After a brief history of the Bonnie Doon Railroad and its main crossing over the Rock River in Lyon County, the next mystery bridge takes us down the Big Sioux River to its last original crossing, before the coming of the Interstate Highway era, until its confluence with the Missouri River. The Three Corner’s Bridge is located at the site of the Two Rivers Golf Course in Sioux River, spanning the river at the Iowa/ South Dakota border, approximately two miles west of the point where the two rivers merge, as well as the two states and Nebraska meet. The crossing used to be located north of the last physical crossing before its junction, the I-29 bridge, which has been serving traffic since the mid-1950s. It is most likely that the crossing is at the place where a pedestrian crossing, which provides access to the golf course, is located. Yet more information is needed to either support or counter these claims.
But before going into the debate on this structure’s actual location, let’s have a look at the bridge itself. The structure that used to exist appeared to have two different truss bridges built from two different time periods. What is clear is the truss span on the right appears to be much older- having been built in the 1880s and consisting of a pin-connected through truss bridge with V-laced end-posts and an X-frame portal bracings with curved heels. The diagonal beams appear to be much thinner than the vertical beams, this leading to the question of whether the former were built using thin iron beams or with steel wiring. In addition, the design of the bridge leads to the question of its stability, which leads to the question of whether the bridge collapsed under weight or by flooding and was replaced by the span on the left, a Parker through truss span, made of steel, with pinned connections, A-frame portal bracings and featuring beams that are thicker and sturdier. The span on the right, which appeared to be an all-iron structure, had at least two spans total- one of which spanned the main river channel and was replaced by the Parker span. The Parker span was one that is typical of many Parker spans along the Big Sioux River, having been built between 1900 and 1915 by the likes of Western Bridge Company of Lincoln, Nebraska, Clinton Bridge Company of Clinton, Iowa, and the bridge builders from the Minneapolis School of Bridge Builders- namely Commodore P. Jones, Alexander Bayne, as well as Seth and William S. Hewett. However, it does not mean that the Parker span replaced the lost iron span during that time. It is possible that it was put in place between the 1930s and 1950s, which was the time when bridges were relocated and reused as replacements because of the scarcity of steel on the count of the Great Depression, followed by the onset of World War II and later, the Korea War. With flooding that occurred during the 1940s, especially in 1945-6, it it possible that the Parker was relocated to the spot because of that. Records have already indicated multiple bridge replacements in that fashion, including those in Crawford, Harrison and Monona Counties in Iowa. It is unknown when the entire bridge was removed, but chances are because of the increase in urban development combined with the creation of the golf course, the bridge was removed between the 1960s and early 1980s.
To sum up, the bridge is very unique but has a lot of missing pieces in the puzzle, which if assembled thanks to help from people like you, can round off the story of the structure that contributed to the development of Sioux City’s infrastructure. What do you know about this bridge in terms of:
The date of construction of both the iron Pratt and steel Parker structures
The bridge builders for both structures
When the iron bridge collapsed and how
Whether the Parker span was original or if it was brought in from somehwere and
If it was relocated, from where exactly and how was it transported
The dimensions of the bridge and lastly,
When was it taken down and why.
Use the question form below and see if you can help put the pieces together. You can also comment on the Chronicles’ facebook pages and encourage others to paricipate. Let’s see what we can put together regarding this bridge, shall we?
The bridge is pinpointed at a location where another truss bridge, a continuous Warren through truss, is located. This one is open to pedesrians accessing the golf course. If you know about this bridge, please feel free to add that to the comment section as well.
The I-29 Bridge was originally built in the early 1950s to accomodate traffic over the Big Sioux River enroute to Sioux City. The bridge collapsed in 1962 due to structural failure and flooding and was subsequentially replaced with a steel beam structure a year later. An additional span was added to accomodate southbound traffic.
Mead Avenue Bridge in Meadville, Pennsylvania. One of the most unique bridges in the US and perhaps even beyond. Spanning French Creek, the two-span through truss bridge featured an 1871 worught iron Whipple span encased with a 1912 Baltimore span. When I visited the bridge during the 2010 Historic Bridge Weekend, the blue-colored span was closed to traffic with a bleak future in its midst. The majority of the city’s population wanted the bridge gone. But efforts were being undertaken to try and preserve at least half the span. This bridge was the first one profiled in the very first aricle I wrote for the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles blog, when it was launched in October of that same year. Click here for the article.
Fast forward to the present and the situation has changed completely. The bridge is being profiled again as the first article produced by the Chronicles as a website, yet the bridge is no more.
Well, not quite. 🙂
Most of the historic bridges like this one would be cut up into pieces and hauled away to be recycled. In Pennsylvania it is no exception for many of them are being replaced through the rapid replacement program initiated by PennDOT and many bridge builders in the private sector last year. Yet a last-minute attempt by one pontist has paid off. The bridge is being distmantled, the parts will be hauled, BUT it will be relocated. The question is how?
The Chronicles had a chance to talk about the plan to restore the bridge with Art Suckewer, the pontist who is spearheading the efforts and pulled off the last minute trick to saving the artefact from becoming a thing of the past. What he is going to do with the bridge and the challenges that he and his crew are facing at the moment are discussed below:
How did you become interested in historic bridges in general? I always liked them since I was a kid but never thought of them as more than a neat part of the scenery until recently. After purchasing a farm property in a historic district with several stream crossings, I researched my options and discovered that acquiring an old truss bridge was a viable solution. I learned a lot through your website, bridgehunter and historic bridges. Through speaking with Julie Bowers, Nathan Holth and Jim Cooper, I learned what was involved and received enough guidance to try to acquire one. While Mead Ave. was on my list, I thought it was too big of a project, and Vern Mesler was going for it so it seemed like it would be preserved. Instead I went for the Beatty Mills Bridge and the Carlton Bridge as my primary and back-up selections. Little did I know I’d get them both!
