BHC Pic of the Week Nr. 140: Tribute to James Baughn-Easter Edition Part 1

This week’s Pic of the Week features a two-pic special in observance of the Easter holiday weekend. The first part will be showcased today on Easter Saturday, the second part on Easter Sunday- all in honor of the bridgehunter webmaster himself, James Baughn.

Today’s Pic takes us to Chester, Illinois and this bridge, the Gage Junction Bridge. This pic was taken by Mr. Baughn in 2013 at the time where Spring is beginning to take its course with the blossoming of trees and the melting of the snow. When this pic was taken, the river levels were higher because of the run-off caused by the melting snow. Nevertheless, this shot deserves recognition for its beauty as the greening process takes its course.

The Gage Junction Bridge is one of the newer versions of the truss bridge. The bridge features a polygonal Warren through truss span supported by multiple plate girder spans. The portals are Washington-style (WA) and the connections are riveted. The total length is 1380 feet; the truss span is 240 feet. The bridge is located over the Kaskaskia River just above the Lock and Dam northwest of Chester, in Randolph County, Illinois. It was built in 1976 replacing a swing bridge that had been built in 1903 but was destroyed in a train wreck in 1975. Union Pacific continues to operate the line and this bridge to this day.

The Gage Junction Bridge represents an example of truss bridges that were still being used during the 1970s. Even though truss bridges became rare to build because of other bridge designs that were more commonly used, such as beams and girders. However, in the past decade, there has been an increase in the number of truss bridges being built. Even though nine out of ten newer truss bridges have been built for railway traffic, we have seen new truss bridges that have been built either for pedestrian use, like the Sutliff Bridge in Johnson County, or for roadway use, like the Motor Mill Bridge in Clayton County– both located in Iowa. We’re not talking about the mail-order-truss structures that are welded together at a manufcaturing company and installed on the spot. We’re talking about truss bridges that are put together and supported by riveted connections and feature genuine portal and strut bracings, V-laced vertical beams and upper and lower chords. And they are built together onsite and over the river. 🙂

This leads me to some questions for you to ponder:

  1. How historically valuable are these modern truss bridges compared to the ones built between 1870 and 1940, including those made of iron and also those with special (ornamental) features?
  2. Will truss bridges make a comeback and become another option for bridge building? We’re seeing many examples of such bridges dating back to the 1980s and later in places like Indiana and Ohio. But what about the other states?
  3. What truss designs are used to construct modern truss bridges and which ones would you like to see built?
  4. And lastly, what’s a typical truss bridge to you and in your opinion, will these modern truss bridges meet your own expectations?



Feel free to comment here or in the Chronicles’ facebook pages. We love to hear from you. 🙂

Flensburg-Bridgehunter Merchandise on Sale through Café Press


Rosedale Bridge. Photo taken in September 2010

If you are looking for the best gift for your loved one and are not sure what to get them, or know someone who loves bridges, photography, landscapes or the like, or you want to surprise them with something you don’t find on the shelves of any supermarket, then perhaps you can try the Flensburg-Bridgehunter Online Shop. Powered by Café Press, this year’s items include new calendars from the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, featuring the historic truss bridges of Iowa as well as the bridges of Minnesota, which are selling like hotcakes even as this goes to the press. In addition, merchandise carrying the Chronicle’ new logo are also for sale, including wall clocks and coffee cups. Some of them feature historic bridges that are the focus of preservation efforts.  The Flensburg Files has a second installment of the Night Travel series for 2015, in addition to part I that was produced in 2012 but is available in the 2015 version. This in addition to a new set of photos and journals to keep track of your travels and thoughts.

If you are interested in purchasing any of the products provided by the Chronicles and the Files, click here. This will take you directly to the store. Hope you find what you are looking for and thank you for shopping.

Flood Aftermath in Europe

All photos courtesy of the City of Linz

Produced together with sister column: The Flensburg Files

Clean-up of flooded areas underway. Several small crossings destroyed by flooding, mostly concrete beam bridges. Others doomed due to damage. Linz Railroad Bridge spared flooding and near ship mishap but fate sealed?

