Introducing: The 2013 Smith Awards for Spectacular Disasters

Leo Frigo Memorial Bridge in Green Bay, Wisconsin: One of many bridges that was in the news because of a collapse of an approach span. Photo courtesy of Robert Thompson, used with permission

Aside from new categories for the 2013 Othmar H. Ammann Awards, the Smith Awards, where the author picks the best and worst news in the world of (historic) bridges, also has a new category that will be featured this year. With all the bridge disasters that have happened so far this year, caused by Mother Nature, recklessness and freak accidents, the Smith Awards will introduce the category for Spectacular Disasters. And unlike other categories for the Smith Awards, you will have an opportunity to vote to see which story should receive the award. Already nominated for this year’s Award includes the following (click on the link for more details):

The Sagging of the Leo Frigo Memorial Bridge in Green Bay, Wisconsin

The Destruction of the Big Bureau Creek Bridge in Bureau County, Illinois

The Destruction of a Railroad Trestle through fire in San Saba County, Texas

The Collapse of the I-5 Skagit River Bridge in Washington State

Bridge Collapse caused by train wreck in Rockview, Missouri

Destruction of the Canadian River Bridge by tornado west of Oklahoma City

Do you have any other bridge disaster stories that are worth nominating? If so, you have until December 1st at 12:00am Central Standard Time to submit your stories to Jason Smith at the Chronicles at The nominations are open to all bridges in the US, Canada, Europe and elsewhere, and you must include a link to the bridges, so that people can have a look at the entries and vote for them. Bridges destroyed by arson are not included for they belong to the Bonehead Category. Voting will commence at the same time as with the Ammann Awards and the winners will be announced the same time as the winners will be announced- namely before Christmas.

This year has been an unusual year as far as bridge disasters are concerned for they have affected all bridges, young and old and regardless of bridge type. We’re hoping that we can work to address the safety on the bridges, which starts off with maintaining them to ensure that they are safe to cross. Then it is followed by addressing the rules of crossing them, and lastly ensure that their importance in history and as a reference to bridge building is stressed. Only then will disasters like these (and more entries to come) can be avoided.

Bridgehunter Chronicles supports the victims of Superstorm Sandy

We have seen many disaster films where megastorms, whether they are hurricanes, snowstorms, sandstorms or a combination of them and then some burrow in on the cities, destroying buildings, places of interest and the lives of thousands of people. The film that depicted the wrath of Mother Nature at its worst and is still one of the best of all time was “The Day After Tomorrow,” produced in 2004. In that film, half of the US and the world underwent unprecedented weather changes where series of storms caused by global warming caused the area to become nothing more than ice and snow.

Superstorm Sandy, consisting of a hurricane originating from the Bahamas, Cuba and Jamaica, as well as a Noreaster storm from the west and an Arctic cold front from Canada, may not have turned the northeastern portion of the United States back towards the Ice Age, like it was depicted into the film, but the moment the storm made landfall on Monday, it was 100% clear that the livelihood of the 50+ million people living in the area and the landscape would change forever. After taking a look at the pictures provided by many mediums, including CNN, all one can say is unbelievable. Worse than Katrina, Worse than Andrew. And with the snowfall that accompanied the storm, it made the Winter 2010/11 look like a dwarf with 3-4 feet of snow in one punch. It is only a miracle that the casualties are light (only 31 dead in the US and Canada at the time of this entry).

It is unknown how many historic bridges have been damaged or destroyed, as the information is lacking at the present. But as the cleanup continues, it is certain that many of them may have become part of the infrastructural casualties, for like the transit system that links Washington and New York and is still shut down, many of the structures over rivers and ravines may have been washed away by flood waters, burned to the ground because of electric fires or flattened by falling trees. In either case, it will take a few days before we know how many bridges were sacrificed in this storm of the century, let alone which ones and where.

