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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Former Iowa Bowstring Arch Bridge Restored and Reerected in Delaware

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YORKLYN, DELAWARE/ HOLT, MICHIGAN/ GRINELL, IOWA-

Nearly nine years after the McIntyre Bridge (aka Skunk River Bridge, Hump Back Bridge, McDowell Bridge) was swept off it’s piers on August 13, 2009 and into the N. Skunk River the old iron bridge has been restored, rehabilitated and repaired. It was erected June 1st, 2018 over the Red Clay Creek in Yorklyn, Delaware, part of the Delaware State Parks trail systems at Auburn Heights Preserve.

The bowstring bridge, fabricated in 1878 and erected in 1883 in Poweshiek County, Iowa has been in the craftsmans hands for the past few years in Michigan. Bach Ornamental and Structural Steel, in Holt & St. Johns, Michigan has had the massive task of bringing the bridge back to life. Nels Raynor participated in pulling the bridge from the river in the fall of 2009 and a larger gang of craftsmen including Derek Pung, Lee Pung, Brock Raynor and Andy Hufnagel, completed the bridge project. They spent countless hours welding old iron, riveting broken pieces back together and pounding out the packed rust. The cruciform posts were completely fabricated to replace the old and the bridge has been painted, wrenched back together and was lifted into place by John Hayden of First State Cranes who helped with adding sway bracing to the trusses and placing the stringers for installation.

The bridge was engineered by Jim Schiffer, P.E. of Traverse City, Michigan. The engineering and the repairs allow this bridge to go back to vehicular traffic, handling the Marshall Steam Museums fleet of classic cars and Stanley Steamers with a live loading limit of 8 tons. The bridge is 119.5 feet long and weighs with planks and iron 76,000 pounds.

The bridge has been renamed the Paper Mill Bridge, the story of it’s years in Iowa and the people that rallied to support it’s preservation is being told and while the bridge isn’t in Iowa it has been preserved.

“It was never our intention to save a bridge for somewhere else”, stated Julie Bowers, Executive Director of NSRGA / Workin’ Bridges. “We worked very hard from 2009 until spring of 2012 and thought we had an arrangement with Poweshiek County to preserve the bridge in Iowa. The Board of Supervisors reneged on the application for Transportation Alternative Program to preserve the bridge at Mill Grove Access and it was at that point that we began to work on other people’s history.” When the plan to restore the bridge in Iowa failed, the next option was to find a new home for the structure, even outside Iowa. It was eventually sold to DNREC in 2015 and it was decided that it would span Red Clay Creek serving a train in Newcstle County.  She added that Workin’ Bridges with BACH and Schiffer Group, had won an award for preservation for the Springfield Bowstring Bridge restoration in Conway, Arkansas. In addition, the crew won the 2017 Ammann Awards for Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge with this same bridge with Nels Raynor winning the Lifetime Achievement Award.  Currently they are working on the 80-foot Hope Memorial Bowstring in Rosebud, Texas and has submitted a proposal for the Old Richardsville Bridge – a three span hybrid bowstring in Bowling Green, Kentucky, which was closed by Kentucky Transportation Cabinet earlier in 2018. Workin’ Bridges has been instrumental in preserving bridges all over the country. This is in addition to turning two bridges into land / bridge conserved parks in Pennsylvania and Oregon, as well as the bridges for a recreational area in northern Delaware, where the Paper Mill Bowstring is located.

More on the successes of BACH Steel, Workin Bridges and Co., as wel as Nels Raynor’s storied career will come in later articles. Stay tuned.

 

Workin’ Bridges is the The N. Skunk River Greenbelt Association (NSRGA), a non-profit dedicated to historic truss bridges and greenbelt restoration. A documentary on Historic Truss Bridge Restoration is on YouTube. Donations are accepted for bridge repair and may be mailed to NSRGA, PO Box 332, Grinnell, IA 50112 • www.workinbridges.org • PayPal • Workin’ Bridges on Facebook.

