Hastings Bridge being dismantled

A couple weeks ago, a question for the forum was asked as to how the main span of the Hastings High Bridge, spanning the Mississippi River north of Hastings, Minnesota, was going to be removed once the approaches are demolished. Two variables were eliminated for reasons that the risk was too high, especially given the fact that the old bridge is next to its successor, known to many now as Big Red: imploding the structure and removing the arch span using a series of cranes. The former was used on the Hastings Spiral Bridge in 1951 but only because Big Blue was more than 300 feet away.

This is how Big Blue is going down:

All photos courtesy of David Youngren, Hastings Bridge Watch, c. 2013 Used with permission

The last photo is the most recent, taken today, showing most of the arch bridge gone. The bridge is being dismantled, piece by piece, with the parts being lowered onto barges to be shipped away for scrap. This type of bridge removal has required the use of at least four cranes plus enough manpower with blow torches to take the structure apart. For many who have grown up with the bridge, it is clearly an emotional way to say good-bye to an old friend. For me, who used the bridge frequently as a key link to southern Minnesota, where I grew up, it was a blessing to have paid homage to the structure, learning about its history and its identity to the community. The city park was the best place to watch the structure and how it caressed over the river like a rainbow, rain, fog or even shine.

This farewell to another piece of history led me to another question: will there be a monument honoring the bridge? According to Dave Youngren, the answer is yes. The city has already hired a sculptor and put some bridge parts aside so that a memorial is made in the bridge’s honor. It had been done by preserving one of the foundations of the Old Spiral Bridge, but it looks like something will be done for this bridge too. At least for the younger generation who will never see Big Blue, it provides us with a chance to tell them what the bridge was like, and how adventurous it was to cross it. But most importantly, they will know how the bridge, like the Old Spiral Bridge became and has remained an icon for the City of Hastings, the State of Minnesota and beyond…

The author would like to thank David Youngren for allowing use of the photos. A photo of Big Red and Big Blue  can be ordered by clicking on the link here.

Hastings High Bridge (Big Blue) Coming Down, But How?

Hastings High Bridge at sunrise. Do you notice anything strange here? Photo taken by Dave Youngren, used with permission.

It has not been that long ago that Big Red, known as the new Hastings Bridge spanning the Mississippi River north of the largest city in Dakota County, Minnesota opened to traffic, ending two decades of concerns towards its predecessor, the 1951 Hastings High Bridge known as Big Blue, which was too narrow for traffic and too rusty to maintain. Once a treat to cross while leaving the Twin Cities for southern Minnesota, one now has the longest tied arch bridge in North America to contend with, but the memories of Big Blue will last forever. As of present, demolition has commenced on the old steel arch bridge with both the approach spans being completely removed and the main span being left over.

It’s now a question of what to do with it. Because it is a navagation hazard, the main span will have to be removed. Imploding it is not an answer without having to severely disrupt traffic going through the city and even damaging the new structure. Dismantling it the way it was built in 1951 would be quite a challenge. And using cranes to lift it, carry it to shore and allow people to dismantle it on land would be physically impossible and the costs for the work would be exorbitant.

This leads to the question of what’s next for the bridge. Dave Youngren, who runs a facebook page called Hastings Bridge Watch, has been eyeing the events and presented this picture of both bridges at sunrise, perhaps the last time the bridges will stand side-by-side in this fashion. This leads to the question of what will happen to the old bridge. Look at the picture and see what’s different than the ones provided via link here, based on the author’s multiple visits.  How will the main span go down and why? Put your comments here or on the Chronicles’ facebook and LinkedIn pages and share your thoughts about the bridge.

More information on the bridge will follow on the Chronicles.


Say good-bye to Big Blue. The Big Red Bridge is in Town

Photo taken in September 2010

New Tied Arch Bridge in Hastings, Minnesota to open today. 1951 Steel Arch Bridge to be dismantled.

Travelling to southern Minnesota, I usually pass through the city of Hastings, located on the Mississippi River southeast of Bloomington, the site where the International Airport is located. The city has a 150-plus year history that one should not miss. Many historic buildings, the riverfront walk, and this bridge, Big Blue.

