Book of the Month: The Colorado Street Bridge in Pasedena, California

Bridge Color Dusks
Lampposts of the Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena. Photos courtesy of Tavo Olmos

Pasadena, California: with 138,540 inhabitants and a suburb of Los Angeles, the city is loaded with glamor and glitter, as the rich and famous make their homes there. Streets are lined with tall palm trees and loaded with cars. And there are famous landmarks that make the city the place to see, like the Pasadena Playhouse, the Ambassador Auditorium, Bungalow Heaven, the Rose Bowl (and the site of the Tournament of Roses Parade that takes place on New Year’s Day), and of course, the Colorado Street High Bridge.
While I have yet to see the bridge, along with the other structures in the City of Angels, I was approached by the publisher about doing a review of a book written by author Tavo Olmos on this particular bridge. Looking at the copy received by the folks at Pasadena, I am pleased to inform you that the wish is granted. This part will look at the book, while the next part will feature the interview by the author himself.
The Colorado Street Bridge was one of the most important works of Dr. John Alexander Low Waddell of the Kansas City-based bridge building firm Waddell and Harrington.  Before its completion in 1913, Waddell had already garner numerous accolades both in the United States as well as Europe and Asia, due to numerous bridges built during his 20-year career, plus numerous bridge design patents, like the Waddell truss, a subdivided form of the Kingpost truss bridge where there are only two of the through truss type and over a dozen pony truss types left in the country.  Waddell designed the arch bridge to make it aesthetically appealing to the city, yet the contract for actually building the bridge went to John Drake Mercereau, for cost-cutting purposes. The nearly 1428-foot long bridge was completed in over a year’s time in December 1913. Waddell would later build many gigantic structures over the next 25 years until his death in 1938.
Because of wear and tear and the fact that it was becoming functionally obsolete (because of the increase in the number and size of traffic), plans were in the making to replace the Colorado Street Bridge, starting with a freeway bridge in 1953 (known as the Arroyo Seco Viaduct), mimicking the design of the bridge. The bridge was closed to traffic in 1989, but on both occasions, citizens of Pasadena petitioned the city to find ways to preserve and restore the structure. After two years of politicking and campaigning, the city council in 1991 passed a resolution, providing millions of dollars in funding to restore the bridge, a process that took a year and a half to complete, from July 1991 until it finally opened to traffic in December 1993.
For those who have little knowledge of how an arch bridge like the Colorado Street Bridge can be restored, this book provides you with the restoration process described in pictures. During the restoration process, Tavo Olmos photographed the entire restoration process, from the start of the project, where the roadway was removed, to the time where the arches were retrofitted to increase its sturdiness and make them earthquake-resistant, to the completed work of widening the decking and adding the ornamental lighting.  Much of them were published in the book, published last year as part of the celebrations of the bridge’s 100th birthday. The book features some background information about the bridge and its dimensions, as well as its designer and bridge builder, before looking at the restoration process in pictures and the notes he took that were added in the book. Yet despite the fact that Olmos is a photographer, his book does not just feature photos of the entire restoration process. Articles written by people associated with the bridge and the project itself, which includes Claire Bogaard, the wife of the city mayor Bill Bogaard, members of the city public works, the city engineer and those involved with the project directly.  These articles were written in simple terms, describing the restoration process to the public in 2-4 pages that are easy to read and understand, if the reader is interested in knowing more about the restoration process.
Sometimes less is more and simplicity can speak more volumes than complication ever can offer. With the Colorado Street Bridge project, Olmos did not need to describe the process beyond what was shown in the pictures and notes supporting them, giving the reader the visualization of how bridge restoration works both in general if arch bridges are involved, but also in such a tall structure like Pasadena’s beloved icon. For preservationists and interested readers wanting to know how a bridge can be restored, it is highly recommended to buy/order this book, look at the pictures and read the comments from those behind the restoration process.
At 101 years of age, the bridge still lives on, both in pictures as well as in its original form. It is hoped that this book will provide a guidance where the bridge is an example of other bridges of its kind, both big and small, that can be restored if people have the efforts and manpower to conduct it. If not, the book has some history behind the bridge and how it became an integral part of Pasadena’s history.

Bird’s eye of the bridge at night.


Author’s Note: Tavo Olmos, whose photos were used for this article, was asked a few questions about the book by the Chronicles. The information from the interview is to follow. 

Book info:

Olmos, Tavo. The Colorado Street Bridge: Restoration Project Photographs 1991-1993  Pasadena, CA: Balcony Press, 2013





Book of the Month: The Bridges of Madison County

Reading Owl

Let’s start the very first Book of the Month for 2013 with a question for the forum:

Can you name a book or literary piece that features a bridge (or bridges) serving as a centerpiece to an even bigger story?

Speaking from a literary critic’s point of view, one of the most successful stories that feature bridges as a centerpiece is the book “The Bridges of Madison County,” by Robert James Waller. Published in 1992, the book was turned into a film three years later and became a smash hit. The Chronicles will summarize both works to compare the plot and sturcture for reasons to be mentioned below.

I was first introduced to the book while living in Germany as an exchange student 13 years ago, but in the German version. It was the first book I read in a language other than English and regardless of which language the book has been translated (it was translated into 50 languages), the book serves as a starting block and should be considered for reading material either in the classroom or in one’s leisure time.

The setting of the book is in Madison County Iowa, where Robert Kincaid, a photographer for the National Geographic, was looking for covered bridges, when he meets Francesca Johnson, a farmer’s wife whose husband and two children left for four days to exhibit their prized stier at the Illinois State Fair, while inquiring about the Roseman Bridge. She leads him to the bridge but after some photo sessions, she invites him to dinner. Robert returns the favor the next day by inviting her to a photo session of the Holliwell Bridge and they eventually opened the door to three days of romance and rediscovery of onesself, the sides of themselves that revealed their true identities in contrast to the ones they were accustomed to. Yet the last day of solitude brought a decision that would change their lives forever- whether Francesca should leave the farm in favor of Robert or if Robert should leave Francesca because of her devotion and love to her farm and family- the climatic conclusion in the story! While Francesca decided to stay put, despite the warning Robert gives him that “…the decision comes but just once in a lifetime,” as stated by Kincaid in the film (played by Clint Eastwood), the book led to discussions among literary critics, sociologists other people alike with the arguments going along the line I’m about to state: Francesca was in the middle of one of the covered bridges, with one side representing her farm, family and the way of life that she was used to, and the other side representing Robert, individualism and the way of life that she could have been. Either decision made would be hedonistic for one side will be hurt effectively, leaving scars, while the other may benefit but she would still suffer from the decision. The only way she could not do is jump from the bridge, for it would lead to questions that both sides would not be able to answer.

