Endangered TRUSS: The Jefferson Highway Bridge at Okay, Oklahoma

All photos courtesy of Mark W. Brown

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OKAY, OKLAHOMA- There are many historic structures that are endangered because of the need to have a concrete bridge to move traffic from point A to point B. There are some that have been sitting abandoned- many of which for too long and need the attention of the public to save it from its ultimate doom. When I think of the first endangered TRUSS candidate, the first bridge that comes to mind is this one: The Okay Truss Bridge. The bridge spans the old channel of the Verdigris River to the west of the town of Okay in Wagoner County. The structure was first discovered a decade ago and even though it has been abandoned for several decades, records have indicated that the structure was once part of the Jefferson Highway, the second oldest intercontinental highway that was built in 1915 and went from Winnepeg, Canada to New Orleans, cutting through parts of Missouri, Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma in the process.

There is not much information on the bridge’s history except to say that given the materials needed to build the structure, let alone the features, the bridge must have been built between 1910 and 1915, as part of the project to extend the Jefferson Highway through the small community. The bridge features two Parker through truss main spans. Each span features a 3-rhombus Howe Lattice portal bracings with angled heels, latticed struts and V-laced vertical beams. There is also a Pratt pony truss span on each outer end of the bridge. The connections are pinned and the material: steel for the trusses and wood for the decking.

Westernmost pony truss approach span

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The bridge was later bypassed by another structure to the south, as part of the project to rechannel the Verdigris and the truss span has been sitting abandoned and in disarray ever since. The easternmost pony truss span collapsed many years ago and it would take a lot of climbing just to get onto the bridge itself.

The gravest problem though lies with the through truss spans because of a failing pier. It is unknown when and how this occurred, but the center pier is crumbling, causing the end post of the western through truss span to slip.

While the damage may be minimal when looking at it from a bird’s eye view, when on the bridge, it is far worse than it seems, as the crumbling pier, combined with the sagging of the endpost, is causing the western truss span to lean and twist on its side.

The twisted metal brought a reminder of one bridge that fell victim to flooding in 1990, which was the Rockport Bridge in Arkansas. Prior to its downfall, flooding in 1987 caused severe damage to the center piers causing the center span to tilt and twist. This is exactly what is happening to the Okay Truss Bridge, and if nothing is done with the truss span, the next flooding may be the bridge’s last.

What can be done to save the truss bridge? The easiest is to take the truss spans off the piers and dismantle them for storage. As it happened with the Bridgeport Bridge in Michigan, the twisted western Parker truss span could be straightened through welding, whereas the trusses in general would need to be sandblasted and repainted. The piers would need to be replaced and because the easternmost pony span is considered a total loss, a replacement span could take its place if one reerects the restored truss span and converts the area on the east end and the island between the old and new channels of the Verdigris into a park area. As this bridge is part of the original Jefferson Highway, research is needed on the structure’s history to nominate it to the National Register.

Oklahoma has seen a big drop in the number of truss bridges in the last two decades, yet efforts are being taken to save what is left of the bridges. There is little doubt that the Okay Truss Bridge can be saved if action is taken to salvage the trusses and rebuild the entire structure, while erecting a park to honor its history. It takes the will of not only the locals but also members of the Jefferson Highway Association to make it happen. Yet time is running out and we’re fighting windmills regarding even saving the truss structure before the next floodwaters. If there is a tiny sense of hope, removing and storing the trusses should be top priority. Afterwards, time and finances could be allotted to restore and rebuild the bridge to its former glory.

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Author’s Note: A big thanks to Mark W. Brown for allowing me to use his pictures for this article.

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2020 Author’s Choice Awards- Mr Smith takes his picks

Photo by Aleksey Kuprikov on Pexels.com

And now, before we announce the winners of the 2020 Bridgehunter Awards, I have a few favorites that I hand-picked that deserve international recognition. 2020 was a year like no other. Apart from head-scratcher stories of bridges being torn down, we had an innummeral number of natural disasters that were impossible to follow, especially when it came to bridge casualties. We had some bonehead stories of people downing bridges with their weight that was 10 times as much as what the limit was and therefore they were given the Timmy for that (click on the link that will lead you to the picture and the reason behind it.) But despite this we also had a wide selection of success stories in connection with historic bridge preservation. This include two rare historic bridges that had long since disappeared but have now reappeared with bright futures ahead of them. It also include the in-kind reconstruction of historic bridges, yet most importantly, they also include historic bridges that were discovered and we had never heard of before- until last year.