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What to do with a HB: The McIntyre Bowstring Arch Bridge in Poweshiek County, Iowa

Photo courtesy of Julie Bowers

 

 

Poweshiek County rescinds grant and support for McIntyre Bowstring Arch Bridge. Bridge now for sale to be relocated.

Preserving historic bridges for future generations is not an easy task, given the amount of work needed to restore and maintain the structure. It is even a bigger challenge to rebuild the structure if it was damaged or destroyed by flooding, as we saw with the Sutliff Bridge in Johnson County, Iowa. But when things appear to go in the right direction, with bridge parts restored and ready to be put back over the river to be reopened and reused, the last thing a person needs is opposition to the project, whether it is rescinding a grant or even making a “behind the door” descision to force the cease and desisting of the project in favor of scrap metal.

Here in Poweshiek County, Iowa, this is exactly the case with the McIntyre Bowstring Arch Bridge. Built by the King Bridge Company in 1883, the bridge was washed away by floodwaters in 2010. In the past three years, Workin Bridges, with Julie Bowers as Executive Director, undertook a Herculean effort to fish the bridge out of the waters of the Skunk River, and reconstruct the bridge, piece by piece, straightening out the metal, replacing parts and having it ready to be put together like a set of Tinker Toys, as you can see in the picture below….

The original plan was to put the bridge on new piers, raised by two feet to clear floodwaters and have the county maintain the bridge for the next 20 years. This was supposed to be done using a grant provided by the state to cover the cost for the work- namely $140,000.  While the county supervisors had originally supported the plan, the most recent decision the county not to take the grant has basically put the last nails in the coffin as far as any efforts to save the McIntyre Bridge. Already the bridge was delisted from the National Register of Historic Places, considering the structure a total loss.  But this decision is one that has sent many people scratching their heads about this, and one that has put Workin Bridges at the crossroads as far as its future existence is concerned. From the author’s point of view, especially as he studied political science both in the US as well as in Germany, this form of lip service is very common for politicians and county officials will say one thing the first minute and then change its mind because of some factors that made them reconsider the decision.  There are many factors that may have led the county to change its mind.

For instance, the bridge collapse in Washington state caused by a truck driver disregarding the vertical clearance of the truss bridge has caused many counties to rethink the way through truss bridges are being used for traffic. Already a movement has started to dismantle the environmental and cultural impact surveys when replacing “sturcturally deficient” bridges in Washington state in response to the disaster (see articles enclosed here), which if successful, could spread throughout the country in the next five years, especially if the next president after Barack Obama is a Republican.

Photo taken by Julie Bowers

The other factor has to do with the flooding that has been going on so far this summer. As you can see in the picture, the Millgrove access was where the bridge used to be located prior to the flood in 2010. Yet flooding drowned the access making the county rather nervous about having a bridge over the river they have to maintain for 20 years. However, as one can see with the Great Flood of 2013 in Germany, Austria and parts of Europe, many of the bridges built similar to McIntyre have survived the onslaught of the floods with only concrete beam bridges being destroyed in the process. If McIntyre can be rebuilt on higher piers with steel that can withstand flooding, the bowstring arch bridge will last another 50-100 years, as seen with one of the bridges that survived the Great Flood in Germany.

Tivoli Island Bridge in Watertown, WI. Photo taken by the author in August 2010

Bridge for Sale:

With all the resources exhausted, the future of the McIntyre Bridge is in limbo. Workin Bridges wants to give the bridge away to someone who is willing to use it for recreational purposes. While some work and assembly is required, it would be a shame to throw away three years of efforts of restoring the bridge to look like the bridge in Watertown, Wisconsin at Tivoli Lake, or even to the form that it appeared before the flooding. There are many places that could use a bowstring arch bridge for a bike trail, picnic area or the like. FW Kent Park near Iowa City has a collection of nine restored truss and bowstring arch bridges that still serve a trail encircling a small lake.  It would be an excellent addition. But other regions in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and South Dakota could use a bridge like this one for their projects as well. Minnesota has only one bowstring arch bridge left in the Kern Bridge near Mankato. South Dakota has none. And perhaps as soon as the bridge finds a new home, it can retain its National Register status if it is not altered beyond recognition.

