Apocalyptic Floods Destroy Bridges in Midwest

Sargent Bridge in Custer County, Nebraska- Destroyed by Ice Jam. Photo: wikiCommons

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After record-setting snowfall and cold in the Midwest of the US, residents and farmers are bracing for what could be flooding of biblical proportions. Already in Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota and Wisconsin, one can see fields converted into lakes and piles of broken ice from rivers and lakes littering streets and Highways. Billions of Dollars in property lost are expected as floodwaters and ice have destroyed farms and killed livestock, while many houses are underwater with thousands of residents displaced. Highways and especially bridges have been washed away, while other forms of infrastructure have caved in under the pressure of high water caused by snowfall, ice on the ground and massive amounts of precipitation.  For residents in Minnesota, North Dakota, Illinois and regions along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, where people are sandbagging their homes and communities, while others are evacuating, the scenes out west are a preview of what is yet to come.

The same applies for many historic bridges and other key crossings, for reports of bridges being washed away by flooding or crushed by ice jams are cluttering up the newsfeeds, social media and through word of mouth. While dozens of bridges have been affected, here’s a list of casualities involving all bridges regardless of age and type that have come in so far. They also include videos and pictures. Keep in mind that we are not out of the woods just yet, and the list will get much longer before the floodwaters finally recede and the snow finally melts away. For now, here are the first casualties:

 

Bridge Casualty List:

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Trolley Bridge with its two missing spans. Photo taken by Chris CJ Johnson

Trolley Bridge in Des Moines, Iowa: Spanning Beaver Creek north of I-35 between Iowa’s State Capital and nearby Johnston, this railroad trestle with two deck plate girder spans used to serve a trolley line going along the creek to the northwest. The line and the bridge were converted into a bike trail in 2000. On Wednesday the 13th, an ice jam caused by high water knocked over the center pier, causing the two deck plate girders to collapse. Two days later, the spans floated down the river with no word on where they ended up. No injuries reported. It is unknown whether the bridge will be rebuilt.

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Highway 281 Bridge in Spencer, Nebraska: The Sandhills Bridge, spanning the Niobrara River was built in 2003. The multiple-span concrete beam bridge is located south of Spencer Dam. It should now be reiterated as a „was“ as the entire bridge was washed away completely on Monday the 11th.  A video shows the bridge being washed away right after the dam failure:

 

 

 

 

 

The main culprit was the failure of the Spencer Dam, caused by pressure from high water and ice. It is unknown when and how both the failed will be rebuilt, even though sources believe the bridge will be rebuilt and open by September.

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Carns State Aid Bridge in Rock County, Nebraska: This Niobrara River crossing consists of five arch spans, a Parker through truss and a Pratt through truss- both of them were brought in in 1962 to replace a sixth arch span and several feet of approach that were washed away. The bridge ist he last surviving structure that was built under Nebraska’s state aid bridge program and is listed on the National Register. It may be likely that a couple additional spans will be needed as the south approach going to the truss span was completely washed away in the floods. Fortunately, the rest of the bridge is still standing.

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Photo taken by an unknown photographer

Sargent Bridge: Residents in Custer County, Nebraska are mourning the loss of one of its iconic historic bridges. The Sargent Bridge was a two-span, pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with Howe lattice portal bracings supported by 45° heels; its overhead strut bracings are V-laced with 45° heels as well. Built in 1908 by the Standard Bridge Company of Omaha, using steel from Illinois Steel, this 250-foot long span was no match for large chunks of ice, floating down the Middle Loup River, turned the entire structure into piles of twisted metal. This happened on the 14th. While a photo showed only one of the spans, it is unknown what happened to the other span. One variable is certain: The loss of this historic bridge is immense.

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Photo taken by J.R. Manning

Green Mill Bridge near Waverly, Iowa: Time and wear took a toll on this two-span bowstring through arch bridge, which spanned the Cedar River between Janesville and Waverly. A product of the King Bridge Company, the bridge was part of a three-span consortium in Waverly when it was built in 1872. 30 years later, two of the spans were relocated to a rural road northeast of Janesville, where it survived multiple floods, including those in 1993 and 2008. Sadly, it couldn’t survive the ice jams and flooding that took the entire structure off its foundations on the 16th. Currently, no one knows how far the spans were carried and whether they can be salvaged like it did with the McIntyre Bridge in Poweshiek County. The Green Mill Bridge was one of only two multiple-span bowstring arch bridges left in the state. The other is the Hale Bridge in Anamosa.

