The Historic Bridges of Gundagai, Australia

The Railroad Bridge and Viaduct. Built in 1903. Source: Bidgee, CC BY-SA 3.0 AU https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/au/deed.en, via Wikimedia Commons

News has been going around about the demolition of the Prince Alfred Bridge in Gundagai, Australia, for 40 years of abandonment has led to deterioration to a point where rehabilitation is impossible and the structure is hazardous. Little do we realize that Gundagai had not only one viaduct, but three!

To summarize, after the construction of the original wooden viaduct to accommodate the Hume Highway in 1867, another wooden trestle was built by the American Bridge Company in 1902. The trestle, which accommodated railroad traffic for many decades featured Howe lattice deck truss spans, and over the Murrumbidgee River, a combination of a Parker through truss main span and steel girder approach spans. The railroad trestle curved under the Prince Alfred Viaduct before crossing the main river. These two bridges ran parallel until the Sheahan Viaduct was constructed in 1977 and traffic was shifted from the Prince Alfred onto this bridge.

To get a better idea what these bridges looked like, I’ve enclosed two videos that show the tour of all three in Gundagai. Each one contains some information and photos about the bridges and why they were constructed. It serves as a memorial for the Prince Alfred which is being torn down at the time of this release. The project is expected to be completed by December. Yet it also honors the other two in hopes that some day, they will become a monument that will depict the toil and tears needed to build something this long and this high over an area that is prone to flooding.

So without further ado, sit back and enjoy the two films. 🙂

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These bridges are in the running for the 2021 Bridgehunter Awards under the categories Endangered TRUSS and Bridge Tour Guide International. 🙂

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New Bridge Builder’s Directory

 

Some additions and expansions of the Chronicles is getting in full gear as we’re receiving a wider selection of the audience. This includes new social network pages and a couple pages on the wordpress menu. This is one of them.

In 1984, Victor Darnell created a directory with a list of American bridge builders and the dates of their existence, based on the data found through research by historians on the local, state and national levels. It was later expanded by James Stewart, who provided not only detail about the builders listed, but also included the names of other smaller bridge builders that may not have contributed much on a regional level, but did do on a local level.  A link to the guide can be found via link here.

Yet, thirty-plus years later, we still have more bridge builders that were not listed in the Darnell category, and we still have a lot of questions about the ones listed. Examples include the Continnental Bridge Company and its gap during the bridge building era, the question about the number of bridges built by Raymond and Campbell in Minnesota and Iowa, and even the question of more involvement of bridge builders in the Minnneapolis, Pittsburgh or even Chicago schools, as documented by prominent bridge historians, like Stewart, Fred Quivik, Eric Delony and others.  From the author’s perspective, the key questions we need to know about are the following:

  1. Who founded the company and what was his/her profession prior to that?
  2. How long did the company existed? Did it expand or fold under the pressure of competition?
  3. What characteristic features of the bridge company can be found on the structures in terms of design, portal, plaques, keystones, etc.?
  4. Which bridges were built by the company and where are/were they located?
  5. What about the role of bridge builders in other countries? Did they bring their expertise to the United States, like Ralph Mojeski did, or did they remain competitive on their native soil?

While extensive research has been done with the main companies, like King Bridge Company, American Bridge Company, and the Champion Bridge Company, more is needed for the other companies, whose history is full of holes, resembling Swiss cheese. For those wishing to find out more about the bridge company for their research, a library with a detailed list of bridge builders is the starting point.

Henceforth, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles has just created a directory of Bridge Builders which can be found on its wordpress page (click here for details).  Here, you can find information that has been written about them, categorized in alphabetical order and classified in brackets where they originated. Also included are the dates of their existence. The essays and other facts come not only from the Chronicles itself but also from different websites. All you need to do is click on the bridge builder you are seeking, and the information is right at your finger tips; included are examples of bridges built by the company, even though there were perhaps more than what is presented.

Apart from additional bridge builders that will be provided by the Chronicles, both based on previous research on the US ones as well as those currently being researched in Europe, the Chronicles is also taking articles and essays of bridge companies, engineers and the like that have not been listed yet. If you have a bridge company that you researched and would like to have posted on the Chronicles page, please contact Jason D. Smith at the Chronicles, using the contact details below.  Please include examples of bridges built as well as either a couple photos, links to the bridges or both if you have some that are related to the company. They will then be added to the directory.

The list provided at the moment is not complete, but more bridge builders will be added as the weeks go by. Only you can make the library bigger. So if you have a bridge company worth adding, we’re looking forward to reading about it. After all, another researcher, historian, teacher or even enthusiast will be thankful that you contributed on the research.

 

The Bridges of Harvey/Tracy, Iowa

At dusk
Never travel alone in the dark, as you are being watched. Photo of a farmstead taken at dusk by the author in August 2011

This tour guide takes us to southeastern Iowa, where we have not only one but six bridges in the area where Harvey and Tracy are located. One mystery bridge, one extremely haunted one carrying a dead end low maintenance road, one railroad bridge that had a tragic end, another railroad bridge that was located next to a sunken ferry and two abandoned ones that are being considered for a bike trail. All of them span(-ned) the Des Moines River within a 10-mile radius of a small town of Harvey. Located approximately seven miles east of the county seat of Knoxville in Marion County, Harvey has a population of roughly 250 inhabitants. Judging by the appearance of the houses and even the two churches, the town had seen its better days, as the majority of them live at or below the poverty line and most of the buildings are run down, the yards littered with junk needed to be removed if the assistance is available. It doesn’t look any better for the town of Tracy, located three miles down river in Mahaska County. The town of 150 inhabitants had once seen better days with the railroad in business, connecting it with Oskaloosa, which is 10 miles to the east and the county seat.

