Ely Street Bridge in Bertram Washed Away

Ely Street Brdg. Bertram
Ely Stret Bridge in Bertram

1891 Bridge near Cedar Rapids knocked into flooded Big Creek.

June of this year saw unprecedented flooding in the Midwest, as heavy rainfall saturated the ground and turned quiet creeks into violent rivers flowing out of control. This includes the areas of Linn, Jones and Johnson Counties in east central Iowa, where floodwaters and erosion caused damage to two major highway bridges northeast of Cedar Rapids, and sadly the destruction of a prized historic bridge in the small town of Bertram.

Located east of Cedar Rapids and accessible from highways 151 and 13, the town of 300 inhabitants is located on a key railroad line between Clinton and Cedar Rapids. The quiet community prides itself in having four historic bridges located within a six-mile radius, all of them located along Big Creek, one of the tributaries that eventually empties into the Cedar River.  The Ely Street Bridge, located on East Bertram Road just south of the railroad crossing is one of them.

Ely Street Bridge in Bertram
Ely Street Bridge in Bertram in Linn County. Photo taken in August 2013

Built in 1891, the two-span Pratt through truss bridge, with Town lattice portal bracings and pinned connections, is a key example of a bridge built by J.E. Jayne and Son Bridge Company in Iowa City, located 30 miles south of Cedar Rapids. Born in 1838,  John E. Jayne moved to Johnson County at the age of two where he settled down with his family on a plot of land in Graham Twp., according to county records. He started his bridge building business in Iowa City in the 1870s, with his company located on Gilbert Street. Many bridges built in Linn County were credited to his name, including three in and around Bertram. The red-colored Ely Street Bridge is the best known product built by Jayne, as the structure consists of two truss spans totalling 224 feet long and 14 feet wide. Plaques are found at the top center part of the portal bracings. The bridge is well-hidden but one will cross it right after crossing the railroad tracks.

That is, it used to…

Heavy rainfall caused Big Creek to flood its banks, resulting in trees and other debris falling into the rushing waters. One of the larger trees knocked the two-span structure into the water on June 30th, cutting the truss bridges into pieces and the street off from its main access to US 151 and IA 13.  Once standing while underwater, the truss structure is now in many pieces, and there is no word on whether the bridge will be rebuilt or scrapped in favor of a more modern structure.

Already last year, attempts were made by Iowa DOT and Linn County to encourage residents of Bertram to “upgrade” the bridges, including the Ely Street Bridge. The offer of covering a wider portion of the cost to replace them was rejected by residents for they did not want to have an increase in traffic going through the community. The decision was sensible given the quiet setting Bertram has to offer, with its narrow streets and houses that are more than 70 years old. With the Ely Street Bridge washed away, the issue of the future of the crossing will indeed be brought back onto the table of the Bertram town council, Linn County and eventually Iowa DOT.

There are three options facing the parties involved:

1. The bridge could be scrapped and replaced with a modern bridge, with the plaques being saved and showcased at either the museum or on the railings of the new bridge. There, the issue of the increase in traffic and the opposition to building a new bridge because of cost and historic significance will be discussed vehemently.

2. The second option is removing what is left of the bridge and not replacing the bridge at all. This would be a definitely inconvenience for it would cut the community in half with a crossing disappearing forever.

3. Then there is the third option, which is rebuilding the truss bridge, piece by piece, making it resemble the original crossing. While that may be expensive to undertake, judging by the state of the truss spans, most of the pieces are salvageable, with the exception of the diaginal beams and portal bracings, which can be done by a local bridge builder. This option would keep the bridge listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the honor it had received in 1998.

Even if only one of the truss spans is salvageable, one can either construct a replica of the lost span, as was done with the Motor Mill Bridge in Clayton County and the easternmost span of the Sutliff Crossing near Lisbon, both done in 2012. Both bridges had been washed away by flooding years before, and residents associated with both bridges raised funding and received help from state and federal authorities to rebuild them.  That financial support is also available if one would import a historic bridge from elsewhere to replace one of the lost spans, whether that span originates from somewhere in either Linn, Jones or Johnson Counties or a couple river miles west of the bridge. There, the Blaine’s Crossing Bridge, seen from the Hwy. 151/13 Bridge, has been out of use for many years but still has some use left, judging by the appearance after the bridge was visited by two pontists within two years of each other.

