Iowa Transportation Heritage Quiz II: The answers to the historic bridge questions

After providing the answers and some interesting facts about Iowa’s transportation heritage, part II features the answers to the questions dealing with the history of Iowa’s bridges, the state’s bridge builders and the engineers who left their mark in the state.Without commenting any further, here they are!

 

Which bridge is in the picture above?

Green Bridge in Waverly

Ft. Atkinson Bridge near Decorah

Red Bridge in Des Moines

Rusty Bridge near Spencer

The Kate Shelley Viaduct, located in Boone was named after a girl who was famous for this heroic deed?
She stopped a train from falling into a flooded creek
She rescued the brakeman and engineer from the train that had fallen into a flooded creek
Both a & b -> both deeds occurred on the same night in 1881. She later became station agent for the train station in Moingona, the site west of where Kate crawled across the Des Moines River bridge and where the bridge was washed away and the train fell into the creek.
She became president of the Chicago and Northwestern Railways.

Photo by John Marvig

Where was the first railroad bridge built over the Mississippi River located?
Dubuque
Keokuk
Quad Cities -> The wooden Howe through truss bridge was completed in 1856 and was located in Moline, at the site of the present-day Arsenal Bridge
Burlington

Which of the following Iowa communities did NOT have a bridge building company
Okoboji -> Okoboji was a tourist community and never had a bridge builder
Ottumwa
Oskaloosa
Des Moines

The Melan Arch Bridge, located in Rock Rapids, was the first of its kind to be built using reinforced steel rods. Its designer and inventor Josef Melan originated from which European country?

Austria -> Melan originated and spent his life in Vienna. His student, Frederik von Emperger, who built the bridge in 1894 originated from Bohemia.
Bohemia (now Czechia)
Prussia (now part of Germany)
France

Zenas King, who built many bridges in Iowa under the name King Bridge Company in the 1880s and 90s had a nephew (not son), George, who started his own bridge building business in which Iowa community?
Council Bluffs
Corning
Des Moines -> George E. King established this business in 1889 and ran it until ca. the 1930s
Davenport

Note: Zenas King did have a son who took over his business after his death in 1892. James A. King was president of the company from 1894 until his death in 1922. The company ceased operations within a year after his death and with that a 50+ year family-owned business where many of Zenas’ children and extended family members were all part of the business. More information can be found here.

Which bridge type was not developed and experimented in Iowa?
Kellogg Truss
Thacher Truss
Marsh Arch
Pratt truss  -> First patented in 1844 two years before Iowa was established as a state.

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Source: Library of Congress

Iowa was the first state in the country and the first in the world to invent and construct this bridge type?
Bowstring arch bridge made of steel
Steel girder bridge made of aluminum -> It was built in 1958 over I-35/80 at 86th Street in Urbandale. Served traffic until its replacement in 1994.
Parker truss bridge made of metal
Marsh arch bridge using recycled concrete

Close-up of Thacher Truss

Edwin Thacher patented the first Thacher truss bridge, a bridge with an A-frame in the center panel, in 1884, and the first bridge of its kind was built where?
Independence -> Built in 1884 to serve rail traffic over the Wapsipinicon River.
Rockford
Estherville
Lake Park

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Which Iowa river has the most number of steel railroad viaducts in the state
Big Sioux River
Little Sioux River
Skunk River
Des Moines River -> as many as 10 railroad viaducts still cross the river today, including the Kate Shelley, Ft. Dodge, Armstrong and Madrid Viaducts. The Kate Shelley and Ft. Dodge Viaducts are the longest and second longest along the river, respectively.

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Murray Bridge spanning the Des Moines River in Humboldt County. Built in 1905 by A.H. Austin. Photo taken in September 2010

 Which Iowa bridge builder later made a career as a school board president?
A.H. Austin  -> He was active in the Webster City school council including his tenure as president.
Lawrence Johnson
George E. King
James Marsh

 

Author’s note: Another Iowa bridge quiz is in the making and will come soon. The state has the third highest number of (historic) bridges in the country. With that comes several categories one could write about. This is just an introduction. 

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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
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.

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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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