What got you interested in the Mead Avenue Bridge in Meadville?What is so special about it in your opinion? Your website, bridgehunter.com and historic bridges.org brought it to my attention. What is so special is that it still exists, that it was very decorative (none of the websites show the bridge with its original spires – look at pictures/ woodcut prints of the Azuma Bashi Bridge in Japan if you want to get a sense of what this bridge once was) and that even though it is a Penn Bridge Co. bridge it represents the last example of an early, long span Keystone Bridge Co. design. I am now 95% certain that it was built by Keystone Bridge Co. to Jacob Linville’s 1865 patent as a kit to be erected by Penn Bridge Co.
How did you purchase the bridge? Vern Mesler was going to take it but he had difficulty getting his plan approved due to very sensitive environmental issues (I still think his approach was the best way to go). Once Vern gave up, I stepped in because I feel strongly that the bridge should be saved. I think because I established credibility with PENNDOT in recovering two other bridges successfully (thanks to Nels Raynor, Nathan Holth, Jim Cooper and Ross Brown), my engineering background and experience in writing proposals and working with government agencies gained from my day job, they gave me a shot. I had pursued the recovery for nine months with serious efforts beginning in August. That said, it didn’t come together until after it was already too late and ownership had been transferred to Mekis (the prime contractor for the replacement) but with Mekis’ support/flexibility and strong support from PENNDOT, especially Kara Russell and Brian Yedinak, and Ross Brown’s inspection of the bridge and willingness to attempt my plan to reinforce the 1912 Baltimore truss as a falsework and disassemble the 1871 Whipple in place did we get the go ahead. We had less than two months and Ross worked 10 – 12 hour days 7 days a week to pull it off but the 1871 structure has now been successfully removed. The remaining structure will be lifted by crane by Mekis then disassembled by Ross and removed by May.
What difficulties did you encounter? The plan we were allowed to pursue was the most difficult and risky approach. Finding the funds was tough. Due to the lateness, Ross had a very narrow window to pull off the job and it ended up being one of the worst/coldest winters in memory. Also, the bridge had lots of previous improper repairs that made Ross’ job much more difficult.
What are your plans for the bridge? What are the places you want to relocate the structure? While I have committed to putting the bridge on my property and I do have a place for it, I consider that to be a placeholder. Ideally I’d like to find a home in a northwestern Pennsylvania town as a pedestrian walkway within a town as part of that towns revitalization. Alternately, a public use elsewhere. We have some leads.
How much rehabilitation will be needed before the bridge is reconstructed? A lot. The bridge is suffering from a thousand improper repairs as well as differed maintenance. However, the project is doable because the quality of the castings, both in tolerance and material is extraordinary – definitely benefitting from the demands of James Eads on Andrew Carnegie to meet his exceedingly high quality standards for the Eads Bridge as both bridges construction periods overlapped.
When will we see the reconstructed bridge next time? Within ten years (if it is reused for a public purpose then it may be soon; if no one else wants it, I’ve got two other bridges to fix first so it will be a while).
Any advice you would give to any party interested in preserving a bridge, regardless of whether it is in place or if it needs to be relocated? Look at all options; be flexible; listen to the experts (especially the craftspeople); be patient yet persistent; leverage your resources; be prepared to walk away – you can’t win them all; If you think ‘someone should…’ ask yourself if that someone is you.
Good luck to Art and his crew as they continue with the project. The removal and disassembly part is just the first of many phases that will be done during the 10-year frame he’s mentioned. There are many more to come, and if there is a proverb to end this article, it is the song produced by the East German music group Karat entitled “Über sieben Brücken muss du gehen.” (You must cross seven bridges) There, the person had to cross seven bridges spanning the worst of ravines in order to reach his destination. This is what Suckewer and crew are facing with the Mead Avenue Bridge. But after the seventh bridge is crossed and the newly restored Mead Avenue Bridge is in place, the efforts will pay off in the end. Even if the seventh bridge is out and there is no place to relocate the bridge, there will be many attempts to make sure that the restored bridge finds a new home and someone who will take care of it and use it for his purpose.
But before we speculate, let’s watch, wait and see how this next chapter, the one after a rather happy ending in the current one we’re reading, unfolds. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest.
Note: More photos of the Meadville Bridge are available via flickr.
Joint article and forum with sister column the Flensburg Files in conjunction with the series on In School in Germany. Except this example focuses on Infrastructure, using Historic Bridges as an Example.
A while back, shortly before my debut teaching about industrialization in the US and Germany between 1870 and 1914, I had put out a question as to how to approach the topic of infrastructure in that era, in particular when it comes to bridge building, and how it ties in with the usage and proliferation of the material of steel- a replacement to iron. For more information on this inquiry, please clickhere for details.
Here is the follow-up on this particular topic, which has me thinking about a creative way of getting students acquainted with infrastructure and industrialization:
During the block-session, which consists of two 45-minute sessions into a 90-minute one, students had an opportunity to write down their notes in a small pocket brochure, compiled on my part. This is what the pocket brochure looked like:
The notes to be taken by the students (consisting of high school juniors) were in connection with a series of mini-presentations that they were supposed to give, based on the following topics that were given to them to prepare two weeks beforehand:
Iron and Steel
The Great Chicago Fire of 1871
The Chicago School of Architecture
Inventions (Electricity, the Telephone, etc.)
Each presentation was 3-5 minutes long, with questions to follow. The exception to the topic was the one on bridges, presented by yours truly. The topics were presented in a way that materials go first, for they played hand-to-hand in the development of other forms of infrastructure and transportation.
The results were astounding. Lots of information on American and European inventors making their marks, yet one would need a couple more sessions to digest all the information presented. Some questions in connection with this topic you can find in the Files’ article here.
