary below and click to read to the end. When done, you will not regret it like I didn’t but more like provide an incentive to go there and have a look. Enjoy! 🙂

The city of bridges, as it is fondly known, is everything you would imagine it to be. It has a surreal feeling when there, living up to all of its stereotypical features; pretty bridges over winding canals, narrow paths nestled between old tall brick buildings, gondolas and motor boats carrying fruit and vegetables, singing gondoliers […]

via VENICE – CITY OF BRIDGES — LIFE I WANT TO LEAD

 

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2017 Ammann Awards Results: Part 2

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Cobban Bridge spanning the Chippewa River near Cornell, Wisconsin. Winner of the Bridge of the Year Awards. Photo taken by Troy Hess.

Just 12 hours after publishing the press release of Part 1 of the Ammann Award winners, there was a lot of positive feedback from our Readers, especially in the category of Best Photo, where Chauncy Neumann came out the winner in that category, followed by Esko Räntilla and lastly, Kevin Skow- just to name the top three of the top six winners of the Awards. However, just after posting the first half of the results, I contacted the winner of Lifetime Achievement Award for an interview, informing him that he had won and asking him if he would be interviewed about his work. His response: cool as heckfire, let’s do it! 🙂 There are two reasons for Nels Raynor to be honored for this year’s Lifetime Achievement Awards. The first has to do with his many years of hard work in restoring numerous bridges, especially with his company BACH Steel, located in Michigan. There will be more on his successes when the interview is finished and posted. The second has to do with a historic bridge he restored that won an accolade this year. That will come in a bit. But looking at the results, Raynor was in a dog-eat-dog battle with silver medalist James Baughn of Bridgehunter.com throughout most of the competition until he pulled away with 245 votes to Baughn’s 105 in the waning days of the voting process. The Bronze and Tourquois Medals had to be split up among three people in each standing, all of whom had at least 104 votes but the margin between third and fourth place was only a single vote. Nevertheless, the finishing results look like this:

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT:

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The Schlema Stone Arch Bridge spanning the Zwickauer Mulde River at Schlema

TOUR GUIDE INTERNATIONAL:

This category was the only one in the Ammann Awards where each candidate successfully vied for first place and stayed there before being dethroned by another one. Even the bridges in a small town of Rochlitz, southeast of Leipzig, took first place honors for a few days before being outvoted by silver medalist, Winnepeg (Canada) and bronze medalist, St. Petersburg (Russia). It finished in fourth with 92 votes, five less than St. Petersburg.  It also marked a first where a candidate was entered twice due to additional bridges that were added after the first run. That was with Glauchau (Saxony), Germany, which finished fifth in the 2016 Awards but because of four additional bridges, plus information from local historians and local publicity from the newspapers, it was reentered in the 2017 competition. It finished fifth, receiving the Quartzite Medal, after receiving 56 votes, far outdoing Quebec City, London (UK) and Cambridge (UK). The winner of the Tour Guide International Award goes to the bridges in the Aue-Schneeberg Region in western Saxony, Germany. Featuring the bridges along the Zwickauer Mulde, Schwarzwasser and Schlema Rivers, the region, which has bridges in the cities of Aue, Schneeberg, Schlema and even Zschorlau finished with 126 votes, after lagging behind Glauchau until the second-to-last day, thus receiving the Gold medal. More Information on the bridges in the region can be found here. Here are the rest of the results:

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Albertus Meyer Memorial Bridge in Allentown (Lehigh Co.), PA  Photo by HABS-HAER

TOUR GUIDE USA:

There are many characteristics that make this year’s winner a treat to visit. Lehigh County, Pennsylvania has a wide array of covered bridges as well as arch bridges. They include, on the one hand, the Geiger and Rex Covered Bridges- both the oldest still in use- but also the oldest stone arch bridge in Reading  (built in 1824) and the Albertus Meyer Memorial Bridge in Allentown, a 1913 arch viaduct that is the longest in the county. That was probably the main reason why the majority of voters selected Lehigh County as this year’s Tour Guide winner. After tangling with Clinton County, New York, Lehigh County received the gold medal with 201 votes, 71 more than Clinton County, which received the Ore Medal with 131 votes. Silver and Bronze go to the bridges in northern West Virginia, where Marshall County finished second with 149 votes and Wheeling finished with only two votes less. Civil war-based arch bridges in Bridges to the Past in Hardin County received tourquois with 132 votes. While the Cleveland Browns Football Team are walking away from the most humiliating football Season on record with an 0-16 record, the people of Cleveland are taking pride in the city’s bridges with 131 voters checking the City in for a fifth place finish and a Quartzite Medal. Here is the final tally of the top six of 14 candidates.

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The Springfield Bowstring Arch Bridge at its new location in Conway, AR. Winner of the Best Preservation Practice Awards. Photo taken by Wayne Keller

BEST EXAMPLE OF A RESTORED HISTORIC BRIDGE

In perhaps the most intensive finish in the history of the Ammann Awards, the race came down to two bridges, each with its own preservation Story. The Springfield Bowstring Arch was perhaps one of the most successful bridge preservation stories on record, as crews saved the leaning 1871 iron bowstring arch bridge from disaster by dismantling it as well as rebuilding it at its new location at a park in Conway in Faulkner County, Arkansas.  For Nels Raynor, Julie Bowers and crew, this 18-month project, which included several volunteers, consultants and historians, was one of the shortest and most successful on record, for it usually takes 2-3 years to accomplish such a feat. But for the crew, it was the most successful story in the company’s history and one of the best in bridge preservation history.

It had some massive competition from another bridge, located in Des Moines, Iowa, in the Green Bridge. The 1898 three-span Pratt through truss bridge was restored on site with new cassion piers and truss bridge parts as well as new decking and lighting and became a posterboy in the face of the city council’s attempts to modernize the Des Moines River crossings by replacing arch bridges with faux arches. Grand Avenue fell victim with Locust and Court Avenues coming up on their plans. With their success Story, perhaps the City will rethink the way they treat their historic structures as they have been on the onslaught by those who think newer and leaner is better. Both Green and Springfield had raced neck-on-neck, changing leads at least two dozen times in the last two weeks of the competition before Springfield finally edged the Green Bridge for Gold Medal by a score of 1720 votes to the silver medalist’s 1682. Bronze went to the Ponte Pensil Sao Vicente in Santos, Brazil, with 717 votes. This category had more bowstring arch bridges in the top six than in the past, as the crossings at the Columbiana County Fairgrounds in Ohio and at Merrimack College near Boston finished in fourth and fifth respectively. The Ore Medal for sixth place goes to the Broadway Avenue Bridge in St. Peter, Minnesota, which the Minnesota River crossing garnered 366 votes. 6126 votes were recorded in this category, which was the second best behind the last category of the Awards.

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Cobban Bridge spanning the Chippewa River near Cornell, WI: Winner of Bridge of the Year.

BRIDGE OF THE YEAR:

With 7160 votes total for 13 candidates, the Bridge of the Year category set a new record for the highest number of votes recorded  in the history of the Ammann Awards. None of the candidates received less than 200 votes each but there was a fierce competition for first place among five bridge candidates which lasted until the final four days of voting. It was then that 1800 voters selected the two-span Pennsylvania through truss bridge spanning the Chippewa River in Wisconsin, the Cobban Bridge. The 1908 product of Modern Steel Structures Company is listed on the National Register of Historic Places but its future is in peril after county officials voted to close off the bridge to all traffic last year, deeming it unsafe. Officials want to see the bridge replaced by 2021, but locals would like to see the bridge saved and rehabilitated for reuse. There has been on ongoing debate on what to do with the bridge. Despite claims that the cost for rehabilitating the bridge is prohibitive, figures have been revealed as overexaggerating. Could the Cobban Bridge be the next Green Bridge of Des Moines? 2018 will be the decisive year for residents of Chippewa County and the state of Wisconsin as to what will become the lone truss bridge of its design in the state, let alone the last of its kind in the country.