Given the many opportunities available, combined with the technical know-how available for rebuilding and restoring historic bridges, and the residents’ interest in a (preferrably restored) crossing at East Bertram Road, it will be most likely that the Ely Street Bridge will be rebuilt and the crossing will be reopen in the near future. The questions will remain though as to how to approach this problem. Will the bridge be rebuilt to its original form or (partially) replaced? How much money is needed to rebuild the crossing and where will the money come from? Will there be any campaigning for restoring the crossing, like on facebook, etc., and if so, how? And lastly, what will the rebuilt bridge look like: in its original form, in a replicated form, in an altered form, or in a completely new form?  All these questions will need to be answered in the coming weeks and months before construction of the crossing can commence. This time, those affected will have their say as to how (new) crossing should be built.

Author’s Note: Check out Bridgehunter.com for more pictures of the Ely Street Bridge, taken by the author and two other pontists. This includes a couple shots of the bridge after being knocked into Big Creek. 

A tour of Bertram’s bridges can be seen here.

Mystery Bridge 37: Truss Bridge in Christian or Greene County (Missouri)?

Photo courtesy of Wayne Glenn

Our next mystery bridge goes back to Missouri, and in particular, Christian County. As you all know, the county is home to Riverside Bridge, winner of the 2013 Ammann Awards for Best Historic Bridge Preservation. Yet the county residents cannot get enough of the historic bridges, as many locals have been digging up old photos and interesting facts about the historic bridges in the region.

This bridge is one of them. Wayne Glenn, a local historian, received this old picture of the bridge from a person with a collection of photos from Ozark, and brought it to the attention of others, including Kris Dyer and other pontists. It’s a through truss bridge, built using a Pratt design and featuring A-frame portal bracings. Judging by the design of the plaques on each portal, there is a debate as to whether it was built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company or the Canton Bridge Company, both of which are located in Canton, Ohio. Most of the bridges in Christian County were built by CBC between 1904 and 1915, including the Riverside Bridge (which was built in 1909), with only a couple more truss bridges built by the Pioneer Bridge Company of Kansas City, according to James Baughn in an e-mail correspondance with other pontists. Yet, as he added, there is a possibility that the bridge may have been built in Greene County, as a structure similar to the picture above was built by WIBCo in 1896 but was rehabilitated by CBC in 1904, as the former became part of American Bridge Company in 1901. That bridge spanned Clear Creek northwest of Springfield but was replaced in 1991.

Clear Creek Bridge northwest of Springfield. Photo courtesy of HABS/HAER

But looking at the old photo by Glenn, it appeared that it was taken on a Sunday afternoon, when everyone was in their Sunday dress, yet it is unknown when the photo was taken, let alone how the two gentlemen in the photo managed to climb up to the top of the truss structure, as a ladder seemed to be absent. One has to assume that the bridge existed between 1890 and 1910, during the time of the existence of the two Canton Bridge builders. Reason for that was the early usage of steel and the letter-style portal bracings that replaced the ornamental Town lattice type, yet pin-connected trusses were still in extensive use. It would not be until 1910-15 that riveted connections were introduced for truss bridges.

This leads to the following questions:

1. If the photo was taken in or around Ozark, where was this bridge located? Who built the bridge- the Canton companies or Pioneer? It is doubtful that the bridge was a predecessor to the current structures that existed, like the Red, Green or even the Reed Road Bridges, just to name a few. Furthermore, as the characteristics of a CBC Bridge features the X-frame ornaments, as seen on the Riverside Bridge, the old photo featured none of that, leading to the question of whether WIBCo built the bridge but was modified with the replacement of the portal bracings. This leads us to the second question.

2. If the bridge did not come from Ozark, where was it originally built? Was the structure the one at Clear Creek in Greene County, or did it originate elsewhere?