The kids, Michael and Caroline do not know about the affair until they went through the papers and other records after Francesca dies. This is where the story stops in the book, which in literary terms has an open plot until the very end, but is extended in the film, which features a closed plot, looking back into the past.  In the film, the setting begins with Francesca dying and the children meeting at the farmstead. Both characters (Caroline played by Annie Corley and Michael played by Victor Slezak) have problems with their relationships with their spouses- the former is being cheated on; the latter is incompatible with his wife, Betty- which are exposed as they find the journals written by their mother about the relationship with Robert Kincaid. As they read the journals, they were taken to the past where it all happened as Francesca (played by Meryl Streep) unfolds the story in detail, going from a farmer’s hand on a small farm to one on an adventure with Robert.

While the climax between Robert and Frnacesca was kept in the book, the climax of their portion of the story comes at a park in the middle of the night where each one vents their frustration out about their spouses over a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey, and how the morals taught to them by their parents were put into question by Francesca’s affair with Robert.  In the end, as Francesca made her sacrifice in favor of her husband, both Caroline and Michael made decisions to make themselves and their spouses happy, although it was unclear how their relationships would have ended- either redo the relationship with the same person or redo the whole relationship with someone else. The best quote came from Michael, who told his wife Betty (after worrying about him not contacting her) “Do I make you happy, because I want to, all the better.”

The film serves as a compliment to the book and has extended the discussion about happiness among all people associated with the book. While many films, based on literary pieces, either copied the work exactly as it was written, as seen in the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald or dilluted it to alter the meaning stated in the book, as happened in the book The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCollough, which was converted into a two-film series to the dismay of the author and the audience, the Bridges of Madison County was carefully crafted so that not only the story was kept the same but was extended in a way that it kept to the plot, even though the book featured an open plot (where many items were open, waiting to be closed) and a closed plot (where everything is closed and finished and it was just a matter of flashing back to the past). The setting was the same and takes a person back to the 1960s, where rural life was peaceful and moral, families were being established after being off to war (and this was mentioned in many scenes in the story), and rock music was in its infancy, taking over jazz music bit by bit. 57 Chevies ruled the Iowa landscape, even though No Passing Zone signs were not on the roadways just yet. And stories of the past were revealed so that all the characters can take them with, think about what they can do better in life, and share them with their children.

From an educator’s point of view, the Bridges of Madison County belongs to a certain canon dealing with post modern fiction in the period of social crossroads in the 1950s through the 1970s, where American culture suffers its own version of the Big Bang Theory, where tradition and modernism meet and coincide, romance and moral values have new meaning, and where new bridges were built between these two. It definitely will lead to discussion that will leave the classroom and out onto the street.  From a historian’s point of view, the Bridges of Madison County has left a mark in the county’s history, which will be seen by many people who visit the region, not just in the forms of the remaining covered bridges that exist, but also the places where the film was shot, and where Waller wrote his piece. The book is a must for those who either has an interest in literature, culture and history or one who has an interest in reading. And if you are learning a foreign language, this book should be one you should read for it is easy to understand and it leads to discussions that can be conducted in a language other than the original English.

Author’s note: I would love to hear from you about this book or any literature that deals with bridges and its plot that people should read, based on the question I asked in the article. Please leave your answers and thoughts either here or in the facebook pages The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles.





Bridgehunter Chronicles Update 30 November 2012

Waterford Bridge in Dakota County, Minnesota. Photo taken in August 2011

As the month of November comes to an end, so will be the month where all kinds of crazy events that has happened, which has to do with historic bridges and ways to preserve or destroy them. Apart from the most heinous decision not to consider a bowstring arch bridge in Nebraska a historic structure- which effectively cleared the last hurdle to tear down the pedestrian bridge which has been sitting abandoned, there are some other notables that are worth putting down here in the Chronicles’ News Flyer, along with a pair of good news and some mystery bridge items which have come to light. 

Without further ado, let us start off with the fishy part:

Vandals get the best of Ghost Bridge in Alabama:

Spanning Cypress Creek in Lauderdale County, Alabama this bridge is one of the most haunted historic bridges in the country as it was the scene of four murders and several lynchings in the past, and people can still see apparitions and strange lights when crossing the structure. Yet the 1912 Pratt through truss bridge and its history is scheduled to come down soon, as vandals have used the bridge for gatherings, leaving garbage at the scene and using the bridge decking for firewood. Despite it being considered historic by the state historical society, the county commission may have the final say in this matter because of liability issues……

Enochs Knob Bridge to come down in December

Like the Ghost Bridge in Alabama, the Franklin County, Missouri structure, featuring a Parker through truss bridge and built in 1908 was the scene of two murders, but several ghostly encounters, such as green dogs, trolls, ghosts of people killing themselves and others, and other abnormalities. While the Ghost Bridge received attention because of its dire state thanks to the vandals, this bridge was the struggle of many attempts to save as a historical marker, but unfortunately to no avail. Construction commenced on its replacement this summer, and the bridge will be removed as soon as the new bridge opens next month. However, as the bridge is still available for purchase through the local contractor, according to recent correspondence, there is a chance that the truss bridge may get a new lease on life, if one is willing to handle its history. More information about this opportunity can be found through this contact detail:



The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles wrote a piece on this bridge, which can be viewed here.


