Mystery Bridge Nr. 57: Havenga Bridge in South Africa

Havenga Bridge
Havenga Bridge over the Orange River. Photo taken by Ronel Le Roux Cilliers, used with permission

At 2,200 km in length, the Orange River, which goes by many names in different languages, is the longest river in South Africa. Starting in the Maloti Mountains in Lesotho, the river slices through the state before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean at Alexander Bay. The river is characterized by having steep valleys and wooded areas in a country that features a combination of mountains, savannas, lakes and deserts in general.

According to records, 32 crossings and three dams are reported to exist, even though the numbers may be a bit higher because of the river’s length and the towns it passes through, such as Preiske, Kakamas, Groblershoop, Hopetown, Douglas and Oranjemund. None of them have sufficient information on their length and history. This includes the Havenga Bridge, located between Vanderkloof and Orania, our mystery bridge profile.

Close-up of the portals of the outer truss spans
Close-up of the portals of the outer truss spans

Fellow pontist Ronel Le Roux Cilliers brought this bridge to the attention of the pontists in the Bridges facebook page, and with that to the attention of this author. While he has yet to visit Africa, this bridge is high on his places to visit list because of its unique features. First of all, the bridge features seven through truss spans. The center span is a Parker through truss with A-.frame portals whose bottom bracing is polygonal, like the truss design itself. The outer spans features three Pratt through trusses on each side of the center span. The weirdest feature of these spans are the portal bracings and endposts, where the top part features a trapezoidal beam design. The endposts are unusual as they are double-barreled with the inner portion featuring lattice bracing on the inner portion and the outer endposts are flat beamed. Normally for all truss bridges, endposts are single-barreled, like this bridge below:

Upper Paris Bridge in Linn County, Iowa. Photo taken in August 2011

Also more unique about the Havenga Bridge is the outer truss spans are much narrower than the center span. That span is estimated to be between five and seven meters (15 and 21 feet) wide, the outer spans a meter  (3-4 feet) narrower. It is unknown how long the bridge is total, but it is estimated that the bridge is close to 500-600 meters (1500- 1800 feet) long total with the longest span being 50- 70 meters (150- 210 feet) and each of the outer spans being 40-50 meters (120-150 feet long. Exact measurements would be needed to confirm the bridge’s dimensions. Even more important is when the bridge was constructed, for the plaque on the north end of the bridge is believed to have been built in 1934. It is unknown who the contractor was, but given the fact that South Africa was once a colony ruled first by the Dutch and later the British thanks to the Boer Wars, it is possible that the bridge builder may have come from the British Commonwealth or the Netherlands, especially because the truss design and portal features are typical in the region. More information would be needed to determine the exact date of construction, why it was needed, and who was responsible for the construction of the structure. It is possible that the original spans were Parker trusses, but the outer trusses were replaced at one point. Some are speculating the replacement dates being in the 1990s, but these are only speculations that need to be supported with pure facts. It is known that the entire bridge has riveted connections, which was typical of bridge construction at that time.

The bridge presents a beauty that has to be seen when visiting South Africa as a touring pontist or a tourist with an interest in history. What is lacking is the history of the bridge, and this is where your help is needed. What do you know about the bridge in terms of its history and/or features? Place your comments below or send them to Jason Smith at the Chronicles using the contact info in the About page. It is hoped that we can collect enough information to solve the mystery of the Havenga Bridge, but more so to open the can of beans and explore the Orange River and the other bridges that exist. Many of them are either just as old or even older than this bridge. May the Havenga Bridge open the stage for more bridges to be profiled in the Chronicles and beyond.

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Route 66 Gasconade River Bridge

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The Gasconade River in Missouri: once populated with dozens of metal truss bridges loaded with history and charm, the river that flows past Wright, LeClare and Gasconade Counties now only has one bridge left. This bridge, built in 1924, used to carry the Mother Highway from Chicago to Los Angeles, Route 66 (officially, US Hwy. 66). Sadly, this bridge is now the poster boy of how a state, like Missouri, has neglected its bridges, both modern and historic, and does not have the money to even maintain them.