The problem with presenting infrastructure and industrialization is that the development of both Germany/Europe and the US was exponential, that it would be difficult to cover everything. It even applies for bridges, as dozens of American and European bridge builders were responsible for hundreds of bridge designs and bridge examples that existed during that time (and still do today). Plus some of the bridge builders of that time period had their own colorful history that is worth mentioning; especially when it comes to those immigrating to the US from what is today Germany, Poland, Austria, France and Hungary (where they were once known as The French Kingdom, Prussia and later the German Empire, Austro-Hungarian (or Habsburg Empire) and the Russian Empire (as Poland became part of the empire in 1795 as part of a partition agreement with Prussia)).
The end result was a compromise presented by the history teacher upon evaluating the session: a pocket guide to certain aspects of infrastructure with a focus on a country and some key examples worth noting. If divided up into the aforementioned topics, it would make the most sense, as for each aspect, one can present some key facts that are relevant to the topic of infrastructure and industrialization, along with some fun exercises . Plus if the booklet is 10-15 pages per topic, it will be sufficient enough for pupils to get a whiff of the aspects of history that have been left at the wayside, while the remaining artefacts become a distant memory, but at the same time, be encouraged to preserve what is left of history or take measures that matter to them. After all, when we talk about environment and protection, our heritage technically belongs to this fragile umbrella.
For the pontists and historians alike, some ideas of how to construct such a booklet pertaining to bridges is a tricky one, for especially in the United States, the topics and the number of bridge builder and bridge examples have to be narrowed down to only a handful of examples. So if we look at the proposal for such a booklet for Germany, we have the following:
Part I: German emigrants- focusing on John Roebling, Albert Fink, Gustav Lindenthal, Wendell Bollmann, Joseph Strauss und Lawrence H. Johnson
Part II: German bridge engineers (who stayed in Germany)- Friedrich Voss, Hermann Matthäus, Gustav Eifel, Hermann Gerber, Franz Meyer
Part III: Areas of bridge building- Cities (Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Halle (Saale), Leipzig, etc.- choosing three; Canals (Baltic-North Sea, Dortmund-Ems, Elbe-Lübeck) and a pair of River Examples
Part IV: Notable Works- using two bridge examples, like the Rendsburg High Bridge, for example, and presenting some interesting facts about them.
If you were asked to construct a booklet similar to the one mentioned here, for the US, how would you structure it? What contents would you put in there and what examples would you include? You can place your comments here, on the facebook pages under the Flensburg Files and/or Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, or in the LinkedIn page under The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. Do not be surprised if you have a question coming from either the author or one of the readers pertaining to a booklet on a similar topic but pertaining to Canada or another country.
Those wishing for a copy of the booklet I made for my history class or a power point presentation on bridges in Germany and the US can contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And now to the Files’ Guessing Quiz pertaining to Industrial History, which you can click on here.
In connection with Files’ series on In School in Germany. More on the series can be found here.
History- a subject that goes beyond borders and looks at things that we never knew about, getting us to think about them, putting them in the context of our own lives and the environment we are living in. It goes beyond the borders of geography and how the countries were developed. It goes beyond arena of sports events and looks at the development of each kind and how the men and women contributed to it. It digs deeper into how the country was mapped out in terms of landscape, networks of infrastructure and the social aspects which led to revolution and redesign by reformists and those who wanted to make their place better than before. In other words, one has to dig deeper to find the truth and challenge what had been written in the past but was now rebuked because of new evidence.
In school, especially on the secondary level, history is a must, and it is important that students know about the history of their country and the rest of the world for two reasons:
1. To help them become acquainted with their own region and country and discover who they are and where they came from and
2. To encourage them to find out more about themselves and where they live, by looking and exploiting the aspects that are seldom mentioned.
As there are certain requirements written by law and because of certain time constraints, only a peck of the history that exists is even taught in the schools, and when it is taught, it is with the traditional social form of teaching: the book and frontal teaching (German: Frontal Unterricht). It is not surprising that the interest in history among youngsters up to 18 is near the bottom of the food chain, in both countries- more so in the US than in Germany because of the strive of educators to have the students achieve high results in the international tests for math, reading and sciences. But as we see in the PISA studies, and which will be discussed in the Files’ article about Frontal Teaching, sometimes student involvement and allowing them to discover something new can encourage a positive education result, even better than the recent studies.
But even with these constraints, the teacher can make some space for some new things that cannot be found in books themselves- at least not yet, that is. And when students are encouraged to do some work on their own, whether it is analysing a text and writing a review about it or presenting about it, then they will benefit from it in a way that they can add the knowledge to what was taught in the past and have fun doing it. This is where the topic of Industrialization and Infrastructure enters the picture.
During my internship at a Gymnasium (EN: High School) in Germany, I had an opportunity to dig deeper into the history of the development of Germany in the 1800s by looking at aspects like the creation of democracy, Otto von Bismarck’s creation of the German state in 1871 and how Germany became a super power and remained so until the end of World War I. At the present time the students are talking about Germany, Europe and the age of industrialization between 1871 and 1914, where several aspects, such as imperialism, socialism, worker’s union and environment are being introduced. Even the expansion of the transportation infrastructure and the landscape made of steel will be mentioned. Believe it or not, this is the topic the author of the Chronicles and Files is about to do.
Talking about the infrastructure and comparing it between Germany and the US does produce their similarities in terms of inventions and the development of materials for the construction of buildings, railroads and bridges, yet how does a teacher present these aspects to the students without boring them. Let’s look at the topic of bridges, for example. There are two different arguments for and against presenting this topic. The contra part would be the simple fact that a bridge is a bridge, crossing a ravine connecting point A and point B. If it fails or is too old, then it is replaced. The pro part to this topic feature the arguments about unique bridge designs, bridge builders that were common, including those who immigrated to the States from Germany, like Ralph Mojeski, Lawrence Johnson, Albert Fink, and Gustav Lindenthal, to name a few. Then there is the switch from iron to steel mainly because of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and lastly the consolidation of 28 bridge builders into the American Bridge Company in 1901 and its competition from other bridge builders in the west, as well as outside the country.
