Paper Mill/Marshall Bridge: Rising from the Ashes- An Interview with Julie Bowers

 

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What is considered the impossible became the impossible. David never gave up on the notion of beating Goliath until it actually happened. Some heavily favorites can fall to the underdogs. All it takes is patience, preserverence, passion and persistence- the four Ps to success. Five if you want to include politics.

For Julie Bowers and the crew at Workin Bridges, those five Ps were needed plus some personnel with expertise and just as much of the five Ps to bring a bowstring arch bridge back from the rubble, resurrect the structure, restore it to its former glory and now, it’s being reused for recreation. That is the story behind the history of the Marshall Bostring Arch Bridge located now at the Auburn Heights Preserve in Delaware. It has gone by many names, but two come out as the most commonly used aside from its official name: the McIntyre Bowstring Arch Bridge when it was in Iowa, and most recently, Paper Mills Bridge. The bridge has come a long way after it was destroyed by flooding in August 2009 at its original location in Poweshiek County, spanning the Skunk River. After it was pulled from the river and stored, efforts were undertaken to restore it, which included a long journey to its new home in Yorklyn, Delaware. The Odyssey came with a lot of challenges, as you will see in the interview I did with Julie Bowers before Christmas.  I wanted to find out how the 5 Ps played a role in bringing the bowstring arch bridge that is like a family to her and the crew who restored it back to life. Here’s how the story happened. Enjoy! 🙂

 

1. Tell us briefly about yourself and your role in restoring historic bridges. I’ve been doing this for ten years. I knew nothing about bridges or restoration or bureaucratic politics when our bridge was lost to the N. Skunk River. I did have a background in construction, architecture and databases and used that as a base to build on. I don’t give up and have been called stubborn. We could not do this without a lot of sacrifice by everyone that travels to save a bridge but mostly we couldn’t do it without Bach Steel and Nels Raynor and our board of directors, both current and past.

 

 

  1. In your opinion, how special is the Paper Mill Bridge (PMB) in terms of its history and personal association with it?

It was erected in 1883, built by the King Iron Bridge Company. We think it is from around 1878 production design based on the lacing in the vertical outriggers and the castings. The bridge of many names (Skunk River Bridge, Humpback Bridge, McDowell for a minute then McIntyre, then Paper Mill) now the Marshall Family Bridge, is the heart of the Auburn Heights Preserve in Yorklyn, Delaware. A public / private partnership to clean up zinc laden habitat, to rebuild old warehouses including the Paper Mill and to build a trail system using historic bridges. If we had not had this project we would not have saved our bridge. It was a lot more work after falling in the river but it will live on.

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  1. Prior to its relocation from Iowa to Delaware, the PMB was once known as the McIntyre Bridge. Tell us about the bridge in its original location.

The bridge was located on River Road over the N. Skunk River in SE Poweshiek County. Our family had ties to the area and found ourselves there often for fall and winter picnics. When I returned to Iowa in 2001, we restarted those picnics. It fit it’s location perfectly and was safely in a park until flooding pushed it off it’s piers.

 

  1. In 2010, floodwaters swept the bridge off its foundations and caused severe damage. Tell us more about it and how it influenced your decision to restore the bridge.

My daughter and I found the bridge on the Sunday following Friday the 13th. We heard later the county crews were pulling trees up river that were compromising a concrete span. They came on down river and the roots entangled with the cable railing and pushed the span off the piers. It was our bridge, my family had been tied to that place for generations and I got the call. What are you going to do? We started educating ourselves, making calls, and figuring out our options. Turns out, all we needed was Bach Steel at that time, before the bridge went down.

 

  1. What was the plan for restoring the McIntyre Bridge in its original place and why did it fail?

It was just decisions that let us keep trying to figure out how much it cost and how to find the funds. There were setbacks, grant rejections, a lot of them, but we persevered. Our first plan was research, we were referred to Vern Mesler and Nathan Holth and had them  come to Iowa. We raised $3000 for that consult.  The bridge was still up at that point. When the bridge fell we were told about Nels Raynor and we proceeded with Nels to pull the bridge from the river and to work with us on this bridge and others. My daughter, Laran Bowers is on the board now, has been for years and that makes sense. She was the one that found the bridge. Jaydine Good rounds out the board and we have about 5 advisors that we utilize all the time for their perspectives. We wrote grants to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), getting our County involved.