But looking at Harvey, these characteristics are only scratching the surface, as the town, and the surrounding area, and the crossings along the Des Moines River are all haunted in one way or another. Photographing the bridges, there is a sense of eeriness that makes a person stay close to the car and not wander off, fearing that he will not return. The region used to be bustling with railway and commercial traffic in the 1800s and early 1900s. In fact, Harvey was plotted in 1876 by the railroad with a line passing through later that year, connecting Knoxville and points east through the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy.  But the line that passed through Harvey was abandoned, and one by one, commerce moved away to nearby towns, but leaving traces of the past in the forms of ghosts and other paranormal activity that makes the region haunted, but researchers curious about its history. If there is a word of advice I have for the passers-by it is this: Never travel alone in the dark, for you are being watched. Travel in groups and in the day time to ensure that you are safe and sound. Make sure you do not wander off away from the cars, and never ever get lost when photographing in the area!

On one of the evenings in August of 2011, I took a tour of the region and its bridges. There were five historic truss bridges that I found and spent some time photographing them: The Horn’s Ferry, Wabash Railroad, Harvey Railroad, Belle Fountain, and Eveland Bridges. While the Horn’s Ferry Bridge has a topic of its own (click here), the primary focus of this tour is on the other four bridges.  In addition to that, there is an abandoned highway that used to pass through Harvey in a form of Iowa Highway 92, the same highway that used to crisscross Madison County, and its numerous covered bridges that existed (now there’s only six fully restored structures). It snaked its way towards the Des Moines River before crossing north of Tracy.  The highway was straightened and bypassed in 1978 but numerous questions remain about the highway. And lastly, east of Tracy is the remains of a railroad bridge which has a history of its own, including that of its tragic end 60 years ago.

This article provides you with a tour of the area and its bridges with some insight from the author on the structure and its significance. It will also include some stories of his encounters with some rather strange things that happened while on tour. We’ll start off with our first bridge:

Wabash Railroad Bridge:

The first bridge on the tour is one of two that used to be a railroad crossing but was repurposed to serve cars. The Wabash Railroad Bridge can be found spanning the Des Moines River just south of the present crossing at Keokuk Drive (CSAH T-17). It was built in 1881 by the Oliver Iron and Steel Company, even though it is unclear whether it was the company that had been operated by Henry Oliver in Pittsburgh or James Oliver in the state of Indiana. It consists of three Pratt through truss spans with pinned connections and Lattice portal bracings. The overhead bracings are V-laced with 45° heel supports. The center span was replaced in 1905. The total length is 545 feet long, meaning three 150-foot long spans plus an approach constructed in 1951 when it was converted to vehicular traffic. The Wabash Railroad was created in 1837 but started using the name out of the creation of several small railroads in 1865. The company served the Midwestern states which included an area between Kansas City and St. Louis to Chicago, Detroit, parts of Ontario and ending in Buffalo. This included the line going through Harvey and Tracy enroute to the Quad Cities (E) and Omaha (W). After its receivership in 1931 and purchase by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1933, several tracks were sold off, including this line and the bridge, which Marion County purchased in 1946. The bridge was eventually converted to a vehicular crossing by 1951 and the line was turned into a gravel road connecting Harvey and Oskaloosa. The bridge was bypassed by a newer crossing in the late 1980s but remained a crossing as a gravel road until its closure a few years ago. Today, it is a pedestrian crossing with each ends being barricaded and steel fencing having been installed. Plans are in the making to include the crossing into the bike trail network connecting Pella and Van Buren County.  In 2013, the remains of an antique ferry boat were found 500 feet south of the crossing. It is possible that a ferry used to serve locals during the time the Wabash Railroad was in service, but more information is needed to prove these claims. The Wabash folded into Norfolk and Southern in 1991, ending its storied 153 year run.

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Harvey Railroad Bridge:

Built in 1878 by the American Bridge Company, this four-span Pratt through truss bridge was one of the first bridges that featured the bridge company’s signature portal bracings (as you can see in the pictures below). They were used often for railroad crossings with most of them built after the consolidation of 26 bridge companies in 1901. The bridge served rail traffic until it was abandoned in 1938 and purchased by the county, which then converted it into a roadway bridge. At some time later, the Des Moines River was re-channeled making the road expendable. Yet it still serves this dead end road to nearby farms along the river today. The railroad that used the bridge was the Rock Island, which started its decline at the time the bridge and the line were sold off and was eventually liquidated in 1980.

The bridge is surrounded by thick trees, which covers the structure and makes the tall and narrow structure a haunted place to visit. During my visit to the bridge, the first impression after looking at the entrance was that of walking through a dark black hole filled with bats, owls, and creepy insects. Crickets were already out in full force chirping away. Everything else was deathly still as I was crossing the structure, taking pictures of it. Yet as I was at the easternmost portal entrance to the bridge, I heard gunshots ringing out from the opposite end of the bridge. The first shot did not stir me but it did scare off the birds that had been dining in the nests. The second shot however made me rethink my stay on the bridge as there was speculation that someone was shooting at me (or trying to). There was no one approaching me on the bridge and no other people in the vicinity of the structure. The third gunshot was the final signal for me to make my exit as I rush towards the car, hearing more gunshots along the way, got in and took off. As I was leaving, a party of two people on an ATV rushed onto the bridge.  If this was a way of shooing someone from the bridge just so they could have it, then they could have done better than that. Yet even if no guns were being used, the bridge is probably one of the most haunted structures you can ever cross, ranking up there with the Enoch’s Knob Bridge in Missouri. The best time to visit the bridge is in the daylight, where you can get the best pics and are most likely not be frightened by spooky creatures and guns going off without knowing where it came from.213048-L

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Old Highway 92 Bridge:

Among the four being profiled here is another mystery bridge- the first in Mahaska County, Marion’s neighbor to the east. The first time this crossing came to my attention was on a GoogleMap, where there are two crossings bearing the name Hwy. 92- the present one in Marion County and what is left of the previous crossing on the Mahaska side, approximately 1.5 miles south of the present crossing. The road approaching the previous crossing is still in its original form- concrete from the 1930s and really narrow. Yet when arriving at the crossing, it is barricaded with signs and broken down excavators on each end, with the road turning to the south and becoming gravel.  Another piece of evidence to be presented was the fact that a US geological survey map of the 1930s indicated that the crossing consisted of four spans and a truss design, similar to a Parker design. And lastly, National Bridge Inventory records indicated that the present Hwy. 92 bridge on the Marion side was built in 1978. Given the fact that the Belle Fountain Bridge is located a half mile downstream, it is possible that the Old 92 Bridge was removed as it was deemed expendable and obsolete. Yet we do not know whether it is true or not.