Any information on the part of Glenn and Co. would be very useful. You can provide that at the Chronicles at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com or Kris Dyer at saveriversidebridge@gmail.com. Christian County prides itself on its history and ways to preserve its heritage. After seeing Riverside Bridge be saved, history is being taken seriously. This includes finding artifacts which serve as pieces of a puzzle that is being put together by the many people who take pride in the county, its history and its heritage.

Mystery Bridge Nr. 33: Old truss bridge in Des Moines

Old Euclid Avenue Bridge in Des Moines. Photo courtesy of Iowa DOT Archives.

Before diving into a rather large third and final part of the tour through Des Moines, Iowa looking at the history of truss bridges, there is one bridge to consider because of its rather unique history. While there were many bridges whose information is scarce and would require an in-depth research through the city and railroad archives, the Euclid Avenue Bridge is a unique structure that should not be ignored. The three-span Pratt through truss bridge spanned the Des Moines River from 1931 until its removal as part of the urban renewal project that was initiated after the Great Flood in 1993. Yet according to records found in bridgehunter.com, the bridge was located in two different places: the first crossing was at Euclid Avenue but only lasted two years. A haunched concrete arch bridge took its place and has been serving traffic for over 80 years. The bridge ended up at the location of 2nd Avenue, where it served as a replacement to an earlier truss bridge from 1935 until its eventual removal.

Photo courtesy of Iowa DOT Archives

The reason for the assumption? The spans between the span at 2nd Avenue and the one at Euclid Avenue are identical according to the photos. Yet looking more closely at the 2nd Avenue site, the bridge served inter-rail traffic, a streetcar service which transported people from point A to point B for three decades until it was discontinued. However, photos from the 2nd Avenue site showed that the bridge was narrowed, making one researcher interpret that it might have a different structure that was built at that location and not the one at Euclid Avenue.

Even more puzzling is the entire structure itself, for it featured three spans but whose portal bracings and other features were totally different: the outer spans had Town Lattice portals and appeared as if they were King Bridge Company structures, whereas the center span had an M-frame design. This leads to the conclusion that the bridges may have been imported to Des Moines from elsewhere and assembled by the local bridge building company.

This leads to several questions that need to be clarified, namely:

1. If the bridge was brought in from outside the community, where were they originally built and when?

2. Who was responsible for bringing in the three spans to be erected in 1931 at the Euclid Avenue site, let alone relocate them to the Second Avenue site in 1933-35?

3. Were the trusses narrowed to accomodate rail traffic at the 2nd Avenue site, or was there another bridge built next to the 2nd Avenue Bridge that accomodated rail traffic?

4. What did the 2nd Avenue Bridge look like prior to its removal in 1993 and was that year the correct date of the bridge’s removal?

This case would require any research in the form of newspapers, oral stories and most importantly, photos. Do you have the information on this bridge? If so, please send them to the Chronicles at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com and help out on solving this rather unique mystery involving this bridge.

While the Euclid Avenue Bridge was unique in itself, there are other truss bridges that deserve as much recognition as this one, even though some of them have vanished into the history books. More on them in the next article….

 

Tracking Down a Bridge’s History Part 2: Examples

Silverdale Bridge at its new location: over Manning Avenue on the Gateway Recreation Trail, east of Mahtomedi in Washington County, Minnesota. Photo taken in August 2011, three months prior to its opening to traffic.

Note: This is part II of the series on tracking down the history of a historic bridge. To view part I, please click here.

After going through some useful tips on info-tracking a historic bridge (similar to that of genealogical research), part II looks at a pair of success stories of how a historic bridge’s life was tracked down through research. Both historic bridges mentioned here were relocated at least once, yet thanks to the research conducted by historians and members of the state agencies, they were able to determine the origin of the bridge’s history, tracing its life from start to present.  One of the bridges is now enjoying its third life in service, even though it was close to becoming a pile of scrap metal, whereas the other no longer exists as attempts to relocate it a third time failed due to a tragedy. In either case, they are both worth mentioning and serving as poster boys for other bridges, whose lifespan remains to be researched.

