This Pic of the Week is also the first in a series of educational series on the anatomy of bridge types. For each bridge, there will be some terminologies involving bridge parts where you have to find and identify them. These words you will find in a box below.
Our first bridge type for the matching activity: The Truss Bridge. Match the bridge terms with the ones you find in the picture above. Also find the parts that do NOT appear in this picture. Good luck!
As for the bridge photo, this was taken at the Henry Bridge in Winneshiek County, Iowa in 2009. The bridge spans the Upper Iowa River on Scenic River Road northwest of Decorah and represents an example of a truss bridge that was built by the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works Company. It was one of two primary bridge builders in Winneshiek County during the age of truss bridge building between 1870 and 1920. The 1911 structure has a total length of 121 feet, has an A-frame portal bracing and pinned connections. Closed since 2016, plans are in the making to either rehabilitate the bridge to reopen for light traffic or repurpose it for bike and pedestrian use. And it’s a practical and sensible idea too, for the high bluffs of the river present an excellent backdrop for the bridge and provides an exclusive photo opportunity, especially as there is parking nearby. In fact, from various angles, even from the bluffs, one can get a great photo opportunity of this unique historic bridge. My photo formed the basis of an educational exercise like this one, where people of all ages and with a keen interest on bridges and history can take part.
This week’s Pic of the Week takes us back to 2011 and the state of Iowa. This time to Spencer, where one of two Pennsylvania through trusses still exist. The Dump Road Bridge (also known as Old Rusty) spans the Little Sioux River at 18th Avenue west of the city. Built by the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works Company in 1901, Old Rusty was brought here in 1915 after having served Main Street crossing the same river along with another through truss span for 14 years. That crossing was replaced with a multiple-span arch bridge which was replaced by the current structure in 2008. Old Rusty still serves traffic but as a light-weight three ton crossing. Fitting to its location as very few cars cross the bridge. However, due to its age, one has to start considering its prospects as a bike/pedestrian crossing in the long-run.
Belle Plaine, Iowa- Tama County: one of many Iowa counties that has more than two dozen pre-1945 bridges left in the state. This includes the steel truss Black Bridge spanning the Iowa River and the Lincoln Highway Bridge near Toledo, whose railings bear the highway’s name and which was replicated in the form of a butter sculpture seen at the Iowa State Fair last year. Yet it is one of many counties with many structurally deficient bridges, many of them being closed to traffic in the past three years.
The Chambers Ford Bridge is one of them. Located over the Iowa River at 380th Avenue, 3 miles west of Belle Plaine, this two-span bridge features steel Pratt through trusses, but each of them are different because of the their portal bracings, as well as the date of construction.
The older and longer of the spans was one of the first ones built by the Clinton Bridge and Iron Company in Clinton. It was constructed in 1890 and had a span of 155 feet with wooden trestle approaches. 13 years later, with the wooden approaches deteriorating beyond repair, the county hired another Iowa bridge builder, George E. King to construct a replacement approach span in a form of a Pratt through truss bridge, totaling 140 feet long and costing $3,987. The total length of the bridge is 345 feet long.
Since 2007 the bridge has been closed to traffic and has been the target of vandalism, as parts of the wooden decking was set ablaze by arsonists, causing damage to the bridge, albeit not as severe as the incident at Bunker Mill Bridge near Kalona, last August. Missing bolts and other bridge parts have also been reported. Yet times are changing, and the county engineer plans to replace this bridge with a pre-cast concrete bridge. However, as the truss bridge is a national historic landmark- having been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1998- the Tama County Engineer is offering the bridge to any takers willing to relocate it for reuse, regardless of whether it is only one of the two truss spans or both. The reason for this is to garner interest from parties interested in finding a new home for the structure.
At the same time, the bridge’s history will be documented, thanks in part to an agreement made between the county, the cultural resources office of the Iowa Department of Transportation in Ames, and Wapsi Valley Archeology, Inc. in Anamosa, where all stories, photos and postcards are being collected and will be used in a booklet to be published for libraries in Tama County and beyond, as well as IaDOT.