But when I pass through the city this summer, Big Blue will become a memory. The Hastings Steel Arch Bridge, built in 1951 by Sverdrup and Parcel and once touted as the longest bridge of its kind along the Mississippi River is coming down, whereas another bridge, known as Big Red is coming to town.  The longest arch bridge in North America is scheduled to open today, while people in Hastings and many bridge enthusiasts will pay their last respects to Big Blue before demolition work begins today. And while Hastings will still have a record-setting bridge in Big Red, its third crossing behind Big Blue and the Hastings Spiral Bridge (the first bridge in the world to have a loop approach span), there will be many people who will miss this unique vintage bridge, even when Big Red is featured as one of the main pieces of a city going forward. It leads to the question of whether a marker will be placed where the 1951 bridge once stood. Already there is one for the 1895 Spiral Bridge located next to the old bridge in the form of a concrete pier which held one of the steel trestles. And a replica of the bridge using another historic bridge imported from Lac Qui Parle County can be found at the Historic Village south of the city. If a marker is left in its honor, let’s hope that it is something that people can remember the bridge by, whether it is a concrete pier or a piece of steel from the bridge. But I’m sure people will come up with something in Big Blue’s memory.

While many people still remember the Spiral Bridge, I’m hoping they will remember this bridge for its beauty and how it became part of the city’s heritage. And while it was one of the most heavily used bridge in the state, many people like myself enjoyed crossing the bridge and stopping for a half hour to pay homage to this unique artwork. Let’s hope that Big Red will follow in the tracks left behind by the bridge that’s coming down real soon.

The Chronicles wrote an article on the bridge, which can be found here.  Information on the opening of Big Red can be found here. Unlike the Spiral Bridge, which was imploded after Big Blue opened to traffic (as shown in the Chronicles’ link), the Steel Bridge will be dismantled piece, by piece, with plans of completing the demolition process by the end of this year. Photos of Big Blue and Big Red can be found here.



Name that bridge type: The answer to question 1






And now the answer to the question of naming the bridge type. As you will recall, in a posting from last Thursday, there was a post card of a bridge that spanned the Wapsipinicon River near Independence in Buchanan County, located in the northeastern part of Iowa.  While some people may have found the answer through James Baughn’s website, there are some who are not familiar with that, nor the picture, as it was posted most recently and readers have not yet had a look at the picture until now.

I can tell you that I had written about this bridge type a few years ago as part of an essay for a history class at the university here in Germany, and there are some examples of this bridge type that still exist today, even though there are two different types of this truss type that three bridge builders had used during their days.

The answer: The Thacher Truss. In 1881, Edwin Thacher (1840-1920), an engineering graduate of Renesselaer Polytechnic Institute,  invented and patented this unusual truss type. It is a mixture of four truss types: the Warren, Pratt, Whipple and Kellogg. While the Kellogg is a Pratt truss design featuring a subdivided panel supporting the original diagonal beams that connect the vertical beams, the Thacher features two sets of diagonal beams starting at each end of the truss bridge at the upper chord- one creates a panel similar to the Pratt truss, while the other crosses two or three panels before meeting the center panel, which forms an elusive A-frame. The bridge at Independence was the very first bridge that was built using this truss design. It was built in 1881 and was in service for over 40 years. Yet after having the design patented in 1885, Thacher went on to build numerous bridges of this type, most of which were built between 1885 and 1910. He later invented other bridge designs, some of which will be mentioned here later on.

Philips Mill and Crossing in Floyd County. Photo courtesy of the Floyd County Historical Society

While it was unknown how many of these types were actually built between 1881 and 1920, sources have indicated that Iowa may have been the breeding ground for experimenting with this truss type. Apart from the railroad bridge at Independence, the very first structure that was built using the Thacher, as many as four Thacher truss bridges were reported to have been built in the state. Among them include the longest single span truss bridge ever built in the state, the Philips Mill Bridge, spanning the Winnebago River outside Rockford, in Floyd County. Built in 1891, this 250 foot long bridge, dubbed as one of the most unusual truss bridges built in the country, was the successor to a two-span bowstring through arch bridge and served traffic until it was replaced in 1958. Other Thacher truss bridges built included one over the Shell Rock River north of Northwood (in Worth County), the Ellsworth Ranch Bridge over the Des Moines River in Emmet County and the Okoboji Bridge over the Little Sioux River in Dickinson County. Of which only the Ellsworth Ranch and Okoboji Bridges still exist today.