Four weeks where fields became lakes, towns became small Italian villages, and farmers and merchants became gondola drivers and boaters. That is the signature of the Great Flood of 2013 in central Europe.  Heavy rainfall caused several major rivers in Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary and other countries to flood their banks, setting new records, destroying livelihoods and causing damages that are exorbitant financially and in a literal sense. In Germany alone, 10 out of 16 states were declared disaster areas, with the hardest hit areas being in Bavaria, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Lower Saxony. Cities, like Passau, Halle (Saale), Magdeburg and Luneberg broke 400-500 year old records with much of the city being under water.

But surprisingly according to newspaper reports, unlike the Great Flood of 2002, damages to the bridges in Europe were minimal. While many smaller bridges were destroyed because of flash floods, the major bridges along the Saale, Elbe, Danube and Rhine Rivers (among them) sustained little to moderate damage. This is a stark contrast to what happened in 2002, where many major crossings were damaged to a point where demolition and replacement were warranted. This included the Pöppelmann Bridge in Grimma (Saxony), a 1719 stone arch bridge that was undermined in the 2002 flooding and had to be rebuilt. While Grimma was flooded out again this time around, the bridge survived the flood thanks in part to the main span allowing water to pass through.

Old Magdeburg Railroad Bridge spanning the Elbe- Photo taken in February 2011

But it does not mean that the bridges that survived the floods and mudslides are safe. Many bridges are being inspected to ensure they are safe for travelling. This includes the Elbe River crossings between Magdeburg and Lauenburg, where the Elbe put hundreds of miles of highways and rail lines underwater together with the bridges. While bridges like the historic Anna Ebert Bridge in Magdeburg are being inspected for structural concerns to determine whether street cars can use it again, it is possible that an even bigger solution to the flooding problem will come at the expense of these crossings as many local and state government officials are looking at all options possible to ensure that the next round of floodwaters stay in the rivers and not flood the banks. This includes raising some bridges and rebuilding and removing those that are hindering the flow of water. This puts such crossings like this and  the old railroad bridge over the Old Elbe River located downstream from the Anna Ebert Bridge, at risk. A link to the bridges of Magdeburg is here if you wish to look at the city’s bridges and their history.

Anne Ebert Bridge- Photo taken in February 2011

One of the interesting facts about this round of floods is the fact that not only the small river crossings were undermined and destroyed by flood waters, but the majority of the bridges destroyed in the floods were concrete beam bridges built between the 1980s and 2000s. This is unusual given the fact that beam bridges were built to allow river currents to flow over and underneath the structure. But as you can see in a video of a beam bridge being washed away in Poland two weeks prior to the Great Flood, if the river current is strong enough, it can cause the span to sag and eventually break it apart and wash it away. You can see the full video here. This was exactly what happened to the bridges in eastern Thuringia and western Saxony in the area of Zwickau and Chemnitz, as these crossings were either wiped out or damaged to a point where replacement is now a necessity. Even if beam bridges are made of wood and steel, many of them crossing these small streams were wiped out or barely survived but are not stable enough to be repaired. This will most likely lead to the question of which other bridge types to be used when these structures are being replaced, for many arch, suspension, cable-stayed and truss bridges survived the onslaught of flood waters with little or no damage. Interestingly enough, these types are being used more extensively for bridge construction here in Europe than beam bridges, which should put other countries (like the US and Canada), their agencies, politicians and bridge builders on notice regarding bridges to be used not only to accommodate traffic across ravines but also be structurally sound against such natural disasters.

To close this series on bridge disasters and the Great Flood of 2013, there are a couple interesting bridge stories to mention that provide some lessons in dollars and sense. One deals with preventive measures to keep a temporary bridge from being washed away at the cost of many thousands of Euros. Another bridge survived a near boat mishap, to the dismay of the majority of the community the bridge is located, for the 110-year old structure is due for replacement but is protected by federal preservation laws, which officials are pursuing to have this protection revoke to allow for the bridge replacement to proceed.  Here are the details:

Flood destroys new bridge abutments and temporary bridge in Zschopau, Saxony:

Many small bridges along this small river in western Saxony were severely damaged or destroyed during the floods. This bridge is one of them. Located along the Zschopau River in the town bearing the river’s name, near Chemitz, the Bailey pony truss bridge was supposed to serve as a temporary crossing as a new bridge was being built replacing a two-span brick arch bridge. Yet misunderstanding plus political inaction and rushing water doomed the temporary bridge as the floods not only destroyed the bridge, but also the abutments of the new bridge being built. This created a stir among residents who were against the construction of a new bridge and had pushed to temporarily remove the Bailey truss from the river, both unfortunately to no avail. The bridge has long since been fished out of the river, and a new temporary bridge is planned at the moment, but at costs that would have been avoided had action been taken earlier.  As for the new bridge, it is unknown when it will be completed for construction crews will have to build a new bridge completely from scratch, even revising their plans to ensure that the structure will survive such onslaughts as this one. An article on the bridge can be found here.

Linz Railroad Bridge survives flood and close call:

Never has there been such discontent towards a bridge as the city of Linz in Austria. As reported last year, the three-span through truss bridge spanning the Danube River has been targeted for demolition and replacement by politicians and the majority of the community, even after a pair of reports indicated that half of the bridge cannot be restored. Yet this 1903 structure has been protected by the Austrian Heritage Laws because of its historic significance to the region and its rare truss type that was used in bridge construction in Austria. This bridge survived a close call as a small ship traveling along the high flowing Danube River almost rammed into the bridge. However, this was not before having to evacuate 120 Swiss tourists ashore prior to its passage. The ship barely made it across the rising river. A few more centimeters and a collision with the truss bridge would have been likely, causing damage to both the boat and the structure. An article on this incident can be found here.  While many were wishing that the accident would have happened and the bridge would have either collapsed or been damaged to a point of irreparably, government officials, which includes the city council, the mayor of Linz and the railroad company that runs trains across the bridge have filed a petition to the Austrian Heritage Office in Vienna to have its historic status revoked, so that the replacement of the bridge could proceed at the earliest in 2014. While the decision was expected last month, there is still no word on whether this waiver will be granted. If the request is denied, the city and the railroad will be forced to consider alternatives, which includes rehabilitating the entire structure. This will take twice as long as the two years needed to replace the bridge. More information on this bridge can be found through the OÖ Nachricht here as well as through the Chronicles, here, which will keep you posted on the latest on this bridge. An organization aimed to save the bridge has been created. You can find them by clicking on here.

Our last part of the Flood Series focuses on Canada and its acute flooding situation which has ripped railroads out of their beds and dropped many important crossings into the water, including the ones in the Provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Stay tuned!

You can view the highlights of the Great Flood of 2013 in Europe through sister column the Flensburg Files, which you can click on here.




My two cents: diet time for truck(-er)s crossing bridges

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

It is unknown which is worse this past week: torrential rains and unseasonably cold weather in Germany and parts of Europe as well as the US, or the bickering that has blossomed in light of the I-5 Skagit River Bridge disaster, which has reached new levels this weekend.  Already many massive media giants have decided to go with the Culture of Fear trend and have started bashing bridge types and incremental repairs to the aging structures in favor of more giantic concrete structures that can handle traffic for 100 years. This was clearly demonstrated in an Associated Press blog posted in the US Bridges website, which you can see here.

The response has been overwhelming. Many pontists and engineers have balked at the article, claiming that bridges can be maintained and rehabilitated without having to waste millions of taxpayers’ dollars on a concrete slab bridge, whose lifespan is half of that of other bridge types, such as trusses, cantilever trusses, suspension, and even arches. Some have responded by saying that they should talk to the real bridge experts than the politicians who think they know about the design specifics and how a bridge should be built, but in all reality, they do not even have a degree in civil engineering to prove it.

From a columnists’ point of view, the problem lies clearly on the deregulation of the transportation industry, where since the Reagan years (and the mentality of deregulation), we have seen an enormous increase in the number of vehicles that are overweight, oversized, or both, combined with drivers who do not know the limits of driving with this excessiveness. In the last 25 years, many roads, bridges and tunnels have taken a severe beating because of this high volume of traffic that is on the highways.