What we do know is there are many questions that need to be answered about this bridge, such as: 1. What did the old bridge look like? Was it a Parker truss bridge or another truss type?  2. When was the bridge built? Who built the structure? and 3. When was the bridge removed? Was it in 1978 or afterwards? And why was it removed?

 

Belle Fountain Bridge:

This bridge is located in a small unincorporated village of Belle Fountain, located 1.5 miles south of Hwy. 92 on the west bank of the Des Moines River. It is one of the earliest bridges built by a prominent bridge builder in Iowa, the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works Company, which built the structure at a cost of $9750 in 1898. The four-span Pratt through truss super-structure features A-frame portal and strut bracing and pin connections, the former of which was recently introduced to replace the Lattice portal bracing. The bridge is 595 feet long with each span being 145 feet. The bridge has been a subject of neglect, especially after the Old 92 Bridge was built in 1930 and located 0.5 miles upstream. The lack of maintenance of the structure for unknown reasons prompted its closure. Since then the truss bridge has been allowed to remain in place with the flooring rotting away to expose the bottom chord. However, given the awareness of the bridge and its historic significance and connection with Belle Fountain, interest is being garnered in restoring the bridge and reincorporating it into a bike trail. When and if that will happen remains to be seen. One of the factors to keep in mind is to rid the bridge of the overgrowth, which has been ruling the eastern truss bridge for some time, as you can see in the photos. Given the fact that the bridge has been sitting abandoned for a long time, it is possible that the bridge may have to be disassembled, with the parts being sandblasted and replaced, and the foundations being rebuilt, before reassembling it back into place. The cost for the whole work would be a fraction of the cost for replacing the bridge outright.  Having a restored bridge like this one would be a blessing for the community and the county, which seems to have embraced preservation given the importance of this bridge.

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Eveland Bridge:

The next bridge on the tour is the Eveland Bridge. Like the Belle Fountain Bridge, this bridge replaced a ferry that was used to cross the river. It is perhaps the only bridge originally built by a bridge company in Indiana, the Fort Wayne Bridge Works, which built the foundations in 1876 and erected the three-span truss bridge in the spring of the following year. It featured three spans of the Whipple through truss with the portal bracing representing the exact truss design. The structure was made of iron and featured pin-connections. Flooding wiped out the center span in 1903 and was subsequentially replaced with a pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge made of steel. Since its closure in the early 1990s, it has sat in its place waiting to be reused, but not before replacing the decking (which has rotted away substantially) and possibly reconstructing the trusses. Photographing the bridge is really difficult as both sides of the river are heavily forested with the southern bank being littered with trailer homes and small houses. It also does not present a welcoming feeling when driving past the structure, especially as there are many dogs roaming around, waiting to chase the next person away from the area. With a lack of lighting in the area, it is especially creepy at night when driving, let alone walking. But nevertheless, I took advantage of the little daylight that was left and got a pair of pics before anything unusual happened, and then drove back to the hotel in Des Moines, which was a good hour’s drive away.  Like the Belle Fountain Bridge, the Eveland may be getting a new lease on life, as plans are in the preliminary stages to convert the bridge into a bike trail.  Given its remote location, the whole area surrounding the bridge may benefit from having a bike trail pass through, as business and other services could be established to serve the bikers and tourists. It will also mean more lighting in the evening for those going on an evening stroll, something that this area and the bridge itself need very badly. It all depends on the costs, the interest and the question of what can be realized and what can be scrapped.

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Tracy Railroad Bridge:

The last bridge on the tour is one with a long history- and one that ended in tragedy. The Tracy Railroad Bridge consisted of two Whipple through truss spans with an X-frame portal bracing, all being pin connected. The bridge was originally built in 1882 by George S. Morrison for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (later became part of the BNSF Railways), spanning the Missouri River near Plattsmouth, Nebraska. Three bridge builders were behind the construction of the bridge, one of which- Keystone Bridge Company in Pittsburgh- had a hand in relocating and rebuilding the bridge at Tracy in 1903 for the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad. This was part of the plan to build a sturdier three-span Pennsylvania truss bridge at Plattsmouth while the 1882 bridge was needed for the line at Tracy. From 1903 to its removal in 1950, the bridge was located over the Des Moines River near the site of present-day Cedar Bluffs Natural Area, while the line connected Eddyville with Knoxville. After many years of disuse, workers in 1950 dismantled the structure and sold the parts for scrap. But it came at a price of one life, for one person was crushed to death as the eastern span fell thirty feet into the river. Another person was on that bridge and jumped into the river as it fell. He suffered only minor injuries. The accident happened after the western half of the bridge was removed. The rest of the eastern half was pulled out of the water and hauled away by another demolition company, months after the incident. The Tracy Bridge was a work of art of one prominent bridge builder, yet its life ended on a sour note, even though had the preservation movement started after World War II, there might have been a chance for this bridge, just like its neighbors to the north.