Since December 2014, the Missouri Department of Transportation has closed this key crossing near Hazelgreen, despite its historic significance and its role in the development of Route 66. The bridge features three through truss spans and a pony span, going from far to near in the picture above: one Warren through truss, two Parker through trusses, one Warren pony and one beam approach, all totaling 524 feet in length, and all connections are riveted. The closure has sparked an outcry among locals, bridge enthusiasts and friends of Route 66 to a point where a rally took place back in March, drawing in as many as 300 attendants. The main objective is to put pressure on the State Legislature to provide funding to repair the deficiencies on the bridge and reopen it to traffic. Given the sparse amount of traffic on the bridge in comparison with the neighboring I-44 Bridge, located only 500 feet away.  Information and a video of the event which includes speeches, can be seen by clicking here.

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles had a chance to sit down and chat with one of the members of the Gasconade River Bridge group and Friends of Route 66, Roamin Rich, who spoke at the Rally, to find out what ideas they have to convince lawmakers at Jefferson City (Missouri’s state capital) that the bridge is a vital part of the highway’s history and should be reopened. Here’s what he has to say:

1. How significant is the bridge?

The bridge is significant in all facets.  It is a major thoroughfare for local traffic.  People in the community, farmers, emergency responders all depend on this bridge.  There are several farmers in the area that own land on both sides of the river.  They are forced to make a 12 mile detour now because of the bridge closure.  Before the closure this section of Highway (also historic Route 66) was being utilized as an incident bypass route.  So if traffic on I44 shut down, they would divert traffic across this section of road and the Gasconade Bridge.

2. What’s the history behind building the bridge?

I don’t know the history behind building the bridge other than it occurred around 1922-23.  It is unique in the fact that is constructed of 3 different types of truss designs.  (See author’s description above in the introduction)

3. What’s the current situation on the bridge- are there plans to demolish it?

The current situation is indefinite.  There is absolutely no money at all set aside for doing anything with this bridge.  I seriously don’t think they are going to demolish it even when they do come up with funding.  In talking with the chief engineer with MoDot I don’t think they want to mess with repairing it either.  A bypass bridge looks like their preferred choice.

4. How do you want to save the bridge- as a pedestrian bridge or by rehabilitation?

We would like to save the bridge no matter what happens.  We would like to see it put back into service but we are willing to accept any plan that ultimately prevents the destruction of the bridge.

5. How are you approaching the plan as far as fund-raising, etc. are concerned?

Right now we are hashing out ideas to raise funds to pay for an independent inspection of the bridge.  We have formed an official committee and plan to meet within the next 10 days.  We aren’t sure how we are going to raise funds at the moment.

6. How much money is needed to preserve the bridge?

Until our independent study is concluded we do not know how much money is needed to restore the bridge.  We are guessing between 1.5 – 3 million dollars.

7. When would you like to see the bridge reopened?

We would like the bridge to be reopened within the next 24 months.  Earlier is better, but we are being realistic.  The state has slashed highway budgets drastically.  It’s going to take a literal act of Congress to get something done.

The irony behind the interview is the fact that MoDOT is trying to cut corners by putting in a replacement bridge at any cost, which would bypass the historic bridge. Yet the envision behind the draconian replace instead of repair is that money is needed to maintain that bridge as well. Without the maintenance, the lifespan of the structure is cut in half. Therefore repairing the bridges only prolongs their lives up up to 50 years, enough time for the state legislature to garner enough funds to either overhaul the original structure or even replace it with a newer structure that has a functional and structural appeal. However, with the state cutting funding, the mentality is to let the bridges fall apart until replacement is the lone option. This is figuratively slitting their wrists and the blood of greenbacks is leaving the body in droves.  But if there is one message to give to the state through this rally it is this: This way of thinking has to change, and priorities have to change. That means fixing the bridges and restoring them have more priority than the slash and burn approach, which is costing more money than necessary. And with that, our history slips away into the books, something our society has longed ignored.

While the fundraising is in its infant stage, you can help preserve the Gasconade River Route 66 Bridge. You can click on the link in the article, where you’ll be in the Route 66 News page. Yet the group has a facebook page, which you can click here and like to join. There you can share your ideas with other members and help in saving the bridge. As mentioned above, bypassing the bridge seems to be the option, yet fixing a bridge that is only used locally would serve in everyone’s best interest. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest developments involving the bridge.

Enjoy the pics taken by Roamin Rich of the bridge and the Rally:

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