This week’s Pic of the Week takes us to Iowa and to this bridge. The Thunder Bridge is one of two Pennsylvania through truss bridges that span the Little Sioux River in Spencer, Iowa. The bridge is the shorter of the two and also the younger, having a length of 164 feet and been built in 1905. Yet the two were built by the same company, the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works Company. They also have other commonality: the sound of rattling wooden planks when crossing it. In the car or even taken from an oblique angle like in this picture taken in 2011, one will hear it clearly. A video taken by another avid bridge fan and fisherman below will show you the sound taken from the car.
Currently the bridge is still open and if you want to get some photos, you can park at the nearby boat access next to the bridge. It’s highly unlikely that the bridge will close to traffic because only a few cars cross it daily. Furthermore, the street which the bridge carries makes a loop and ends a quarter mile to the west at the same highway, which makes truck deliveries easier. If anything, since Clay County has a few very unique but important artefacts, that Thunder will at the very most receive new wooden flooring in addition to the repairs of beams and the like, making it one of the classic examples of in-kind restoration, and one where the wheels will keep on rattling, just like in the pic with the US-Postal Service truck. A real treat if you visit Iowa and happen to pass by this place.
To see more of Iowa’s historic bridges, please visit the facebook website and like to follow. The link is available here.
The 75th mystery bridge in the Chronicles takes us to a small but empty town of Beloit, in northwestern Iowa. Located on the Big Sioux River just east of Canton, Beloit was founded in the 1880s and was once a bustling community of almost 2,000 inhabitants. It used to be famous for its state children’s orphanage. Founded in 1890, the orphanage owned over 400 acres of farm land and had cared for over 1000 boys and girls ages 12 and under before closing down in 1944 and relocating to Ames in 1949. Augustana College was also located in Beloit for awhile before moving first to Canton and eventually to its current location in Sioux Falls, 30 miles up the river. Beloit was also a railroad hub, having served passengers coming in from Sioux Falls, Sioux City and even Rock Rapids. With all of them now gone, the community that used to have over 2,500 inhabitants (counting the orphans and college students) has now become a ghost town with not more than 20 residents living there and a lot of empty and dilapidated buildings and places that used to hold fond memories of what Beloit used to be like back in days of horse and buggy as well as the railroad.
Many people connected with Beloit in one way or another may be familiar with the Beloit Bridge, our mystery bridge. Located over the Big Sioux River, this bridge was the lone crossing serving Beloit for almost 80 years, yet little is known of who built it, how long it was and whether there was a predecessor- either a wooden/iron bridge or a ferry. We do know that the bridge was a Pennsylvania through truss with M-frame portals thickened with V-laced bracings, and pinned connections. It was built in 1897 and for 74 years, served traffic in the community. It is unknown how long the bridge was but estimates point to somewhere between 200 and 300 feet for the main span plus the approach spans. Records show that anyone going across the bridge faster than a walk was fined $10, which is equivalent to $300 in today’s standards. A plaque used to exist on the portal bracings, as seen in the picture below, and its design matches that of a handful of bridge builders that had once populated the state with through truss bridges. This includes A.H. Austin, Clinton Bridge and Iron Works, and King Bridge Company. Given the high number of Pennsylvania truss bridges built in the state, all money is being bet on Clinton, but research and a lot of luck is needed to confirm this. The plaques were removed in the 1940s and have not been seen ever since. Perhaps with the closure of the orphanage, they were simply taken off the portals and given to someone as a keepsake ornament.
But what else do we know about the bridge? The dates of its existence and its connection with Beloit is clear. But who built the structure and was there one before that? If you have pictures and information that will be of some help, please contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles and share some stories. The Beloit Bridge has a key role in the existence of a once thriving farm community and one that brought children, college students and even visitors together during its rather short existence. While we know a lot about Augustana College and the children’s home, plus many historic buildings that served customers, this bridge is definitely part of the community’s heritage and through your help, we can solve the mystery of the bridge that connected Beloit with the outside.