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It will be interesting to see what the future brings for the bridges in the greater Harvey area. Plans are in the making for a bike trail network going from its terminus at the Horn’s Ferry Bridge to Eddyville, possibly using the crossings for cyclists to pass through. This will bring a new lease in life for the ones that have been unused for a long time but whose history can be contributed to the development of the infrastructure in the state of Iowa over the past 150 years. And while it will take up to seven years to finalize the plans and actually build the network, when it is completed, people will take advantage of the trail and learn about the history of each village and bridge they pass by. And even if some of the bridges are haunted, it is unlikely that anyone will actually be taking the trail at night, unless they are as gutsy as I was when visiting the bridges last year. But it is a sure bet that safety features, including lighting, will be considered to accommodate those who dare to encounter the paranormal at night. As for the towns of Harvey and Tracy, the coming of the bike trail may help turn things around for a community that had seen its better days. Having the trail will boost commerce, like it did during the days of the railroad. And with that will bring good fortunes for the community, something that the people surely have been waiting for that for a long time and owe themselves to that share of the pie of prosperity.

A map of the bridges can be seen here. Should you be interested in helping out with the bike trail project in one way or another, please contact the county conservation board, historical societies and other groups involved and see what you can do for them.

 

 

 

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Cairo Bridge Closed for a Year

Photos taken by James Baughn

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CAIRO, ILLINOIS- It is a prized landmark at a town where the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers meet. Built in 1929 and is a product of the American Bridge Company and the Missouri Valley Iron Works Company, it spans the Mississippi River right at the junction of the two rivers. The Mile-Long Bridge has seen its years of wear and tear, especially as commuters have to endure two lanes of traffic-narrow enough to a point where the mirrors of oncoming cars meet while crossing, as many motorists have complained about- and as truck drivers have to abide by the weight restrictions- something almost no one does nowadays. It has even been affected by the floods of 1993 and 2011 but survived with little or no damage to the piers.

Now the Cairo Bridge, the key bridge for the town located at the junction of three states- Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri is now closed for a whole year, as the steel cantilever Warren truss span with X-frame portal bracings and riveted connections undergoes a much-needed renovation. According to information by Missouri DOT, some of the repairs will include replacing the bridge deck to make it sturdier and wider as well as replacing some structural parts worn out completely due to wear and tear. It is unknown how expensive the renovations will be, but it is expected to be in the tens of millions of US-dollars.

Travellers crossing the Mississippi River will have no problems for the detour will be through the I-57 bridge, located northwest of Cairo. However those wanting to cross the Ohio River from the south on the west bank of the Mississippi going north will have to use the I-155 Bridge at Caruthersville in order to reach their destinations. It is hoped that the repairs are done both in a qualitative manner, but also quantatively in terms of time and convenience so that motorists can use the bridge again with no problems  even if they have to put up with a bridge that’s too narrow…

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest developments involving this bridge. In the meantime, enjoy the gallery of photos posted by James Baughn and others just by clicking on the pic below, which will take you to the Bridgehunter.com site.

 

The Bridges of Bertram, Iowa

Rosedale Bridge
Rosedale Bridge. Photo taken in September 2010

The collapse of the Ely Street Bridge a few weeks ago was a tragedy for people living in the small village of Bertram. Located east of Cedar Rapids in Linn County, Bertram has over 300 inhabitants and prides itself on it historic bridges located not only directly in the village, but also within a five-mile radius of each other. As many as eight historic bridges are located directly in or in the vicinity of Bertram, many of them are accessible by car.  They include six structures built before 1915 that are made of either iron or steel. Two of them are confirmed to have been built by a local bridge contractor. One of them is a mystery bridge, which can be seen from US Hwy. 151/ IA 13, and will be documented as such in the next article.  These bridges have received their share of visits from photographers, pontists and history junkies alike visiting the area. They were on the Saturday morning tour of the Historic Bridge Weekend last year. This makes it even more important not only to recognize them as important places of interest that contributed to Linn County’s history but also protect them from wear and tear and modernization. Already residents rejected funding from the state and county to replace these bridges last year, a sign that they want to keep their bridges from becoming history. Yet with the Ely Street Bridge down, the challenge will be not only to try and rebuild it, but also strengthen the other bridges so that they do not become the next victims of flooding. With Linn County having one of the strongest track records with regards to historic bridge preservation in the state, many people are taking comfort in the fact that something will be done to ensure these bridges will last for future generations to come.

This tour guide takes you through Bertram and the vicinity, providing you with a glimpse of the bridges you will see when passing through the area. The Ely Street Bridge has already been mentioned in a previous article, yet you can click here if you have any ideas as to how to rebuild the bridge. Blaine’s Crossing will be featured as a Mystery Bridge in the following article, which takes us down to six bridges featured in this guide, starting with:

Rosedale Bridge: Spanning Indian Creek on Rosedale Road, just north of Indian Creek Park, this bridge is one of the shortest through truss bridges in the state, with a span of 89 feet. The markings of the pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge- in particular, the Town Lattice portal bracings with knee braces, “fish tail” style floor beams, and sway bracings with riveted angles- are similar to the ones at Ely Street, resulting in the conclusion that the bridge may have been built by J.E. Jayne and Sons of Iowa City. The contractor was the county’s main bridge builder in the 1890s, although only a couple examples remain in use today. 1890 was the date of construction for this bridge, even though it has not been fully confirmed. The bridge was renovated in the early 2000s, which included a paint job shoring up the rip rap and abutments, as well as the replacement of the wood decking and bridge railings (with the typically modern Armco ones), thus continuing its function as a through traffic crossing, albeit only for light vehicles.