Hansen’s Ford Bridge at Ellingson Bridge Road prior to its failed relocation attempt. Photo courtesy of Allamakee County Highway Department.

Example 1: Hansen’s Ford Bridge in Allamakee County

Location: Upper Iowa River at Ellingson Bridge Road just east of the Winneshiek/Allamakee County Border

Type: Two-span Whipple through truss bridge with Wrought Iron Bridge Company-style Town lattice portal bracing

Dimension: 278 feet long (Each span was 138 feet); 15.8 feet wide

Status: No longer exists. Destroyed during a relocation attempt in 1994 and later scrapped.

Also known as Ellingson Bridge due to its proximity to the family farmstead, the Hansen’s Ford Bridge was one of only a handful of bridges that featured two spans of a Whipple through truss bridge. The portal bracing is a textbook resemblance of the one used by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company in Canton, Ohio, the one that built the bridge. Research done by the late James Hippen of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and later followed up by other pontists (including yours truly) revealed that the bridge was relocated once in its lifetime. It was known as the Pierce Bridge and was originally constructed in 1878 over the Cedar River west of Osage in Mitchell County. It was one of three bridges that served the county seat. When officials wanted to grade the main highway (now known as Iowa Hwy. 9) and with that build a wider bridge, the bridge was dismantled and transported three counties over towards the east, while a new bridge was built in its place. The truss spans were constructed over the Upper Iowa River east of the county border with neighboring Winneshiek County, replacing a wooden trestle bridge. This all happened in 1939. Apart from newspaper articles and post cards, like this one, the key evidence proving its relocation was found in the blue print provided by the Allamakee County Highway Department.

Sadly though attempts to relocate the bridge for the second time failed. The bridge was supposed to be given over to a private group to be erected over the Yellow River in the southern part of the county, yet as the spans were being hoisted from the river, they fell apart and collapsed. The decision was made to scrap the bridge. It is unknown what caused the disaster, but it is assumed that age combined with lack of maintenance may have played a role in the failed attempt to give the bridge a new life off the public road system.

Silverdale Bridge shortly before being hoisted onto the foundations above Manning Avenue. Photo taken in December 2010

Example 2: Silverdale Bridge

Location: Manning Avenue on Gateway Trail east of Mahtomedi in Washington County, Minnesota

Type: Wrought iron pin-connected Camelback Pratt through truss bridge with Town lattice portal bracing

Dimension: 162 feet long and 17 feet wide

Status: In use as a recreational trail

The Silverdale Bridge has a very unique history for not only was it relocated four times- untypical of any truss bridge on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean- but it was a mystery bridge that took many years of research to solve. In particular, the question that was on the minds of personnel at the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) was where it originated from and who built the bridge?

The bridge was built in 1877, using wrought iron instead of steel. The evidence was through a laboratory study conducted in 2002. Yet visual studies concluded that the bridge was first built over Sauk Lake in Sauk Centre, in Stearns County. This was based on collaboration between MnDOT, the Historical Society in Sauk Centre and locals affiliated with the bridge.  While a plaque was located on the top part of the portal bracing, up until now, it has not been identified as to who constructed the bridge, let alone whether the plaque still exists or if it has long since been destroyed. It is unknown whether any information from newspapers as to who built it would have helped.

The bridge’s life almost came to an untimely end, when it was replaced in 1935 with a steel stringer bridge and the truss bridge was relocated to a storage yard. Interestingly enough, the stringer span survived only 65 years before being replaced with a concrete span, which still serves main traffic today. It was salvaged two years later and was relocated over 500 kilometers northeast to Koochiching County in northern Minnesota. After replacing the strut bracings with one consisting of an X-laced strut bracings with 45° heels and trimming the curved heel bracings off the bridge’s portals, the truss bridge was re-erected over the Little Fork River between the villages of Rauch and Silverdale, serving Minnesota Hwy. 65. The portal bracings were replaced in 1964 after a truck damaged the northern entrance. Upon its removal from the highway system in 2008, the bridge remained in tact with the portal bracings that were a sixth of its height. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998 and when it was scheduled to be replaced, MnDOT placed the bridge on the “most valuable historic bridge to preserve” list with hopes that someone will take the bridge and use it for recreational purposes. Fortunately, Washington County stepped up to purchase the bridge to be used as part of the Gateway Trail, connecting Mahtomedi and Stillwater. The bridge was dismantled and transported to the Manning Avenue site, where it was refurbished and reassembled. Portal bracings resemble the ones used at Sauk Centre and at the Little Fork crossing prior to 1964. Before it was erected over Manning Avenue, it was painted black. Governmental shutdown in July 2011 delayed the opening of the bridge by six months. But since November 2011, the bridge has been serving the bike trail, its third life but one that will last another 150+ years if maintained properly and if the story of how the bridge was built, transported and rebuilt, let alone how its history was researched, is passed down to the next generations.