The collapse of the bridge in Washington should serve as a wake-up call to all politicians to pass tougher federal measures to put limits on the amount of load a truck is required to carry and enforce strict fines and other penalties for drivers violating these regulations. Furthermore, trucking companies should be required to invest in GPS technology suitable for trucks only to ensure that truck drivers choose the routes and crossings most appropriate to them.  And finally, truckers should take extra training, putting them in practical situations to have them prepare for the unexpected. While this may take more money than what is being invested, in the long term, it will pay more dividends than going on a Salem Bridge Witch Trial, tearing down bridges that are still in good condition, just because the media says that thousands of bridges are at risk of “a freak accident.”

One can point fingers at stupidity or bridge design flaws as the reason for bridges like Skagit to fail, and the Washington transportation officials will scramble to put a pair of Bailey Trusses in place of the fallen truss span while planning a bridge with no vertical clearance issues. Yet in all reality, we should have learned our lesson from another bridge disaster, namely the Minneapolis Bridge disaster of 2007, which is in order to have an efficient infrastructure that carries us from point A to point B, we need to give a little for the safety of other travellers using it as well. This applies to roads, bridges, tunnels, and the drivers who use them. Henceforth, less is more. Less of a load means a more prolonged life span for a bridge. This is something that we (and especially truck drivers) should consider in the future.


Mystery Bridge Nr. 7: Two identical bridges not far apart

While still sitting in western Iowa, a pair of bridges came to my attention recently as I was doing some research on one of them that had existed in Harrison County, and another local found a similar one in neighboring Monona County.  Like in the Volga River crossing in Fayette County and its counterpart in Downsville in Dunn County, Wisconsin, these two bridges are exactly identical. Both are Parker through truss bridges with pin-connections. Both have identical portal bracings: Howe lattice with curved heel bracings that are subdivided. Both have the exact same length: 170 feet long. Both were constructed using steel rolled from Cambria Steel Company of Pittsburgh. And according to historic bridge research conducted in the 1990s, both were relocated in the late 1940s to serve as replacements for the bridges lost to the infamous 1945 flooding that destroyed almost every single bridge in western Iowa. And this after spending ca. 35 years at its original site in……?

This is where the blanks need to be filled. Like the two aforementioned bridges, there is a potential that because they were exactly identical that they were part of a multiple-span bridge that existed outside Harrison and Monona Counties, respectively. Yet as was mentioned in one of the columns on the bridges in Dunn County, such chances of chopping up the multiple spans and dispersing them into different directions are only 50-50. It is possible that they were merely single spans constructed in different locations and were related to each other in any way, shape or form.  But the easiest way to find out is to look at the records at the engineer’s office, the county court house and especially the newspaper articles, for they provide the readers with exact information on the construction of the bridges and the companies that oversee the project. One has to start in their own backyard- in this case, Monona and Harrison Counties. If these bridges were relocated from another place, then the next step is to track down the information to determine whether they were built separately to begin with or were part of a bigger multiple-span bridge, like the US 101 Buellton (California) Bridge, whose four truss spans were relocated to Harrison County in the 1950s. Once the information is tracked down then we can be certain about the history of the two structures, even though one of them no longer exists. As for the other one, given the degree of structural integrity, there is a chance that this structure may be preserved in its place, should it no longer be able to carry traffic. It is located only a mile away from the nearest town and given the overgrowth that has hounded the bridge in recent years, it may serve as a picnic area or part of a bike trail network running along the Soldier River. It depends on the interest, the funding and how long it will take before such a project can be realized.

Here are the two bridges profiled as they Mystery Bridge:

Bridge 1:

Pearson Bridge- This bridge spanned the Soldier River at what was 170th Trail. Built ca. 1910, the bridge was removed a few years ago, although it is unknown when it happened. It was located 3.5 miles southeast of Little Sioux at the foot of Loess Hills.

Pearson Bridge (now extant). Photo taken by Clayton Fraser.