If you know of a place where the bridge could be reused or are interested in the bridge, please click here to contact Julie Bowers and information will be provided as well as the conditions for reusing the bridge. We can only hope that the efforts to restore the bridge will not be in vain. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest regarding the future of McIntyre Bridge.

Newsflyer 24 April 2013

 

 

 

 

 

Newsflyer:  24 April, 2013

Historic International Crossing spared Terrorist Attack, Two Historic Bridges lost to Flooding, One Bridge with connection to Internationally Renowned Bridge Coming Down

There has been a lot of action that took place in the US this past week, which included an unprecedented series of explosions- two at the Boston Marathon and an atomic-size explosion that nearly destroyed a Texas town- combined with the pursuit of the terrorists and those neglecting the safety guidelines of the fertilizer plant, and lots of rage by Mother Nature, implementing her wrath on the Midwest with snow and flooding.

And with that comes the demise of more historic bridges, but one was spared another potential terroristic plot to blow it up. How bad was this? The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles has a list of news headlines that have been compiled under its latest Newsflyer.

Bridge at Niagra Falls saved from bombing attempt

The Whirlpool Rapids Bridge is a very important historic bridge in the Niagra Region for two reasons: 1. The 1897 steel deck arch bridge, measured at 329 meters long, and featuring a upper deck for rail traffic and lower deck for vehicular traffic is an important link between the US and Canada, serving rail traffic between New York and Montreal and Toronto. 2. It is one of two important historic bridges to see near Niagra Falls, as it is located 2.4 km from the Falls, where another arch bridge is located. It was refurbished in 2009-10 and is now owned by Amtrak which maintains the track and allows Canadian trains to cross.  This bridge was a target of a terrorist attack that was foiled by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on Monday, arresting two people who had connections with Al Qaida in Iran- one of which was of Tunisian origins. Both were Canadians.  It is unknown how the planning was foiled for there was little information prior to the event, but had the attack succeeded, it would have resulted in massive loss of life among people in the train that they would have bombed in the process, car drivers and a historical landmark being destroyed, severing an important link between the two countries. The two men are currently in jail awaiting their fate. A close call for both countries, especially the USA, which was digesting its first terrorist attack since 9/11.

Two important Illinois historic bridges lost to flooding.

“No way!” This was the reaction of the amateur videographer who filmed the demise of the wrought iron Pratt through truss bridge spanning Big Bureau Creek east of Tiskilwa in Bureau County on 18 April. Built in the 1880s by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company, the bridge had been abandoned for many years and like its cousin, the Maple Rapids Bridge in Michigan, it was also leaning to one side after sustaining previous flood damage. This most recent flood did the structure in. Half of the bridge is still in the water but the structure, which resembles the Jacobs Tavern Bridge in New Jersey, will most likely come out to be scrapped, as with another bridge.

Located over Wilburn Creek in Marshall County, this 1924 riveted Pratt pony truss bridge was in excellent shape with minor restrictions until flooding undermined the abutments and knocked the bridge over on its side. Despite the bridge being in good shape inspite of the fall, the county engineer has written it off and it will be replaced. The fate of the trusses hangs in the balance, but they do have a potential of being reused at a park if rehabilitated with welding technology…

Part of the Golden Gate Bridge gone!

The Doyle Drive Viaduct, located near the Presidio south of the Golden Gate Bridge is technically part of the grand lady. Built in 1936, the bridge features a rusty orange color, similar to the almost 76-year old suspension bridge. With the demolition of the bridge, it marks the loss of a piece of history. Currently this bridge is being replaced with a concrete viaduct as part of the plan to reconstruct the interchange with the road leading to the historic police station. This is part of a larger plan to modernize the Golden Gate area, which includes replacing toll takers of the grand lady with automatic electronic toll machines. This has taken place already. It makes people of San Francisco and other people who know about the bridge and its heritage wonder what will be done with the Golden Gate area next….

Yet there is a sign of life for one historic bridge with a pair of bonuses that are on the way. This time it involves the McIntyre Bridge in Iowa.