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Bertram Road Bridge Photo taken in September 2010

Bertram Road Bridge: This through truss bridge at Bertram Road is the second to last vehicular crossing over Indian Creek before it empties into the Cedar River. Yet although the blue-colored bridge has markings typical of a bridge built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio- namely the Town Lattice portal bracings with ornamental features and builder’s plaque in the middle and a plaque with the date of construction found at each end of the portal bracing where the end posts and top chords meet, the 1876 bridge, whose main span is 115 feet long out of the total length of 192 feet, features a rather unique truss design. According to records from the Iowa DOT, the bridge is a double-intersecting Pratt truss bridge, yet one can look at it closer and argue that it is a Whipple truss with features resembling a Pratt truss bridge. The reasons are that the diagonal beams that cross two panels, going directly through the vertical posts, yet there are some that only cover one bridge panel but in a format similar to a Pratt truss.  The design can be discussed similar to the question of a beverage being half-full or half empty.  In either case, the bridge is listed on the National Register, like the Ely Street and Rosedale Bridges, because of its affiliation with one of the largest bridge builders that existed between 1870 and its integration into the American Bridge Company consortium with 27 other bridge builders in 1901, in addition to its unique but debatable design that is perhaps the last of its kind left in Iowa.

Photo by Quinn Phelan

Big Creek Bridge: Spanning Big Creek, the 100-foot long, red-colored Pratt through truss bridge can be seen either from Bertram Street or Holmann’s Road, providing a picturesque view of the structure and its wooden surroundings, year round. The bridge features pinned connections, V-laced bracings supported by riveted-connected angle supports, Town Lattice portal bracings with angle heel supports, and “fish tail” floor beams. Assumptions indicate a work of J.E. Jayne and Sons built in 1890, yet there is no real confirmation of the exact date. Yet records indicate that it was built in 1929, the date that is considered impossible because of the introduction of standardized truss bridges with riveted connections and letter-style portal bracings (such as the A, WV and M-frame style). Henceforth it must be the date of its relocation. Question is where was it originally built?  Like the Rosedale Bridge, the Big Creek Bridge was renovated recently with new paint, new flooring and new Armco railings, yet it functions as a key crossing within the city limits of Bertram.

Photo by Dave King

UP Big Creek Bridge: Northeast of the Ely Street Bridge is the two-span pony truss bridge with riveted connections. Although it can be seen from Bertram Street enroute to the Big Creek Bridge to the north, it is almost impossible to photograph it from a distance, and given the private property surrounding it, one cannot get close to it to find out the building date and detailed features. One can assume that it was built around 1901-2 to accommodate the increase in rail traffic. The two-tracked Union Pacific line, connects Cedar Rapids with Chicago to the east and Omaha to the west. It is the same line that has the Kate Shelley High Bridge, located 150 miles west of this crossing near Boone. This bridge was bypassed and replaced in 2017.

Photo by Dave King

UP Stone Arch Bridge: This bridge is the shortest of the crossings in and around Bertram. Built in 1901 as part of the double-tracking project along the now Union Pacific rail line between Cedar Rapids and Chicago, the stone arch bridge is no more than 45 feet long and 15 feet deep, spanning an unknown tributary that empties into Indian Creek. The bridge can be seen from Bertram Road, two miles west of Highways 151 and 13.

 

Squaw Creek Bridge: The last bridge on this tour may not be the most spectacular-looking crossing, yet it is one that warrants some more research. The bridge is a concrete slab, measuring between 90 and 120 feet long, 15 feet wide and up to 20 feet deep. Yet given its derelict state, it appears that the structure was built between 1900 and 1920, serving the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad line between Cedar Rapids and Central City, 20 miles to the north. It is unknown when the line was abandoned, yet given the amount of overgrowth and the concrete deck deteriorating, it has been out of use for at least 30 years. As there are no plans for a possible rail-to-trail project, it seems most likely that the bridge will give into nature and sit abandoned until it collapses on its own, but not before some research is done on the crossing.

The last bridge on the tour is the Blaine’s Crossing Bridge. Yet this mystery bridge has a story of its own, as you will see in the next article.

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Waldo Hancock Suspension Bridge coming down- but how?

Waldo Hancock Bridge in Maine. Photo courtesy of HABS-HAER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It had served US 1 for 71 years and has been standing for a total of 82 years. Now, a piece of Maine’s history is coming down. The Waldo-Hancock Bridge, spanning the Penobscot River at the Waldo- Hancock County border was one of two bridges built by the American Bridge Company and designed by David Steinman. Built in 1931 over a year before Franklin Roosevelt dethroned Herbert Hoover in the Presidential Elections and introduced the New Deal to fight the Great Depression, the bridge was characteristic for its towers, its Vierendeel truss work used for its roadway and its stiffening wire cables that were used to support the roadway. The Dear Isle Bridge, also in Hancock County, and the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan are two other known examples of bridges built by Steinman. Nathan Holth wrote a detailed description of the suspension bridge, which can be seen here.

Maine DOT had originally planned to rehabilitate the suspension bridge in 2001, only to retract the plan when inspection revealed many cables and trusses rusting and corroding to a point of where the bridge was beyond repair. Therefore, in 2007, a cable-stayed suspension bridge was built alongside the Waldo-Hancock span, which featured an observation deck on the west tower of the span. While the state had planned to rehabilitate the old suspension bridge, it decided to demolish the structure last Fall. At the time of this posting, demolition is commencing, but in an unusual fashion.

As we have seen with many bridges, demolition contractors have used explosives to bring them down, and the time it took to remove the debris was in a span of between 2 days and 2 months, pending on the size and the boat traffic. This was the case with the Ft. Steuben Bridge over the Ohio River, when it was imploded in February of last year.  In other cases, the spans are cut up in pieces, brought down to the barges and hauled away to land, where they are cut up to pieces and hauled away. This happened to the Red Bridge near Dubuque in July of last year.

Given the environmental circumstances and its proximity of the cable-stayed bridge, there is another method that the contractors have taken and has been approved by Maine DOT. Can you take a guess as to how the Waldo-Hancock Suspension Bridge is being taken down?