Des Moines Railroad Bridge coming down in pieces

In connection with the most recent article on the collapse of two bridges and the removal of one, here is some unfortunate news on one of the bridges profiled in the article, the Chicago and Great Western Bridge over the Des Moines River in Des Moines.  Due to flooding issues that has plagued the capital of Iowa in recent years (including the 2008 floods), the city decided to take action to raise the dikes along the river in down town, but at the expense of the four-span through truss bridge.  This is perhaps the most logical decision given the dire state the bridge was in. According to a recent visit by John Marvig, parts of the flooring was missing due to vandalism and flooding. Bridge parts rusted and corroded to a point where new parts would be needed. And even worse, the piers on the western side of the river were crumbling at an alarming rate, setting up the stage of parts of the bridge to collapse under its own weight.  Since its abandonment in 2001, there had been plans to convert it into a bike trail, but was scrapped because of its condition and flooding issues. Demolition, consisting of removing the flooring and bringing down the truss spans individually using tow cables, commenced at the beginning of the month, and the removal should be completed by June 2013.  Another through truss bridge, the Red Bridge, which was recently converted into a bike trail, will be raised four feet with new approaches being added. The fate of the other five bridges in the business district is unknown at the moment.

Red Bridge in Des Moines: Unlike the CGW Bridge, this bridge will be raised four feet to allow for more flow of water. Photo taken in August 2011


Mulberry Creek Bridge in Kansas considered historic and should be saved; county engineer and commissioners cowing over the results

The Mulberry Creek Bridge in Ford County, Kansas features two of the original six spans of pin-connected Pratt through trusses that had originally spanned the Arkansas River in Dodge City from the time of its original construction in 1906 until its relocation in 1959. It had served a private road until a broken pin was discovered in May 2012, closing the bridge indefinitely. A month later, the county voted unanimously to tear the bridge down and replace it with a culvert. Two months later, the bridge came to the Chronicles’ attention and that of Workin Bridges and the Kansas State Historical Society. Three days ago, the Kansas Historical Society considered the bridge historic and recommended that the bridge be repaired and reopened to traffic, based on historical findings and the thorough investigation by Julie Bowers and crew at Workin Bridges. A clear victory for a potential owner, Wayne Keller, who lives next to the bridge and uses it regularly. Yet the county commissioners are not backing down on their plan as they have ordered a full inspection of the bridge to determine what other issues the structure has that could justify its demise. Many have considered them to be spoiled sports, not willing to give the bridge to Keller to own. A tiny repair before changing ownership can save thousands of tax payer dollars. Yet the ability to do the math seems to be nonexistent. More information to follow.

The bridge is up for nomination for the Ammann Award for best photo. More will come soon. The Chronicles has an article on the bridge, which can be found here.

Cascade Bridge’s Future in Limbo

Located in Burlington, Iowa and built in 1896 to commemorate the state’s 50th anniversary of its statehood, the Cascade Bridge is the only bridge in Iowa that features the Baltimore deck truss span with no steel approaches- that honor goes to the Kate Shelley Bridge in Boone County. It was closed in 2008 due to structural concerns, but despite being listed on the National Register, an engineering report by a consulting firm in September revealed that the bridge is not safe and should be torn down. Yet the bidding process still continues as some parties are begging to differ, given the fact that the firm only visited the bridge once during its inspection and used photos provided by the city. The bridge’s fate now lies in the hands of the SHPO in Ames and up until now, no decision on its future has been made. A blessing or a curse?

Oblique view of the Cascade Bridge in Burlington. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan in 2009

Despite the ugly sides of the historic bridge preservation story, we do have some bright sides for a couple of bridges that are worth noting:

Gilliecie Bridge in Winneshiek County. Photo taken in October 2005









Gilliece Bridge on the move?

Located over the Upper Iowa River on Cattle Creek Road in Winneshiek County, Iowa, the Gilliece Bridge (which also goes by the names of Murtha and Daley) is one of only two bowstring through arches left in the county, and one of only three left that was constructed by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company, if one counts the queenpost portion of the Upper Bluffton Bridge that was spared demolition earlier this year. This is despite the fact that Wrought Iron Bridge constructed over two dozen bridges in the county between 1870 and 1890. The 1874 bridge sustained damage to its overhead bracing over the years, yet despite the plans to replace the bridge next year, it seems that this bridge is destined for a golf course in Mitchell County. If all repairs are made and the agreement is made, it will be placed over water at Sunny Brae in the next year or so, to be made available for golfers and visitors alike. More information will follow. The Chronicles is working on a piece on Winneshiek County’s bridges and will have it available very soon.

Waterford Iron Bridge gets a check-up; restoration on the horizon

A contract was let to Workin Bridges to look at options for restoring the bridge. Built in 1909 by the Hennepin Bridge Company in Minneapolis, this 140 foot long Camelback through truss bridge is scheduled to be restored and incorporated into a bike trail network along the Canon River, with work expected to start next year. The question that is on the minds of many involved is how to restore it. New foundations, removal of pack rust, fixing truss beams and repainting are needed, but the total cost is unclear. The investigation has started and more will be revealed once the check-up is finished. The fortunate part is the Waterford Bridge is coming off two victories in the funding part, winning the American Express Prize and the Bronze Medal (and $95,000) in the Partner’s for Preservation Award last year, in connection with additional support from public and private sectors, something that is rare in the world of historic bridge preservation. But once the restoration is completed, it will be worth more in its own value than money can ever offer.

More information on the bridge can be found here. Please note, the photos taken by the author can be found here. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest.

And lastly, we have some news out on a pair of mystery bridges that are worth noting:

Pearson and US 101 Bridges related?

As mentioned earlier this year in many bridge articles, Harrison County, Iowa is one of a few counties in the state that imported many bridges from outside the state, including some high quality aesthetic bridges, such as the (now extant) Orr Bridge, the US 101 Bridges from California, and the Pearson Bridge, all of which can be seen here:

Orr Bridge

US 101 Bridges

Pearson Bridge

Some information about two of the mystery bridges came to light thanks to information from one of the locals. The Pearson Bridge, which spanned Soldier River on 170th Trail near Loess Hills, was originally constructed at the site of the East Kelley Lane Bridge near Mondamin, according to Craig Guttau. The Pearson Bridge was relocated to the present site in the 1950s, when one of the spans of the US 101 Bridge replaced it for reasons of structural soundness, especially when heavier farm equipment needed to cross the bridge. Even more interesting is the fact that a weight limit was imposed on the East Kelley Lane Bridge right from the beginning due to a missing beam from the US 101 span, which was replaced with a makeshift beam that was not as durable as the original one.  The East Kelley Lane Bridge is set to be replaced next year, unless the fiscal cliff issue in Washington delays the project indefinitely. The Pearson Bridge has long since been removed after a heavy vehicle tried crossing the bridge, and fell through the deck. While it has been a few years since the mishap, the county and state made haste in condemning the structure and tearing it down, while at the same time, posted even stricter sanctions on the rest of the bridges to ensure that the mishap never repeats itself. Hence the phrase “Obey the weight limit or this bridge will be closed!”