Bridges severely damaged in the fire- future in doubt
STURGIS, SOUTH DAKOTA- A key icon symbolizing the great American bike trip is gone, and with it, most likely two symbols of America’s architectural past. The Full Throttle Saloon, the world’s largest biker bar and one of the key meeting points of the annual Motorcycle Rally that takes place every summer in August, was lost by a great fire early this morning (September 8th). Fire crews were called to the site at 12:30am (Mountain Standard Time) or 8:30am Berlin Time this morning when smoke was coming out of the building. Despite attempts by the firemen to put out the smoke and flames inside the building, they were forced to battle the fire from outside, when the heat and smoke became too unbearable. Thanks to high winds and a possible gas line leak, the building complex was engulfed in flames at 2:30am and collapsed a half hour later, according to reports from the fire department and local news. No one was injured in the fire, nor was there anyone in the locked building at the time of the fire. The building complex and all its relics and symbols were considered a total loss. The Rapid City Journal has a gallery of photos taken after the fire, which can be viewed here. Many videos were posted of the fire, but this one below shows the damage to one of the bridges and its decking:
As far as the two bridges are concerned, their futures are in doubt, as fire burned away the wood decking of both spans, leaving a truss superstructure standing. This is the first time since 2013 that a fire did considerable damage to a historic steel truss bridge. The Bunker Mill Bridge southeast of Kalona, Iowa was set ablaze during the Historic Bridge Weekend in August 2013, causing significant damage to the bridge decking and bridge parts. That bridge has since been repaired and is being used as a venue for summer open-air concerts. The two bridges damaged by the Full Throttle Saloon fire were each built in 1912 and had spanned the Belle Fourche River before being relocated to the Saloon in 2008, to be used as an observatory deck for concerts and other events. Both bridges were built by the Canton Bridge Company in Ohio and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The difference between the two is the length and bridge type. The shorter span, measured at 79 feet, is a pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with A-frame portal bracings, decorated with X-lattice at the top- typical of the Canton bridges. The longer span is a Pennsylvania Petit with A-frame portal bracings and V-laced vertical posts. The bridge is approximately 200 feet long.
While the cause of the fire is being investigated by the state fire marshal, scores of letters of support are being poured in on the Saloon’s website and facebook pages in hopes that the place will be rebuilt. Whether and how this will happen, let alone whether these two bridges will be reconstructed or converted to scrap metal will depend on a series of inspections to be conducted by engineers and other architectural experts. These will be conducted in the coming months. But for now, tourists, bikers and bridge enthusiasts are mourning the loss of one of the most popular gatherings in the country, littered with vintage signs and other items that had once provided a nostalgia of a now bygone era, where the biker can pack little but travel cross country to see the wild west, stopping at places like this one for a good beer and good company. For many, Full Throttle will be missed, but another better one will take its place. And hopefully, the bridges and the salvageable can be used as part of a bigger meeting point for bikers.
Note: The Full Throttle Saloon won the Amman Awards for the Best Example of Historic Bridge Reuse in 2011. It was also the site of the 75th annual Motorcycle Rally this year. More on that here. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest on the future of Full Throttle after the blaze. You can visit their facebook page to provide them with some support for rebuilding the facility.
Fire damages east approach span. Investigation ongoing.
BOONE, IOWA- Law enforement authorities are investigating a possible arson, which occurred on the Wagon Wheel Bridge most recently. According to reports from multiple sources, the fire was reported by Union Pacific Railroad on Sunday night at 11:00pm at the eastern end of the bridge. While the fire was brought under control and no damage was done to the multiple span truss bridge, the eastern approach spans were charred, prompting county officials to remove the spans. The bridge has since been closed off to pedestrians and cyclists with its future in limbo. Any information pertaining to possible arson should be directed to law enforcement officials in Boone as soon as possible.
The Wagon Wheel Bridge, built in 1910 by the Iowa Bridge Company in Des Moines, has seen its best and worst times, the latter occurring within the past eight years. Damage was sustained by high water in 2008 when sections of the eastern approach spans were washed away during the worst flooding since 1993. Attempts were made to pass a referendum in 2010, calling for a new structure to be built in place of the vintage structure, only to fall on deaf ears by a vast majority. Two floods later, the structure had been still been standing in tact with new decking added to the entire 710 foot bridge. Even an idea of having a memorial at the bridge site, dedicated to Kathlynn Shepard was brought up in 2013. This was in addition to having two bills passed to make kidnapping a felony and increase the age of the vicitims of such crimes to 15 years of age (instead of 12). More on the efforts can be seen through Kathlynn’s Hope facebook site. Homage was paid to the bridge through the Historic Bridge Weekend that same year, where 20 people from all over the US attended the event, with Pam Schwartz of the Boone County Historic Society providing the guided tour of that and other bridges- many in connection with the famous Kate Shelley story (click herefor details).