They subsequently reneged on their commitment to a TAP grant and we knew grants would never be our solution. When the county commissioners took back their backing, we knew that the solution was not going to be there and started looking. Flooding in August of 2009 changed everything from restoration plans to salvage, then restoration. No one ever decided not to save the bridge, it was always our number 1 priority through all of our efforts. We’ve educated a lot of folks on knowing the project before deciding to continue or not. We always knew our project costs from the beginning.

 

 Author’s Note: TAP stands for Transportation Alternative Program which focuses mainly on bridge rehabilitation/restoration instead of replacement.

 

6.  What happened to the McIntyre Bridge afterwards?

It went to Bach Steel for storage while we tried raising funds. Then we brought it back to Iowa because SHPO said we had moved the bridge out of Iowa. Then SHPO delisted the bridge because it was moved off it’s piers, they didn’t believe our scope and estimate, and the bridge was stored while we worked on other projects, became a contractor and tried earning funds rather than asking for funds.

 

Author’s Note: The bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1980s along with two dozen other bowstring arch bridges in Iowa. Because of its significance, grants were available to restore the bridge but only at its original location. The bridge can be delisted if it’s either altered beyond historic recognition, destroyed by natural disaster or demolition or moved to another location. Some exceptions do apply.

 

7. How and when did the opportunity to relocate and restore the McIntyre Bridge come about?

Nels Raynor and I worked with Project PATH at PennDOT with Kara Russell and Preservation Pennsylvania, providing scope and estimates on several bridges. Without that information it is very hard to sell a bridge in their program. That lead to a call from DNREC. McIntyre Bridge was certainly our choice although Nels would have preferred others that might not have had as much damage. It was a lot of work and the care that Derek and Lee and their crew put into the restoration was immense. There was twisting along the box chord but if you look close today, you will see very little distortion.

More on PATH: https://path.penndot.gov/

 

8. How was the bridge reconstructed?

Very carefully. It’s a bridge that will take pedestrians and we care. This is a bowstring truss. The eye-bars are connected with castings and pins to make the length  of the bridge and the verticals hit the eye-bars, connected with cast parts. The trusses were laid opposite to each other, so that they could be picked up nearly in place and then the lateral connections were put in. Miles of angle were welded together to make the vertical “star iron / cruciform posts that were beyond repair. This is what we call in-kind restoration which means if we have to recreate parts we do that.  The trusses required mending, heat straightening, pack rust removal and it took a long time to essentially rebuild our bridge. Nels did that for us because he said he would.

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9. Who were the actors involved in the restoration?

There were no actors involved. It took the expertise of Nels Raynor at Bach Steel along with his crew over years. It also took finding James Schiffer, P.E. Now he does some work for others but the original team of Workin Bridges was Nels, Jim and I. Derek and Lee Pung worked the most on the bridge, along with Nels son Brock and others that have learned iron working arts during this project.

10. What other factors led to the success in restoring the bridge?

Perseverance, not patience, and finding other work along the way, not just waiting around for grants and then deciding grants and donations aren’t enough. We started working the construction angle to have the funds to pay for overhead while some grants were pursued. Remember, you can’t do anything after the grant goes in. 6 months to wait for denial is no fun. As we went along we found more and more opportunities and we know what failure looks like. The board, under the direction of my father Dick Bowers, Gary Sanders, Diane Roth, Laran Bowers and now Jaydine Good have kept me pursuing the best outcome for our bridge and helping other people with their bridges.

 

11.  The bridge was renamed Paper Mill Bridge and later Marshall? Why was that? 

The Marshall Family owned the Paper Mill and the Mansion and a collection of vintage Stanley Steemers and other collectible vehicles. They donated this to the state parks system and DNREC wanted to honor the family by naming the bowstring after them. Marshall Family Bridge was dedicated last year while Mr. Marshall could be there.

 

12.  Paper Mill Bridge is now in Delaware, but there is talk of adding some bridges, a couple from Pennsylvania. Can you elaborate further on this?