This leads to the request for more information on the origin of the Pearson Bridge- whether it was built in Harrison County or imported from outside even earlier than 1950. The other question is when and how did the accident on the bridge happened, which led to the bridge’s unfortunate downfall…..

The Harrison County bridges are being considered for the Ammann Awards in the category of Mystery Bridge, although it is unknown whether they will be nominated individually or as a group of bridges.

Horn’s Ferry Bridge revealed (at least partially):

In the last few months, some readers and locals have been contributing information and photos pertaining to the Horn’s Ferry Bridge in Marion County, Iowa and its unfortunate collapse 20 years ago. Here are some points to consider: The bridge was built twice: First time in 1881 and when erosion was undermining the east end of the bridge, two additional spans were built in 1929. Both by local contractors based in Des Moines. The original 1881 spans were built on stone piers supported by walnut pilings. According to many residents, the walnut pilings rotted away, causing the stone piers to crack and spall, contributing to the bridge’s closing in 1982 and its eventual collapse in 1991. The Camelback main span resembles a span that was located upstream, west of Red Rock Dam. Yet that bridge was removed when the Red Rock Dam was built in the 1960s. Here is a pic that Daryl Van Zee sent to the Chronicles a few months ago, taken by an unknown photographer and depicting the bridge as it was before its collapse.

Horn’s Ferry Bridge taken in the 1980s by an unknown photographer. Submitted by Daryl Van Zee.


Author’s notes:

1. Voting will begin for the Ammann Awards beginning 3 December. A number of entries have come in within the last few days. If you still want to submit, you have until 3 December to do so.


2. There will be some catching up with regards to the Book of the Month in December, as three books will be profiled, two for the months of October and November and one for December. Stay tuned.



How to fix an antique metal bridge: DVD on Historic Bridge Restoration by Julie Bowers

Photo taken by the author in December, 2014

Author’s Note: This article serves as a twofold function: 1. It is part of a multiple series on the Historic Bridge Conference, which took place last weekend (21-23 September) in Indiana, where the documentary was shown, and 2. This is the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles’ Book of the Month, but in a form of a DVD and documentary. An interview with Julie Bowers on historic bridge preservation was conducted earlier this year and can be viewed by clicking here.

There seems to be a belief from many people that historic metal truss bridges cannot be restored because the metal used for the structure has outlived its usefulness, and that restoration and/or relocation is either too expensive, outdated, or is not heard of. The last part was in connection with a comment made by a congresswoman in Ohio in May of this year.
Little do these critics realize is that restoration exists for metal truss bridges, and in the case of welding, the profession is making a comeback, as there is an increase in interest in this sort of work. And for the remaining truss bridges that are still standing in the country, this may be a blessing that could buck the trend of eliminating this truss type, especially after the I-35W Bridge Disaster of 2007 in Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA).
Using the Piano Bridge in Texas and the McIntyre Bowstring Arch Bridge in Iowa and with the support of songs by The Grateful Dead, Julie Bowers of Workin Bridges, a non-profit organization that deals with historic bridge restoration, produced a documentary on historic bridge restoration, bringing a profession back from the dead and, with step-by-step demonstrations and easy to explain concepts by the professionals, providing educational opportunities for welders, historians, agencies, bridge enthusiasts and people interested on how to restore a historic bridge.

McIntyre Bowstring Arch Bridge in Poweshiek County, Iowa before ist destruction due to flooding in 2010. The parts were salvaged and transported to Delaware. Photo courtesy of Julie Bowers

The DVD starts with the McIntyre Bridge before and after the flood that destroyed the structure in August 2010 with the question of what to do with the structure. While Workin Bridges was in its infancy when this occurred, the organization’s biggest break came with the request from the people in Fayette County, Texas to restore the pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge, built in 1885 by the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio. Together with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) the restoration process started, first by taking the truss bridge off its original foundations, followed by taking it apart, putting rivets on the bridge, using heat to straighten out the eye bars, and doing other work with the parts, before putting the truss bridge together and placing it back on new foundations. The step-by-step process was filmed and photographed, with experts demonstrating to the viewer how these processes work, thus encouraging people to at least look at how restoration works, but with a long range goal of taking up the profession. Welding is an old technology that was developed in the 1800s, went into hibernation for many decades, but is making a comeback in a new form, which is restoring historic places made of metal. Yet for many people, the profession is new and exciting, but should be taken seriously, as it takes time and effort to form and reform structural parts to make a building or bridge look just like new.

Piano Bridge in Texas: The bridge lift from its foundations. Photo courtesy of Julie Bowers

Here are some interesting facts about welding that were in the film and are worth noting:

  1. Rivets are more effective than nuts and bolts in a way that they keep the metals intact and ensure that rust and weather extremities do not cause the metal parts to crack. One of the cracked parts discovered on the Piano Bridge led to the structure’s closing and the quest for someone to come and fix it.
  2. Heat stripping is a process of placing the torch on a section of metal, straightening it out with clamps.
  3. The Piano Bridge is made of wrought iron, which has a low heating temperature. Therefore, one needs to be careful not to have heat on a section of metal for a long time or else the material falls apart like wood. This contributed to many structures failing during the Great Chicago Fire on 3 October, 1871, which destroyed 80% of the entire city.
  4. Steel can be welded to wrought iron to ensure its stability for many years, despite claims that it can be bent to a point where it breaks.
  5. Most interesting fact: rehabilitating historic bridges means adding parts to support the structure. It does not mean restoration, as in taking apart and reassembling the structure.

While the welding process was progressing on the Piano Bridge, there were discussions about historic bridges and their fate, especially in connection with the I-35W Bridge Disaster.  While many agencies have striven to have certain bridge types eliminated, as well as those that are structurally deficient, including those in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio, for example, other agencies, like TxDOT have worked to find ways to restore historic bridges and/or relocate them for reuse if deemed necessary. It is part of a two-way approach where the costs are analyzed and engineering thought is put in to determine not whether a historic bridge can be restored but how. John Barton of TxDOT denounces the knee-jerk approach to historic bridge replacement, as it has happened in many places, but claims that engineering is a way to address the variables, both systematically and methodologically and should be taken seriously.