With the eastern approach spans removed, attempts are being made to restore the bridge to its original glory. This includes providing new decking that will not be vulnerable to fires. But also the need for repairing the truss parts and stabilizing the cylinder piers are there. All of this is part of the plan to use the bridge as a centerpiece of a bike trail to connect Boone and Odgen with a possibility to connect with the trails in Des Moines. Already, a facebook page has been launched with over 1440 likes on there. The main goal is to raise enough funds to realize the project. Repairs are estimated to be betwene $700,000 and $1m. But the race against time is underway. While the bridge is fenced off to all traffic with the eastern approach spans are removed, consideration is being taken to remove the entire structure for safety reasons. This is being met with solid opposition from locals, the state and other members favoring the preservation of the bridge becaus of its connection with the city’s history. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1998 and any plans to alter, replace, or remove the bridge will require approval and survey, which could take time and money to take. With the love towards the bridge being as high as it was when the referendum failed in 2010, many paths to Rome will be built to ensure that the historic bridge will be saved from becoming scrap metal, even if it means spending more to rehabilitate the structure and make it part of the city’s history and bike trail network. It is more of the question of the availability of resources and effort to undertake this mission. If new decking was added after 2010 with no problems, and looking at the success with Sutliff Bridge, another multiple span truss bridge, people will more likely look at ways to make this project bear fruit.
The Bridgehunter’s Chroncles will keep you posted on the latest on the Wagon Wheel Bridge. Please click on the highlighted links to take a look at the stories written about this bridge and other items. Join the group saving the bridge on facebook and get in touch with them if you are willing to provide some ideas and help to restoring the bridge.
107-year old historic bridge brought down by explosives at 9:00 am CDT today. Fate of Webster uncertain
DONORA; WEBSTER; PITTSBURGH- The bridge once stood out over the Mongahela River as the symbol of unity between two villages located southeast of Pittsburgh. Many vehicles had crossed the 107-year old structure, at least 150 per day prior to its closing in 2009 due to structural concerns. Six years after its closing, the bridge is now a memory, with the river now dividing the two villages. The Donora-Webster Bridge was brought down by explosives this morning at 10:00am EDT (9:00am CDT/ 4:00pm Berlin Time). Prior to the historic event, two of the four Parker through truss approach spans on the Donora side plus the steel trestle approach spans on the Webster side had been removed, leaving the Pennsylvania petit main span and the remaining Parker truss spans on each end to be set up for implosion. Here’s a video of the implosion that happened this morning:
Hundreds of people from both villages paid their last respects to the bridge, yet the removal of the bridge, without any plans for a replacement span has left both villages reeling. Especially for the village of Webster, the fate is uncertain, as the community used to feed off its commerce from its sister village Donora, thanks to the bridge. It was built in 1908 by the Toledo-Massilon Bridge Company of Toledo, Ohio, with A.N. Nelson presiding over the construction of the bridge totalling 1547 feet (471.7 meters), with its main span being 517.5 feet- one of the longest in the country. A drone film of what the bridge looked like can be seen below:
When the bridge was closed in 2009, hundreds of locals still used the bridge to cross from point A to point B, while hundreds more from all over the US and Europe paid homage to the crossing in hopes that PennDOT will repair and reopen the bridge. The author was at the bridge as part of the tour itinerary of the 2010 Historic Bridge Weekend in western Pennsylvania. The bridge was quite massive and appeared to be in pristine condition with only a few rust spots that could have been repaired easily, as well as replacing the decking. Still, to the confusion of many locals and preservationists who do not understand the logic behind PennDOT’s decisions (especially as they had a tight budget), the fate of the bridge was sealed when bids were given out at the end of last year and the contractor agreed to remove the bridge by July of this year. No replacement has been planned yet, which is causing many businesses in Webster to either close up or relocate to the Donora side. Many residents are also moving away, which will eventually result in Webster becoming a ghost town by the end of this decade. Speaking from the experience of residents in Meadville, whose businesses were adversely affected by the closure of the Meade Avenue Bridge for seven years, this rippling effect of not having a bridge as its main link is understandable. And while the project to replace that bridge is underway, there are no plans for the Donora-Webster Bridge as of right now. And given the current situation, it appears the decision will be an indefinite one, which will be fatal for Webster and for residents being forced to drive seven miles to the nearest bridge on each end, especially for emergency crews, a true inconvenience that people will have to get used to, no matter what the cost.