If you are interested in purchasing the bridge, please contact the Tama County Engineer, using the contact details here. If you wish to contribute to the booklet, the contact details for Wapsi Valley Archeology and Kristy Medanic (who is in charge of this project) is found here. The preservation and relocation of the Chambers Ford Bridge will make up for losing a pair of key historic bridges in 2007 at Toledo and Chelsea as well as another last year at Traer, yet it could also serve as a motive to preserving the remaining bridges of their kind in the county, for there are plenty of them- closed to traffic because of age and deficiencies- to go around and enough interest from other groups to take them for reuse. The Chronicles will follow-up on the developments of the bridge project set to begin soon.
There are more bridge types that make Des Moines one of the most populous bridges in the Midwest. As we will see in this part, truss bridges were just as popular of a bridge design as the arch bridges that were built by James Marsh and company. As many as 30 truss bridges were reported to had been built during the time span between 1870 and 1930 along the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers as well as other tributaries, including those mentioned in the first two parts of the series. The majority of them featured two or more spans. And while more than half of them were Pratt designs, there were many exceptions to the rule. Already mentioned in part II there was the Post through truss design that had existed at Court Avenue before its replacement in 1917. But like this bridge, the majority of the structures lack the information regarding its history, including the date of construction and the bridge builder. This was in part because of the fact that they were gone prior to the urban renewal period in the 1960s and after 1993. This is not good for many of these structures, like the 18th Avenue Bridge featured some decorative designs on the portal bracings, which were common during the period of bridge construction prior to 1920, when bridge builders could afford to leave their marks with ornaments and builders plaques. After 1920, with the standardization of truss bridges and the letter-shaped portal bracings (A, M and X-frames), these were seldomly used and can rarely be found today when travelling on Iowa’s highways.
Today, eight bridges are known to exist in Des Moines that have a truss design, at least two thirds of the number that had existed prior to 1970. This does not include the CGW Railroad Bridge, which was demolished in its entirety last month. While some of the structures have already been mentioned earlier, the tour of Des Moines’ truss bridges will feature the ones not mentioned. Each one will feature a location, when they were built (and replaced), what they looked like and if there is no concrete information on the bridge builder, some assumptions will be made. As they will mentioned in the Iowa Truss Bridge Book project that is being compiled by the author, any information on the bridges will be useful.
Without further ado, here are the bridges worth mentioning on the tour:
Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad Bridge at Hartford Avenue: This bridge can be seen from Hartford Avenue on the southeast end of Des Moines. The three-span subdivided Warren through truss bridge with X-frame portal bracings is the fourth bridge to be located at this crossing, for the earliest crossing was dated 1871. It was rebuilt in 1890 and again in 1915 with a four-span through truss bridge with A-frame portal bracings and pinned connections. While it can be assumed that the reconstruction in 1890 and 1915 may have to do with either flooding that damaged the spans or the increase in rail traffic, the current span was built in 1920 by the American Bridge Company and it most probably had to do with the destruction of the 1915 bridge, albeit more research and information is needed to confirm that claim. The bridge is 469 feet long and is owned by Union Pacific Railroad. However, it was part of the Rock Island Railroad with had a line connecting Indianola and Kansas City to the south, going through Des Moines enroute north to Albert Lea and Minneapolis. When the railroad company was liquidated in 1981, the line was acquired by Chicago and Northwestern, which in turn was bought by Union Pacific in 1995. 20 trains a day use this bridge.
18th Street Bridge:As seen in the picture at the very top of the article, this bridge crossed the Raccoon River at what is now Fleur Drive, southeast of the Central Academy. Before its demolition in 1936, the bridge featured four Camelback truss spans and was one of the most ornate bridges in Des Moines, let alone along the Des Moines River. More information is needed as to when the bridge was built (and by who) and why it was demolished. It is known that today’s Fleur Drive Bridge serves four-lane traffic and serves as a key link to Martin Luther King Drive and all points south of downtown Des Moines.
Inter-Urban Trail Bridge: Built in 1902, this bridge spans the Des Moines River south of the Euclid Avenue Bridge. The structure features four spans of Pratt with pinned connections, yet three of the spans feature lattice portal bracings with curved heel bracings, while the fourth and easternmost span features V-laced portal bracings with a 45° angle heel bracing- quite possibly a span that was either brought in or built on-site to replace an earlier span destroyed. This bridge used to serve the Inter-Urban Rail Line, one of eight in Iowa accomodated commuters through the 1950s. This route connected Des Moines with Colfax in Poweshiek County, a length of 23 miles. Service continued until 1949, when the freight railroads took over and people resorted to the car or bus. 33 years later, the railroad line and bridge was abandoned, but the City bought both of them to be converted into a bike trail, which was opened in 1998. With the exception of the replacement of the approach spans in 2012, the bridge today retains its integrity and still serves bike traffic, while providing access to the Neal Smith Bike Trail, which combs the Des Moines River.