Piano Bridge
Piano Bridge in Texas after its restoration. Photo courtesy of Workin Bridges

The film ends with some example bridges that have either been restored, like the State Street Bridge in Bridgeport, Michigan, or are targets for restoration efforts, like the Long Shoals Bridge in Kansas, the Cascade Bridge in Iowa, and the Enochs Knob Bridge in Missouri, the last two of which are being scheduled for demolition, although Workin Bridges is working to claim the Cascade Bridge to be restored. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will have that article for you as soon as the series on the Historic Bridge Conference in Indiana is finished. But it shows how each bridge could be restored thanks to the demonstrations that were presented in the film.

There are many demonstrations on welding techniques that are either available online or through seminars, like the annual welding seminar offered by Vern Mesler in Michigan. The DVD takes you up close to see how historic bridges can be restored through welding techniques that exist. It provides people with a chance to see how the process works and has the dos and don’ts to welding, let alone to restoring a historic bridge. Furthermore it advocates the need to do restoration work instead of rehabilitation, setting the standards very high for reasons of safety and integrity, while at the same time, restoring the bridge is more cost effective than rehabilitation or replacement.

The video is 47 minutes long and from a teacher’s point of view, if you have a class of students of civil engineering, conservation and restoration or even architecture, it is recommended that they see the film to provide them with a glimpse of the work and to spark their interest in possibly joining the profession, which has been growing since 2008. Chances are likely that at least a quarter of the students in the classroom will be interested in the work.  And even if no one is interested in the profession and is only curious about how a bridge is restored, the content of the film is easy to understand and the demonstrations are up front and not too technical. For agencies and politicians who advocate bridge replacement, the DVD provides them with an alternative to demolition, convincing them that restoration is more cost effective and will prolong the life of a bridge for many decades to come.

Historic Paper Mill Bridge in Newcastle, Delaware.

I would like to end this review with a food for thought involving a question that I posed to many of my students: suppose you have a 120 year old truss bridge that is due for replacement and you have the following choices, which one would you take:

Replace the bridge with a concrete structure
Replace the bridge but leave the truss bridge in tact
Rehabilitate the truss bridge and leave it open to traffic?

Keep in mind the cost analysis for each option, the resources that are available, but most importantly, the interest of the people and their association with the structure. Without the interest, the truss bridge is history. Yet if the interest in saving the bridge is high, then one should look at the resources available and in particular, listen to the public and their suggestions. Chances are one of them may have seen this DVD and knows what he/she is talking about.

The DVD can also be viewed on YouTube, which you can watch below:



Interview with Denis Gardner

Robert Street Bridge (foreground), the St. Paul Vertical Lift Bridge (middle) and the Wabasha Street Bridge (background) all spanning the Mississippi River in St. Paul. Photo taken in August 2011



Some of us have a sixth sense- when one senses something that will happen in the future in the present and take action to avoid it. Some of us see something that happened and takes measures to save face and avoid further trouble. In this case, it is the latter. Yesterday, I posted the Book of the Month column on Denis Gardner’s book, “Wood, Concrete, Stone and Steel: Minnesota’s Historic Bridges,” encouraging people to read the literature. Early this morning, I received the interview questions from author Denis Gardner himself, which I sent prior to my vacation in Schleswig Holstein two weeks earlier. Contrary to what I wrote about his work, Gardner provides a few answers to my questions from his own point of view, which includes a hint that a book on the history of bridge builders in Minnesota should be on the “To do” List for any author wanting to tackle this project. 

Without further ado, here is the interview with the author:


My B.A. is in history. And, not surprisingly, I never thought I would end up in an occupation with history at its core, but sometimes we get lucky. I also have a Master of Liberal Studies degree.

I was fortunate enough to be hired by a historical consulting firm in Minneapolis that specialized in studying buildings and structures. In other words, the firm frequently was hired by governmental agencies and others to complete studies in areas with cultural resources (buildings, structures, etc.) that may be impacted by a project. For example, if the Minnesota Department of Transportation was completing a road project through a particular community, our firm may be contracted to study the area to determine if there were any historic buildings or structures in the area that may be impacted by the project. Such a study stems from the Historic Preservation Act of 1966, a section of which requires agencies receiving federal funding or federal licensing to discover if their projects negatively affect any properties believed historic—that is, any properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places or any properties eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Initially, I began working as a researcher for the firm. Over time my role expanded to include surveying and writing as well. Eventually, I wrote many studies on various building and structure types. I also wrote two books that cover these subjects. The first book was Minnesota Treasures: Stories Behind the State’s Historic Places (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2004) and the second was Wood, Concrete, Stone, and Steel: Minnesota’s Historic Bridges (University of Minnesota Press, 2008). In late 2011, I became the National Register Historian in Minnesota, replacing Susan Roth, who retired after occupying the position for many years.


It is difficult for me to pick only one type of history as a favorite. I find the subject of history in general fascinating, and I will read just about any historical subject. The field within which I work, however, is that of the built environment (buildings, structures, objects, districts, and sites). My work is intimately tied to the National Register of Historic Places. As a result, much of my reading surrounds this subject. My visits are often to buildings/structures that are either in the National Register or are being considered for listing in the National Register. Still, I enjoy a wide variety of historical subjects and read and visit other things as well when I have the opportunity.


I became interested in bridges many years ago when I began working in the field of architectural history/historic preservation. When I was hired as a researcher for the Minneapolis historical consulting company, the firm was in the middle of completing a statewide bridge survey. The survey came about because the Minnesota Department of Transportation needed to know which bridges on Minnesota roadways were eligible for listing in the National Register. For Mn/DOT, knowing this allowed the agency to plan ahead, to recognize in advance which bridges were historic via National Register standards and which ones were not. During my first six months at the consulting company I spent every other week on the road traveling about the state, visiting county and state highway departments, local historical societies and libraries, county courthouses, and wherever else research on bridges guided me. I became quite fond of bridges.

In truth, there is another historian that I thought might write the book, Robert Frame III. Frame, like Jeffrey Hess and Charlene Roise, was one of the first to study Minnesota’s bridging history in depth.