And so with that in mind, I have some personal favorites that deserve international recognition- both in the US as well as international- awarded in six categories, beginning with the first one:

Best example of reused bridge:

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The Castlewood Thacher Truss Bridge in South Dakota:

One of three hybrid Thacher through truss bridges left in the US, the bridge used to span the Big Sioux River near Castlewood until it disappeared from the radar after 1990. Many pontists, including myself, looked for it for three decades until my cousin, Jennifer Heath, found it at the Threshing Grounds in Twin Brooks. Apparently the product of the King Bridge Company, built in 1894, was relocated to this site in 1998 and restored for car use, in-kind. Still being used but we’re still scratching our heads as to how it managed to disappear from our radar for a very long time…..

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/03/07/castlewood-bridge-in-a-new-home-on-the-threshing-grounds/

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International:

Plaka Bridge in Greece:

Built in 1866, this bridge was unique for its arch design. It was destroyed by floods in 2015 but it took five years of painstaking efforts to put the bridge back together again, finding and matching each stone and reinforcing it with concrete to restore it like it was before the tragedy. Putting it back together again like a puzzle will definitely make for a puzzle game using this unique bridge as an example. Stay tuned.

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/02/19/plaka-bridge-in-greece-restored/

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Hirschgrundbrücke in Glauchau:

While it has not been opened yet for the construction of the South Park Gardens is progressing, this four-span arch bridge connecting the Park with the Castle Complex was completely restored after 2.5 years of rebuilding the 17th Century structure which had been abandoned for four decades. Keeping the outer arches, the bridge was rebuilt using a skeletal structure that was later covered with concrete. The stones from the original bridge was used as a façade. When open to the public in the spring, one will see the bridge that looks like the original but has a function where people can cross it. And with the skeleton, it will be around for a very long time.

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/11/06/update-on-the-hirschgrundbrucke-in-glauchau-saxony/

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Worst example of reused bridge:

Northern Avenue Bridge in Boston

This one definitely deserves a whole box of tomatoes. Instead of rehabilitating the truss bridge and repurposing it for bike and public transportation use, designers unveiled a new bridge that tries to mimic the old span but is too futuristic. Watch the video and see for yourself. My take: Better to build a futuristic span, scrap the historic icon and get it over with.

Link: https://www.northernavebridgebos.com/about & https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcWEvjdsAUQ

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International:

Demolishing the Pilchowicki Bridge in Poland for a Motion Picture Film-

Paramount Pictures and Tom Cruz should both be ashamed of themselves. As part of a scene in the film, Mission Impossible, this historic bridge, spanning a lake, was supposed to be blown up, then rebuilt mimicking the original structure. The bridge had served a railroad and spans a lake. The plan was tabled after a huge international cry to save the structure. Nevertheless, the thwarted plan shows that America has long been famous for: Using historic places for their purpose then redo it without thinking about the historic value that was lost in the process.

Links: https://notesfrompoland.com/2020/07/24/concern-over-reports-that-historic-bridge-in-poland-will-be-blown-up-for-tom-cruise-film/ & https://www.thefirstnews.com/article/so-long-tom-historic-bridge-saved-from-tom-cruise-bomb-14980

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Salvageable Mentioned:

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Okoboji Truss Bridge at Parks Marina in Iowa-

A one of a kind Thacher pony truss, this bridge went from being a swing bridge crossing connecting East and West Lake Okoboji, to a Little Sioux River crossing that was eventually washed out by flooding in 2011, to the storage bin, and now, to its new home- Parks Marina on East Lake Okoboji. The owner had one big heart to salvage it. Plus it was in pristine condition when it was relocated to its now fourth home. A real winner.