Ellsworth Ranch Bridge in Emmet County. One of many Thacher trusses built in Iowa. Photo taken in August 2011

On a national scale, if one counts the two remaining Iowa bridges, there are five bridges of this kind left, which include the Costilla Bridge in Colorado, Linville Creek Bridge in Virginia, and the Yellow Bank Creek Bridge in Minnesota. Two additional bridges, the Parshallburg Bridge (2009) and the Big Sioux River bridge in Hamlin County (2009) have long since disappeared due to flooding/ice jams and structural instability, respectively.  While the majority of the bridges mentioned here were constructed by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company in Canton, Ohio, the King Bridge Company in Cleveland constructed the Ellsworth Ranch, Yellow Bank and Hamlin County bridges, using a different hybrid of Thacher truss that was modified during James King’s reign as president of the bridge company (1892-1922).  The Clinton Bridge and Iron Company in Clinton, Iowa built the only Thacher pony truss bridge in the Okoboji Bridge, the bridge that is featured in the next article.  While the Ellsworth Ranch Bridge remains closed to traffic and seems to be abandoned, the Yellow Bank Bridge was relocated to Hastings, Minnesota in 2007 to serve as a replica of the Hastings Spiral Bridge at the Little Log Cabin Historic Village.

Okoboji Bridge over the Little Sioux River in Dickinson County- washed out after flooding. Photo taken in August 2011

And that is the answer to the pop quiz, even though for some experts in the field, the answer was obvious. Yet perhaps the next bridge type quiz may be even more challenging than the first one. As for the ones who didn’t know, this one should get you acquainted to the questions that are yet to come that will require some research. So let’s go to the next question, shall we?

Author’s Note: If you know of other Thacher Truss Bridges that existed in Iowa or any part of the US and would like to bring it to his attention (and that of the readers), you know where to reach him: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com or via facebook under The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. He’ll be happy to add it in any future columns, and for his project on Iowa’s Truss Bridges, it will make an excellent addition.

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Hastings High Bridge in Hastings, Minnesota

Photo taken in September 2010

When traveling home to southwestern Minnesota from the Twin Cities, it is almost always natural to take the shortest possible route so that one can reach their destination in the shortest time possible, whether it is through Mankato or Albert Lea.  When I travel home to southwestern Minnesota from the Twin Cities (which is my preferred destination for all German-American flights), I usually take a more scenic route, which is along the Mississippi River and through parts of southeastern Minnesota, passing through Northfield and Fairibault. The area is filled with a variety of landscapes to choose from, from hilly to flat all in the span of 30 miles. There are numerous towns and villages to see, including Hampton and New Trier, which is rich with history and heritage. But there is another reason for traveling through the area, to pay homage to a blue beauty over the Ole Miss.

The Hastings High Bridge is one of my most favorite historic bridges in the state of Minnesota. Built in 1951 by Sverdrup and Parcel, the same company that built the first I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis, this through arch/truss bridge is the only one of its kind in the state and one of a handful of bridges of its kind remaining in the US. It is one of the longest in the Upper Mississippi River Valley, at 1857 feet (the arch span being 600 feet) and is one of the towering figures of the City of Hastings.

Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society via wikipedia. Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hastings_Spiral_Bridge.jpg

The bridge also has a deep history which makes it one of the icons of the city of 18,000. It was here that the first bridge with a spiral approach was built in 1895. Designed and built by the Wisconsin Bridge and Iron Works Company (WisBI), the original Hastings Spiral Bridge featured a Parker through truss bridge as the main span followed by two wooden and steel trestle approaches. Because a high bridge was needed to clear the height clearance for ships and barges to pass through, an engineer at WisBI constructed a spiral approach in the shape of a curly Q on the south end of the bridge, providing drivers with a chance to make an easy descent into the historic business district.  The bridge became a treat for the city of Hastings and it became a poster boy for many engineers to design bridges with this spiral approach. This includes Friedrich Voss, who adopted this unique approach design for the railroad viaduct in Rendsburg, Germany, which was built in 1913 and features a spiral approach on the north end made of a combination of a grade, arch bridges over streets and steel trestles slicing through the city before approaching the main span- a cantilever through truss with a transporter underneath, spanning the Baltic-North Sea Canal. It is still in service today and is the only one of its kind in the world.  Even today, these bridges were being built, big or small, and regardless of what they carry for vehicles and people, like the pedestrian bridge in Bad Homburg vor der Hoehe, near Frankfurt/Main in the German state of Hesse.