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Photo taken by John Marvig

Jefferson Viaduct in Greene County, Iowa: The Raccoon River trestle features a through truss span built by Lassig Bridge and Iron Works and trestle approach spans built by the both Wisconsin Bridge and Iron Works and the Chicago Bridge and Iron Works Company. The 580-foot long bridge used to serve a bike trail until Friday the 15th when ice took out several feet of trestle approach. Fortunately, the through truss span is still in tact. Given its location though, it may take months until the trestle spans are replaced.

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DM&E Fall Colors

Photo taken by Jerry Huddelson

Turkey River Railroad Bridge at Millville, Iowa: This railroad span, located near 360th Street in Clayton County, has not had the best of luck when dealing with flooding. The two-span through truss span was destroyed in flooding in 1991 and subsequentially replaced by three steel girder spans. Two of them were washed away in flooding in 2008 and were replaced. Now all three spans are gone as of the 15th as flooding washed them all out. The rail line, owned by Canadian Pacific, has been shut down until a replacement span is erected with the freight trains being rerouted. It does raise a question of whether having a span in a flood-prone area makes sense without raising the railroad line.

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Dunham Park Bridges in Sioux Falls, South Dakota: One of the first cities hit by ice jams and flooding, Sioux Falls was almost literally underwater with floodwaters at every intersection and street as well as the Falls being converted into an apocalyptic disaster, resembling a dam failing and the waters of the Big Sioux River wiping out everything in its path. One of the hardest hit was seen with Dunham Park as floodwaters washed away two mail-order truss bridges almost simultaneously. A video posted in social media on the 14th showed how powerful the floodwaters really were. The bridges were installed only a few years ago. It is unknown if other bridges were affected as crews are still battling floods and assessing the damage. It is however safe to say that the park complex will need to be rebuilt, taking a whole summer or two to complete.

There will be many more to come, as the weather gets warmer, accelerating the snowmelt and making the situation even more precarious. We will keep you informed on the latest developments. But to close this Newsflyer special, here’s a clip showing the raging Big Sioux River going down the Falls in Sioux Falls, giving you an idea of how bad the situation is right now:

 

 

That in addition to a reminder to stay away from floodwaters. Signs and barricades are there for one reason- to save your life. Think about it.

 

Our thoughts and prayers to families, friends and farmers affected severely by Mother Nature’s wrath- many of them have lost their homes and livelihoods and are in need of help. If you can help them, they will be more than grateful…… ❤

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BHC Pic of the Week Nr. 9

This Pic of the Week is a throwback to 2010 in the United States. Many bridge enthusiasts love to capture tunnel views of through truss bridges or simply any bridge that has a roof covering on top and a portal view that is splendid to see upon entering it and one can identify with after crossing it. That is why these designs are unique and are being kept around even though building them nowadays are becoming more expensive.

This is one example of a classic tunnel view. This was taken at the Cedar River Bridge in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This bridge is a six-span Pratt through truss bridge with Howe lattice portal bracings and a plaque marking its completion date of 1898- 120 years ago this year. This duo-tracked bridge is owned and operated by the Union Pacific Railroad Company and sees as many as a dozen trains  a day crossing it. The bridge has been used and abused multiple ties, surviving the great floods of 1993 and 2008. Still it presents an example of how a bridge design is selected for the purpose of having a durable crossing that can survive the daily beatings by freight and passenger trains but also the extremities of Mother Nature. With its beauty and history, passers-by and locals will always remember this bridge and its identity to the city; even if the bridge one day retires from service and is reused as a pedestrian or recreational crossing- something it truely deserves. 🙂

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Quick note: This was used as the first background photo for the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles website under the Fargo-based areavoices name. Launched in 2010, it was part of the areavoices family until its closing this year. Now it is independently operated, powered by wordpress.

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Green Bridge in Waverly, Iowa: The Bridge That Is the Face of the City

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City Council pursuing Replacement Options in the Face of Opposition after a Reversal Voting

 

WAVERLY, IOWA- This story opens up with a comment mentioned by one of the residents living near the Green Bridge in Waverly: “River Cities work when bridges work.” This was during the time when the Waverly City Council voted to overturn a decision to repair the three-span truss bridge. Little do people realize that even modern bridges have the potential of failing during floods, and most modern bridges lack the aesthetic character as the crossing we are talking about here.

 

Spanning the Cedar River at 3rd Street SE, this century year old structure was built by the Illinois Steel Company, using standardized bridge designs approved by the Iowa Department of Transportation a couple years earlier. In this case, the structure features three spans of Pratt through trusses with A-frame portal bracings, V-laced overhead strut lacings with 45° heel supports and riveted connections. The total length of the bridge is 363 feet; each span is 121 feet. The width is 17 feet and the vertical clearance is 12 feet. It is unknown when the bridge was painted green, nor do we know of its predecessor, but for 100 years, this bridge provided a link between the Park districts to the south and the rest of Waverly, including the city center. Prior to its closing in 2015, the bridge was restricted to one lane of traffic, controlled by a traffic light, and the decking was steel gridded.