Some more information about the bridge can be found via historicbridges.org here. The author took many photos of the bridge during his trip in 2010, all of which can be found via bridgehunter.com here.
This Mystery Bridge article is in connection with a book project on the bridges along the Des Moines River. For more information about the book and how you can help, please click here for details.
The next mystery bridge features not only one, but SIX bridges, all within the vicinity of a lake. Saylorville Lake is the second of two man-made lakes along the Des Moines River in Iowa. The other is Red Rock Lake, located between Knoxville and Pella in Marion County (article on that can be found here). Yet Saylorville is the larger of the two, covering an area of 5,950 acres and 9 miles wide. The length of the lake is 17 miles long, starting at Woodward in Boone County and ending north of Des Moines. In the event of flooding, the lake is three times the length, extending as far north as Boone. The size of the lake is over 17,000 acres at flood stage, which was reached twice- in 1993 and 2008. The lake was authorized by the US Army Corps. of Engineers in 1958 as part of the project to control the flooding along the Des Moines River. It took 19 years until the lake was fully operational in September 1977. Yet like the Red Rock Lake project, the lake came at the cost of many homes and even bridges.
Before Saylorville, six bridges once existed over the Des Moines River within the 17 miles that was later inundated. Five of them consisted of multiple spans of steel truss bridges built between 1890 and 1910. The sixth one consisted of a steel and concrete beam bridge built in 1955 carrying a major highway. All of them were removed as part of the project between 1969 and 1975. Yet some information on the bridge’s type and dimensions were recorded prior to their removal for load tests were conducted to determine how much weight a bridge could tolerate under heavy loads before they collapse. Only a few pictures were taken prior to the project, yet information is sketchy, for the pictures did not describe the bridges well enough to determine their aesthetic appearance. Despite one of the bridges carrying a plaque, there was no information on the builder. All but two spans have a construction date which needs to be examined to determine their accuracies. In any case, the bridges have historic potential for each one has a history that is unique to the area it served before the lake was created.
While the bridges no longer exist as they are deep under water in a sea that is only 836 feet above sea level (that is the depth of Saylorville Lake when there is no flooding), it is important to know more about their histories so that they are remembered by the locals, historians, pontists and those interested in the history of the region now covered with beaches, marinas and houses. The bridges in question are the following:
Location: Des Moines River at 145th Lane in Dallas County
Bridge type: Pratt through truss (3 spans total) with Howe Lattice portal bracings (2 spans) and A-frame portal bracing (1 span). Two of the three spans were pinned connected whereas the third span was riveted.
Built: ca. 1900; one of the spans was replaced later.
Location: Des Moines River at 128th Street in Polk County
Bridge type: Pratt through truss with pinned connections. Portal bracing unknown (three spans total)
Removed: ca. 1975
Length: 444 feet total (148 feet per span)
Hwy. 98 Bridge:
Location: Des Moines River between Woodward and Madrid in Boone County
Bridge type: Steel plate girder
Replaced: 1973 with higher span
Length: 360 feet
The highway was later changed to Hwy. 210
What is needed from these bridges are the following:
1. More photos to better describe the structure
2. Information on the construction of the bridge, including the bridge builder and the year the bridge was built
3. Information and photos of the removal of the bridge
4. Stories and memories of the bridge during their existence prior to the creation of Saylorville Lake
If you have any useful information about these bridges, please contact Jason D. Smith at the Chronicles at email@example.com. The information will be useful for the book project but the Chronicles will keep you posted when information comes in on these bridges. The creation of the lakes along the Des Moines River came at the expense of bridges, villages and some livelihoods. Now it’s a question of piecing together the history of the areas affected to find out what the areas looked like, with the goal of the younger generation remembering them for years to come. This includes the bridges that were erased from the map and in some, memory. And while they are physically gone, history surely will not.
Thanks to Luke Harden for digging up some facts about the bridges as they were documented in a report published prior to the bridges’ removal. Please click on the names of the bridges as they serve as links to the bridges found on bridgehunter- also thanks to his contribution so far.