Photos:

The bridge while serving main traffic in Sauk Centre. This photo was taken ca. 1902. Courtesy of MnDOT
The Sauk Centre Bridge after its opening in 1935. It was in service for 65 years. Photo courtesy of MnDOT
The Silverdale Bridge prior to its relocation. Photo taken by MnDOT in 2003
Damage to the portal bracing in 1964. Photo by MnDOT
The replacement portal bracing. Photo taken by MnDOT in 2003
The duplicate of the original portal bracings installed prior to its re-erection over Manning Avenue. Photo taken in August 2011

Fast Fact:

1. Sauk Centre was the birth place of author Sinclair Lewis, the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930. He is famous for the Fabulous Four, four novels dealing with the flaws of American society: Main Street, Babbitt, Elmer Gantry and Arrowsmith.    He also wrote over 100 short stories and other novels. His birthplace is now a museum and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

2. Minnesota Highway 65 used to be part of US Hwy. 65 from 1926 until the portion was handed over to the state in 1934. The highway starts near International Falls and terminates in Minneapolis with half the highway being an expressway between Cambridge and Minneapolis. US Hwy. 65, which used to run through Minneapolis and St. Paul from its southern terminus of the state of Louisiana, now terminates in Albert Lea, Minnesota. Parts of it was integrated into the Jefferson Highway.

Author’s Note: The author wishes to thank Pete Wilson at MnDOT and Brian Ridenour of the Allamakee County Highway Department as well as the Ellingson family for help with this information.

Piano Bridge Restoration

Piano Bridge before the project started

In the face of modernization and improving the infrastructure, it is rare to find historic bridges built earlier than 1940 that are rehabilitated and given a new lease on life as a recreational structure. It is rarer to see them relocated to different destinations nowadays without having to be dismantled and the parts sandblasted before being reassembled. But in the case of the Piano Bridge in southeastern Texas, located near Weimar (approximately 120 kilometers southeast of Austin), one will see something that is even seldom to find: A bridge that is disassembled and reworked on site and then reassembled on site to be reused for vehicular traffic.

Julie Bowers of Workin Bridges, an organization based in Iowa dealing with historic bridge preservation, was at the site when the bridge underwent a massive remodeling process and has submitted a summary of the whole process with photos as a guest columnist, providing readers with a description of how the rehabilitation process works on the Piano Bridge, a Pratt through truss bridge built by the King Bridge Company in 1885. The project is close to completed as some final touch-ups are needed before the bridge reopens to traffic. Here is her story on the bridge. The profile of the bridge is found at the end of the article:

I have had the privilege over the last few months to document the restoration of the Piano Bridge in Dubina, Texas. Although Workin’ Bridges did not get the project for a rehabilitation and fix of the broken parts in place, we did enable the contractor, Davis Construction to have a bit of time to bid the project. They utilized our same ironworkers from BACH Steel to do the repairs. Problem number 1, how does Workin’ Bridges make money when we aren’t a construction company yet?

Removal of the Flooring

So the project was scheduled to begin in the middle of November, delayed until the week before Thanksgiving. Davis Construction was on site, but the BACH Steel crew ended up in a car accident, which derailed their construction schedule for some time. Thankfully they lived and Bob Schwensen, the supervisor for Davis already had experience in truss bridges.