According to information by the local newspapers, the bridge had to be closed due to deterioration of the lower chord of the trusses, combined with cracks in the concrete piers. Much of which was caused by too much salt, combined with damages due to flooding and weather extremities. Still, the bridge retained its structural integrity and its character until most recently.

 

The Green Bridge has been a subject of controversy lately because of developments by the Waverly City Council. After its closure in February 2015, the city council voted unanimously in favor of rehabilitating the bridge exactly a year later, by a vote of 5-2. The original plan was to replace the decking of the bridge as well as the bearings and floor beams. The bids were later solicited with the lowest one having the cost of $2.3 million for the work. This was well under the city’s budget by about $300,000, according to the facebook page supporting restoring the Green Bridge.  Just as the bid was to be signed and contract let out, the vote for repairing the bridge was reversed- exactly one year later! Thanks to five people speaking for and six against the repairs of the bridge, plus 13 letters for the project in comparison with 9 against, the city council on 22 February this year voted against the plan to repair the Green Bridge, by a vote of 4-3.

 

Councilman Dave Reznicek’s comment after the vote was best put as follows: “Tonight, we’ve effectively set a precedent that we can go back and undo any vote.”  The factors that led to the reversal decision was obvious:

 

  1. Costs. At the time of the reversal vote, the city had too many irons in the fire regarding construction projects in the city. This included the reconstruction of several streets, including Cedar Lane and the River Parkway and bridge. While the streets were in dire need of reconstruction, the consensus is the lack of priority as to which streets are a necessity and which ones can wait. Waverly has four Cedar River bridges, but only two that are functioning: The Adams Parkway Bridge to the north and the Hwy. 3 Bridge at downtown. The Green Bridge is closed to traffic and the nearest bridge detour would be through downtown- a waste of gas and money. A fourth bridge is a former railroad crossing that is now a bike trail. A fifth bridge at Cedar River Parkway is being planned and would be the southernmost bridge in the city. The decision to reverse the repair work on the bridge set the precedent for projects that were being undertaken but are now threatened with delays.

 

  1. Lack of interest. With the costs for several city projects come the lack of interest from residents. The costs for such projects would come at taxpayer’s expense. Letters flooding into the city council and speeches argued that the bridge should be neither repaired nor replaced because of costs. Some argued for replacing the bridge because in the long term, it would be cost effective, even when constructing bridges at grade with the truss structure. However, even modern bridges cannot take high water too well, as seen in a couple video examples below:

 

 

Those who support repairing the Green Bridge have two really legitimate excuses: 1. It would retain the historic integrity of the structure and prolong its lifespan by at least 20 years, 2. It would be cost effective in a way that the bridge would still continue to serve traffic in its original state, meaning one-lane with traffic lights to regulate traffic.

 

  1. Personal interest. Politicking was another key factor in the decision to reverse the decision to repair the bridge. One of the leading opponents of the Green Bridge repair project was Edith Waldstein, who not only voted twice against repairing the bridge but rather replacing it, but also twisted the facts to win influence. In a statement after the 4-3 defeat, when members and residents demanded that the vote to repair the bridge be honored, she replied as follows: “What we approved a year ago was not to repair the bridge, it was to go ahead with the process in seeking bids.” Yet her opposition was not new, for previous projects to restore the Green Bridge also failed because of opposition in the city government. This included a task force to restore the bridge in 2003, where both the city and the State of Iowa were to split the cost. The notion seems to be that modernity is better and there is no place for saving anything antique, this despite pleas from members like Hank Bagelman and Mike Sherer to make it a referendum, despite the latter’s statement that there isn’t a consensus from people living in the district where the bridge is located.

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What is next for the bridge?

If the city council has it their way, by February of next year, bid could go out to replace the Green Bridge with a pedestrian bridge, being either a concrete span or a prefabricated truss span similar to the current structure. And by February of 2019,  we will have a new crossing in place. However, despite looking at the possibilities for the new structure, the city council is not paying attention to three key components:

 

  1. There needs to be a crossing in the south end of Waverly at any cost. Until the Parkway Bridge is built, people are still going to have to detour in order to get to the Park District where the bridge is located.