Part of Project PATH was a pony truss bridge for sale that we added to the complement of bridges from York County, PA. The project criteria were to find bridges with different builders, types and ages from different states to complement the mills being restored. That bridge, now called Farm Lane, is a pony truss that we modified for strength and width with girders. We also widened it to allow for a pedestrian lane, and engineered it for vehicular traffic with a moveable railing if emergency or agricultural vehicles need to cross. Martin Road will become Snuff Mill. A pratt truss from Michigan has been restored and is being painted, awaiting installation at NVF.  Another large truss, the Portland Water Works bridge is in storage in Delaware for future installation after we purchased and transported it across country two years ago.

 

 13.     How would you theme the project, Saving the Paper Mill Bridge either as a title or in one sentence? The Skunk River Bridge Story – 1883 to present

 

14.   What future bridge restoration projects do you have on the agenda, especially the bowstring arch bridge, like the Paper Mill?

We are working on Watts Mill Road Bridge, a rare continuous pony truss, we have tried to take on Aetnaville Bridge in Wheeling as a restoration project knowing that $2.5 million could be useful for preservation. We saved the Springfield Des-Arc bridge in a new park, that was another bowstring. I think we are instrumental in Pennsylvania and Ohio utilizing Bach Steel to save bowstrings now. If they are the Kings of Kings, we know where that started. Any that we can find now will go into the “Bridge in a Box” sales program that we are developing. Of course we expanded on the Old Richardsville Bridge and are hopeful that the engineers will be required to work with us on the restoration needs. We found little to fix but the Kentucky Cabinet likes spending funds on local certified engineers, lots of money. We got the process started to showcase that it was much older and it will be preserved as a vehicular bridge. That took historical research from the bridge hunting community which was great to dial in the history that negated the NPS dates for NRHP.

 

 15. What words of advice would you give to those who are pursuing preserving and reusing a historic bridge, based on your personal experiences with this bridge?

It is always political. Find the economic benefits for the bridge to the local community. You can’t assume that they will take it on like Beaver County did with Watts Mill Road Bridge after it is reset. Engineers estimates are overly high so get another opinion. Engineers are asked specific questions by their clients that they answer – their answers don’t always look at preservation. For instance, the engineers estimate for Broadway Bridge in Frankfort assumes putting concrete back on it and doesn’t even consider planks or an engineered decking system. Some DOTS are really working hard at finding solutions, but we have to become competitive in selling a “Bridge in a Box – by Bach”  if we want to be competitive with those selling welded steel spans. Convincing and branding a membership driven “Workin'” non profit would create funds annually to help save bridges and other structures. We’ve looked into many ideas, some have merit, some do not. For now we do site visits that give real costs for restoration so that our clients can have enough information for good decisions to be made. We will be crafting more stories on video and perhaps a book on the McIntyre – we have footage of my father and other locals when we first started. We also have content on a lot of site visits that we will start to analyze and put out as well. Having a wonderful board that won’t let you give up even in the face of struggles is the secret. There will be struggles and set backs. Engineers want to build new bridges and cities don’t want the risks of old ones. We try to mitigate the risks.

It’s hard. We’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons as we pursued this. No good deed ever goes unpunished but there are a lot of great people and wonderful stories across the US. We saved our bridge but it took a lot out of all of us and it wasn’t the outcome we wanted but it was the best outcome for the bridge. Can’t wait to walk it again soon.

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Epilog: The Paper Mill/ Marshall Bridge has received a lot of national and international recognition after its reconstruction and re-erecting at its new home in Delaware, including the 2018 Ammann Awards for Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge and Bridge of the Year, edging out the Blackfriar’s Bridge in Canada, whose design is similar to this bridge. While Blackfriar’s still retains the role of being the world’s longest of its kind, this bridge will definitely go down in the history books as one which was resurrected after a tragedy and is now being used again after years of hard work and lots of expertise. It sets the foundation for other historic bridge restorations that will come in the new decade, for they are becoming more important to save for future generations as the numbers dwindle due to progress and environmental disasters that are partly due to that progress. Progress is not welcomed unless we see some advantages in these. And as we learned this year with Greta Thunberg’s world tour, the environment will indeed be priority number one in our future plans for making things better. This is one of the projects that will benefit many.