The bridge lift from its foundations

Schwensen had the skills and expertise to continue on and attach the strong backs to the incline end posts using equipment that was on site from BACH Steel, the crew pulled planks and stringers and executed the bridge lift on December 2, 2011. McCray Crane Service from Houston, Texas was hired to do the lift and it took only a few hours to set the crane and about 5 minutes to move the bridge, after a week setting it all up and preparing. The disassembly of the bridge took several days, lots of heat and force and big wrenches. I was able to help at that point by saying that it would be impossible for one person to do that work and once they put two or three on getting the nuts and pins off, all proceeded smoothly.

The disassembly process

Engineering and plans were designed by TxDOT Engineer Charles Walker. His understanding of truss bridges is exceptional. He designed new splice plates, connectors and shoe plates. They also designed new tops for the caissons. TxDOT trusts that fatigue and stress were addressed and the broken parts able to be fixed to bring this bridge back onto the road system for vehicular traffic.
The holidays delayed work even more. Painters were not set up at that point and everyone left. In January the blasting of the parts began and BACH Steel arrived in the latter part of January to begin the repairs with Nels Raynor, Shane Milliken and his son Michael on the job.

Rivets for the Piano Bridge

TxDOT applied for permission to change the AASHTO Standards that demand rivets should be replaced with bolts for this job. Where it had been riveted to begin with, rivets were used for replacement. Workin’ Bridges documentary was able to get rivets donated from JayCee Rivets and a 60lb hammer from Michigan Pneumatic, as well as Black Stallion gloves from RevCo industries to use for this project. A big thank you to those folks, all of their products figure prominently in most photos.

The riveting process on the bridge

BACH Steel began by heat straightening eye-bars, removing pack rust, fixing the lattice portals, and moving forward with riveting. Many TxDOT engineers and inspectors have been on site to see this process, check the heat in the forge and approve how it was done. That process took about 2 weeks and then the reassembly began in early February. I was not there to document that process but was able to utilize photos from BACH Steel for this part of the job.

Reassembling the newly remodelled truss bridge

On February 22, Ray’s Crane Service reset the truss over the East Navidad River where it has been since 1885. The stringers for the approaches are set, the stringers for the bridge itself are welded in place and the final painting has begun this last week of February. The road approaches are nearly done and clean up of the work site is finished.
Davis Construction will start setting the decking, which was specified for Glulam planks instead of a traditional timber deck. The rest of the process should only take a few more weeks. The signs will be reattached, after being beautifully painted by S&S Painting’s Cecil Zimmerman out of Kerrville, Texas and the bridge should be reopened soon. Mr. Zimmerman also repainted the original King Bridge plaques and they will be welded onto the bridge soon.
Documenting this process has shown me that we can and must train more ironworkers in the skills that it takes to do this type of restoration work. Welding channel to channel or plates onto old iron is the same as it has always been, there was little packed rust but that was banged out with heat and a flat plate to hammer on (no direct force applied to the iron), rivets were taken out and new connectors were riveted back on, hub guard was straightened and repaired, pad welding took care of any section loss on the fishbelly floor beams where the original welded stringers were taken off and the vertical connector that was the critical failure was fixed. All connectors are new steel with more bolts, so the bridge is actually stronger than ever.
Hopefully there will be a great party when this bridge reopens. I will be there to document that and take photos of a fully restored bridge with traffic crossing it. Of course it won’t make that thundering noise like it did in the past but this is a win for the good guys.

Resetting the Piano Bridge onto new piers.

Bridge Profile:

Location: Spanning the East Navidad River on Piano Bridge Road near Dubina (Fayette County), Texas

Bridge Type: Pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with Town Lattice portal bracing

Built: 1885 by King Bridge Company

Dimensions:  137.1 feet long (truss span 79 feet) and 11 feet wide.                                    Vertical clearance is 14.8 feet

Link: http://www.bridgehunter.com/tx/fayette/piano/

 

THE BRIDGEHUNTER’S CHRONICLES WILL KEEP YOU POSTED ONCE THE PIANO BRIDGE IS OPEN TO TRAFFIC AGAIN.