 

  1. The Green Bridge is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places because of its design corresponding to the standard design introduced a century ago, plus its association with the Illinois Steel Company, one of many steel mills and bridge companies based in the greater Chicago area that contributed to the construction of bridges as part of the expansion of America’s infrastructure between 1880 and 1930. Keeping that in mind, before replacing the bridge, the city council will need to cooperate with the Iowa Historical Society and carry out environmental and cultural impact surveys, the latter in accordance to Section 106 4f of the Historic Preservation Act of 1966. These surveys are time consuming and will look at ways of mitigating replacement of the bridge. As one of the members of the group advocating repairing the bridge, Mary Schildroth stated in an interview: “To those who are simply looking at the cost, we want to remind ourselves that history can’t be replaced; once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

 

  1. Public consensus is definitely needed in the Green Bridge project. While cooperation with state and federal authorities will be needed for the project- be it repair, rehabilitation, restoration or replacement- the input from the public over the bridge is needed at any cost. Therefore, heeding to the demands of those who have been advocating repairing the bridge- including those who had voted in 2016 but changed their minds the second time around, it is imperative that a referendum is carried out in the fall. By having people go to the polls in November, they can decide on two options

 

  1. Repair the bridge and if so, how?
  2. Replace the bridge and if so with what for a structure?

 

In addition, should the public favor option A, the question there would be whether the bridge should be reused or recycled.  One will need to keep in mind that surveys in connection with Section 106 4f will need to be undertaken before it is replaced; no circumvention is possible in this case.

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Times will be interesting for the City of Waverly, as it is struggling to maintain its checks and balances, while at the same time please residents, especially in the Park District and places to the south. But one thing is for sure, the Green Bridge still remains as the key link between the south and the city’s business district, and will be even after the Parkway Bridge opens to traffic in a couple years. This is why it is important that people have a say in what they want for a bridge. And the best way to answer that question is to have a referendum. Only there can the city council plan around who votes for repairing the bridge and who votes for replacing it.  And with this referendum, there is no reversal as it happened earlier this year. Once the people have spoken, the city will have to act to fulfill their wishes and restore their reputation.

 

The whole story on the Green Bridge can be found by clicking here. There you can find previous articles involving the project. The Save the Green Bridge facebook page can be found here. Like to join and share your thoughts and support for the bridge. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest on this bridge.

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The Bridges of Bertram, Iowa (USA)

Rosedale Bridge
Rosedale Bridge. Photo taken in September 2010

 

Located only five kilometers (two miles) east of Cedar Rapids in the state of Iowa is the village of Bertram. There is not much of the village apart from a cluster of houses along the Cedar River, as well as Big, Indian and Squaw Creeks. But the village of 300 residents living in the largest incorporated area east of Iowa has one special gift for photographers and pontists alike: the area has a lot of pre-1920 historic bridges. Five truss bridges that are over a century old and several arch bridges flank the region, making a photo tour look like a day trip; especially when some of them were built by the likes of J.E. Jayne and Wrought Iron Bridge. Many of them still serve traffic today despite attempts to replace them with more modern crossings. And there is a reason why residents don’t want them: with new bridges comes more traffic and more pollution. Furthermore, they are emotionally attached to the structures as they fit a very natural landscape, which makes the region southeast of the second largest city in Iowa a treat to see.

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 is being replaced at the time of this revamp of the guide produced in 2014 as the structure was destroyed in a flood.  Blaine’s Crossing is featured as a mystery bridge in this article, which gives us eight bridges featured in this guide that comes with a map. Without further ado…….:

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.

Ely Street Bridge in Bertram
Ely Street Bridge in Bertram in Linn County. Photo taken in August 2013

Ely Street Bridge:

Located east of Cedar Rapids and accessible from highways 151 and 13, the town of 300 inhabitants is located on a key railroad line between Clinton and Cedar Rapids. The quiet community prides itself in having four historic bridges located within a six-mile radius, all of them located along Big Creek, one of the tributaries that eventually empties into the Cedar River.  The Ely Street Bridge, located on East Bertram Road just south of the railroad crossing is one of them.

Built in 1891, the two-span Pratt through truss bridge, with Town lattice portal bracings and pinned connections, is a key example of a bridge built by J.E. Jayne and Son Bridge Company in Iowa City, located 30 miles south of Cedar Rapids. Born in 1838,  John E. Jayne moved to Johnson County at the age of two where he settled down with his family on a plot of land in Graham Twp., according to county records. He started his bridge building business in Iowa City in the 1870s, with his company located on Gilbert Street. Many bridges built in Linn County were credited to his name, including three in and around Bertram. The red-colored Ely Street Bridge is the best known product built by Jayne, as the structure consists of two truss spans totalling 224 feet long and 14 feet wide. Plaques are found at the top center part of the portal bracings. The bridge is well-hidden but one will cross it right after crossing the railroad tracks.