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Major Storm Destroys Major Highway Bridge in New Zealand

300 meter long motorway bridge over the Waiho at Franz Josef Washed Away in the Storms

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FRANZ JOSEF (NEW ZEALAND)-

Less than two weeks after the mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, which left 50 people dead and scores injured, residents on the South Island of New Zealand are dealing with another mishap- this time by Mother Nature.  Storms and high winds, producing rainfall of up to 550 mm or 10% of the yearly rainfall amount caused widespread flooding and erosion in the Franz Josef Glacier Region and putting tourism in the town of Franz Josef/Waiau, with 450 inhabitants, plus areas along the Waihou River in peril. At the time of this posting, one person was reported to have died after being swept away by floodwaters.

Many roads have been washed out and bridges damaged. But one bridge in particular, which connects Franz Josef with areas near Haast, has been washed away by floodwaters, thus leaving tourists stranded and having to look for another crossing. The Waihou Bridge at Franz Josef lost two thirds of its spans on Tuesday, as the raging river, ripped the bridge off its abutments, broke off two spans sending it down the river and left a third one hanging in the water. A video taken by a spectator shows the destruction of the bridge:

 

The six-span bridge was a Bailey pony truss with a total length of approximately 300 meters long. The width was no more than 6 meters, which meant only one car could cross and a speed limit of 30 kilometers/hour was enforced. It is unknown when that bridge was built, let alone how long until a replacement span is constructed. It did serve a major highway going along the West Coast of the South Island. Just minutes before the wash-out, there were people on the bridge viewing the rising waters of the Waiho River, some filmed it from the bridge before getting off. The disaster happened when no one was on the bridge.

 

 

Ironically, another key bridge, the Waihou Swinging Bridge near Franz Josef, was not affected by the floods and is still open for hikers and pedestrians. The 90-year old bridge was fabricated in England before it was shipped to New Zealand. It still is a popular attraction for tourists.

Franz Josef is 32 kilometers away from the nearest city of Whataora to the northeast. It is on the western side of the island, almost exactly opposite of Christchurch but over 450 flying kilometers away to the east.

 

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Flooding Washes Out 1960s Era Viaduct in Texas

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Lake LBJ/Llano River Crossing connecting Kingsland Washed Out by Flash Floods. No Casualties Reported.

Sometimes communities have one key crossing that is considered an icon to some but to the most, the lifeline that connects families and brings families together. The Kingsland Crossing is that key icon that keeps the community of Kingsland in central Texas together. Built in 1969 to replace a multiple-span Parker through truss Bridge, this 1200-foot Long, multiple-span concrete stringer bridge carries Texas Highway 2900 and connects the community to the North and the areas to the south, including Sunrise Beach Village. The river it spans is actually a lake that was created in 1950 under the name Granite Lake Shoals, where the Llamo and Colorado Rivers meet. Yet the lake was renamed after Lyndon B. Johnson, the US President who succeeded John F. Kennedy after he was assassinated on 22 November, 1963.

Sadly as of 16 October, 2018, the Kingsland Crossing is no more. Floodwaters that afternoon washed out 80% of the entire bridge after it had flowed over the roadways. No one was on the Bridge at that time as it had been closed off. Water levels in the region rose to over 13 feet above flood stage, thus forcing the evacuations of hundreds along the area. One person has been reported dead as of this post. A pair of videos shows the bridge as it was being carried away by the floodwaters as well as drone footage of the bridge remnants after flood levels had receded:

There is no word yet as to how much damage the flooding has inflicted in the area nor how people will be able to access the area temporarily until a new span is built. This Bridge should not be mistaken for another Kingsland Bridge that exists, which is The Slab. Built during the era of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the low-water crossing spans the Llamo River over granite cliffs, etc. at Highway 3404 and is a popular attraction for sunbathers, swimmers and hikers. Even though the Slab is flooded on various occasions, it is unknown whether it survived this flood. More news will come as the river levels go down and people survey the damage and casualties.