Apart from the Cobban Bridge receiving gold, the silver medal winner went to the Springfield Bowstring Arch Bridge with 617 votes, two thirds shy of the triple crown for BACH Steel. The duo truss bridges of Pulp Mill in Berlin, New Hampshire received the bronze with 589 votes, despite having competed with Cobban, fourth place finisher Hvita Bridge in Iceland (which received 580 votes) and the Wave in Glauchau, Germany for first place. Pulp Mill had traded leads with Cobban several times before the last rush put it out of reach by a long shot. The Wave finished tied for 10th with the Green Bridge in Des Moines and well out of medal range. Despite being arsoned for the second time in over a decade, the Cedar Covered Bridge near Winterset, Iowa received the Quartzite and finished fifth with 435 votes, 11 votes more than the ore medal winner, the Covered Bridges of New Brunswick, Canada, the topic of discussion and many stories because of closures due to structural issues and drivers falling through the flooring. Here is the tally in detail:

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And with that ends the most intensive but exciting 2017 Ammann Awards. Observing the voting process and watching people get engaged made this round as exciting as the Holiday Season itself, even though the latter was shorter than normal due to Christmas Eve falling on thr Fourth Advent which meant shorter Holiday Shopping and time for Christmas Markets. In any case, with plans of other Websites, like Bridgehunter.com planning to go international and the Chronicles providiing more coverage, including bridge tours, bridge book profiles, interviews and others, it is hoped that the 2018 Ammann Awards will be bigger and more exciting than this year.

While the author of the Chronicles picks his favorites to be published in the next article, those interested in submitting bridges, photos and more should keep in mind that nominations officially begin on October 3rd and end December 3rd. Voting will proceed right afterwards, ending on January 8th, 2019. Winners to be announced on January 12th. For details, click here and/or contact Jason D. Smith at the Chronicles if you have any questions.

For now, let’s have a look at the Author’s Choice Awards, which follows this article and I must warn you: If you are a fan of Judge Marilyn Milian of the People’s Court, you will have a blast at what she could have said to the stories that made headlines in 2017. Stay tuned! 🙂

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2017 Ammann Award Results: Part 1

Rock Island Rail-to-Trail Bridge in Little Rock, AR at night. Photo taken by Chauncy Neuman, winner of this year’s Best Photo Award

New Olympic-Style Medal System to the Top Six Finishers

Record Number of Voter Participation

SCHNEEBERG (SAXONY), GERMANY- 2018 is here, and with it, the revealing of the winners of the 2017 Othmar H. Ammann Awards. This year’s awards ceremony is far different than in years’ past. For instance, instead of announcing the winners in nummerical order from top to bottom, the top six winners receive a medal in a combination of Olympics and Ore Mountain form. That means the top three finishers receive the typical Olympic medals, whereas 4th to 6th place finishers receive medals typical of the Ore Mountain region in Saxony in eastern Germany, the new home for this column (specifically, in Schneeberg). That means tourquoise, copper and iron ore to those respective finishers. To view the total number of candidates please click here for details, including how they finished.

This year’s awards set some impressive records that can only be bested by more participation and more awareness of the historic bridges that we have left in general. For instance, we had records smashed for the highest number of voter turnout in each of the nine categories. Furthermore, there were at least seven lead changes in each category, which was also a first. In four of the categories, there were lead changes with at least four of the candidates. In another category, each of the candidates took a shot at first place and stayed at the top for at least a week before it was dethroned in favor of another one. In summary, no leader was safe regardless of margin that was built with its second place competitor. 🙂

And with that we will take a look at the winners of the 2017 Ammann Awards, divided up into two parts so that the readers are not overwhelmed with the content. The winners of the 2017 Author’s Choice, where the author himself picks his favorites, will follow. But for now, let’s see what the voters have chosen for bridge favorites beginning with…..