Commerce Bridge:Spanning the Raccoon River, this bridge featured four truss spans which included three Camelbacks with Howe Lattice portal bracings with subdivided heels and a Pratt through truss with M-frame portal bracings. The latter was built at a later time, whereas the three Camelbacks were reportedly to had been built by the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works Company, one of many Iowa bridge builders that existed during the period between 1890 and 1930. It is unknown when they were built, let alone rebuilt, but records had it that the bridge was destroyed during the Flood of 1965. The bridge was later removed, and Commerce Street was rerouted to run along the Raccoon. All that remains are the abutments and the rapids where the bridge once stood. They can be seen as 105th Street southwest curves to the south.
Iowa Interstate Railroad Bridge: Spanning the Des Moines River south of the Red Bridge and once part of the Rock Island Railroad, the Iowa Interstate Railroad Bridge was built in 1901 by the American Bridge Company and featured eight spans of pony girders totalling 625 feet. While it used to be a double-tracked bridge, the eastbound track was abandoned and fenced off in the 1980s and today, only one track is used. It replaced a four-span lattice through truss bridge, which had served one-lane of rail traffic and was built 30 years earlier. The future of this bridge is in doubt due to its sparse use, combined with the city’s plans to raise the dikes. Already the Red Bridge was raised four feet and the CGW Railroad Bridge were removed as part of the city flood planning. It would not be surprising that the bridge’s owner, Iowa Interstate Railroad would abandon the bridge altogether, making it the target for scrap metal. But it is unknown if and when that would happen.
SW 63rd Street Bridge:Located over the Raccoon River between Brown’s Woods and Water Works Parks on 63rd Street in West Des Moines, this three-span truss bridge featured two pin-connected Pratt through truss bridges with portal bracings similar to the 5th Street Pedestrian Bridge, located downstream. It is possible that either George E. King or Clinton Bridge and Iron Works (because of the plaque on the portal bracing) had built the original span. Its northernmost span featured a Pratt through truss bridge with riveted connections and A-frame portal bracing. That bridge was most likely brought in to replace one of the original spans that was destroyed either through flooding or an accident. Little information was gathered about the bridge prior to its demolition and replacement in 1964, due to lack of interest in the history of the structure. Had the historic preservation movement started 10-15 years earlier, it would most likely have been one of the first bridges eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The National Historic Preservation Law was passed in 1966, one year after the replacement of this bridge was open to traffic.
Waterworks Park Bridge: Built in 1922, this Raccoon River crossing is one of the key attractions of Waterworks Park on the south end of Des Moines, as well as the city’s bike trail network. The crossing is 320 feet long and features two 98 foot riveted Pratt pony trusses that used to carry vehicular traffic until its closure in the 1990s. In 1999, the City converted the crossing into a bike trail bridge and has remained in that fashion ever since.
SW Ninth Street Bridge: This Raccoon River crossing is perhaps one of two bridges on this tour that has the least amount of information on its history, despite the fact that it was replaced with the current bridge in 1967. The structure featured three spans of pin-connected Pratt through trusses with Howe lattice portal bracings. Yet that is about it as far as further information is concerned…..
Old Highway 46 Bridge: This is the second of the two bridges that is missing information (including dimensions) and even more detailed photos than what is shown in the link. No information was found in the historic bridge survey conducted in the early 1990s. Located southeast of Des Moines, this multiple-span polygonal through truss bridge was built in 1938 and was removed 60 years later when the Hwy. 65 freeway opened. Other than that, there was no information as to whether a previous structure had existed before that, let alone who the bridge builder was that built the 1938 structure. It is known though that the removal of the bridge came despite protests from farmers, who wanted the bridge open so that they can haul farm equipment across it. Yet because the valley where the bridge was located was flood prone, safety precautions were taken and the bridge was removed. Today, portions of the highway exist on its original path from Avon to the river and from there to Des Moines, terminating at Hwy. 163. Interestingly enough, a railroad bridge located adjacent to the bridge was removed in 1968 after the railroad decided to reroute the line through Indianola enroute to Knoxville. A section of the railroad line exists but makes a dead-end at the power plant located on the north side of the river.