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/03/11/the-okoboji-bridge-at-parks-marina/

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International:

Dömitz Railroad Bridge between Lower Saxony and Mecklenburg-Pommerania in Germany-

World War II had a lasting after-effect on Germany’s infrastructure as hundreds of thousands of historic bridges were destroyed, either through bombs or through Hitler’s policies of destroying every single crossing to slow the advancement of the Allied Troops. Yet the Dömitz Railroad Bridge, spanning the River Elbe, represents a rare example of a bridge that survived not only the effects of WWII, but also the East-West division that followed, as the Mecklenburg side was completely removed to keep people from fleeing to Lower Saxony. All that remains are the structures on the Lower Saxony side- preserved as a monument symbolizing the two wars and the division that was lasting for almost a half century before 1990.

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/09/05/domitz-railroad-bridge/

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Spectacular Bridge Disaster

Forest Fires along the West Coast- 2020 was the year of disasters in a literal sense of the word. Apart from the Covid-19 pandemic, which brought the world to a near standstill, 2020 was the year where records were smashed for natural disasters, including hurricanes and in particular- forest fires. While 20% of the US battled one hurricane after another, 70% of the western half of the country, ranging from the West Coast all the way to Montana, Colorado, Wyoming and the Dakotas dealt with record-setting forest fires, caused by drought, record-setting heatwaves and high winds. Hardest hit area was in California, Washington and even Oregon. Covered bridges and other historic structures took a massive hit, though some survived the blazes miraculously. And even some that did survive, presented some frightening photo scenes that symbolizes the dire need to act on climate change and global warming before our Earth becomes the next Genesis in Star Trek.

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/09/12/great-western-fires-destroy-iconic-historic-bridges/  &  https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/09/12/catastrophic-inferno-hits-western-united-states-photos-noble-reporters-worlds-iconic-news-media-site/  & https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/09/11/no-comment-nr-2-the-great-california-fire/

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Bonehead Story:

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Demolition of the Historic Millbrook Bridge in Illinois-

Inaction has consequences. Indifference has even more painful consequences. Instead of fixing a crumbling pier that could have left the 123-year old, three-span through truss bridge in tact, Kendall County and the Village of Millbrook saw dollar signs in their eyes and went ahead with demolishing the entire structure for $476,000, coming out of- you guessed it- our taxpayer money. Cheapest way but at our expense anyway- duh!

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/08/26/historic-millbrook-bridge-demolished/

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Planned Demolition of the Bridges of Westchester County, New York-

While Kendall County succeeded in senselessly tearing down the last truss bridge in the county, Westchester County is planning on tearing down its remaining through truss bridges, even though the contract has not been let out just yet. The bridges have been abandoned for quite some time but they are all in great shape and would make for pedestrian and bike crossings if money was spent to rehabilitate and repurpose them. Refer to the examples of the Calhoun and Saginaw County historic bridges in Michigan, as well as those restored in Winneshiek, Fayette, Madison, Johnson, Jones and Linn Counties in Iowa.  Calling Julie Bowers and Nels Raynor!

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/06/10/the-bridges-of-westchester-county-new-york/

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Collapse of Westphalia Bridge due to overweight truck-

To the truck driver who drove a load over the bridge whose weight was four times the weight limit, let alone bring down the 128-year old product of the Kansas City Bridge Company: It’s Timmy time! “One, …. two,….. three! DUH!!!!”  The incident happened on August 17th 2020 and the beauty of this is, upon suggesting headache bars for protecting the bridge, county engineers claimed they were a liability. LAME excuse!

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/08/18/truck-driver-narrowly-escapes-when-missouri-bridge-collapses-truckers-4-truckers/

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International:

waldcafe bridge

Waldcafé Bridge in Lunzenau, Saxony-

Located near the Göhren Viaduct in the vicinity of Burgstädt and Mittweida, this open-spandrel stone arch bridge used to span the Zwickau Mulde and was a key accessory to the fourth tallest viaduct in Saxony. Yet it was not valuable enough to be demolished and replaced during the year. The 124-year old bridge was in good shape and had another 30 years of use left. This one has gotten heads scratching.