Bowers has it her way and possibly then some

After suffering numerous set backs this year, a glimmer of hope has finally arrived for Julie Bowers and the crew at Workin Bridges, as  Poweshiek County signed off on a grant for $184,000 provided by the Iowa DOT on April 19th to be used to rebuild the McIntyre Bowstring Arch Bridge. The 1883 structure spanned North Skunk River until it was washed away by floods in 2010. Since then, painstaking efforts to raise money to restore the bridge were undertaken until the offer by the state agency, located in Ames, was brought to the table. Poweshiek County agreed to the proposal under the condition that Workin Bridges maintains the bridge over the next 20 years. If all is approved and the restoration efforts start in the summer, the bridge could be back over the river and in service again by the fall of this year.

In addition, a couple pony truss bridges from Carroll County may be heading to Poweshiek County to be reused for recreational reasons. When and where they will be relocated remains open, but the county is planning on replacing them this summer. More information from the Chronicles to come soon.

How to fix an antique metal bridge: DVD on Historic Bridge Restoration by Julie Bowers

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Photo taken by the author in December, 2014

Author’s Note: This article serves as a twofold function: 1. It is part of a multiple series on the Historic Bridge Conference, which took place last weekend (21-23 September) in Indiana, where the documentary was shown, and 2. This is the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles’ Book of the Month, but in a form of a DVD and documentary. An interview with Julie Bowers on historic bridge preservation was conducted earlier this year and can be viewed by clicking here.

There seems to be a belief from many people that historic metal truss bridges cannot be restored because the metal used for the structure has outlived its usefulness, and that restoration and/or relocation is either too expensive, outdated, or is not heard of. The last part was in connection with a comment made by a congresswoman in Ohio in May of this year.
Little do these critics realize is that restoration exists for metal truss bridges, and in the case of welding, the profession is making a comeback, as there is an increase in interest in this sort of work. And for the remaining truss bridges that are still standing in the country, this may be a blessing that could buck the trend of eliminating this truss type, especially after the I-35W Bridge Disaster of 2007 in Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA).
Using the Piano Bridge in Texas and the McIntyre Bowstring Arch Bridge in Iowa and with the support of songs by The Grateful Dead, Julie Bowers of Workin Bridges, a non-profit organization that deals with historic bridge restoration, produced a documentary on historic bridge restoration, bringing a profession back from the dead and, with step-by-step demonstrations and easy to explain concepts by the professionals, providing educational opportunities for welders, historians, agencies, bridge enthusiasts and people interested on how to restore a historic bridge.

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McIntyre Bowstring Arch Bridge in Poweshiek County, Iowa before ist destruction due to flooding in 2010. The parts were salvaged and transported to Delaware. Photo courtesy of Julie Bowers

The DVD starts with the McIntyre Bridge before and after the flood that destroyed the structure in August 2010 with the question of what to do with the structure. While Workin Bridges was in its infancy when this occurred, the organization’s biggest break came with the request from the people in Fayette County, Texas to restore the pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge, built in 1885 by the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio. Together with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) the restoration process started, first by taking the truss bridge off its original foundations, followed by taking it apart, putting rivets on the bridge, using heat to straighten out the eye bars, and doing other work with the parts, before putting the truss bridge together and placing it back on new foundations. The step-by-step process was filmed and photographed, with experts demonstrating to the viewer how these processes work, thus encouraging people to at least look at how restoration works, but with a long range goal of taking up the profession. Welding is an old technology that was developed in the 1800s, went into hibernation for many decades, but is making a comeback in a new form, which is restoring historic places made of metal. Yet for many people, the profession is new and exciting, but should be taken seriously, as it takes time and effort to form and reform structural parts to make a building or bridge look just like new.