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Ely Stret Bridge in Bertram

That is, it used to…

Heavy rainfall caused Big Creek to flood its banks, resulting in trees and other debris falling into the rushing waters. One of the larger trees knocked the two-span structure into the water on June 30th, 2014, cutting the truss bridges into pieces and the street off from its main access to US 151 and IA 13. State and local governments contemplated on what to do with the structure, ranging from rebuilding the bridge in its usual form to a full replacement. The decision in June 2016 to scrap the remaining bridge and replace it with a 300 foot concrete bridge put the last nails into the coffin in the life of a bridge, whose builder has a place in the history books of Linn County, as well as the state of Iowa. Moreover, its design and service on America’s roads serve as a reminder of how truss bridges played a role in paving more roads in the history of America’s infrastructure. The replacement span is expected to open by the end of 2017.

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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 taken 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 taken 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 taken 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.

Blaine’s Crossing

The Blaine’s Crossing Bridge spans Big Creek between Highways 151 and 13 and Bertram. The Pratt through truss bridge can be seen clearly from the main highway, as the crossings are only 600 feet apart from each other and viewing the bridge from a distance, it appears to be a tall bridge- roughly 18 feet in height from the top chord to the river bed. Despite seeing the bridge from that distance, access to the structure is almost impossible unless either negotiating with property owners or having a camera with a lens that can enable a person to take close-up photos from a distance.  During my visit in 2011, I chose the second variant, taking some pictures from a nearby gravel road (Cedar Woods Road), thus finding out the bridge type, the portal bracing and whether the connections are pinned or riveted. Judging by the photos taken (which can be seen here), the bridge is a pinned connected Pratt, with A-frame portal and strut bracing, and has seven panels.  Dave King, another bridge photographer took the first option of getting up close to the bridge (but probably not before talking to the nearby home owners about it first) and looking at the details of the bridge during the winter months (his photos can be seen here as well). There, one can take some assumptions about the bridge’s dimensions. As the truss bridge has seven panels, it is between 120 and 140 feet long with a 15-17 foot width, this not including the fact that the original bridge decking has long since been removed. Also noteworthy is the eye-loop connections of the vertical beam at the outermost panels, which is a rare feature for a truss bridge. The bridge originally served a local road going to Bertram until 1965, when the crossing was supplanted by the Highway 151 Bridge, as part of the project to bypass Cedar Rapids and Marion. Whether or not the road was once part of 151 is unclear, but a mystery bridge article shows the potential of the theory to be true.

A map of the bridges show where they are located so that in case you wish to visit them, you can.

 

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Mystery Bridge 31: Thacher Truss Railroad Bridge in Waverly, Iowa

Thacher Truss Bridge in background. Photo courtesy of Luke Harden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few months ago, the Chronicles did a special on the Thacher truss bridges, designed and patented by Edwin Thacher and first used in 1884 in the state of Iowa. To refresh the reader’s memory, the Thacher truss is a combination of Warren, Kellogg and Pratt truss with an A-frame in the center panel of each truss span. While the Wrought Iron Bridge was reported to have built these trusses, using the exact design prescribed by Thacher, the King Bridge Company built the hybrid version of the design that resembled a Warren truss bridge with a center panel that is half the length of the outer panels.  If you count in the Phillips Mill Crossing in Rockford, the pony truss variant located west of Milford and the three hybrid Thachers in Emmet County, Hamlin County (South Dakota) and near Hastings, Minnesota, a total of ten Thachers were reported to have been built.

With this mystery bridge, as seen in the picture, let’s make it eleven Thachers.

Fellow pontist Luke Harden came across this picture of a Cedar River crossing in Waverly. According to the information, the bridge (which is in the background behind the wagon bridge) served the Chicago and Great Western Railroad and featured at least three spans of the Thacher truss. The bridge was about 400-500 feet long, looking at the picture more closely, with each truss span being about 120 feet long. The bridge served traffic until a train derailment brought down the entire structure in 1914.

Collapse of the bridge in 1914. Photo courtesy of Hank Zaletel

This means that the structure was in place for no longer than 30 years. Even more curious is the fact that the trusses were built using a combination of wood and steel, making the railroad bridge look rather unusual for the materials used for bridge construction. While bridge builders used iron and wood for construction in the 1860s and 1870s, it is even rarer to see a wooden truss bridge built using steel truss support, although one is reported to exist in Allamakee County in the Red Bridge (abandoned for over four decades).