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/06/05/waldcafe-bridge-in-gohren-to-be-replaced/

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Collapse of Bridge in Nova Scotia due to overweight truck-

It is unknown which is more embarrassing: Driving a truck across a 60+ year old truss bridge that is scheduled to be torn down or doing the same and being filmed at the same time. In any case, the driver got the biggest embarrassment in addition to getting the Timmy in French: “Un,…. deux,…… toi! DUH!!!” The incident happened on July 8th.

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/07/09/historic-bridge-in-nova-scotia-collapses-because-of-truck-reminder-to-obey-weight-and-height-limits/

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Spectacular Bridge Find:

Root Bridges in Meghalaya State in India-

Consisting of vine bridges dating back hundreds of years, this area has become a celebrity since its discovery early last year. People in different fields of work from engineers to natural scientists are working to figure out how these vined bridges were created and how they have maintained themselves without having been altered by mankind. This region is one of the World’s Top Wonders that should be visited, regardless whether you are a pontist or a natural scientist.

Link:  https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/04/18/living-root-bridges-in-the-tropical-forests-of-meghalaya-state-india/

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Puente de Occidente in Colombia-

This structure deserves special recognition not only because it turned 125 years old in 2020. The bridge is the longest of its kind on the South American continent and it took eight years to build. There’s an interesting story behind this bridge that is worth the read…..

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/04/15/1895-this-suspension-bridge-in-colombia-is-still-the-second-longest-span-of-its-kind-on-the-continent/

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The Bridges of Schwerin, Germany-

For bridge tours on the international front, I would recommend the bridges of Schwerin. It features seven iron bridges, three unique modern bridges, a wooden truss span, a former swing span and  a multiple span arch bridge that is as old as the castle itself, Schwerin’s centerpiece and also home of the state parliament. This was a big steal for the author as the day trip was worth it.

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/11/03/the-bridges-of-schwerin/

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USA:

Thomas Viaduct in Maryland-

Little is written about the multiple-span stone built in 1835, except that it’s still the oldest functioning viaduct of its kind in the US and one stemming from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad era.

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/06/25/thomas-viaduct-in-maryland/

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The Bridge Daheim in New York-

Geoff Hobbs brought the bridge to the attention of the pontist community in July 2020, only to find that the bridge belonged to a mansion that has a unique history. As a bonus, the structure is still standing as with the now derelict mansion.

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/07/02/mystery-bridge-nr-132-the-bridge-daheim/

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The Bridges of Jefferson Proving Grounds in Indiana-

The Proving Grounds used to be a military base that covered sections of four counties in Indiana. The place is loaded with history, as not only many buildings have remained largely in tact but also the Grounds’ dozen bridges or so. Satolli Glassmeyer provided us with a tour of the area and you can find it in this film.

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/07/23/the-bridges-of-jefferson-proving-grounds-in-indiana-hyb/

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Now that the favorites have been announced and awarded, it is now the voter’s turn to select their winners, featured in nine categories of the 2020 Bridgehunter Awards. And for that, we will go right, this way…… =>

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 148: Red Arrow Road Bridge (HYB)

Photo by Greg Saurbier

Our first Mystery Bridge of 2021 and the 148th in the series takes us to Michigan and the Red Arrow Highway Bridge. The bridge is 28 feet long and is located near Benton Heights, spanning Blue Creek. The bridge has been out of use for well over 110 years and is currently privately owned. Yet the bridge has a lot of ornamental features that makes visiting it a must. Satolli Glassmeyer from History in Your Own Backyard produced a film about this phantom bridge, the historic Red Arrow Highway and the history that we know to date. What we don’t know is who built it and who designed the rail piers?