Nathan Holth once presented this topic as a whole during his time as a student teacher (his PPT presentation can be seen here). Some of the unique features, include the builder’s plaque, portal bracing of the truss bridge and ornamental features can enable historians to determine how the development of bridges came about in the US between 1871 and 1914. As I will be the second pontist to present this in a couple weeks time, the topic will be on a wider scale as Germany and US have some similarities with regard to bridge construction. The difference is with regards to the fact that the German concentration seems to be more on canals and railways than with highways, like in the US. Also the full establishment of steel companies, like Thuyssen-Krupp before 1871 enabled Germany to expand the steel-building landscape, constructing bridges and high-rise buildings in large cities, like Berlin and Hamburg, in addition to its fleet of ships.
The question is if one wants to present bridge building in connection with the industrialization- be it in the US, Germany, Europe or when comparing between two countries, what aspects are important and should be presented to the students, keeping in mind that the topic is industrialization, and the time frame is betweenthe 1870s and 1914, the time of World War I? Which aspects should the students research on in their own spare time? And lastly how should it be taught in high school in comparison to college?
Put your comments here or on the Files’ or Chronicles’ facebook pages as to how you would approach an exotic topic like this, while keeping the topic of Industrialization in mind. I created a pocket guide to industrial history which includes bridge building as one of the aspects. You can click here to read about it.
It has been a few months since writing a review on a bridge book due to many commitments. But this first book review fits nicely with the topic on the Bridges of Lübeck in northern Germany, for it focuses on a landmark that should have been standing, but is no longer extant.
Located 6 kilometers north of the city in the suburb of Kucknitz, the Herrenbrücke has a history that is unique for the region and Europe. Located over the Trave and once hailed as the last bridge over this river before it empties into the Baltic Sea in Travemünde, only ten kilometers away, the Herrenbrücke was the only bridge in Germany that featured two single-leaf bascule bridges per roadway- four single leaf bascule spans all in all! Each span was 70 meters long. The height of the span over the Trave is over 50 meters tall. If one adds the approach spans, the total length of the bridge was over two kilometers. All in all, the Herrenbrücke was the largest bridge in Europe when it was bult in 1963 and opened to traffic at the beginning of 1964. Yet the 1964 span was the second crossing it this site. The very first crossing dates back to 1902 when a two-span swing deck truss bridge, using a Pratt design, was built. It was partially destroyed in a collision with the Swedish ship in 1909 and was rebuilt afterwards. In 1916, the bridge was electrified, allowing streetcars to cross the bridge providing a key connection between Siems and Kucknitz. The service was discontinued in 1958 and three years later, the suburbs and the City of Lübeck signed off on a contract to build the Herrenbrücke. Shortly after the new bridge was open to traffic, the steel truss swing bridge was removed.
But why did the bridge last for such a short time and had to be removed? Rainer Wiedemann, who lived near the bridge, documented the entire history of the bridge in his book, “Die Letzte Klappe: Abschied von der Herrenbrücke” (German for: The Last Word/Span: Farewell to the Herren-Bridge), which was published in 2011 and is available for ordering here. Mr. Wiedemann, who was born and raised in Lübeck and was a school teacher, documented the entire bridge prior to and during the removal process in 2005-06, which included detailed photos of the bridge, research into the bridge’s history (which included records of the bridge construction, old photos and postcards) and interviews with locals, city council members, and people who designed and built the Herren-Tunnel, the replacement of the Herrenbrücke which has been in service since 2005. Through this research, Wiedemann was able to look at the Herrenbrücke from all angles, including the reason why the Herrenbrücke had to be replaced after a short period in operation. The book is comparable with other books that were written about giant, popular crossings, such as the Sydney Harbor Bridge (75th anniversary book published in 2007), the Verrazano-Narrows and Brooklyn Bridges in New York City (former published in 2003, latter in 2013) and the Firth of Tay and Firth of Forth Bridges in the United Kingdom (published in 1991), where several aspects were combined into one- technical, sociological and historical- and formulated in a way where there is an equal balance of photos and text that is simple to understand, and even the reader who is a non-native speaker of German can follow the progress on the bridge’s history from start to finish.
This explains the reason behind the decision of the City of Lübeck and the suburbs to replace the Herrenbrücke with the Herrentunnel, which Wiedemann found substantial amounts of information on the bridge’s problems which dated back to shortly after the opening in 1964. In a nutshell, despite its popularity among its residents within a 20-km radius and beyond, the bridge was nothing but trouble for the city council. Technical problems resulted in a bascule span to not work resulting in a complicated detour. Traffic jams being 5-10 km long. But what doomed the bridge were the amount of cracks and corrosion on the bascule spans as a result of gas emitted from passing ships, weather extremities and salt used on the roadways. Despite undergoing rehabilitation on the bridge in 1981 to strengthen the concrete approaches and sandblast the bascule spans, it only delayed the inevitable, which was decided in 2001 in favor of a tunnel, financed solely by the private sector. Yet the process came at a price: many residents were displaced as their houses at the site of the tunnel were razed. Businesses were bought out, including the ship-builder Flender-Wirft, which was in business for over a century until it was bought by private investors in 2002. Almost immediately after the purchase, diggers and wrecking balls brought down the almost 400 square facility, reducing the warehouses and manufacturing buildings to a pile of rubble. This company was near the site where the 1902 swing bridge was located.
After the Herrentunnel was completed in July 2005, the Herrenbrücke was given its last hurrah on 26 August, 2005 the same time as the opening of the tunnel. Afterwards, it was demolished starting with the removal of the basule spans, then the approach viaduct spans and lastly the abutments and control tower- a process that took over two years to complete. There is almost nothing left of the bridge except for a pair of green cranes that have been placed there.