While the bridge no longer exists- a replacement was built but only existed for another 30 years before the railroad abandoned the line and removed the bridge- piers from the structure can be seen from Adams Parkway Bridge, located next to it in the northeast end of the city. Yet more information about the bridge is needed. For instance: when exactly was the bridge built? What were the exact dimensions? Who built this bridge? And lastly what was the cause of the mishap. Any information on the bridge can be submitted using various channels including the comment section of the Chronicles.

Furthermore, information is needed for the Adams Parkway Bridge, for the two-span truss bridge existed before its replacement in 1968, yet its markings is similar to a bridge built by the Clinton Bridge Company at the turn of the century, including the portal bracings. Both bridges will be included in the Iowa Truss Bridge book, which is being compiled by the author even as this article is being posted. Any information would be much appreciated.

With this latest discovery, it leads to the question of how many other Thacher truss bridges were built in Iowa, let alone in other parts of the US. We’ll find out more as other pontists and people finding old photos will bring bridges like this one to the attention of the readers and other interested people alike.

 

Moderne ou Historique? The newly rebuilt Sutliff Bridge

Oblique overview of the bridge. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan

What is modern and what is historic, when we look at bridges in general? This question is very difficult because it is based on the individual bridge and its appearance. Sometimes we cross a truss bridge that looks as old as the oldest members of the Baby Boomer generation (between 67 and 70 years ofn age) even though it was built in the 1980s. But we have crossed concrete bridges that appear to be modern, but are at least between 70 and 90 years of age. In the eyes of many people, a bridge is historical if and only if they are older than 50 years of age and it has a unique value that can be tied in with the history of architecture and as a whole, the history of the US. Modern bridges are those whose aesthetic value may be next to nill at the present but will increase over time as the bridge ages and the legacy of the bridge designers and contractors are mentioned. Modernization and history never ever mix on one particular bridge.

Or does it?

Looking at the Sutliff Bridge in northeastern Johnson County in Iowa, this debate has certainly been at the fore front recently, as the easternmost span of the bridge was reerected, and the bridge is now open to traffic. One has to take a look at the background information to understand its history. Built in 1898 by J.R. Sheely and Company of Des Moines, the bridge became the centerpiece of the village of Sutliff, consisting of a country store, blacksmith shop, outdoor movie theater, a nearby school and a park and pavilion. The three-span pin-connected Parker through truss bridge served as a main artery to the village until it was replaced in 1983. In 1984, the bridge was given to the Sutliff Bridge Authority (SBA), who converted the structure into a pedestrian bridge. 15 years later on 11 September, 1999, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with Ray Brannaman (founder of the SBA) quoting that “Our hope is that it’s never torn down.”

Unfortunately, on 13 June, 2008 at 12:23pm, the eastern Parker through truss span was knocked off its foundations by the raging waters of the Cedar River, carrying it 100 yards down the river before it became a pile of twisted steel at the bottom of the river. It was the same year that the 500 year flood took place, which inundated two thirds of Iowa and the cities of Cedar Rapids and Waterloo.  For four years, the bridge was nothing more than an island of two Parker truss spans. I was at the bridge twice in 2010 and last year providing my observations which can be seen by clicking here.

Fast forwarding to the present, October 2012, the bridge has been reconnected and is now open to traffic. It is still listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And the people are happy to see their bridge back in service, thanks to the efforts conducted by all parties involved, from the SBA to Johnson County to the state and federal government, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which authorized the use of federal money for the bridge, and the State Historic Preservation Office, which ensured that the rebuilt bridge matches that of the original structure to meet the guidelines of the National Register of Historic Places. Then there is the bridge builder, Iowa Bridge and Culvert, who reconstructed the bridge.

However, there are some features on the new structure that are somewhat different than the original bridge. Looking at the pictures provided by Quinn Phelan, the Historic Engineer’s Record and yours truly, can you identify them and post them in the comment section?

Going back to the topic of modern bridge versus historic bridges, many people have scoffed at the notion that the rebuilding of the Sutliff Bridge was a waste of FEMA money, while some preservationists have claimed that the rebuilt Sutliff Bridge is nothing more than just a modern bridge. What do you think of that notion? Do you think that the bridge was restored as much to its original form as possible, or do you think the truss span is just a plain modern span which is modern in its form? And if that is the case, do you think the newly built Sutliff Bridge represents a case where modern bridge meets historic bridge, and if so, do the rebuilt and original spans conform to each other or are they contrasting to each other?

Look at the pics and I’m looking forward to your thoughts on them. A follow up on the topic with some interview questions with parties involves will follow this article. Stay tuned.