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Historic Bridge in Minnesota for sale- Any takers

Petersen Bridge
Photo by John Weeks III

NEW ULM, MINNESOTA (USA)- Officials from the Brown County Highway Department have a historic bridge for sale and for those interested, all you need is a plan to present and a dollar to pay. The Petersen Bridge spans the Minnesota River, carrying Rennville County Highway 3 and Brown County Highway 8. It’s approximately 7 miles SE of Franklin and 20 river miles NW of New Ulm. Also known as the Eden Bridge, it features a two-span Warren pony truss bridge with riveted connections. It was built in 1918 and has a total length of 250 feet- the largest span is 81 feet. The bridge has been considered eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

In a statement by Brown County:

Because the bridge has a visually-low profile (being a pony truss rather than a through-truss), and because there is flexibility to omit approach spans as needed, the bridge could fit well into any number of urban or rural settings

The bridge is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places but needs to be replaced with a wider structure. The county hopes to find a new owner who can reuse the bridge on a trail, in a park, or in a similar setting.

The bridge has been closed to traffic since 2017 and work is underway to replace the historic bridge with a modern one, with the project set to begin later this year at the earliest.

Those interested in purchasing and repurposing the bridge can obtain a package by clicking here. It includes the contact information for the Brown County Highway Engineer in case there are questions or if you are interested in taking the bridge.

The deadline for all entries is June 30th, 2021 at 4pm local time. More information on the bridge can be found via bridgehunter.com, here as well as John Weeks website, here.

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Note: While you are at it, there is a tour guide on the bridges of New Ulm which may be of interest of you. Have a look by clicking here. An interesting story on New Ulm can be found in the Flensburg Files by clicking here.

The Bridges of Frankfort, Kentucky

Singing Bridge. Photo taken by David Eads

Our next bridge tour takes us to the city of Frankfort. With a population of 27,600 inhabitants, it’s the capital of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the county seat of Franklin County. Frankfort is home to Fort Hill, an important post that played a role in the Civil War. It’s now a monument and park complex. The city is situated at the junction oft he Kentucky River and Benson Creek, and contrary to common beliefs, Frankfort was not derived from the name of the German city of Frankfurt but of Frank’s Ford, a crossing and salt mill that were established by settlers out of Bryan Ford (now Lexington) but was abandoned after an attack by the Native Americans in the late 1780s. The plot is across the river from the tract of land purchased by James Wilkinson in 1786 which later became known as Frankfort.

Our focus of the bridge tour is on the remaining truss bridges that span both Benson Creek and Kentucky River. Subtracting our bonus bridge at Devil’s Hollow Road, all but one bridge in Frankfort was built before 1895. The lone bridge built after that period was built in the 1920s and became part of a dual bridge crossing complex. When visiting Frankfort and its bridges, you will be amazed at what you will find there, including these crossings:

Photo by J. Parrish

Benson Creek Bridge at Taylor Avenue:

Built in 1881, the Taylor Avenue Bridge is the last crossing over Benson Creek before it empties into the Kentucky River. The structure is a pin-connected Whipple through truss bridge with Howe lattice portals and angled knee braces. Unusual for the pin-connected truss span is the square-shaped pin nuts used for connecting the truss beams. The bridge is the third crossing at its original site for the first crossing was a covered bridge built in 1871. Nine years later, it was moved to the Red Bridge site at Devil’s Hollow Road and an iron bridge was built in its place, using the abutments from the covered bridge. It collapsed before it was completed and was subsequentially replaced with the current span, even though it is unknown which bridge building company was contracted to build the structure. The Taylor Avenue Bridge served traffic until its replacement on a new alignment at State Highway 1211. The truss span was rehabilitated in 1996 and has since served pedestrians and cyclists. The bridge survived the 2010 floods, as water levels rose halfway up the truss span- miraculously without a scratch!