Author’s Note: Frame wrote at least three reports on historic bridges in Minnesota including a comprehensive report in 1985 which focused on all bridges built prior to World War II, most of them being metal truss bridges whose history was brought to the interest of many people working with historic bridge preservation.

After completing my first book, and concluding that someone else was probably not going to write a Minnesota bridge book anytime soon, I decided that I would write it. Doing it almost immediately after the first book seemed a good idea since I was still in the book-writing mode—I thought that if I did not do it then, I may never get to it.


My mother was only involved to the extent that she liked traveling around and seeing things. So, when I was completing the photography on bridges—running around the state—she often was a companion. Like myself, my brother enjoys photography. As it was going to be difficult for me to get all of the bridges photographed in the allotted time period, I asked if he would be interested in completing some of the photography.

Simply put, it seemed the logical way to parcel the book. Bridges evolved largely according to the material used to build them—wood and stone bridges came first, then metal bridges (first iron and then steel), and then reinforced-concrete bridges. By dividing the book in this way I could provide a mostly chronological history.


Wood bridges always suffer from the fact that wood does not last as long as other materials. As a result, wood bridges are frequently replaced with bridges made from another material. Stone bridges may last a very long time, but are exceedingly expensive and labor intensive. It is extremely doubtful that we will ever see another large stone arch bridge. We may never see another small one, at least in Minnesota.

Metal and reinforced-concrete provided engineers with flexibility. Metal truss bridges supported substantial loads and yet their members (diagonals, verticals, etc.) did not need to be nearly as large and cumbersome as the members for wood bridges. And again, metal bridges generally lasted longer than wood bridges.

As concrete is relatively plastic, this allowed bridge builders to shape bridges, perhaps adding an aesthetic to them that was not available with previous materials. Concrete is very strong in compression but rather weak in tension, so metal reinforcing was introduced into the concrete to ameliorate this problem. All manner of bridges have been built with reinforced concrete: slabs, girders, arches, culverts. With reinforced-concrete a monumental arch bridge could be erected without the labor and expense that comes with building an arch made of stone. The material is so versatile that I don’t envision it falling from favor anytime soon.

As for suspension bridges—I am hardly an expert, but it appears that these have typically been made from metal, although concrete may sometimes encase metal. For example, the girders beneath the deck of the Hennepin Avenue Bridge are steel girders. However, the towers, from which the cables descend that carry the deck, are made of reinforced concrete. Concrete allowed engineers to shape the towers relatively easily into a pleasing form. Very large suspension bridges (such as the Golden Gate) are acted upon by terrific forces. The gales blowing through the bay would likely wreak havoc on bridge reinforced-concrete members that were employed in areas of great tensile stress. I assume that such members would begin to wear and crack in a short period of time.


I hate to admit it, but I cannot truly answer this question. As I note immediately below, we need someone to write the book on Minnesota’s bridge builders. With my bridge book, the focus was chiefly on the bridges themselves. There was discussion of bridge builders, certainly, but it was mostly peripheral to the bridges. The question that you raise is an interesting one, but I simply cannot answer it with confidence. We need more information on the builders.


Similar to my comment above, I don’t think that I can do justice to this question. I have always felt that the early bridge builders in the Upper Midwest deserved an entire book. We know so little about them, yet they built so much of our infrastructure. Fredric Quivik penned “Montana’s Minneapolis Bridge Builders,” which offers more history on area bridge builders in one source than just about any other source. My assumption is that Johnson was influential, for he was one of these early bridge builders—in truth, it was a rather small fraternity. Am I surprised that he became part of the Minnesota legislature for a spell? Not really. Early Minnesota was littered with personalities that were prominent within their field of expertise. Many of these individuals transferred their skills to politics—at least for a time. It was not uncommon for prominent men within a relatively new community to become representatives in the state legislature. I’m assuming Johnson was a prominent personality within the community or region that he lived. We would know for certain once someone takes on the task of penning a book on Minnesota’s early bridge builders.

Author’s Note: The information in the book was only meant to scratch the surface as focusing on the tiniest aspects of the bridge engineers would warrant not only a book on Minnesota’s bridge builders, but also on the dynasties themselves, like the Hewetts, for example.


I think that it has made us more aware of bridges, and perhaps it has made us worry more about bridges. This worry is sometimes warranted, since many bridges are exhibiting wear, sometimes substantial wear. Bridges can last a long time, but like anything else they need regular maintenance. I don’t think most people defer maintenance on their houses for years, yet it seems that some of our bridges have been left to wither. I don’t think we can necessarily blame the counties for this (the counties oversee most, but not all, of the bridges in Minnesota). If the counties do not have the money to complete required maintenance, it is difficult to place blame at their door. The state highway department may be in a similar predicament with some of its bridges. The simple fact is that we need funds to take care of our bridges—indeed, to take care of our infrastructure as a whole, as it is plainly suffering.

An example of a bridge that is in disarray: the Lafayette Bridge over the Mississippi River carrying US Hwy. 52 in St. Paul. Built in 1968, the bridge will be replaced in 2013 and demolished as a lack of maintenance combined to rust and corrosion have lead to its untimely doom. Photo taken in August 2011


This has long been a topic that has bothered preservationist. The convention in Minnesota has been that the Minnesota Department of Transportation (in other words, the state) will take care of its historic bridges; it will do its best to do right by those bridges it oversees that have been determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. However, it has been left to the counties to decide what each will do with its bridges that have been determined eligible for listing in the National Register. The general consensus among those familiar with the topic is that the counties have not been anxious to preserve these bridges. To Mn/DOT’s credit it created a bridge preservation plan, which it distributed to the counties in hopes that it would spur counties to preserve historic bridges. My sense, however, is that it has not been all that successful.


The simple answer is “No.” As I noted above, our infrastructure is suffering. Money, of course, solves the problem, but we just don’t have the funds to take care of everything we would like. Again, a bridge can last for a very long time but, like anything else, it must be maintained, and that takes dollars.


I would like to see the counties preserve more bridges. The counties have oversight over the vast majority of bridges in Minnesota. Regrettably, the counties often view older bridges (some may even be historic via National Register standards) as something of a nuisance. I welcome Mn/DOT’s bridge preservation inclinations, but I wish those notions would filter down to the counties. Again, if the counties had more money to maintain their bridges, preservation would likely be more of a focus.