Photos:

Original eastern span of Sutliff Bridge. Photo taken by HABS/HAER
Underneath the Sutliff Bridge. Photo courtesy of HABS/HAER
The two spans that survived the floods. Photo taken by the author in 2010. More photos of the bridge can be seen here
Side view of the two surviving spans. Photo taken in 2010
Portal view of the rebuilt span. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan
Vertical posts of the original Sutliff Bridge. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan
Vertical post of the new span. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan
View of the rebuilt Sutliff Bridge taken from the porch of Baxa’s Bar and Grill. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan

 

 

 

Mystery Bridge nr. 6: Ripley’s Crossing

Not so far south from Charles City, Iowa and just east of the Avenue of the Saints (US Hwy. 218 and Iowa Hwy. 27), one will find on the map, two crossings over the Cedar River: one carrying the name 240th Street (or County Highway B-59) and the Ripley Bridge Road, located just a few hundred feet to the south. While B 59 Bridge represents a modern bridge crossing with little aesthetic and historic value that is still used today by farmers tending to their fields, the other crossing, albeit extant on the Google Maps, no longer exists.
I inquired about this bridge with a colleague at the Floyd County Historical Society to find out whether this bridge existed, let alone what it looked like before its removal. This is what I was provided with:

Ripley’s Crossing. Image courtesy of the Floyd County Historical Society Photos Collection.

As you can see in the old black and white photo, the bridge was rather a large structure, consisting of a pin-connected Parker through truss bridge with Town Lattice portal bracing featuring curved heel support bracing. A builder’s plaque was located at the top of the portals, but one cannot see the print, leaving the historian in the dark as to determining when it was built and who the bridge builder was.  However, according to the information provided by the museum, the bridge was named after the family who resided near the structure, together with another family, the Parkers- even though it is highly unlikely that they are related to the inventor of the truss design, Charles H. Parker. He patented the truss design in 1884 and this type was the second-most constructed in Iowa between 1890 and 1940 behind the Pratt truss.
It is very likely that the bridge was replaced by the current structure built to the north, although it is unknown whether the truss span was removed shortly after it was open to traffic, left into place but later removed due to structure deterioration or even destroyed by natural disaster, or if the two bridges were in service side-by side but the truss bridge was taken down and not replaced because of its expandability. In either case, there are a lot of questions to be answered about this bridge; among other things:
When was the bridge built and who built it?
What is the history behind the bridge? What stories can be related to this unique structure?
When was it demolished and why?
It is known that Floyd County is rich with history related to the bridges that existed. This included the pedestrian suspension bridge in Charles City (lost to flooding in 2008 and now replaced), the Marble Rock Bridge (replaced in 1995) and the Philips Mill and Crossing over Lime Creek, one of the most unusual truss bridges ever built (now replaced). While these bridges no longer exist, they have been extensively documented and can be found in the county history books. It is likely that the existing historic structures, like the Rockford Bridge, the Nora Springs bridges, and the Main Street Bridge in Charles City will follow suit, if they have not been documented in its entirety already. It is the question of including the Ripley Bridge in the history book. Given the unique appearance and potential for history, it definitely deserves to be in the history books.

The Bridge to Nowhere? The Sutliff Bridge Story

View from the tavern- a lonesome blick since 2008 Photo taken in September, 2010

Travelling through the rolling hills of southeastern Iowa with another pontist living in the region during the late summer of this year, we came up to this bridge and were taken by surprise at the artwork mother nature did to it. On the one hand, the great flood of 2008 amputated the eastern most span towards the nearby tavern, breaking the hearts of many who grew up at the bridge and saw how the raging waters of the Cedar River, slowly and in a torturous way, removed a piece of history during the morning hours of the 13th of June, 2008. The wreckage was later found over 500 feet down stream and removed from the river. On the other hand, the river, which eventually engulfed Cedar Rapids and took out another historic bridge in there, converted the bridge into a gift for Sarah Palin, as what was left of the three span truss bridge with a long wooden trestle approach,  were  only two truss spans and that was it. Apart from the eastern span, the entire western approach to the remaining truss spans was also wiped out, making the bridge look like that “Bridge to Nowhere” the former Alaska governor and 2008 Vice Presidential candidate had been touting- before killing it in an attempt to support John McCain and his campaign to eliminate “pork barrel” politics. If Ms. Palin wanted a “Bridge to Nowhere,” this would be the place to go- at least as long as it will remain like that.

Yes, the bridge that got indirectly received the name “Bridge to Nowhere” is the Sutliff Bridge, located in northeastern Johnson County in eastern Iowa. Going beyond the name, the three-span Parker through truss bridge with a 3-rhombus Lattice portal bracings (with subdivided 45° heel bracings) and a long trestle approach on the western end, has received a lot of national (and now international) attention, as despite the arguments being presented intensively on both sides, the dream of rebuilding the bridge has now come true. To break down this story, the article will describe the history of the bridge beginning with when it was built, how the community of Sutliff joined forces to save the bridge twice and what the plan is now for rebuilding the 825 foot long structure.