Put your guesses down in the Comment section and the answer will be revealed next week at this time. Good luck. 🙂

 

Kentucky Bridge to be replaced- truss bridge for sale. Any takers?

Oblique view of the bridge. All photos courtesy of James MacCray, used with permission.

Hope for Mercer County Bridge built by a prominent Kentucky bridge builder

Subtracting Lexington, Louisville and Frankfort, the state of Kentucky is one of many US states that have only a handful of truss bridges left. Mercer County is one of many that have only one rare bridge left. And for the Deep Creek Road Bridge, spanning the Chaplin River south of Hwy. 152 west of Harrodsburg, it is unique because of the bridge builder and the truss design.

Built in 1915, the 244 foot long bridge features a pin-connected through truss bridge with A-frame portal bracings and Howe lattice struts that support the overhead bracings. A bonus is having a bedstead Pratt pony truss as an approach span. Bedstead trusses are different from normal trusses, where the end posts are vertical instead of being slanted at 45° or 60° angles, like we see with other truss bridges. Bedsteads are used mainly for pony trusses, and they are rare to see when combined with a normal truss main span. The Chaplin River crossing may be the only one left in the state and one of only a handful left in the country.

Furthermore, the bridge was built by an in-state bridge company, the Empire Bridge Company, located in Lexington, approximately 200 km northeast of the bridge. While the bridge was built in 1915 by this bridge company, it is unknown whether the company was associated with another Empire Bridge Company, located in New York City. The bridge builder there was a subsidiary of the American Bridge Company and was in operation between 1900 (the time of the creation of the conglomerate) and 1914, operating in various locations in New York state. Whether the company folded or relocated to Kentucky would require some research and inquiries. If the company was related to the one in New York, then this bridge would represent one of two examples of a piece of artwork designed by an illustrious bridge builder that exist in Kenticky. Another is the North Elkhorn Creek Bridge in Scott County, which was built in 1910 and has since been converted to a pedestrian bridge. According to James Baughn’s website, only three Empire Bridge Company bridges are left in the country, including one in Nebraska, which also has been converted to recreational use.

While the Chaplin River Bridge is located in a beautiful setting with many hills and forests and on a narrow road that is rarely used, the county wants to replace the structure with a new and modernized one. Yet both the county and the state agencies (consisting of the Department of Transportation and the State Historical Society) do not want to scrap the bridge because of its historic value. Therefore, the bridge is up for sale, and will be until the new bridge is built. Construction will not start on the new bridge until next year.  If you are interested in this bridge, please contact  Becky Barrick, environmental coordinator for the highway department’s Lexington office, at (859) 246-2355 .

If you know more about the Empire Bridge Company and its history, please contact Jason D. Smith at the Chronicles at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com, and the information about the company will be posted in a later article.  In the meantime, enjoy the photos below and via link that were taken by fellow pontist James MacCray during his visit in 2008, and whom the author would like to thank for the use of his photos for this article.

Link to the bridge: http://www.kentucky.com/2013/04/27/2617901/historic-mercer-county-bridge.html

 

Photos:

Bedstead pony truss approach span.

Transversal view of the portal and strut bracings

Ambridge-Woodlawn Bridge to be rehabbed. A step in the right direction for preserving Pennsylvania’s (remaining) historic bridges?

There is an old saying that was mentioned many years ago by British author Kazuo Ishiguro which stated that in order to be successful, one has to work within his own boundaries and with the resources that he has at his disposal. Some of the themes used in his novels- the most popular was of course “The Remains of the Day” (published in 1989)- have something to do with trying to go beyond one’s own limits only to meet failure and later regret some years later and eventually, these self-made tragedies are usually served as a lesson for future generations and those who have yet to experience life and know that there are limits to what one is doing.

I wish I can say the same for the governmental agencies and their dealings with historic bridges, for up to now, whenever a historic bridge that has a unique appearance which people can relate to is considered obsolete, they would successfully find ways to destroy them in favor of modernized structures with a very bland feature. We have already seen the demise of the Bridgeport and Fort Steuben Bridges in the Wheeling (West Virginia) area within the last nine months. The Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad Bridge over the Minnesota River in the village of Carver, located southwest of Chaska, was removed upon orders of the Union Pacific Railroad in October 2011 despite pleas from the villagers and those interested in preserving a bridge. And perhaps the latest act of stupidity among the agency is replacing the Dolles Mill Bridge in Bollinger County (Missouri) with a concrete slab bridge that is narrower than the Parker through truss bridge built in 1913.

So it definitely came to a surprise that the Ambridge-Woodlawn Bridge, located over the Ohio River near Ambridge would actually be spared demolition despite being 85 years old and quite a narrow bridge fitting today’s standards. Built in 1927 by the American Bridge Company, the bridge is located in Beaver County, approximately 80 kilometers south-southwest of Pittsburgh, but still deep in the territory of western Pennsylvania.  Up to now, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation played a role of the wrecking ball in influencing decisions to demolish these bridges, destroying as much as 60% of its bridges within the past decade. This included the Foxburg, West Hickory, Venango and East Brady Bridges. Yet despite its bad track record, plus further plans to replace more historic bridges in and around the Pittsburgh area this year, there seems to be a change of heart, or so it seems, with this bridge.