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Kingsland has a population of 4,600 inhabitants and is located 65 miles northwest of Austin, the state capital of Texas. The nearest City is Llano., which is 20 miles to the southeast. Kingsland is famous for the Grand Central Cafe Restaurant and Club Car Bar, the site where the Horror film Texas Chainsaw Massacre was produced in the 1980s. The Slab can be see in this clip below:

 

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Flooding Devastates Bridges in Missouri, Arkansas and Surrounding States

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Photo taken by Dave Walden and Roamin Rich

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ST LOUIS/ GASCONADE- Looking at this picture taken by Roamin Rich, it presents more volumes than words can ever describe. The Great Flash Flood of 2017, which has been occurring since 30 April but the worst of it was during the date between then and 3 May,  can be compared to the one from 2008 in the Midwest in terms of its massive flow of water and the destruction that was left behind. Hundreds of houses and businesses, many of them more than 80 years old and considered historic, were washed away, and with that the livelihoods of families and business owners.

Many roads were washed away, however, as you can see in the Route 66 Bridge at Gasconade, closed to traffic since 2015, the undermining of asphalt uncovered the original concrete roadway that was laid there when the highway connecting Chicago and Los Angeles via Tulsa was designated and built in 1926. This leads to the question of whether to uncover the rest of the roadway and restore the concrete or pave it over. This is important because the debate is heating up regarding ownership and planned restoration of the structure and the Missouri Department of Transportation’s plan to construct a new bridge alongside the two-span truss bridge and defer ownership to a party willing to repurpose it for recreational use. But that is another story (click here for more about this bridge).

But the Gasconade Bridge also represents several bridges that were negatively affected by the floods. Several structures in Missouri alone have been destroyed- not just historic bridges but also modern bridges built in the 1970s and 80s, thus making them just as vulnerable to catastrophes like this as their predecessors.  James Baughn has compiled a list of bridges affected by the flooding for the Bridgehunter.com website (which you can click here for more details). The Chronicles will summarize the top five that are affected besides the Gasconade Bridge, whose repair work will obviously will be needed in order to make it passable again. We will keep you informed on the latest in Missouri, as clean-up efforts are underway.

 

The Author’s Top Five:

Bruns Bridge- Located over the Meramec River south of Moselle in Franklin County, this 1888 structure was the product of the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, where they fabricated the steel and one of Zenas’ sons, George, whose bridge company was located in Des Moines, oversaw the construction of the pinned connected Pratt through truss with X-frame portal bracings. The 193-foot span was knocked off its foundations and rushing waters slammed it into its replacement span, turning it into twisted metal. A video of the disaster describes it in details. With Franklin County eager on demolishing the remaining truss bridges in the county because of liability issues, one cannot expect this bridge to be restored unless it is relocated out of state, which is currently being sought in Winneshiek County, Iowa after the collapse of the Gilliece Bridge because of an overweight truck.

James Bridge- Ozark County faces at least 20 bridges that either have approach spans wiped out, severely damaged by flooding, both or completely destroyed. The James Bridge over the North Fork White River at Highway PP represents the last variant but in a spectacular fashion. The 1958 bridge, consisting of two polygonal Warren spans with riveted connections that were built by J.W. Githens, was flipped over by rushing waters, crushing the trusses under the weight of its own decking. Originally slated for replacement, this disaster will surely expedite the process as the highway is heavily traveled. But motorists will have to wait a few months before a crossing can be built.

Irwin C. Cudworth Memorial Bridge- Also known as the Hammond Bridge, this North White River Crossing at Highway CC represents a bridge type that is modern on one hand but is still not safe from the floodwaters. The 1975 steel stringer span was wiped out by floodwaters, leaving just the piers and abutments in tact. Despite plans for rebuilding the bridge, one will really need to examine what type of bridge to be built and how high it should be built. Regardless of material and type, no modern bridge is safe from mother nature. This bridge is the eighth modern bridge built after 1975 that has been destroyed since 2012. This includes the infamous interstate bridge collapse in Atlanta, which happened on 30 March, which was caused by a fire. That bridge, which carries Interstate 85, is being rebuilt and should reopen later this summer.