The author’s title is the subject for debate, depending on how the reader looks at the information. The Letzte Klappe could mean the last span, meaning the bridge stood the test of time, despite all the problems it had, and it stood to the very end, although its life was cut too short. Yet it could mean the last word, meaning the decision was final to get rid of the bridge, even if it was at the expense of more houses and businesses. But from the author’s standpoint, it could also mean the last word in terms of memories of the bridge and the area that is all but a ghost town. Siems and Kucknitz were affected by the bridge in a way that it became a key point that was replaced by the tunnel. But the tunnel came at the price of memories of the bridge and the businesses that once served the communities. As Wiedemann mentioned, Siems is almost non-existent, whereas Kucknitz has not fared better because of the tunnel. But progress can also bring its advantages, and perhaps the tunnel was for the best for commuters and tourists alike. Still to this day, people are trying to cope with the change, which will take getting used to.
And eventually people will adapt to the change, but the memories of the bridge and the region that once existed will remain, even through this book, which has become a must-buy for locals and pontists wanting to know about the Herrenbrücke, its rise and fall, and its legacy that will forever be part of Lübeck’s history as well as that of Schleswig-Holstein’s and Germany’s.
Grade: A+ (1,0)- for a well-detailed work on an iconic landmark that is comparable to other key bridges in Europe and the US. For engineers in Germany, a head-start for learning German! 🙂
Historic bridge burned with scrappers drooling for money. Another set of historic bridges destined for scrap metal. Historic icon receives a new icon. A replica of a lost bridge to be built. A pair of historic bridges to be focus of restoration campaign.
While away on hiatus for three weeks, which included the four-day long Historic Bridge Weekend in Iowa, a lot of events unfolded which involved historic bridges. This include a tragedy involving a historic bridge in Iowa whose future is now in doubt. Keeping all this in mind, the Chronicles will feature a summary of the events that are non-related to the Historic Bridge Weekend with the author’s feedback on each of the themes. Links are provided in the text, as usual.
Bunker Mill Bridge burns. Future in doubt.
Spanning the English River southeast of Kalona, this bridge is unique in terms of its appearance. It was built in 1887 by the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio and featured a six-panel iron Pratt through truss bridge with Town Lattice portal bracing with a span of 120 feet long. With the north trestle span being 170 feet long- enough to fit another through truss span- the total length of the bridge is 290 feet. In 1913, the Iowa Bridge Company reinforced the bridge which included the addition of M-frame portal bracing. Closed since 2003, plans were in the making to convert this bridge into a bike trail connecting Richmond and Kalona in Washington County. Sadly, the bridge, which was visited during the Historic Bridge Weekend, was burned on the morning of 12 August, destroying the entire bridge deck. The truss span is still in tact but it is unknown how much damage was done to the superstructure. At the present time, work is being undertaken to determine whether the bridge can be salvaged and relocated. At the same time however, sources have informed the Chronicles and the pontist community that the scrappers are making a bid to obtain the bridge for scrap metal. Police and fire officials are determining the cause of the fire, which is suspected to be caused by arson. The Chronicles has a separate article on this bridge based on the author’s visit to the bridge which will be posted after an interview with organizers trying to save the bridge is done.
Two Missouri River Bridges to be demolished. Two to be replaced soon.
If the rate continues its course, there will no longer be any pre-1960 bridges along the Missouri River by the year 2030. Two continuous truss bridges built in 1938 have been replaced and are closed to traffic, despite the 2-year delay because of the Great Flood of 2011 which turned the Missouri River into the Red Sea for 3/4 of the year. Already one of the bridges, the Amelia Earhart Memorial Bridge in Fort Atchinson, Kansas, built at the time of the disappearance of the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean, is scheduled to come down beginning 23 September after the tied arch bridge was opened to traffic. The demolition is scheduled to take two months to complete. The Rulo Bridge, which carries US Highway 159 through the Nebraska town of Rulo was rerouted to the new bridge and is now closed awaiting demolition. This may happen at the earliest in the fall but most likely in 2014. The Centennial Bridge in Leavenworth, a two-span tied arch bridge most likely to follow as Missouri and Kansas DOTs are planning on its replacement which will happen in a few years. And finally, a pair of duo continuous Warren truss bridges, the Fairfax Bridge (built in 1935 by the Kansas City Bridge Company) and the Platte Purchase Bridge (built in 1957) in Kansas City are planned to be replaced beginning in 2015. The reason for replacing the US Highway 69 crossing was because of its narrowness. To know more about the Missouri River Bridges, it will be mentioned in detail in a presentation provided by James Baughn during the Missouri Preservation Conference, which takes place 18-20 September in Booneville. More information can be found here.
Another slab bridge collapses- this time in Illinois
Engineers and politicians are running out of bridge types to condemn in favor of modern bridges. Reason: another concrete bridge has collapsed after a truck rolled across it! This happened near Woodlawn, Illinois on 6 September. Woodlawn is near Mt. Vernon in Jefferson County. The bridge is over 200 feet long and was built in 1977. Fortunately, nobody was hurt when it happened for the structure collapsed right after the truck went across it. Investigators are trying to determine whether the weight of the loaded truck was too much and if a weight limit should have been imposed. This is the second post 1970 bridge that collapsed this year (a 1987 bridge in Missouri collapsed this past July) and has raised questions of whether weight limits should be imposed on all bridges and highways to ensure their prolongitivity and driver safety. But despite the “less is more” mentality that is becoming the norm in society, it will most likely take a few more collapses of modern slab before it get through the heads of the engineers and government agencies that are responsibility for the infrastructure in the US.
Bay Bridge Replacement opens to traffic.