Montana: its mountainous landscape, its lucious vegetation, its gorgeous bridges. In the state about the size of France with 2 million inhabitants, it holds a vast array of historic bridges, many of them built between 1890 and 1930 and made of steel. Most of them were built by the bridge builders originating from the Minneapolis School of Bridge Builders. Featuring the likes of Commodore Jones, The Hewett Family, Lawrence Johnson, and Alexander Bayne, these were men who owned and operated bridge building companies in Minneapolis and became the counterweight to the American Bridge Company when it was created out of 28 well-known bridge companies located in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania in 1901, dominating the western landscape with hundreds of truss bridges built using several truss types.
The Old Red Bridge, spanning the Flathead River near Columbia Falls is one of several bridges that came from the Minneapolis School of Bridge Builders. Constructed in 1912 by disciple Alexander Bayne, the bridge features two Pennsylvania petit spans, with each one being over 200 feet in length, totalling 442 feet. The bridge withstood the test of time, including flooding, which was a common problem for residents of Columbia Falls at the time of the bridge’s opening. One of the floods in 1913 caused the center pier to erode and the bridge spans to tilt. While that was corrected, the bridge served traffic until it was closed off to vehicles in 1989 and to pedestrians three years later. To ensure that no one crossed the bridge, workers removed the approach spans and fenced off the bridge from both ends after the decision was made to close the structure to all traffic.
The current situation with the bridge is as follows: The bridge is the last bridge in Montana featuring two Pennsylvania petit spans- this after the demolition of the Fort Keogh Bridge in 2012. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2010 because of its association with Alexander Bayne and his contributions to bridge building in Montana and points to the west. And lastly, since 2010, attempts have been volleyed between restoring the structure or removing it altogether. This included a proposal to restore the bridge and convert it into a bike trail, featuring a park complex, as proposed in the link. County officials have been adamant about doing anything with the bridge because it has become an issue of liability, especially in light of the recent floods in 2011 and 2012.
Already proposals to dismantle the bridge were brought up, which they claim to be the most viable issue as other measures to keep people off the bridge would be futile. The county, which owns the bridge, is fully aware of the historical significance of the bridge and the paperwork that is required before tearing it down, which includes informing the state historical preservation office (SHPO) about it. Yet as many in the community are attached to the bridge and its history, plus due to its potential to be preserved as a recreational bridge, both the residents of Columbia Falls as well as Flathead County are not ready to let go of the bridge until all options to preserve and restore the bridge are exhausted.
At the present time, efforts are being rekindled to restore the Red Bridge, although at a snail’s pace, which is slower than in 2010. The main factor that is keeping the bridge from being restored is money. Cost for restoring the structure is estimated at $2.5 million, not including plans for a bed and breakfast, restaurant, kayak landing and boat ramp near the bridge as possible sources of funding for the project. Originally, $500,000 had been earmarked for the bridge restoration by the county through a federal grant, but was shifted towards other projects because of the lack of commitment towards providing funding for the bridge from other groups. “I see it more as an issue of show me the money,” stated city manager Susan Nicosia, who brought the issue of restoring the bridge to the attention of the Columbia Falls City Council in May. It has led to the questions of how much it will cost for restoring the bridge, how should the bridge be restored, how much money will be garnered from the public and private sectors to restore the bridge and through which means.
Greg Fortin, who is leading the latest efforts to saving the Red Bridge, under the name of Old Red Bridge LLC, is currently consulting a non-profit restoration company specializing in restoring historic bridges in hopes to have a starting point in the project that has been lagging due to several external factors that has hindered the willingness of the county and the City of Columbia Falls to say “yes” to the project. According to him in an interview with the Chronicles, having a consultant as an outsider will help in terms of many items needed to restore the bridge, ranging from grant writing to any grass roots efforts needed to repair and reuse the bridge again. He hopes that the bridge would one day be part of the Gateway to the Glacier Trail, which is proposed to run from Glacier National Park to Columbia Falls, but currently has an existing trail between Hungry Horse and Coram. More information about the trail can be found here.
The Old Red Bridge LLC needs your help. Apart from pushing for more efforts towards restoring the iconic landmark in Columbia Falls, funding ideas and donations are needed to make the project happen, with the eventual goal of reopening the bridge to recreational traffic and producing income through tourism in the area. The ideas of having boat ramps , food and lodging are advantageous for passers-by travelling through the city by boat, bike or car, yet it cannot be realized without your help. Go to the facebook page Old Red Bridge, follow and find out how you can get involved in the restoration efforts. The contact person is Greg Fortin, who can provide you with information and let you know how you can help.