Devil’s Elbow Bridge- Another US 66 Bridge located over Big Piney River in Pulaski County, this two-span Parker through truss structure, which was built in 1923, had been restored and reopened to traffic in 2014, yet flooding put the structure partially underwater. Fortunately, because of the success of the restoration, the bridge withstood the pressure from the rushing water, plus debris from the nearby historic hotel and houses that succumbed under the pressure. Plans are underway to rebuild the hotel.

Windsor Harbor Bridge- Located over Rock Creek near the Mississippi River in Kimmswick in Jefferson County, this bridge is of growing concern as floodwaters of the mighty river has inundated the structure, causing concern for undermining the piers and abutments of this through truss bridge. The bridge was built by the Keystone Bridge Company in 1874 at its original location in St. Louis. It was relocated to its present site in 1930 and was converted to pedestrian traffic when it was restored and repurposed in 1985. It’s well noted because of its Keystone columns and ornamental portals, all constructed with wrought and cast iron.

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 71: The Two Rivers Golf Course Bridge in Sioux City, Iowa

Photo courtesy of Iowa DOT; submitted to bridgehunter by Luke Harden

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After a brief history of the Bonnie Doon Railroad and its main crossing over the Rock River in Lyon County, the next mystery bridge takes us down the Big Sioux River to its last original crossing, before the coming of the Interstate Highway era, until its confluence with the Missouri River. The Three Corner’s Bridge is located at the site of the Two Rivers Golf Course in Sioux River, spanning the river at the Iowa/ South Dakota border, approximately two miles west of the point where the two rivers merge, as well as the two states and Nebraska meet. The crossing used to be located north of the last physical crossing before its junction, the I-29 bridge, which has been serving traffic since the mid-1950s. It is most likely that the crossing is at the place where a pedestrian crossing, which provides access to the golf course, is located. Yet more information is needed to either support or counter these claims.

But before going into the debate on this structure’s actual location, let’s have a look at the bridge itself. The structure that used to exist appeared to have two different truss bridges built from two different time periods. What is clear is the truss span on the right appears to be much older- having been built in the 1880s and consisting of a pin-connected through truss bridge with V-laced end-posts and an X-frame portal bracings with curved heels. The diagonal beams appear to be much thinner than the vertical beams, this leading to the question of whether the former were built using thin iron beams or with steel wiring. In addition, the design of the bridge leads to the question of its stability, which leads to the question of whether the bridge collapsed under weight or by flooding and was replaced by the span on the left, a Parker through truss span, made of steel, with pinned connections, A-frame portal bracings and featuring beams that are thicker and sturdier. The span on the right, which appeared to be an all-iron structure, had at least two spans total- one of which spanned the main river channel and was replaced by the Parker span. The Parker span was one that is typical of many Parker spans along the Big Sioux River, having been built between 1900 and 1915 by the likes of Western Bridge Company of Lincoln, Nebraska, Clinton Bridge Company of Clinton, Iowa, and the bridge builders from the Minneapolis School of Bridge Builders- namely Commodore P. Jones, Alexander Bayne, as well as Seth and William S. Hewett.  However, it does not mean that the Parker span replaced the lost iron span during that time. It is possible that it was put in place between the 1930s and 1950s, which was the time when bridges were relocated and reused as replacements because of the scarcity of steel on the count of the Great Depression, followed by the onset of World War II and later, the Korea War. With flooding that occurred during the 1940s, especially in 1945-6, it it possible that the Parker was relocated to the spot because of that. Records have already indicated multiple bridge replacements in that fashion, including those in Crawford, Harrison and Monona Counties in Iowa. It is unknown when the entire bridge was removed, but chances are because of the increase in urban development combined with the creation of the golf course, the bridge was removed  between the 1960s and early 1980s.

To sum up, the bridge is very unique but has a lot of missing pieces in the puzzle, which if assembled thanks to help from people like you, can round off the story of the structure that contributed to the development of Sioux City’s infrastructure. What do you know about this bridge in terms of:

  1. The date of construction of both the iron Pratt and steel Parker structures
  2. The bridge builders for both structures
  3. When the iron bridge collapsed and how
  4. Whether the Parker span was original or if it was brought in from somehwere and
  5. If it was relocated, from where exactly and how was it transported
  6. The dimensions of the bridge and lastly,
  7. When was it taken down and why.