I had a chance to visit this bridge during my tour of the region in 2010 and was quite impressed with its history and appearance. The bridge is a cantilever truss bridge using a Pratt design, and it was built using pinned connections, meaning the parts are put together via bolts and eyelets. The bridge features Howe lattice portal and strut bracings and finials on each of the four cantilever towers of the bridge, all shaped in a form of a curved pyramid.  The bridge’s east approach spans the Ohio River Boulevard and a couple abandoned rail lines before making its was across the Ohio River. After reaching the bank, the two Warren pony truss spans crosses the Norfolk Southern Railway before the road terminates at Constitution Boulevard on the west end of the river.  Its aqua green color gives the bridge an impressive look, and the people of Ambridge have used the bridge as part of their marketing strategy to bring more people and business to the community of 7,800 inhabitants. Interesting enough, Ambridge was incorporated by the American Bridge Company in 1905, by converging neighboring Legionville with the remnants of the village of Economy, which was founded in 1824 by the Harmony Society. The bridge building company was located here and was the main anchor of business in the city as steel mills drew in thousands of residents, looking for work and a place to start their lives. By 1940, the population had reached 18,968 before the steel mills shut down and many people left the community.  While the steel mills no longer exist, the city has preserved much of its business district and is now a main source of tourism. There is hope that the bridge will become part of that heritage once the rehabilitation work is completed.

I spent over an hour at the bridge and saw some bridge inspectors there, looking at the state of the bridge and making some notes and perhaps some recommendations. Judging by the appearance of the bridge, it was on the borderline between saving it and scrapping it. As draconian as PennDOT has been to the historic bridges, I would not have been surprised had the decision for the latter choice been taken. But much to my surprise after talking with the inspectors, my assumptions were wrong. From their point of view, it would be possible if the bridge would last another 25-30 years if some repairs are made.  It was a rather optimistic prediction given the sorry state of the bridges in the US in general.  As a whole, America’s bridges were graded C on a scale from A (excellent) to F (fail) by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2009. That means that despite progress in repairing/ rehabilitating as well as replacing bridges deemed structurally obsolete to today’s standards, there is still more work to be done. Yet in terms of preserving historic bridges in general, my grade would be in the D range, and in the case of Pennsylvania, a walloping F.  That means that historic bridges most of the time are minimally maintained, causing them to deteriorate to a point where replacement is warranted. And that could be expensive, as a new bridge is four times as expensive as updating the bridge to meet current traffic standards. There were many examples of historic bridges I visited in western Pennsylvania that fell victim to neglect because of incremental ways to save money for maintenance- even for a good coat of paint if it is needed. As of this entry, a couple have since been removed and replaced and a few more are slated to come out soon.

Despite its top three ranking for the worst infrastructure in the country, Pennsylvania has been trying to catch up on bridge work through its massive bridge replacement program, regardless of where the funding comes from- from the state, federal government or even the private sector. Yet given the dire straits of the US economy and the political stalemate that has been going on in Washington- especially in light of this year’s presidential elections, it seems that the funding is being dried up faster than there are plans for replacing bridges in the next five years. Henceforth, the only viable option for PennDOT is to heed to the demands of the experts in bridge rehabilitation and preservation, listen to the public and rehabilitate the bridge from top to bottom so that the structure can continue serving traffic for more than 30 years and still be part of the legacy that Ambridge still prides itself in.

The plan calls for a complete closure of the bridge between now and the end of November of this year and will include the repair and partial replacement of the bridge deck, replacement of the sidewalk and railings, repairs on the steel superstructure, new roadway, and a new paint job, just to name a few features of the project. What will produce a mixture of reactions from the public and those interested in the bridge is the change in paint color from aqua green to grey. While grey is commonly used on many truss bridges, it is highly questionable on this bridge, given its conformity to the surroundings. Yet there are some bright sides to the use of grey on the bridge, which includes it being brighter for cars at night and more noticeable for navigation on the Ohio River. What the bridge will look like once the rehabilitation is completed remains to be seen, but it appears that if the rehabilitation project is successful, it could spell a chance for PennDOT to look for ways to rehabilitate other historic bridges in the area. It does not necessarily have to be the main links, like the Ambridge-Woodlawn Bridge. It could also be some historic bridges, like the Carlton Bridge in Mercer County, which only takes an average of 10 vehicles a day. Rehabilitation can be a win-win situation for all parties involved. It saves money, prolongs the bridge’s life and maximizes its usage and especially, it preserves the historic significance of the bridge and its affiliation with the community and the people connected with it. The Ambridge-Woodlawn Bridge may help PennDOT to finally turn the curve in terms of its stance on historic bridges.

Links:

http://www.bridgehunter.com/pa/beaver/ambridge/

http://www.historicbridges.org/bridges/browser/?bridgebrowser=pennsylvania/ambridge/

http://www.wpxi.com/news/news/local/ambridge-aliquippa-bridge-closed-through-november-/nLKm5/

 

 

Bridgehunter Fast Fact:

Minus the greater Pittsburgh and Wheeling areas, Beaver County ranks in the top five of the highest number of truss bridges in western Pennsylvania, as many simple and cantilever truss bridges can be found within a 5-6 kilometer radius of each other on average. One of the reasons for this is the policy of rehabilitating and preserving pre-1965 spans with a potential of being reused again, despite the historic significance. A couple noteworthy examples include the Fallston Bridge (below). Built by the Penn Bridge Company in 1884, this two-span Whipple truss bridge was rehabilitated in 2005 and still serves traffic to this day. The bridge is located over the Beaver River near the Beaver Valley Golf Course in Fallston.

Photo taken by James Baughn in 2009

The other example is the rehabilitation going on at the Beaver Expressway Bridge (middle bridge in the photo below). Built in 1963, the bridge serves freeway traffic and was undergoing extensive rehabilitation of the deck truss span during the visit. The cities of Rochester and Beaver had already renovated a neighboring bridge to the north of the structure.