But you can help. If you know of a historic bridge that was affected by Superstorm Sandy, please write to the columnist and provide some information about the bridge (its location, history and bridge type) and how it was affected by the Superstorm. There are three ways to inform the readers about the bridges: One is directly to the columnist using the following e-mail address: The stories will be posted individually and in separate articles. You can also put your information in the Comment section at the end of this article. And you can also post your stories through the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles page on facebook. Photos of the bridge before and after the storm are strongly encouraged. Your name will be anonymous if requested. The goal is to inform the public on a wider scale about the structures affected and allow them to contribute in rebuilding them.

It will take months for people to recover from this disaster, which is still ongoing. But what they need from you is help, in rebuilding their lives, their homes and their communities and their history. There are many organizations both in the US and internationally that are available. Please contact them if you are interested. Some links to the ones I found are below.  The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles has thoughts and prayers going out to those affected by the storm and is right behind you all the way in the recovery efforts.

Organizations that are assisting people in need because of Superstorm Sandy:

American Red Cross  (

AmeriCares (

The Salvation Army  (

Operation USA  (

Mystery Bridge nr. 5: Orr Bridge

Photo courtesy of Clayton Fraser

This month is where a lot of mystery bridges come to light. When presented into the limelight, it is hoped that people with knowledge and stories will step up to the plate and shed some light on the structure. Minus the last entry, the fifth mystery bridge takes us back once again to Harrison County, Iowa, and to this bridge.

Located over four miles northeast of Missouri Valley over the Boyer River at 290th Avenue, this Pennsylvania Petit through truss bridge was one of the longest of the truss bridge types that existed in Iowa, with a span of 225 feet. The bridge was unique because of the Town Lattice portal bracing, as can be seen in the picture above. Most Pennsylvania Petit trusses in Iowa featured either an A-frame or a Howe Lattice portal bracing, which was typical, as these bridges are large and long on the one hand, but vulnerable to extreme weather and heavy loads to a point where the overhead bracing was not enough to support the upper trusses. Any portal bracing with diagonals were needed to reinforce the bridge and ensure that the Pennsylvania Petit did not blow over to the side.

Example of a Pennsylvania Petit with A-frame portal bracing: Thunder Bridge over the Big Sioux River west of Spencer, Iowa. Built in 1905 by the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works, the bridge is 181 feet long. Photo taken in August 2011

While almost all of the Pennsylvania Petits were constructed exclusively by the Clinton Bridge and Iron Company in Clinton, Iowa, it is unknown when the Orr Bridge was built, let alone who built it. Records indicated that the bridge was relocated from an unknown location in either Kansas or Missouri in the 1950s to replace a crossing that may have been one of many victims of the Great Flood of 1945 that wreaked havoc in western Iowa. But more information is needed to determine the bridge’s origins, let alone how it was transported into Iowa, like its counterparts, the California Bridge crossings and the Gochenour Bridge.

The story about the Orr Bridge ends on a sad note for it no longer exists. According to locals, it was destroyed by a tornado on 16 May, 1999 and despite pleas by the public to construct a new bridge, it fell on deaf ears by the county and the road was later abandoned. The Orr Bridge is one of the most unique bridges that existed in the county and one whose history is still open and left to be solved. To have a proper closing, here are some questions I have for anyone that has information about this bridge:

1. When exactly was the bridge relocated and who oversaw the relocation efforts,

2. Where (in Missouri or Kansas) did the bridge originate from,

3. When was the bridge first built and who built it, and

4. What is the story behind the bridge, both at its place of origin as well as in Harrison County prior to its tragedy in the hands of the tornado?

Any leads and information can be sent to the following e-mail address:  Looking forward to your comments on the bridge.


Interesting Fact: The tornado that annihilated the Orr Bridge was the same one that wreaked havoc on the county seat of Logan, indiscriminately damaging or destroying many homes and buildings. Many historic sites at the county historic village were either leveled or severely damaged. Two people were killed in the twister and many others were injured. The city has since recovered from that disaster. Another historic truss bridge at 8th Street was one of many structures that were spared by the tornado. It has now been closed to traffic.