When the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge first opened to traffic in 1936, the eight mile long bridge spanning San Francisco Bay was the longest in the world, with two sets of suspension bridges connecting Yerba Buena Island with San Francisco and a cantilever truss bridge and beam bridge between that island and Oakland. Since 3 September, the Oakland portion of the bridge has been replaced with a cable-stayed suspension bridge and closed to all traffic while cars are travelling on the new span. For those who are not familiar with this portion of the bridge, it was that particular bridge which partially collapsed during the Earthquake of 1989, the one that killed over 300 people, caused the double-decker Nemitz Freeway in Oakland to collapse and brought the World Series at Candlestick Park to a halt. A person videotaped the bridge and a car falling into the collapsed portion of the bridge. A link can be found here. The bridge collapse prompted notions to replace that portion of the Bay Bridge and bring the suspension bridge portion up to earthquake proof standards, together with the Golden Gate Bridge. 24 years later, they got their wish with a cable-stayed suspension bridge made using steel made in China. This is still sparking a debate on whether Chinese steel has as high quality as American steel, especially as several flaws were discovered while building the Oakland portion of the bridge, which included broken bolts and anchors holding the stayed cables. Despite the bridge being a remarkable landmark that will surely be documented in 50 year’s time, especially with the statue found at the island, it is questionable of whether $4 billion was necessary to build the bridge or if it would have made sense to rehabilitate the cantilever bridge. This includes the cost and time it will be needed to demolish that bridge, which will commence sometime next year.
With all the bad news involving bridges in the US, there are some drives to save historic bridges with one being replicated after a 70 year absence. More in part 2 of the Chronicles’ Newsflyer.
Our next mystery bridge is also one whose bridge type is to be identified. But before mentioning anymore about it, let us clarify what this bridge is all about. First of all, it is not made of salt, nor was there salt used in building the structure. After all, salt and steel do not mix as the former eats away at the latter when used for any purpose, which includes deicing the roads to ensure that no cars slide around and cause accidents. Second of all, the bridge is located over a river whose Sorbian name means “salt”, and it is in a (former East) German city that prides itself on the commodity that was once treated like gold during the Medieval era. The city still mines salt along the river today and markets products made from salt, but not as much as about 300 years ago at the latest.
Going back to the bridge itself, this was found by chance while touring this river in 2011 and 12 respectively. It is one of the oldest bridges over the river in this salt city, whose construction dates back to the 1880s. It used to serve a railroad leading to an industrial district on an island that was in service until shortly after German Reunification in 1990. While the rail line and the bridge were both abandoned when the manufacturing company went out of business, the city bought the line and later converted it into a bike trail, while at the same time, the bridge was rehabilitated and received a color of green for its color, which can still be seen while biking along the river today. The design of the bridge however reveals one of the truss designs that eventually made its way to the United States even before the time of its construction, where one can see many examples today in the New England states, Pennsylvania and Texas. This despite the fact that: 1. The truss bridge type was developed and patented before 1860 with the earliest example known to be built in Mainz and 2. The truss bridge type was developed by two different engineers, one of which led the efforts to build one of the key landmarks in Pittsburgh in 1883, which still exists today. The design resembles a parabolical, lens-like shape, resembling a combination of a suspension and an arch bridge, supported by diagonal truss beams. It resembles that of the Prince Albert Bridge in England, which was built by I.K. Brunel in 1859. The design was later modified by another American engineer in the 1890s even though that design never bore fruit.
The bridge was one of the first to introduce welded and riveted connections, instead of pinned connections. Pin connections meant that truss beams are connected with a series of eyebars, nuts and bolts. They’re easy to assemble and reassemble. Yet the riveted connections imply that the beams are joined by gusset plates, where they slide into place and bolted shut by bolts. Welded connections do not require gusset plates but the beams are welded together, either with or without the use of bolts. With the exception of the riveted connections between the end posts and the upper chords, much of the bridge’s connections were welded, supported by bolts. Surviving World War II, the bridge represents one of the earliest surviving examples of bridges built with these connections.
Keeping this in mind, here are some questions for you to consider and answer:
What is the name of the bridge, and where is it located? To help you, please refer to sister column The Flensburg Files and the Christmas market series to help you. You can access the Files by clicking here.
What truss bridge type is mentioned here?
What do you know about the bridge’s history? A murder of a well-known politician occurred on this bridge but he was dignified as a prominent figure by the East German Socialist Party (SED) during the Cold War. A plaque can be found on the trusses, which can be seen while crossing the bridge today.
Put your thoughts and guesses in the comment section both here as well as on the facebook page. The answers will be revealed when a bridge tour of this salt city is given, which will be later in the summer, after the tour of the bridges in Schleswig-Holstein is completed. Speaking of that state, the next article takes us back to the Grand Canal, where one will have a look at 10 finest bridges with over 130 years of history with it.
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.
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.
Here are some interesting facts about welding that were in the film and are worth noting:
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.
Heat stripping is a process of placing the torch on a section of metal, straightening it out with clamps.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Book of the Month for August 2012: How Gardner’s book brings the materials together in chronological order
In the summer of 2008, while compiling a book on the bridges in my county of childhood, Jackson County, Minnesota, Denis Gardner, a historian at the Minnesota Historical Society, published a book on the history of bridges in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, where I was born and raised. I purchased the book not only for the use of information for my book, but also to find out more about the development of the bridges in Minnesota from the time of its statehood in 1858 to date. Furthermore, I wanted to find out more about the I-35W Bridge Disaster in 2007 and its effect on the future of the remaining historic bridges in the state. After all, Gardner was in the finishing stages of his work when the Minneapolis Bridge disaster happened on 1 August, 2007 and some information on this event was mentioned in the work. Yet, the book deals with the historic aspect of the bridges that helped shape the way people traveled throughout the state, thanks in part to the bridge builders that contributed a great deal to the state’s infrastructure. Yet the way Gardner structured the book, he may have set the precedent for other bridge book authors to follow.