Photo taken by James Baughn in 2009

 

Author’s note: Unless noted, photos were taken during a tour in western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and along the Ohio River in August 2010

Bridgeport Bridge (finally) comes down

Portal view Photo taken in August 2010

When you first take a look at this bridge, you’ll find that it is located in a very rural setting- abandoned for many years with lots of vegetation overgrowing on and around the structure, making it impossible to cross unless you want to deal with beds of thorns, poison ivy, and deer ticks. However, as you can see in the next pictures, the augmented views of the bridge, taken from the side of its successor, a piece of bland concrete piece of monotonous artwork which puts a blotch in the city scape, you will find that the bridge has gone through years of abuse and neglect, with peeling paint, rusting sections, and flooring system that has been taken out, exposing the bottom chord, most of which is corroding or missing. If you go underneath the bridge, like yours truly did during the time of the Historic Bridge Conference in Pittsburgh, last August, it was like going through the jungle of Dante (as in Dante’s Inferno), with the banks of the Ohio River, where this bridge spans, being littered with garbage, signs of darkness thanks to the overgrowth on the bridge and if there was a hint of sunlight, it created a very eerie sensation, as if you were walking through a bombed out cathedral after the war with blown out windows, charred pews and pipes of an organ, and the silence and loneliness you only see when you are clinging barely onto life while facing death at the same time.

I’ve only seen one bridge that had this eerie sensation and that was with a railroad bridge spanning the Rock River on the west end of Rock Valley, Iowa, even though it has long since been converted to pedestrian use. However, after being on and underneath this structure, it really shows what nature can do to a structure after years of neglect and what life can do to someone or some agency for neglecting it to begin with.

The Bridgeport Bridge, spanning the Ohio River at Wheeling, West Virginia, separates the state with Ohio to the east. It is one of the rarest bridges of its kind that you can find in the US- a three-span bridge whose endposts are vertical and not diagonal like a common truss bridge has. One can find those in many places in Europe, like the Hollernzollern Bridge over the Rhein River in Cologne, Germany or the Chancy Bowstring Truss Bridge over the Rhône near Geneva, Switzerland. Yet by examining the portal bracing and the finials that are located at each corner on the upper chord, it is typical of an American truss bridge, as many portal bracings on arch and truss bridges in Europe at that time were either a common portal (A-frame) or have a concrete arch entrance, like you see when entering the castle across the drawbridge. Also unique is the fact that unlike the Hollernzollern Bridge, the bridge is a three-span  pin-connected Parker through truss bridge, with all these aforementioned features, which leads to the question of why a bridge company would market that in their truss bridge catelogue, like the Wrought Iron Bridge Company did.

When the bridge was built in 1893, the Wrought Iron Bridge Company was in the middle of marketing their bridges through the catelogues. That means governments and residents wanting to have a bridge in or near their town or home would order the bridge through the company catelogue, then have the company agent send the order to the manufacturers, who construct the parts to fit the needs of the customer before it could be shipped by train and assembled on site. Wrought Iron’s style of business, similar to ordering products through a Sears Catelogue in the US or Quelle in Germany (before it folded in 2009), was later practiced by other bridge companies that wanted to keep the bridge company giant in check; especially after Wrought Iron Bridge became part of the American Bridge Company consortium seven years after the Bridgeport structure was built. It is unclear how many bridges similar to Bridgeport’s were ordered and built, but it did become clear that unless something is done to keep the crossing at Wheeling intact and used for anything apart from vehicular use that consequences would come out of it, which would scar the city for life.

The Bridgeport Bridge used to serve US Hwy. 40 until the successor was built, the Military Order of the Purple Heart Bridge, in 1998. Before that, the roadway was strengthened in 1987 by adding a Bailey truss bridge onto the deck to serve as a roadway. Unfortunately, it was not enough to accomodate the traffic flow and it was closed to traffic once the Purple Heart Bridge was open to traffic. Then it just sat there, rotting away until it became clear that the structure, deemed a beatuy when it was first opened to traffic, because an ugly eyesore, which needed to be removed- at least in the eyes of the City of Wheeling.

Attempts have been made for at least five years to do something with the structure- either restore it for pedestrian use or remove it. The former was brought up by preservationists and those interested in saving the structure, but fell on deaf ears. The latter was attempted by those who did not want the structure anymore but it fell on deaf ears due to funding and opposition.  Promises and predictions to remove the bridge has gone on since 2006, with the last call to remove it being in 2009. That did not happen. Now the US Coast Guard has come in, ordering the bridge to be removed post haste, as debris and parts from the bridge have fallen into the Ohio River. Therefore, the plan is to have the bridge removed beginning in July, with help from the department of transportation offices of both Ohio and West Virginia. The project is expected to take two months, but it will also include salvaging the most memorable parts to be exhibited at the local museums. Whether this plan will be realized due to the deficit problems in the US and the struggling growth of the economy remains to be seen. Given the situation that is being dealt with at the moment, it is possible that the plan may yet be pushed back again, and again, and again……

While removing Dante’s jungle may be a relief to many, it will serve as a permanent scar to the community as the structure would have served as a complement to what Wheeling has already. It has one of the oldest suspension bridges in the country, as well as a historic city center, and the city does have some unique features that make it attractive. It was just too bad that the Bridgeport Bridge was not one of the historic features that should be saved. While leaving the bridge closed to traffic may serve as a temporary solution, it was indeed an out of sight and out of mind tactic, which once the bridge is eventually removed, it will remain a site where it once stood and it will remain in the minds of many in the community, that will associate Wheeling with this bridge.

PHOTOS (All were taken in August 2010 and linked through Flickr):

Inside the bridge with the roadway removed.

Dante’s jungle: The sun shining into the lower chord of the bridge

Dante’s Jungle: The abutment and the portal bracing from the banks of the Ohio River

Abutments: Note the bottom abutments (together with the center piers) came from a bridge built around 1837. The ones on top are from the 1893 bridge

Behind the bridge. Note: You can see the Ohio State Line sign hanging from the lower strut bracing just as one would get off by car when it was open to traffic. That sign, along with some other memorabilia from the bridge, are expected to be saved and displayed at the museum before the rest of the structure comes down.

Close-up of the finials at the corners of the bridge- this time at the center piers. Some of them will be preserved for display purposes.