The Red Bridge is an integral part of Columbia Falls’ history and surrounding landscape. Eventually it will become a magnet for tourists and historians, especially if the bike trail to Glacier’s National Park is realized. But it can only be done if one shows them the money and manpower available. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will follow-up on the preservation efforts as events unfold and the future of the Red Bridge is more clearly known.
The author wishes to thank Greg Fortin for the interview and photos, and may the wishes of the organization to have the bridge reopen for recreation come true. 🙂
Pennsylvania petit truss bridges- one of the most used truss bridge types for long crossings of 130 feet and longer. As I wrote a few months earlier, Pennsylvania trusses were used as often as Pratt, Parker and Warren trusses for bridge construction between 1875, the year it was patented, and 1940, when steel was diverted away from bridge building for the war effort, although only a handful of examples exist in each state of the US, and have been documented by the state historic preservation offices. Iowa was one of those examples (click here for more details). Yet Pennsylvania truss bridges were used exclusively for through truss spans, like the Old Rusty Bridge north of Spencer,Iowa, as shown in the picture above, right?
Fellow pontist Luke Harden presented a unique find that featured a Pennsylvania truss bridge that was not a through truss, but a deck truss. Located in Lake Delton in Sauk County, Wisconsin, the bridge clearly shows the characteristics of a Pennsylvania truss bridge but built in a reciprocal fashion with the truss supporting the deck. A picture of the bridge can be seen via link here. Spanning Dell Creek shortly before it empties into Mirror Lake, the bridge was reportedly built in 1908 and was between 170 and 200 feet long. It was built next to Timme Mill and Dam. The dam was constructed in 1857 and the mill existed from 1849 until it was burned down in 1957. It was the same fire that caused extensive damage to the bridge itself, and despite repairs made on the structure, its days were numbered. The bridge was demolished in the 1980s although data presents conflicting facts- one claimed it was 1981, the other 1986. In either case, the bridge was dropped into Dell Creek, surviving the impact unscratched! It was later cut up and sold for scrap metal.
The bridge was an impressive one that never deserved to be sentenced to the scrap heap, yet Wisconsin’s record in preserving places of historic places- in particular historic bridges- has always been questionable, for over 80% of the bridges built up to 1960 have disappeared since 1980. Had the preservation policies worked like in neighboring Illinois, Indiana and Iowa, chances would have been most likely that the bridge would still be standing today. Yet its demise leads to some questions that need to be clarified. Apart from determining when exactly the bridge was dropped into Dell Creek, it is important to know the exact length and width of this truss bridge and who was behind the construction of the bridge- let alone why it was built that way. My hunches are that either Horace Horton, who constructed many unusual truss bridges during his days as bridge builder may have been behind it. Yet we also have the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works, which built many Pennsylvania truss bridges in Iowa and may have built this one, because of its proximity to Wisconsin (on the Mississippi River). But the Wisconsin and Minnesota bridge builders were also influential in building bridges during that time, so they must be included.
In either case, information on how the bridge was built, etc. should be posted here or under facebook or LinkedIn. As it is posted on bridgehunter.com under the name Upside-Down Bridge in Sauk County, you can add your comments there as well. In either case, enquiring minds wants to know with regards to the history of this bridge. And the Chronicles is there to ensure that the mystery of bridges like this one is solved. So happy hunting and here with the info! 🙂
Pennsylvania Truss Bridges: The longest of the truss bridge types that were used for America’s transportation system, but the rarely used. Or was it? This is the question that many researchers have been asking for many years, as many of them are compiling materials for bridge books, for even though statewide surveys were carried out at the earliest 20 years ago, questions about the credibility of the information has come up, which includes finding out how useful these bridges actually were, let alone how many of them were actually built in comparison to what was found in the research. Part of it has to do with the number of post cards and old pictures that people have found recently of old bridges that carry the signature design.
Developed and patented in 1875 for the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Pennsylvania Truss Bridge is similar to the Parker Bridge, because of its polygonal top chord, yet it has subdivided diagonal beams supporting the main diagonal beams. Furthermore, as seen in the photo of the now extant Orr Bridge in Harrison County (Iowa), diagonal beams cross not one but two panels at the center of the span. Pennsylvania trusses were used not only as single span crossings but also for wider river crossings as multiple spans, including those along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, many of which have long since disappeared. Reason for that is the fact that these bridges can range from 130 to 600 feet long, some even longer. While these bridges were used for that purpose, the danger was that of the pressure applied to the roadway, creating tension to the diagonal beams and upper chord, resulting in the failure of even one of the subdivided beams, and as a consequence, the failure of the entire structure. That is the reason why they were used rarely. Or were they?