Gardner divided his piece up into materials that were used for the development of bridges in the state: stone, wood, iron/steel and concrete, and arranged them in chronological order for a simple reason: these were the materials that were readily available for use. When the materials were exhausted or had enough flaws to cause potential disasters, they were replaced with newer materials that were sturdier and lasted longer. While it was used mainly for log cabins, wood was abundant and also used for the first bridges designed to bring commerce to the settlement and visitors to the farmsteads. Stone was also used for bridge crossings, but they needed to be quarried and transported, which took an ample of innovative efforts, money and especially, manpower. Both were prone to natural disasters, with wooden bridges being destroyed by the spring thaw and floods and the stone arch bridges failing due to erosion. Then there was the usage of iron and steel for bridge construction, whose advantages included being lightweight and can be (re-) assembled, yet the problem with these structures have to do with rust and corrosion caused by not maintaining (and painting) the bridge on a regular basis. Then there is concrete, which most bridge builders use today, despite the fact that the lifespan of these bridges are shorter than those made of metal.
Gardner connects the usage of materials with the development of bridges in the state, and the bridge builders and engineers who contributed to the construction of these structures. While some background information on the bridge types (as with the diagrams) were deemed necessary for the readers to understand, Gardner focused more on the role of the bridge builders in Minnesota, for the state became a primary breeding ground for bridge building empires to rise and dominate the landscape west of the Mississippi River beginning in the 1890s. This includes the empire consisting of Commodore P. Jones, the Hewett Family (Seth M., William S. and Arthur), Alexander Bayne and later Milo Adams. These gentlemen established numerous bridge companies based in Minneapolis and were in business for a total of five decades. There was also Horace Horton before he emigrated to Chicago, and Lawrence Johnson, an immigrant from Flensburg (Germany) who later became a politician after establishing his own bridge company. Gardner takes the reader behind the scenes to reveal how these bridge companies filled the vacuum that was left behind after many bridge companies based in Chicago and eastward became part of the American Bridge Company consortium in 1901 and for the most part, left the bridge building scene in Minnesota afterwards.
Gardner presented many examples of historic bridges in the present that are historically significant because of their design and connection with the bridge builders of that time, but are in danger of being replaced, especially in light of the I-35W Bridge tragedy of 2007. Most helpful was a directory containing a list of bridges that are either listed or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places with information about its design and history and (for most cases), bridge photos accompanying them. This provides the reader with an opportunity to examine them, plan a trip to these structures (assuming they are still standing, for the number has dropped dramatically since the book was published), and further their research on bridge builders and other bridge designs for their own projects.
Gardner made sure that the bridge book was not too technical and that the history behind the construction of these bridges and the photos that accompanied the examples presented were easy for the people to understand. As a pontist, this book is very easy to read in comparison to the works written by authors that were too technical and lack the photos and diagrams needed to support their arguments. But for a non-pontist, the book provides some easily accessible information on the history of bridges in the state and how it contributed to the history of the USA in general. There have been many books written on the bridges in certain states. Yet this one brings bridge building and history together, putting the materials used for bridge construction in chronological order and bringing historic bridges home to the people who grew up knowing them, people who knew about them and the people who want to know more about them for their own purpose.
Note: The author took an opportunity to interview the author of the book, Denis Gardner. To view the interview, click here.
Foreword: When we think of historic bridges and US culture and history, two points come to mind, and these are based on a questionnaire conducted last year. The first point is most people will relate the US with the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. From a German point of view, it is obvious as they were the works of two German-born civil engineers- Joseph Strauss (who was born to German immigrants in Cincinnati) and John (or Germans would call him Johann) Augustus Roebling, who originated from Mühlhausen in western Thuringia. These two bridges are icons as they were built during economic hardships and using the labor of people wanting to work to make a living, let alone make ends meet. One will find both bridges used as one of the symbols of American pride. The second point is when it comes to bridge types that are popular in the eyes of the Americans (and those visiting the US), the covered bridges- those built of wood- have the podium hands down. They go as far back as the 1700s, with the majority of those still standing today being built between 1830 and 1880. Regardless of color and size, design and appearance, these covered bridges are a symbol of love- where lovers meet- and shelter from the rain. This love affair with covered bridges goes further back than the “Bridges of Madison County,” a film produced in 1994 with Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep that takes place in Iowa and has made Madison County a household name and its association with covered bridges. Apart from the ones Madison County and places in southeastern Iowa, one can also find massive amounts of these unique vintage structures in Ohio, Pennsylvania and the New England states. Several articles have been written about these structures, including the latest one on the covered bridges in Pennsylvania and in particular, the Kissing Bridge in Lawrence County. A link found here: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11286/1181459-55-0.stm.
Yet, despite receiving massive support from state and local governments in renovating and upkeeping the bridges, one has to ask if other bridge types are receiving the same amount of treatment as the ones I mentioned. In an editorial in response to the Kissing Bridge article written by Nathan Holth, the answer to that question is clearly no, and the reasons are obvious, as it will be interpreted from my point of view. If one would rank the historic bridges needing funding either for maintenance or for conversion into a place of recreation, the bridge types needing the most attention are first and foremost the covered bridges, followed by deck arches made of concrete, stone, or brick, and lastly suspension bridges. Down at the bottom, are the bridges made of metal- in particular, cantilever truss, truss and stringer (beam). While stringer bridges have the least value of the bottom three, the other two have been the most neglected as they have been dubbed as bridges that eventually rust and corrode away, too expensive to maintain (even with a simple paint job and replacing the tiny parts that keep them together), and simply too dangerous. They are also a target for scrap metal as some people have successfully dismantled them illegally just so they can get as much money out of the deal as possible; especially since metal prices have skyrocketed over the years. Examples of bridges that have fallen victim to missing metal parts have occurred in Pennsylvania and Mississippi, but other states have been hit but not reported, at least not in the newspapers. And lastly, in light of the I-35W Bridge collapse on 2 August, 2007 which killed 13 people and injured as many as 115, especially the cantilever truss types are being targeted for fast-track replacement fearing a weakening of one section could bring the whole bridge down- a myth that has not only yet to come true but one which a little doctoring up of weak sections at a price of $1000 will prolong the bridge’s life by 30-40 more years, a practice that has been done in places outside the US, even Germany. This is better than having to replace the structure with that whose life is only 50 years and it comes at a cost of millions of dollars; most of which comes out of the taxpayer’s pockets.