Ashworth Park Truss Bridge:This is one of three bridges that straddle Walnut Creek carrying Iowa Interstate Railroad through Des Moines (the other two are Pratt pony trusses). The 1897 Warren through truss bridge with Howe lattice portal bracings and riveted connections used to serve dual track rail traffic until the 1990s when it was reduced to only one track. The bridge still serves traffic and can be seen up close from the bike trail while passing through Waterworks Park.
This sums up the tour through Des Moines. The truss bridge portion of the tour is rather the most interesting, but the most challenging if one wants to find information and photos of the structure. As some of the structures will be included in the Iowa Truss Bridge Book project, if you have any information that is useful for the project, or for other people who are interested in bridges in general, you can leave a comment here, or you can contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles at firstname.lastname@example.org. Aside from that, it is hoped that people will have an opportunity to visit the bridges while in Des Moines and listen (or read) the stories involved with each of them, for the bridges span a total of 160 years and three periods, both in terms of materials (wood-iron/steel- concrete) as well as the period of bridge building (trusses-arch-modern bridges). Through the interest in history, you are doing more than just collect stories, you are sharing them with others as well, for there is no such thing as no interest in history. Without history, we are ignorant and a group of people with no identity, no pride and no soul. We take pride in history to ensure we know who we are and bridges are an integral part of our history.
Author’s Note:More info can be obtained by clicking on the links marked in the heading and text. Special thanks to John Marvig for photographing the bridges and allowing usage in this article.
102-year old truss bridge scheduled for replacement; lumberjacks provide county with head start.
Over 80 historic bridges will be the focus of the upcoming Historic Bridge Weekend in Iowa during the weekend of August 9-12. Sadly, this bridge will be gone well before the event. The Traer Bridge, spanning Wolf Creek carrying Mill Street on the outskirts of the small community of 1700 inhabitants in Tama County is scheduled to be replaced beginning in July. Yet work on the 1911 riveted Pratt through truss bridge, built by the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works Company, has already started. As you can see in the most recent photos taken by J.R. Manning, loggers have started to cut down trees at and near the bridge, signalling the plan to build the structure on a new alignment. This makes sense given the fact that the bridge can be reached through a pair of sharp curves, one on each end of the structure. Yet if there was a plan to keep the structure for recreational purposes, that was destroyed due to a tree falling onto the truss bridge itself, causing severe damage to the southern half of the entire structure. As parts of the tree is still hanging on the overhead bracing of the bridge, the structure is in danger of collapse.
Whether this was done on purpose to accelerate the process or if was done by carelessness remains unclear, but given its poor track record on saving the remaining historic bridges that exist, Tama County seems to be getting rid of them at the quickest possible convenience. Several key historic bridges, including the Toledo Bridge (another Clinton Bridge structure), two LincolnHighway bridges in and around Chelsea and several pony truss bridges have been replaced since 2000. The LeGrande Bridge over the Iowa River was lost to flooding in 2008 and has long since been removed. In addition, a half dozen bridges, including another Wolf Creek structure at W-Avenue have been closed to through traffic due to issues of their own. A couple of them, including the Chambers Ford Bridge over the Iowa River have sustained damage thanks to vandals. The future of these bridges remain questionable. And this despite the fact that the county has numerous historic bridges still in use, including the famous Lincoln Highway Bridge in Tama, whose railings resemble the name of the 100-year old highway.
The damage to this bridge combined with its neglect since its closure should serve as a signal to the county and the community that more proper care is needed to ensure that the historic bridges in that county (and elsewhere) remain in use, even long after the Historic Bridge Weekend has ended in August. Otherwise, there will no longer be any examples of American history left for younger generations to see, and the number of people born after 1980 who are interested in these bridges have increased exponentially since 2000, which should give people in places like Tama County an incentive to save structures like this bridge, which unfortunately will not be one of the fortunate ones.
Note: The replacement bridge will not be made of wood, as many may wish. The replacement structure will be a 130 foot long concrete slab structure.
Australian Traveller that loves to "Roam" our globe, creator of ENDLESSROAMING.COM sharing the experience through word and photography. Currently residing in my home of Newtown Sydney but hope to be back on the road late 2020. Feedback / questions are more than welcome, happy travels