 

BEST PHOTO:

This year’s Best Photo Category brought in not only double the number of candidates as last year (12 entries) but also double as many candidates that vied for first place as last year- there was a battle among three candidates for the top spot for the 2016 Awards. All six candidates finished in the top six with Chauncy Neumann bringing home the gold for his night photo of the Rock Island Railroad Bridge in Little Rock, AR., a fine example of a rail-to-trail crossing that still has its use in its second life today. His photo can be seen in the Chronicles’ facebook page as well as an avatar for the Chronicles’ twitter page. The silver medal went to Esko Räntilla for his stone arch bridge, built in the 1700s spanning a small creek in Finnland. That photo can be seen in the Chronicles’ wordpress page. Third place finisher receiving the bronze was Kevin Skow for his shot of the pony truss bridge Mill Creek in Kansas. His photo can be seen on the Chronicles’ twitter page. All of them will remain to be seen until mid-July before they become part of the header rotating page for the Chronicles’ wordpress page. The rest of the results:

Draschwitz Bridge north of Zeitz in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt: Winner of the Best Kept Secret International Award

BEST KEPT SECRET INDIVIDUAL BRIDGE:

This category is divided up into American and International Bridges and focuses on historic and unique bridges that receive little to no attention compared to other historic bridges, like the Golden Gate and Brooklyn Bridges in the States. In the international part of the category, we had 14 entries from three continents with four vying for the top spot. In the end, the winner of award goes to a small village north of Zeitz in Germany and this unusual bridge, the Draschwitz Truss Bridge over the White Elster River. This bridge is unique because of its v-laced top chord. The story behind it can be found here. Silver goes to the suspension bridge at Betsiboka in Madagascar, whereas Bronze goes to another unique arch bridge in Greece nominated by Inge Kanakaris-Wirtl, the Plakidas Bridge. The rest of the top six include:

Sarto Bridge in Louisiana. Photo taken by Cliff Darby

In the States, we had ten entries, featuring bridges from all over the country. This included a “dead bridge”- one that has been extant for many years, yet one decided to nominate it post humously. As in the international portion, four of the ten vied for the top spot, but in the end, the Sarto Bridge, spanning the Bayou des Glaises at Big BendAvoyelles Parish, Louisiana came out the winner by a slim margin, outlasting the Johnson Bridge in Stillwater County (Montana) by five votes. That “dead bridge” mentioned earlier, was Sugar Island Bridge in Kankakee Illinois, came in third with 88 votes- a bronze medal well earned a century after it was converted into a pile of scrap metal. The bridge was destroyed by a tornado in 1916 and was replaced afterwards.  The rest of the top six include:

Geneva Creek Bridge in Muscatine, Iowa. Winner of the Mystery Bridge Award. Photo taken by Luke Harden

 

MYSTERY BRIDGE:

Twelve bridges were entered in this category, of which three came from the States and the rest from Germany. Still, the winners of both the international and American competition were clearly decisive with the American bridge winning the all around by a wide margin. That was with the Geneva Creek Bridge in Muscatine, Iowa, a Bedstead Howe pony truss that features two spans and was relocated at an unknown time. Information on that is enclosed here. The ancient arch bridge in Erfurt won the international division but came in second in the all around. That bridge spans a small waterfall that empties into the Diversion Channel on the south end of the city in Thuringia. It may be the oldest extant structure in the city’s history. For more, click here. Not far behind was another competitor from the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, a thatched-roof covered truss bridge in St. Peter-Ording, whose unique story can be found here. The rest of the standings include:

The rest of the winners can be found in Part 2. Click here to get there. 🙂

Ancient Arch Bridge at Pförtchen Bridge in Erfurt. Winner of the Ammann Awards for Mystery Bridge International

 

 

 

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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