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Piano Bridge in Texas: The bridge lift from its foundations. Photo courtesy of Julie Bowers

Here are some interesting facts about welding that were in the film and are worth noting:

  1. Rivets are more effective than nuts and bolts in a way that they keep the metals intact and ensure that rust and weather extremities do not cause the metal parts to crack. One of the cracked parts discovered on the Piano Bridge led to the structure’s closing and the quest for someone to come and fix it.
  2. Heat stripping is a process of placing the torch on a section of metal, straightening it out with clamps.
  3. The Piano Bridge is made of wrought iron, which has a low heating temperature. Therefore, one needs to be careful not to have heat on a section of metal for a long time or else the material falls apart like wood. This contributed to many structures failing during the Great Chicago Fire on 3 October, 1871, which destroyed 80% of the entire city.
  4. Steel can be welded to wrought iron to ensure its stability for many years, despite claims that it can be bent to a point where it breaks.
  5. Most interesting fact: rehabilitating historic bridges means adding parts to support the structure. It does not mean restoration, as in taking apart and reassembling the structure.

While the welding process was progressing on the Piano Bridge, there were discussions about historic bridges and their fate, especially in connection with the I-35W Bridge Disaster.  While many agencies have striven to have certain bridge types eliminated, as well as those that are structurally deficient, including those in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio, for example, other agencies, like TxDOT have worked to find ways to restore historic bridges and/or relocate them for reuse if deemed necessary. It is part of a two-way approach where the costs are analyzed and engineering thought is put in to determine not whether a historic bridge can be restored but how. John Barton of TxDOT denounces the knee-jerk approach to historic bridge replacement, as it has happened in many places, but claims that engineering is a way to address the variables, both systematically and methodologically and should be taken seriously.

Piano Bridge
Piano Bridge in Texas after its restoration. Photo courtesy of Workin Bridges

The film ends with some example bridges that have either been restored, like the State Street Bridge in Bridgeport, Michigan, or are targets for restoration efforts, like the Long Shoals Bridge in Kansas, the Cascade Bridge in Iowa, and the Enochs Knob Bridge in Missouri, the last two of which are being scheduled for demolition, although Workin Bridges is working to claim the Cascade Bridge to be restored. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will have that article for you as soon as the series on the Historic Bridge Conference in Indiana is finished. But it shows how each bridge could be restored thanks to the demonstrations that were presented in the film.

There are many demonstrations on welding techniques that are either available online or through seminars, like the annual welding seminar offered by Vern Mesler in Michigan. The DVD takes you up close to see how historic bridges can be restored through welding techniques that exist. It provides people with a chance to see how the process works and has the dos and don’ts to welding, let alone to restoring a historic bridge. Furthermore it advocates the need to do restoration work instead of rehabilitation, setting the standards very high for reasons of safety and integrity, while at the same time, restoring the bridge is more cost effective than rehabilitation or replacement.

The video is 47 minutes long and from a teacher’s point of view, if you have a class of students of civil engineering, conservation and restoration or even architecture, it is recommended that they see the film to provide them with a glimpse of the work and to spark their interest in possibly joining the profession, which has been growing since 2008. Chances are likely that at least a quarter of the students in the classroom will be interested in the work.  And even if no one is interested in the profession and is only curious about how a bridge is restored, the content of the film is easy to understand and the demonstrations are up front and not too technical. For agencies and politicians who advocate bridge replacement, the DVD provides them with an alternative to demolition, convincing them that restoration is more cost effective and will prolong the life of a bridge for many decades to come.

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Historic Paper Mill Bridge in Newcastle, Delaware.

I would like to end this review with a food for thought involving a question that I posed to many of my students: suppose you have a 120 year old truss bridge that is due for replacement and you have the following choices, which one would you take:

Replace the bridge with a concrete structure
Replace the bridge but leave the truss bridge in tact
Rehabilitate the truss bridge and leave it open to traffic?

Keep in mind the cost analysis for each option, the resources that are available, but most importantly, the interest of the people and their association with the structure. Without the interest, the truss bridge is history. Yet if the interest in saving the bridge is high, then one should look at the resources available and in particular, listen to the public and their suggestions. Chances are one of them may have seen this DVD and knows what he/she is talking about.