Photo taken by James MacCray

The Broadway Avenue Duo Bridges:

When traveling along the Kentucky River on Taylor Avenue, one will be greeted by the Whipple Truss structure. Yet he will be awed by this duo crossing complex at Broadway Avenue. It features two through truss crossings over the Kentucky River, but there have been five crossings at this place over the past 170+ years. The first two crossings featured covered bridge spans. The first crossing was destroyed by the Confederates during the Civil War in 1863. At that time, Frankfort was occupied but the Union troops later successfully liberated the city after it was held captive for over a year. The second covered bridge was washed away by flooding in 1867. It was decided that an iron bridge must take its place. The third crossing featured a multiple-span Fink through truss bridge. Built in 1868, it had served traffic for 30 years until a steel through truss bridge, the Pratt span with Town lattice portals, replaced it in 1898. Rail traffic had started using the Fink truss span until its replacement. It was then shifted onto the 1898 span. In 1928, the American Bridge Company built a massive, multiple-span crossing right next to the Pratt through truss span. It features two truss spans- a Pratt and a Pennsylvania, each with riveted connections. Rail traffic was shifted onto that span in 1929. The Pratt span was then converted to vehicular traffic and raised several feet to avoid flooding. The duo spans have a total length of over 600 feet across the river. Currently, the 1929 span is serving rail traffic, while the future of the 1898 span is up in the air. It has been closed to traffic and fenced off completely, yet given its unique history, especially in connection with the railroad, there is hope that the Pratt through truss span is rehabilitated and put to use in another life form- for recreation.

Singing Bridge
Photo by Elaine Deutsch

Singing Bridge:

The tallest and perhaps the longest single span truss bridge in Frankfort is the Singing Bridge. The bridge spans the Kentucky River and carries Us Hwy. 60 into the historic business district of the city. With a span of 405 feet long, it is the longest remaining span of its kind left in the country that was built by the Cleveland-based King Bridge Company. The bridge was built in 1893 and has been rehabilitated twice- the last one was in 2010. It’s a pin-connected Pennsylvania through truss bridge with Town Lattice portals and heel bracings. It’s unknown how tall the bridge is, but estimates point to somewhere between 25 and 40 feet tall. Sans plaque and gothic railings, the bridge still retains its unique feature- a metal grate girder, which makes a humming noise when crossing the structure. Hence the nickname- turned official name, the Singing Bridge. 😉

Photo by Elaine Deutsch

Red Bridge:

The last truss bridge featured here is the Red Bridge. It spans Benson Creek and is located seven miles west of Frankfort along State Highway 1005. The single-span, pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge, with Town Lattice portals and curved heels, was built in 1896 by the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, replacing a covered bridge that had been relocated to this site from the Taylor Avenue Bridge spanning the same creek. Interestingly enough, that covered bridge span replaced the first bridge that was also covered, but christened the name Belleport. That structure collapsed on April 30, 1880 due to flooding and was replaced with the second covered bridge from Frankfort. It remained in service until King built this span. In 1980, the replacement span was built alongside the truss bridge. Since then, it has been left standing and has maintained its structural integrity. It’s eligible for the National Register and there is hope that this bridge will be rehabbed and reused for pedestrian purposes.

To sum up the tour, five well-known truss bridges are worth seeing in and around Frankfort. While three of them are seeing some use, there is hope that the other two will follow suit in the near future. Each structure has a unique history that is important for the city of Frankfort, especially because of King and Fink. Yet even with the historical facts, it is up to the people to decide what to do with them. When looking at them, I really hope that people will see the value in these structures as I do, as well as the rest of the bridge community.

There is a facebook site devoted to these bridges which you can click on, visit and contribute. Check it out:

https://www.facebook.com/HistoricBridgesofFrankfortKY/

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Media Tip: Cleveland State University Album

Photo by Gabriela Palai on Pexels.com

The first Media Tip of the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, and a first bridge book/genre in a long time, this tip takes us to Cleveland State University and to the Wilbur & Sara Ruth Watson Bridge Book Collection. This website was found by chance while searching for some bridge information and it’s one that is considered a jewel.

Dr. Sara Ruth Watson donated a series of rare books written and collected by her father Wilbur J. Watson to the Michael Schwarz Library at the University in 1983. Wilbur was a well-renowned civil engineer and bridge designer who founded the Watson Engineering Company in Cleveland. He authored several books including one that was produced together with her daughters, Ruth and Emily. The Emily M. Watson Endowment Fund was created three years later and focused on the collection of civil engineering works, including that of the Watson Company.