Old Barn Bridge over Root River north of Preston. Built in 1914 by Lawrence Johnson, the bridge was closed to traffic in 2011 and its future is in doubt. Photo taken in October 2005


This is a difficult question. I really like the stone arch Point Douglas-St. Louis River Road Bridge in Stillwater. It is the oldest bridge in Minnesota that we have found, although we are not precisely sure how old—perhaps early 1860s, or maybe even 1850s. It is in rough shape at the moment. I also like Split Rock Bridge in Pipestone County. It is the last stone arch to be built in Minnesota (1938). It was a Works Progress Administration Project that used pink Sioux quartzite to shape the bridge. But I also need to acknowledge the Soo Line High Bridge. Frankly, it is one of the most impressive arch bridges in Minnesota, but few ever see it because it is hidden in the St. Croix River Valley north of Stillwater. It is a huge open-spandrel, steel arch built by the Soo Line Railway. Besides looking rather elegant, its engineering is fascinating. It is a three-hinged arch (which means it is not terribly rigid) but it becomes a two-hinged arch when a load passes over the bridge (in other words, it becomes more rigid).

Nationally, I like the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge in Boston. It is relatively new and it is a big cable-stayed bridge. We don’t have a roadway bridge in Minnesota like this, which is probably one reason I like it—it is novel. Also, its aesthetic is impressive, and the aesthetic is a product of the engineering. In other words, we get this wonderful impression of sails, but the sails come about simply because that is how a cable-stayed bridge is put together.

There are many notable bridges around the world, but I have always been greatly impressed by the Forth Bridge over the Firth of Forth in Scotland. It is located in an unforgiving location and it is so monumental. It almost looks as if it could stand forever. For me, it resembles three Apatosaurus dinosaurs nose to tail.



Studying bridges is very much like studying other types of structures in the sense that you must thoroughly enjoy history and welcome researching for hours on end. But I also would add that if one does not appreciate technology/engineering, then one probably should not be writing a history on bridges, as these things are central to in-depth study of the resource. Of course, if one was penning a bridge book that was largely literary, perhaps even romantic, that is somewhat different.


Eric was kind enough to write the Afterword for the book. Eric has years of experience with bridges. He was chief of the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) program for years. As a result, he is very familiar with engineering subjects, especially bridges. I was grateful that he was willing to offer his bridge knowledge to the book on Minnesota bridges.


I would not be surprised if I wrote another book or two, although I am not sure if they will be on bridges. A few years back I was approached about doing another bridge book, but one that looks at bridges beyond the state of Minnesota. The idea is interesting, but I have not pursued it. Committing to a book is committing to a lot of time and work. I will always be fascinated by bridges, of course, but at the same time there are other subjects I would like to study and write about.
Also, I found the directory of the existing historic bridges in MN to be very helpful. Could you summarize why you did that and would you recommend any author doing that?

It seemed like a commonsense thing to do. My feeling, and my publishers feeling, was that readers naturally would like to know what other historic bridges are out there. Providing the appendix gives readers a guide to the other Minnesota historic bridges (by “historic,” I mean bridges that are in the National Register of Historic Places or bridges that are eligible for listing in the National Register). And yes, I think it a good idea to include such information in books like this. Whenever we address subjects of tangible things like buildings, bridges, grain elevators, etc.—it is a courtesy to give others an idea of what else may be worth exploring.


The Bridges of Erfurt Part IV: Erfordia Oppidum Pontium- The Books of the City of Bridges

Kraempfertor Bruecke new side
Kraempfertorbruecke over the Flutgraben in Erfurt. Photo taken in July 2010

After completing a tour of the city’s bridges and trying out all the delicacies at the shops on the Kraemerbruecke, we now come to our first book of the month in the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, which fits perfectly to this theme.  The interest of historic bridges in Erfurt on the part of the authors went back to the 1990s, when Germany was reunited and plans were in the making to preserve the remaining historic bridges in Erfurt, the state of Thuringia and the states of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). Research was conducted on the bridges to determine their historic significance. This contributed to the decision of which bridges were to be renovated and which ones to replace. While the Kraemerbruecke was given special status in the  GDR and was renovated before 1989, almost all of the city’s bridges were not renovated until after German Reunification, and when that time came, the rehabilitation process was extensive and consuming.

Wilhelmsteg spanning the Flutgraben

Dietrich Baumbach and Hans-Joerg Vockrodt published their first book on bridges in Erfurt in 2000, entitled “Historische Bogen- und Gewölbebrücke der Stadt Erfurt” (English: Historic arch bridges in the City of Erfurt). This book focuses mainly on the technical details of the historic bridges in the city and provides an in-depth coverage on how the bridges were rehabilitated, including photos during the construction phase and after it was completed.  Naturally, one would have to conclude that historic bridges consisted of all bridge types that were built prior to 1945. Yet, as one can see in the previous three parts, the arch bridges in Erfurt far outnumber other pre-1945 bridge types by a ratio of 6 to 1. While there are 17 bridges in Erfurt and countless others in the suburbs that have arch types, there are only three truss bridges, one covered bridge and one cable-stayed pedestrian bridge that exist and are worth visiting as a touring pontist. Therefore, it is logical that the arch bridges received first priority and were profiled in the first literary masterpiece. 12 of the city’s 17 arch bridges were the focus of the book and how they were built and rebuilt, using brick and stone as material for an arch bridge. For those with unique ornamental features, like the Hollernzollern, Karls, Pfoertchen and Kraempfertor Bridges, the authors provide a detailed description of how the sculptures and ornamental lampposts were built and restored to their original form.


The 2000 edition was one of the first pieces that set the precedent for efforts to restore many of the state’s (and region’s) arch bridges, for while they were plentiful- even after World War II when many of them sustained considerable damage caused by the bombing- the majority of them fell into disarray caused by neglect during the Cold War period when the GDR existed. This was in part due to the scarcity of materials and technical know-how needed to restore them. It is contradictory to the American plan to modernize the cities at the expense of historic bridges, an initiative that started in the 1960s and included the resources needed to construct newer bridges.  While recent materials on restoring historic bridges (like: A Bridge Worth Saving: A Community Guide to Historic Bridge Preservation by Michael Mort) focuses on metal truss bridges, the first book on Erfurt’s bridges focuses on restoring arch bridges, but mainly those built of brick and stone. These are becoming a rare commodity universally as they are too narrow for cars to cross and many people want newer wider bridges to get them to their destination. Yet when reading the book and looking at the many ways the arch bridges are renovated, it will serve as an incentive for local agencies, engineers and contractors as well as preservation groups and historical societies to look at renovation as a tool for restoring these rare commodities and integrating them into their landscape and culture.