First and foremost, the name Sutliff Bridge is derived not only from the village of Sutliff, which was a ferry town at the time of its construction, but it was named after the founder of the village, Allen Sutliff. Mr. Sutliff had established a ferry service in 1838 but after almost 60 years, sandbars formed after years of transporting people and horses across the wide Cedar River making the function of this service obsolete. Henceforth, the citizens of Sutliff successfully petitioned to the Johnson County supervisors for a permanent structure across the river, which was granted in December 1896. The contract was awarded to J.R. Sheely and Co. of Des Moines and a local engineer G.W. Wynn of Iowa City for $12,000 to construct the collosial structure. When it was completed in April 1898, the bridge, whose Parker through truss spans were 214 feet each, was the longest of its kind in the state of Iowa.  86 years later, citizens rallied behind the bridge by creating the Sutliff Bridge Authority and buying the bridge from Johnson County, which had planned to demolish the truss structure as soon as its replacement bridge was open to traffic. The bridge was converted to pedestrian use and was an icon to the small village, let alone to the region. Weddings were performed on the bridge, cookouts and other events brought families and friends to this unique structure. This was until that tragic day on 13 June 2008.

Now the community, Johnson County, the state historical society and people associated with the Sutliff Bridge are coming together once again to relive the experience of walking across this unique collosial structure- by rebuilding the bridge and opening it to pedestrian traffic again. Already, despite the opposition by many who claimed that the bridge was lost and spending the money to rebuild “the Bridge to Nowhere” would be a waste compared to Palin’s campaign to build that bridge to the airport on the island during her tenure as Alaska governor, two major hurdles were made. First the engineering surveys done on the two structures standing revealed that they were structurally sound for reuse. Secondly, the majority of voters as well as the county commissioners in April 2010 voted to spend approximately $2 million to rebuild the bridge. The reconstruction plan consist of rebuilding the eastern span exactly the way it looked like before it ended up in the Cedar, except pin-connections will be replaced with riveted connections using gusset plates. Furthermore, the trestle approach and the flooring system on the two standing structures will also be reconstructed. Construction is set to begin in the spring of 2011 and is expected to be completed in 2013.  The contractor responsible for the job is another Iowa City company, VJ Construction, which has been working with other agencies in reconstructing and repairing infrastructures and buildings affected by the 2008 Flood.

At the same time, fund raising drives and events will still continue as it has garnered support from over the country. There are many ways to donate to the Sutliff Bridge Authority to help with the rebuilding and maintenance of the bridge. First and foremost merchandise on the bridge can be bought at the Sutliff Bridge (Baxa’s) Tavern, which is located just east of the bridge. One can also purchase a plank for the bridge with your name on it, if you donate more than $60. One can also give to an endowment with the Community Foundation of Johnson County, which has been working together with the Bridge Authority regarding finding financial resources to realize the reconstruction plan. Other ways to donate can be done through contacting the Sutliff Bridge Authority directly. The link is enclosed.

After photographing the bridge, we decided to grab some food at the tavern and I found yet another alternative to donating: decorating the ceiling with a dollar bill to help with the cause. Realizing I was short-changed in terms of cash in possession, I added my mark in hopes that the tiniest contribution will help the cause. However, this donation was for my little daughter as I hope someday when the bridge is rebuilt and reopened to pedestrians that we can walk across it together and perhaps have a picnic on one of the spans, overlooking the Cedar River and the village of Sutliff, and under a blue sky with a cool breeze. This would be my unique father-daughter gathering. But others probably have the same idea as I do and are waiting just as anxiously as I am for the bridge to open so that we can do it. It’s just a question of taking out our wallets and making a difference for the right cause. I know this will not be my last time visiting the bridge and to those at the Sutliff Authority, it will not be the last time you receive my support for the project, as you made all this happen because we want it to happen. And we plan to contribute further so that the reopening of the bridge will be realized soon.

Photos of the Sutliff Bridge can be seen by clicking here.

Useful links:

http://communityfoundationofjohnsoncounty.org/pages/give-to-the-endowment.php

http://www.sutliffbridge.com/

Photos of the Sutliff Bridge collapse can be found here:

http://www.kcrg.com/younews/19980049.html?img=1&mg=t

Information on the bridge and more pictures by Jason D. Smith can be found here:

http://www.bridgehunter.com/ia/johnson/sutliff/