Use the question form below and see if you can help put the pieces together. You can also comment on the Chronicles’ facebook pages and encourage others to paricipate. Let’s see what we can put together regarding this bridge, shall we?

 

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The bridge is pinpointed at a location where another truss bridge, a continuous Warren through truss, is located. This one is open to pedesrians accessing the golf course. If you know about this bridge, please feel free to add that to the comment section as well.

The I-29 Bridge was originally built in the early 1950s to accomodate traffic over the Big Sioux River enroute to Sioux City. The bridge collapsed in 1962 due to structural failure and flooding and was subsequentially replaced with a steel beam structure a year later. An additional span was added to accomodate southbound traffic.

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Wagon Wheel Bridge Meets Tragic End

Side view of the bridge taken in Aug. 2013. The eastern half- a Pennsylvania petit and a Pratt are all that is left of the bridge. Those are to be taken down soon.
Side view of the bridge taken in Aug. 2013. The eastern half- a Pennsylvania petit and a Pratt are all that is left of the bridge. Those are to be taken down soon.

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1910 Des Moines River crossing coming down after years of neglect, vandalism and natural disasters

 

BOONE, IOWA- Three years ago, the Wagon Wheel Bridge was one of the main attractions of the Historic Bridge Convention, which was attended by over 25 pontists from five states and two countries. It was originally part of the Kate Shelley Tour conducted by the Boone County Historical Society. It was one of the longest multi-span truss bridges ever built by the Iowa Bridge Company, one of many in-state companies that had dominated the scene since the consolidation of 29 bridge companies into the American Bridge Company consortium in 1901. The 1910 bridge had a total length of over 700 feet.

 

Now the steel span is coming down for good- in sections. Workers from the Hulcher Services began pulling down the western half of the bridge yesterday, which included two Pratt through trusses, one of which sustained damaged in an ice jam in February  and subsequentially fell into the river in March.  According to the Boone County engineer Scott Kruse, as soon as the water levels of the Des Moines River recede , the eastern half, featuring the Pennsylvania through truss and another Pratt through truss will be removed. The cost for the bridge removal will be $150,000, some of which will be deducted from the county highway fund, while the taxpayers will contribute to the rest of the expenses.

 

For many who know this bridge, it brings to an end a bridge that had historic character but was highly ignored and neglected. Closed since 2007, the bridge sustained damage to the eastern approach trestle spans in 2008 during the Great Flood. It took four years until new wooden decking was built on the span, but not before residents having voted against the referendum calling for the replacement of the bridge in 2010.  Debates on the future of the bridge came to a head, as talks of converting the bridge to a memorial honoring Kathlyn Shepard came about in 2013. Reports of the leaning pier between the collapsed Pratt through truss and the one closest to the Pennsylvania truss span raised concerns that the structure would collapse, creating warnings even from local officials that one should not cross the bridge. But the last ten months brought the bridge to its untimely end, as vandals set fire to the eastern trestle spans last August, prompting the county to removed them completely. The arsonists have yet to be found and apprehended.  The ice jams and the subsequent collapse of one of the spans, prompting the county engineer to put the bridge out of its misery for good.

 

The removal of the Wagon Wheel Bridge brings closure and relief to the city of Boone and the county, for despite pleas by preservationists to save at least part of the bridge, the county is doing its best to eliminate a liability problem that has been on the minds of many residents for nine years. The county engineer declared that they do not want any more problems with the bridge and therefore entertains no plans for keeping what is left of history. The mentality of “Good riddance to bad rubbish,” is floating around in the community, yet the city and the county will lose a key piece of history that was part of Kate Shelley’s childhood past as well as the history of Iowa’s transportation heritage. A piece of history which, if thinking dollars and sense, could have been saved years earlier, had everyone read their history books in school, and come together to contribute for the cause, that is. One wonders what Kate Shelley would think of this.

 

Facts about the bridge, based on the author’s visit in 2010 can be found here.

 

If you wish to know more about Kate Shelley, a link to her life and how she became famous can be found here.