The years of misunderstanding and neglect overshadow the beauty of many of the bridge types that are target of metal. The truss types may be common, like the Pratt, Parker, Warren, etc., but they were products of previous truss types that were rare and unique. One can see a fine Camelback truss bridge like the Tremaine Bridge in Hamilton County Iowa, one of the rarest in the state and even the country, but will see even rarer ones like the bowstring arch bridges, the longest of which can be found near Mankato with the Kern Bridge, at 190 feet -only surpassed by the Blackfriar’s Bridge in Ontario (Canada). The portal bracing of the overhead truss bridges represent a signature by the bridge builder; a symbol of how truss bridges were developed. While one will find the common A-frame portal bracing, like the Albright Bridge- located down river from the Tremaine, there are many unique ornamental designs that can be found on some bridges built in the 1880s but highly ignored, like the Hardin City Bridge in neighboring Hardin County. And finally the historic connection of many bridges- regardless of type- are the most ignored for even though they are the product of hard work and innovation- a signature of the great age of Industrialization between 1870 and 1920- let alone the identification of local culture- they are rarely mentioned in the history books and they mostly go unmentioned except in oral history.
Fortunately many agencies and organizations in the private and public sectors have seen the historic value these structures do have and are taking measures to preserve them for the next generation to appreciate. They have involved the government, applied for grants, and done fund-raisers. Yet still, more needs to be done to ensure that these structures receive as much treatment as the covered bridges, let alone the icons that many people associate America with. This includes having more funds available, strengthening the existing preservation laws (and making them transparent) and involving the politicians who are willing to support the initiatives. The question is how to do that?
Therefore I would like to share Mr. Holth’s letter and the one which gave him an incentive to write this and would like to ask you a pair of questions: 1. Do you think that the current grants and other means of support are encouraging or discouraging historic bridge preservation and 2. If there was a way to improve the policies on preserving places of historic interest (and in particular, historic bridges), what would it be? I’m looking forward to your input on this topic.
Special thanks to Nathan Holth for allowing me to put this topic and his letter to the attention of the audience. Mr. Holth runs a website called Historic Bridges.org, which looks at the problems and ways bridges can be restored, using many examples of bridges he has visited and documented since it has been in operation in 2003. He resides in Michigan and is a social studies teacher.
I saw your article on Pennsylvania’s historic covered bridges in the Post Gazette and I wanted to suggest that a good followup article might be one that explores the Commonwealth’s historic iron and steel truss bridges.
I have been photo-documenting historic bridges since 2003 and from Day 1 I have been both shocked and frustrated at how the highway agencies, tourism agencies, the media, and even the public at large have this immense interest in covered bridges yet at the same time, metal truss bridges, rich in both beauty and heritage, are ignored and often demolished and replaced with new bridges.
Your article mentioned that Pennsylvania has one of the largest collection of covered bridges in the country. Nearly all of these bridges have been beautifully cared for and preserved. Did you know that Pennsylvania also could claim that same statement for historic metal truss bridges? Further, did you know that despite that fact, Pennsylvania likely has one of the worst track records in the country for actually preserving these metal truss bridges?
It is in my opinion both imbalanced and unfair to spend tax dollars preserving nearly every covered bridge in the Commonwealth, while at the same time hardly spending any money to preserve historic metal truss bridges in Pennsylvania. Moreover, call me crazy, but when I think of what defines Pennsylvania’s heritage and history, I think of the iron and steel industry. What better expression of that heritage than the metal truss bridge? While many of the steel mills that Pennsylvania once have no longer operate and have been demolished, the products of those mills remain in the form of these bridges.
Your article actually touches directly on a very striking example of this imbalance of metal truss bridges versus covered bridges. You mention a map that Somerset County produces that guides tourists to historic covered bridges in the county. Why doesn’t the county include its historic metal truss bridges? Somerset County is home to a very impressive collection of historic metal truss bridges. Somerset County is home to the Bollman Bridge, a truss bridge that is partially made of cast iron and was built in 1871. Unlike many covered bridges which have had their materials replaced and design changed over their lives, the materials seen on this bridge are the same materials that were there in 1871. Cast iron truss bridges are also one of the rarest bridge types in the country, far more rare than covered bridges. And how can they ignore the beautifully lightweight beams and the ornate builder plaque of the Maust Bridge? Metal truss bridges do not look anything like covered bridges, but they are extremely beautiful. Their economical use of materials makes these bridges look so lightweight they almost appear to defy physics as they carry traffic. Many of them have decorative details including builder plaques and ornamental steel bracing. And unlike most covered bridges, visitors can stand on a metal truss bridge and enjoy an open, unrestricted view of the rivers these bridges cross. Below is a partial list showing some of the best metal truss bridges in Somerset County.
Finally, it is worth noting that the exact same thing goes on in Washington and Greene Counties. Both counties heavily promote their covered bridges but little is done with their amazing collections of historic metal truss bridges.
It breaks my heart to think of all the tourists who use these covered bridge tour guides and probably drive right by these bridges, unaware of their existence and significance.
It is my opinion that an article or a series of articles exploring historic metal truss bridges in Pennsylvania would be unique content for the newspaper and of interest to readers. It certainly would be some subject matter that would be fresh and new. You can explore all the historic bridges in Pennsylvania that I have visited on my website here: www.historicbridges.org/map_penn.htm. Another excellent resource on historic bridges in Pennsylvania is located at www.bridgemapper.com.