Kuhnhausen RRB
A railroad bridge over the Gera River in the suburb of Kühnhausen, north of Erfurt. Photo taken in June 2010

Little do most people realize that there is a history to every single piece of architecture that exists. It is like bread and butter. One does not know about a house, skyscraper or a bridge until looking at how it was built, how it became an integral fabric of the region’s history and culture and how it is identifiable to the landscape. In the second book “Brücken und Stege im alten Erfurt,” (Bridges in Old Town Erfurt) published in December of last year, Baumbach and Vockrodt shifted their focus on the historical aspect of Erfurt’s historic bridges, focusing not only on the existing bridges that one can see in the city, but also on those that either used to exist along the Wild Gera River before it was rechanneled and filled in to become today’s Yuri-Gagarin Ring or those that spanned the streams but were subsequentially replaced by today’s modern structures.

Baumbach and Vockrodt went out of their way to profile almost each and every one of the bridges that existed in Erfurt, providing the reader with photos and paintings for each bridge profiled. Each one has a history of its own, whether it was part of one of the mills that existed next to it, or it was part of the ever-expanding streetcar network that was developed in the 1800s or even one of those whose historical value resulted in successful attempts to relocate them to be reused for recreational purposes.

Riethbrücke in the north of Erfurt

Here are some interesting facts about Erfurt’s bridges that may be of curiosity to the reader:
1. There were two covered bridges over the Wild Gera River before it was rechanneled in 1900: the Hospitalsteg and the Vogelsteg. Both were relocated as they originally served as pedestrian crossings: the former to the Little Venice Park north of the city center, the latter to Luisenpark south of the city center. The latter still exists today.
2. 36 notable bridges used to exist at one time when the Wild Gera was being rechanneled. 10 were along the Wild Gera and had to be removed when the Flutgraben was in service. The construction dates were between 1300 and 1500 for each one.
3. Only one notable arch bridge was replaced during the GDR times- the Lehmann Bridge. Built in the 1300s, it was one of the oldest arch bridges in Erfurt, next to the Kraemerbruecke and Ross Bridge. Despite government’s material rationing policies during the Cold War, the bridge’s substantial deterioration warranted an exception to the rule in 1977, with the bridge being replaced with today’s steel beam structure.
4. The Schutzturmschleuse Bridge was once a series of dams built to control the flow of water entering Erfurt. While Erfurt was located on the Ford of the Gera River, its location in the flat river valley made it prone to flooding. Most of these dams still exist, while the Schutzturmschleuse is now a partially-filled in bridge.
5. The Schlosserbruecke used to be another house bridge before it was altered: first as a pedestrian bridge and later (after it sustained heavy damage in World War II) as a multi-functional bridge, which still serves streetcar, automobile, cycler and pedestrian traffic today.
At the end, there is a directory, summarizing each of the bridges mentioned in the book, either through individual profiling or just a brief mention of the structure, containing the location of the bridges, bridge type and a brief history. This actually serves as a combination of quick reference and a starting point of the story before diving deeply into the topic of the city’s bridges. While a lot of information was found that could be found in the book, there are some bridges whose existence was found only in sketches and sources that are scarce and almost impossible to find. In some cases, some estimates were needed as the information was difficult to find; especially with regard to the bridges of the Wild Gera river, as they disappeared by 1900 thanks to the Flutgraben.

Both books provide a historical background on the development of bridges in Erfurt and identify the most important bridges in the city and how they contributed to its development as a whole. This includes the Kraemerbruecke, Karlsbruecke and those in the southern part of the city.  With as many bridges as the city has, it is no wonder that the nickname “Venice of the North” was given to the city of Erfurt as the city is just as big as its Italian counterpart, but has almost as many bridges. Yet profiling the 200 plus bridges in one book is a difficult challenge in itself, for on the count of modernization in the last three decades, up to half of the bridges in a city deserve some sort of recognition and two thirds of that number are usually documented in detail because of the history. An example is with the bridges in Pittsburgh and Hamburg, whose numbers far triple that of the bridges of Erfurt and Venice combined. Literature has been written on these bridges but using only a fraction of the number and focusing on the key historical structures one should see.


In the case of the bridges of Erfurt, two books were needed to cover the structures, first by focusing on the existing structures and their technical details and then discussing about the bridges in general, whose history ties in with the development of the city itself. The authors did a splendid job of covering the aspects but keeping the information simple and straight forward. This is important when writing a book about bridges that one should not only keep the historical and technical aspects together, but also keep it simple and easy to understand for the reader who may have little knowledge of the subject. Sometimes it is the easiest to add photos and other images  to simplify the explanations even further. Both of these books have a wide array of both in there- averaging two photos/images per page with the first few pages providing background information only.  Sometimes it works best to have a few pages of background information before profiling the bridges in photos/images. If one wants to write about bridges in a city or region and is unsure how to approach it, perhaps the two books on Erfurt’s bridges- the technical part and the historical part, may be a good reference point to provide some ideas for one’s own work.  In my experience, it always helps to have a frame of reference as a guidance for writing about this topic. It is unknown how many times I have referred to the two books for information or for reading pleasure, but since purchasing the first book in 2010 and the second in February of 2012, it has been more than enough times because of its interesting photos and the information that is thought provoking and useful.

The only caveat is the fact that the books are only in German. While it is easy for someone with substantial knowledge of the language, for non-German speakers, while the photos are interesting to look at, and one can understand some of the numbers and other detailed aspects, it would be interesting to have a version in  English or other languages as many people would take advantage of the two books and use them for reference purposes, especially for those needing help with ideas on preserving stone arch bridges.

A logical explanation to why the book is in German as well as some interesting facts about Erfurt, its bridges as well as those in Germany and some ways of maintaining them are found in the fifth and final part of the series on Erfurt’s bridges, when a sit-down interview with the two authors was conducted. You will be amazed at what they have to say about the topic of bridges, preservation and history.

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