 

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles has changed its cover pages on its facebook and twitter sites to honor the bridge and its heritage. If one is interested in relocating the Pennsylvania span, please contact the engineer using the information here. Hurry while the water levels are still high!

 

It is unknown if even a marker at the site of the bridge will be erected once the bridge is gone. Given the sentiment towards seeing the girl leave, chances of happening is highly unlikely unless a book is written about the county’s bridges or the bridges along the Des Moines River and the bridge is mentioned there….

 

 

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Ice Jam Seals Fate of Popular Historic Bridge

Ice Jam Seals Fate of Popular Historic Bridge

Wagon Wheel Bridge struck by ice during unusual spring thaw- damage beyond repair- demolition expected within a year

BOONE, IOWA- Mother nature has finally taken its toll on a popular historic bridge in Boone.

Wagon Wheel Bridge in Boone. Photo taken in September 2010 when the bridge was closed to all traffic. Recently it was rehabilitated and reopened to pedestrians only.
Wagon Wheel Bridge in Boone. Photo taken in September 2010 when the bridge was closed to all traffic. Recently it was rehabilitated and reopened to pedestrians only.

The Wagon Wheel Bridge, spanning the Des Moines River at 200th Street, a product of the Iowa Bridge Company, was struck by ice on 22 February causing severe damage to the two middle Pratt through truss spans. The ice struck the pier connecting the two trusses, causing it to shift at a 60° angle and the third truss (from west to east) to slip off the pier. A couple pictures by Chris Johnson shows the extent of the damage:

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More pictures of the damage can be viewed here.

Fearing the potential of collapse, the Boone County Engineer has barricaded the bridge within a parameter of up to a mile from the structure to ensure no one goes near it. At the same time, he announced that the bridge will be removed at the earliest possible convenience, with a target of it being pulled out within 12 months.

This latest disaster tops a list of disasters that has happened to the Wagon Wheel Bridge in over 10 years time. Sections of the eastern approach spans were misaligned during the Great Flood of 2008, which prompted its closure to all vehicular traffic.

While that section was restored and the bridge was reopened to pedestrians and cyclists in 2011, arsonists struck the bridge during August of 2015, setting fire to the eastern approach spans. They were sub-sequentially removed afterwards. The shifted piers had been there prior to the flooding, as floodwaters slightly shifted it in 2011. Still the bridge was reopened in time for the 2013 Historic Bridge Weekend in August.

Negligence on the part of the county and the citizens also contributed to its demise, as a referendum was voted down in 2010 to replace the bridge but keep the structure in place. In addition, a planned memorial on the bridge, honoring a teenager who was kidnapped and murdered near the bridge was met with protest as to how it should be commemorated with proposals to use the bridge as an observation deck being balked by those preferring the bridge to be restored and retain its function.

This disaster represents an example of how negligence combined with politics have led to it being condemned. With the bridge being an impediment to the raging waters of the Des Moines River, it was a matter of time before something like this was going to happen.

Inaction does produce its consequences in the end, and many opportunities to restore the bridge came and went without much interest in the structure and its role in Boone County’s history. If there is any chance of saving the bridge, it would most likely have to be like with the Horn’s Ferry Bridge, located downstream in Marion County: keep the outermost spans as observation decks with a plaque describing the bridge’s history. Rebuilding the bridge and elevating it to accommodate floodwaters, including new piers are possible, but at nearly 800 feet, the costs maybe more than the county’s budget, unless the county receives help from contributing factors outside. Then there is the option of relocating the spans for reuse elsewhere in the county. That has been done with the Bird Creek Bridge along US 66 in Oklahoma, but in this case, many actors would be needed here.

No matter what options are available, the consensus is clear: something will need to be done with the Wagon Wheel Bridge before it collapses into the river. It may not happen now, but without a short- and long-term solution, it will happen eventually, which will be lights out on a piece of Boone County’s history.

Whether or not Kate Shelley crossed this bridge in her lifetime, I don’t know if she would be happy to see her heritage go like that. In her shoes, definitely not. What about you?

Pictures of the Wagon Wheel Bridge before its latest disaster can be found here. This includes those taken during the Historic Bridge Weekend in 2013. Should you have any ideas to present to the county engineer, please contact Scott Kruse, using the contact details here.

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