The DVD can also be viewed on YouTube, which you can watch below:

 

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The $5000 Challenge for the Mc Intyre Bridge

The McIntyre Bridge before its collapse during floods in 2010. Photo taken by Julie Bowers

There is a ray of hope with regards to the future of the McIntyre Bridge in Poweshiek County, Iowa. The North Skunk River Greenbelt Association, which owns the 1885 bowstring arch bridge was provided with a grant of $10,000 by the Marilyn Taylor Jordan on behalf of the McFarlin Family. However this grant comes with a challenge- there is a challenge to match at least half the funding- meaning $5000!

The organization is looking for 250 people who are willing to donate $20 to the cause. The advantages are two-fold: 1. The names of the donors will be in-scripted either on the planks of the bridge or on a plaque at the Millgrove Access Wildlife Area, where the bridge is located and 2. A thank-you gift in a form of the DVD documentary on historic bridge preservation will be given to the donor. The documentary features the restoration of the Piano Bridge in Texas and was produced earlier this year.

The money will be used to finish the Site Survey and pier study to determine if we need to add additional height to the piers. The NSRGA has been granted $1950 for this study by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and more time has been extended for that study to be performed. It is expected to cost $4000. Grant money will be used for engineering drafts and bringing parts to the bridge site from outside so that work can proceed on rebuilding the bowstring arch bridge.

The McIntyre Bridge was destroyed by flooding in 2010 as the structure was swept downstream. A survey revealed that the bridge is salvageable and can be rebuilt, yet it is possible that new higher piers may be needed to avert further flooding. The full cost of bridge restoration and reset will cost about $134,000. This does not include money for work on the road or the riverbanks, as that will be separate and plans are in the making to work with the county on this aspect once the bridge is reset.

If you are interested in taking the challenge or have any questions on how you can help restore the McIntyre Bridge, please contact Julie Bowers at NSRGA at this website: www.skunkriverbridge.org If you want to take the challenge, you can also send a check to: NSRGA PO Box 332 Grinnell, IA 50112. The deadline to donate to meet the challenge is 31 July, 2012. Every little dollar counts in preserving a piece of America’s history for generations to come.

 

 

Bridge Preservation DVD now on sale!

Have you ever wondered how metal truss bridges go from becoming candidates for the scrap metal pile like this one……

Kirby Flynn Bridge in Palo Alto County, Iowa when it was closed to traffic in 1998.
Close-up of the damage to the railings and the rusting railings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

……to a newly restored bridge like this?

The Kirby Flynn Bridge after its restoration in 2010

Oblique photo of the bridge

Or do you know of a bridge that is in dire need of restoration like the following candidates below, but…..

Ohl Street Bridge in Greenville (Mercer County), Pennsylvania. A 1909 Canton Bridge Company structure that has been closed since 2009 and awaiting demolition

Carlton Bridge in Mercer County, Pennsylvania. An 1880 Columbia Iron Works two-span Pratt through truss bridge that was closed recently for structural reasons

 …neither you nor the owners of the bridge (whether it is the state or the county) have the knowledge needed to do the job? It is very difficult to maintain these precious vintage structures that have been ruling American highways for at least a century and a half. While many local and state agencies would rather prefer demolition and replacement with a bland concrete structure over just fixing the bridge and reopening it again, there is an alternative to this standard procedure, and Julie Bowers of Workin Bridges  released a DVD recently on how to rehabilitate the bridge.

Based on the McIntyre Bridge in Iowa and the Piano Bridge in Texas, Workin’ Bridges: Historic Truss Bridge Restoration provides you with an in depth look at how truss bridges can be rehabilitated through disassembly, sandblasting and replacing parts, and reassembly within a time span that is shorter than it takes to fully replace the bridge outright, and at a fraction of the cost of a new bridge. A summary of how the Piano Bridge was rehabilitated can be found via article here. You can purchase the DVD for $10 plus shipping and handling with proceeds going to Workin Bridges. For more information on the DVD, if you want to purchase it or if you would like to contribute to the organization, please contact Julie Bowers using the information available here.

The DVD is also useful for those wanting to restore truss bridges in Europe as many are due for repairs or replacement.

Each truss or bowstring arch bridge has a unique feature and history that everyone deserves to know about. Let’s preserve our past for future generations to come.