This is where we look at the state of Iowa as the subject of debate. 20-25 years ago, a survey was conducted on Iowa’s truss bridges revealed that even though some Pennsylvania truss bridges were used for large crossings, like the Mississippi River crossings at Clinton and Muscatine, as well as the longest single-span crossing in the state at Greene (at 249 feet), the number of these bridges were rarely used in bridge building between 1880 and 1920. Seven bridges listed in the survey were examples of this bridge type, including the Thunder and Old Rusty Bridges in Spencer, the Bridgeport Bridge near Keokuk, one span of the multi-span Boone Bridge, the Rubio in Washington County, and the Berkheimer Bridge west of Humboldt, and the Orr Bridge. The Orr and Rubio Bridges have long since been removed. The Berkheimer Bridge currently holds the title as the longest bridge in the state, despite being closed to traffic between 2001 and 2005 for rehabilitation.
Yet two problems have come up that have the potential to refute the claim of its rare use on the state’s roads. The first one is the fact that at least three bridges surveyed have Pennsylvania truss types but have a flat lateral top chord, thus making them Camelback Pennsylvania trusses. This includes the Gochenour Bridge in Harrison County, and two bridges spanning the Cedar River in Mitchell County: the Otranto Bridge and the Deering Ford Bridge, the latter of which was replaced 15 years ago; the former is now privately owned and can be seen from its replacement bridge.
Otranto Bridge in Mitchell County. Photo taken in August 2011
The other one, which is perhaps the biggest of the problems supporting the claim is the number of Pennsylvania truss bridges that had existed prior to 1970. Even though they were demolished before a HABS-HAER survey was conducted on the Greene Bridge in 1979, two years prior to its demolition and replacement, recent discoveries by a pair of pontists residing in Iowa reveal that more of these that existed, thus putting the historic survey’s claim in doubt. This is not only applicable to multiple-span bridges, but also and especially to the single-span bridges. Some examples supporting the claim include another Skunk River crossing at Brighton, east of the Rubio Bridge, the Second Street Bridge in Independence, The Lincoln Highway Bridge over the Wapsipinicon River in Clinton County, a Big Sioux River crossing near Canton, South Dakota, Ripley’s Bridge in Floyd County, and a Little Sioux River crossing at Sioux Rapids in Buena Vista County. With as many bridges of this kind along the Little Sioux River, one can even stretch the claim that the river may be the river with the highest amount of Pennsylvania trusses.
In addition to the argument supporting more Pennsylvania trusses built in Iowa, it is possible that other bridge companies may have contributed in its construction of Pennsylvania truss bridges. While it is true that the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works Company constructed the majority of these truss bridges, including the ones in Greene, Spencer, and west of Humboldt, other bridge companies, such as the Iowa Bridge Company of Des Moines, Chicago Bridge and Iron Works, and even the Canton Bridge Company in Ohio took a piece of the bridge building pie as well. If one adds the Gochenour and Orr Bridges to the list of unknown bridge builders, as they were imported into Iowa in the 1950s, then one can claim that other bridge companies tried to keep Clinton from monopolizing the bridge building industry in Iowa by building their own Pennsylvania truss bridges, even though surveys confirmed that Iowa BC and Chicago B and IWC constructed them.
The last one is the fact that Pennsylvania truss bridges were built well into the 1960s, for one can find two of these structures in Jackson County, spanning the Maquoketa River: one at Iron Bridge Road, and one on County Highway Z-34. It is possible that other bridges of that type built during that period can be found in Iowa as well, for these bridges were part of the standardized truss bridges, featuring riveted connections, that were introduced on Iowa’s highways beginning in 1914, although they were not used as often as the other truss bridge counterparts, such as the Pratt, Warren and Parker truss bridges.
All these claims lead to the following questions for the forum:
1. How many Pennsylvania truss bridges were actually built in Iowa between 1880 and 1960?
2. What other single span Pennsylvania truss bridges existed prior to 1970, besides the ones mentioned in the article? When and where were they built and who was the bridge builder?