Bridge 2:

Soldier Bridge- This bridge spans the Soldier River just off Iowa Hwy. 183, 1 mile northeast of Soldier. Records on the date of construction of this bridge is contradictory. While the National Bridge Inventory claims the bridge was built in 1905, the historical bridge survey used 1910 as the construction date. Also unique about the bridge is its curved east approach span revealing that the bridge was not a straight crossing.

Soldier Bridge. Photo taken by Craig Guttau. When looking closely, one will see the curve in the bridge itself.

Now the questions in summary:

1. Were these two bridges part of a multiple-span bridge or were they just built separately with no exact relation whatsoever?

2. Who originally built the bridge? When and where were they located? Remember, it was the same bridge builder that had close ties with Cambria Steel.

3. When were they relocated to their final destinations and how?

Any leads? Here is the e-mail address: Good luck!

Help needed: Photos, postcards and stories about Iowa’s Bridges

Durrow Road Bridge in Linn County, Iowa Photo taken in August 2011

When looking at the Durrow Road Bridge, located east of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the first thing that comes to mind is that it is a typical through truss bridge built in the 1920s. Judging by its recent paint job, it has been maintained really well and on a regular basis. But while photographing the bridge, a resident on a farm place located just around the corner takes notice and decides to stop at the bridge to find out what I was doing (in reality, I was with another pontist who resides near Marion, located north of Cedar Rapids). It is from that point on, we have a nice long conversation about the history of the bridge and why it was named. The bridge was relocated here in 1949 from Cedar Rapids to replace a wooden trestle bridge and add a piece to the farmstead that is over a century old.

The main idea is the fact that each bridge has its own history and character that makes preserving it for future generations a must. Yet, bridges like this one are being replaced in favor of progress with the records on its history and its association with the local communities lost forever.  There are many books that have been written about these historic bridges. They include Dennis Gardner’s book on Minnesota’s historic bridges in 2008, using the materials of wood, stone, metal and concrete as the main pillars to the story of how the bridges were developed.  Another book on the bridges bridges in New Jersey, written by Steven Richman, portrays the existing bridges in New Jersey. And there are many books written about the covered bridges in the northeastern corner of the USA from Pennsylvania to Maine, many of them have contributed to the states taking pride on their covered bridges more than the other bridge types.

The truss bridges in Iowa, a project that has been launched, will be a book that will differ from all the books that have been written for two reasons: 1. Iowa’s bridges have been documented in books already but in bridge types only. This includes the Marsh Arch bridges, written by the late James E. Hippen in 1997 and the bowstring arch bridges, written by Michael Finn in 2004. Up until now, there are no sources that deal with truss bridges in the state with the exception of reports conducted by agencies, like the Iowa Department of Transportation, and other interested parties but are only limited in availability.  2. The focus of the book will be on the development of the truss bridges in Iowa beginning with the first crossings along the Mississippi River and in big cities, like Dubuque and Ottumwa and continuing on with the dominance of truss bridges over bowstring arch bridges, experiments with new bridge types, like the Thacher truss bridge, the role of the bridge builders, first from out of state and later from local Iowa bridge builders. It is then followed by the introduction of standardized truss bridges and how they waned in popularity in favor of concrete bridges. And finally the book will focus on the successes of identifying these bridges and preserving them for reuse. The book will feature truss bridges both past and present and their history and how they brought the communities together. This includes stories similar to the one of Durrow Road Bridge.

If you have any old photos and postcards of bridges (esp. those that no longer exist in Iowa), as well as any information and stories pertaining to the truss bridges in Iowa, please send them to Jason D. Smith via e-mail at Mailing address is available upon request.

The book project will take approximately 5-10 years to complete pending on the amount of information that comes in. But quality will outweigh quantity and the goal is to bring the history of truss bridges in Iowa to light (going as deep into the research as possible) so that the readers can understand how they contributed to the development of the state’s infrastructure, let alone to the development of their communities and farmsteads.  So if you have any information that is useful to this book, I would love to hear or see it. Thank you very much for your help.

Ellsworth Ranch Bridge in Emmet County. This 1895 Thacher through truss bridge is NOT the first one that was built. There is one that was constructed earlier and somewhere in Iowa. Do you know when and where the first Thacher bridge was built? Photo taken in August 2011