Pedestrian Bridge at Bad Homburg near Frankfurt/Main. Photo taken in February 2008
Spiral approach of the Rendsburg High Bridge. Photo taken in April 2011
Main span of Rendsburg High Bridge. Photo taken in April 2011

Sadly, the bridge showed sign of wear and tear and in 1951, it was replaced with the current structure. The future of the Spiral Bridge was in doubt as many people wanted to keep this historic icon, yet despite the split decision, a pocket vote on the part of Hastings’ mayor sealed the structure’s fate, and the bridge was brought down by explosives, as seen in the video here.  As a consolation, one of the piers was preserved as a historical marker. However, a replica of the bridge was built in 2005, using a Thacher through truss bridge imported from Lac Qui Parle County. It is now at the Little Log House Pioneer Village, located south of Hastings.

Now the fate of the second bridge seems to be sealed. After 61 years in service, the bridge is being replaced by a tied arch bridge, which is supposed to be the longest in the western Hemisphere. Like the Spiral Bridge, the High Bridge showed signs of wear and tear, caused by increase in traffic combined with weather extremities. Even salt used for deicing the roadway has eaten away at the structure to a point where the cost for rehabilitation would be exorbitant. There are many who believe that it is not necessary for a new bridge to be built at the site of the present one. Yet the question is where should the new bridge have been built without having a negative impact on the city’s commerce? That question is difficult to answer and probably will not be presented until after the 1951 structure comes down in 2013.

Yet the people in Hastings and the surrounding area welcome the change as many are afraid that the structure will collapse. Little do they realize is they are losing another important icon, which could have been saved, had there been ways to rehabilitate it years earlier and most importantly, maintained it. The bridge’s heavy steel used for the structure provided truckers and commuters with a sense of security that it was meant to last for 100 years, as is the case for many railroad truss bridges. Yet with as much traffic as US Hwy. 61 carries through Hastings, maintaining it would mean painting the bridge biannually at least, as it is seen with the maintenance on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The costs would be high and with the current economic problems we are facing, it would have been impossible to keep up the maintenance on the bridge.  But one should expect to dole out the funds for the new bridge as well, as it will need just as much tender loving care as the first two crossings.

We have seen many of Minnesota’s historic relicts (bridge’s included) become part of the history books, as seen in Jack El Hai’s Lost Minnesota, published in 2005. I’m sure that a second volume is in the making and that this bridge will be in there with others that have fallen victim of modernization, including its neighboring bridge to the north at Inver Grove Heights. Even though the new bridge will present a sleek design made to entice the modernists and passers-by, many people in Hastings as well as those with connections with the High Bridge will remind them of the icon that will be soon by history. It is unclear whether this bridge will last as long as the first two, but it will take time for the people of Hastings to adapt to the new bridge.

While I’ll probably visit the bridge on my next USA trip in 2013, I will always think of the Blue Beauty over the Ole Miss. And therefore, as a tribute to one of the finest landmark bridges, I’ve enclosed a gallery of bridge photos for you to enjoy, which you can click here to view. A video of the trip across the bridge can be seen here.

Side view taken from the city park. Photo taken in Dec. 2007
Oblique view. Note the retailer building was removed to make way for the new bridge. Photo taken in December 2007
Behind the portal bracing. Photo taken in Dec. 2007
Oblique view from underneath. Photo taken in December 2007
Photo taken in September 2010
Approaching the bridge and Hastings. Photo taken in Dec 2010
Hastings Bridge during construction. Photo taken in August 2011
Photo taken in August 2011
The Hastings Bridge in the background with the new bridge’s piers in the foreground. Photo taken in August 2011