3. Why were Pennsylvania truss bridges built beyond 1920 instead of the other truss types?
There are four ways to answer this question: One is directly through the social networking sites of Facebook and LinkedIn under the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles; the other is by leaving a reply in the comment section; the third option is via e-mail, and the fourth option is through the Historic Bridge Weekend, which takes place August 9-11 (please see the info here). There you can leave the info and photos in the Info and Photo Box, provided at the evening events or you can talk to the author directly, as he will be directing the conference in its entirety. The information will be used for the book project on Iowa’s Truss Bridges, which is ongoing as information is being collected as of present.
Pennsylvania truss bridges were a useful commodity on America’s roads, and to a certain degree, they still are today. Yet it remains questionable how many were really built and why they disappeared so rapidly, even though their lifespan was the same as any other truss bridge built between 1860 and the present- 70-120 years, pending on how they were used and how they were and still are maintained today.
Special thanks to Hank Zaletel and Luke Harden for digging out and submitting the photos, as well as allowing me to use the photos for this article.
In spite of the gloom and doom that we have seen with historic bridges lately, there is a glimmer of hope for some that did receive a new life. For the Big Four Bridge, spanning the Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky, the bridge received a new lease in life after being abandoned for almost 45 years. Consisting of the cities of Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati and St. Louis, the Big Four Railroad owned the railroad bridge, consisting of six spans of steel through truss bridges, which the company abandoned in favor of progress. Jonathan Parrish, a fellow pontist who lives near Louisville, had the opportunity to visit the bridge when it was reopened to pedestrian traffic on 7th February of this year, and as guest columnist, is providing you with some background information on one of the relicts of Big Four’s past as well as some impressions of the bridge during its grand opening.
February 7th, 2013 Louisville, KY:
The bridge was built in 1893 for the Big Four, B&O, and C&O railroad as the main crossing over the Ohio River. In 1927, the Big Four bought out the interest owned by the C&O Railroad. Two years later, the Big four decided to move from a bridge with pin connections to one that is riveted and therefore, the current bridge was built around the old bridge so that railroad traffic could continue to use the bridge. One year later, the New York Central Railroad took over the Big Four and the bridge carried traffic for almost 40 more years, before it was finally closed to traffic.
After 1969 the approaches were scrapped and the main trusses were allowed to sit, the bridge became known as the bridge to nowhere due to the inability to access the bridge. But that of course has changed as close to 1,000 people were lined up that morning to at the bottom of the ramp for the soft opening of the Big Four Bridge. The grand opening will be this spring once the Jeffersonville approach is finished. After some speeches were finished by the mayors of both towns and the Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky, the noses of a railroad crossing started across the PA system. You could hear a steam engine and the bells from the crossing, and the opening was official when the railroad crossing gates were lifted. I could personally see no better way to open the bridge.
Closed since 1969 when the Penn Central Railroad decided to route traffic away from the structure, the bridge gained a new life when it reopened at 11am on February 7th as the center piece of waterfront park. This project has been years in the making and has been looked upon with great anticipation.
The youngest to the oldest made their way up to the bridge and started the little under 1 mile hike across to last truss. You could hear the grandparents their grandkids talking about the bridge when it was opened and all alike were amazed by the structure. As someone who has been following the opening of this bridge since 2007, I was not only relieved by its opening, but I was a like a child who had just walked in to a toy store. Later that evening I revisited the bridge figuring the hype would have died down, only to find the bridge was as busy as when I left 3 hours earlier. I have to congratulate the state of Kentucky and Indiana for getting together on this project and completing it. Along with the people who run waterfront park. The bridge is beautiful and looks to stand and carry people for the foreseeable future. If you happen to be in Louisville be sure to come check out the bridge it is worth every moment. The views are outstanding and the bridge will just blow your mind.
Author’s note: According to Parrish, the Indiana side of the bridge is scheduled to have a new approach ramp added in the near future and when completed, it will serve as a major thoroughfare for pedestrians and cyclists, connecting Louisville with the neighboring communities on the opposite end of the Ohio River. More information will come as soon as construction on the approach ramp is completed. In the meantime, the bridge serves as a semi-ramp, crossing the Ohio River but ending in mid-air on the Indiana side.
The author would like to thank the guest columnist for the article and the photos included which can be seen below:
Note: More photos of the bridge can be found in the Bridgehunter website, which can be seen here.