The Schwarz Library has recently been digitized with several works written by Watson on Cleveland’s bridges that can be found online. Yet this website features a gallery of photos collected by Watson during his lifetime, sixteen chapters worth with structures found throughout the US, Canada and Europe, including some in the southern and western half of Germany. They are categorized based on the chronological period of bridge construction, stemming from pre-1890, all the way to the 1920s. Feel free to access the site and the literature written by Watson, et. al.

Link: http://web.ulib.csuohio.edu/watson/albums/album11pg1.html

Wartime Bridge: The Legacy of the Bailey Truss

Photo taken by Kevin Skow.

One will find this one anywhere. Even on the backroads like this one: a single span truss span spanning Soldier River just south of Iowa Hwy. 141 in Crawford County. The bridge was erected here in 1957 to replace a span destroyed during the great flood of 1945. At 90 feet, one would think a through truss span could have fit here. Yet the span is a pony truss and it was put together in layers and put together with bolts. A set of Tinker Toys that was put together easily with the purpose of ensuring even the heaviest vehicles- in this case, farm equipment like tractors- would be allowed to cross it. One has to assume that it was imported somewhere where it had a purpose.

And it was. This span is an example of a Bailey Truss bridge. And even though one can find them here and there, in the farmlands of Iowa to the steep hills of central Saxony, even to the far east, such as India, Australia and New Zealand.  Bailey Trusses were unique because all they require is a few metal beams and bolts, combined with manpower, and the bridge is put together in an instant.  Bailey Trusses were the works of a brillant engineer and and without his expertise, it would not have won World War II. As Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery, the British commander, once said. ”It was the best thing in that line we ever had; without the Bailey Bridge we should not have won the war.”

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Who was that brillant engineer?  Sir Donald Coleman Bailey.

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Source: Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer / Public domain

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Bailey was born on 15 September, 1901 in Rotherham in Yorkshire. He obtained a degree in Civil Engineering at the University of Sheffield in 1923 and was a civil servant in the War Department when the war broke out in 1939.  The concept of the Bailey Truss was developed in 1936, when Bailey scribbled the design on the back of an envelope. His idea was that prefabricated sections that were interchangable could be deployed to the war front and, with steel pins, soldiers could construct the span, which would be anchored on one side and connected on the other side by the use of force. No heavy equipment would be needed to construct a temporary span, and the parts could be transported with the basic equipment or with man power from one place to another because of their lightweight. Constructing them would be easy for it could be achieved within hours, instead of months. For the war effort, the concept of makeshift bridge construction in the shortest time span possible was of utmost importance in order to win the war.

Firstly ignored, Bailey’s truss design was accepted in 1941 when the Ministry of Supply requested that Bailey construct a full scale span completed by May 1st.  The design was successfully tested at the Experimental Bridging Establishment (EBE), in Christchurch, Hampshire, with several parts being provided by Braithwaite & Co. The first prototype was tested in 1941. For early tests, the bridge was laid across a field, about 2 feet (0.61 m) above the ground, and several Mark V tanks were filled with pig iron and stacked upon each other. Another prototype was constructed in 1943 at Stanpit Marsh also in Dorset and was proven successful. That span still exists to this day. After a series of successful trials, the Corps of Royal Engineers introduced the Bailey Truss as a means of construction in 1942 and companies began constructing parts for the Bailey Truss to be transported to the war front.

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Use in World War II:

The first Bailey Truss was constructed over Medjerda River near Medjez el Bab in Tunisia on the night of 26 November 1942 by the by 237 Field Company R.E. After learning about the bridge‘s success, both the Canadians and Americans embraced the truss and started their own production to complement that of  Britain. Detroit Steel Products Company, the American Elevator Company and the Commercial Shearing and Stamping Company were three of dozens of companies that constructed the Bailey Trusses in the US, which was known as the Portable Panel Bridge. In total, over 600 firms were involved in the making of over 200 miles of bridges using the Bailey design,  composing of 500,000 tons, or 700,000 panels of bridging during the war- at the height of the war, the number was at 20,000 panels that were produced and transported. Bailey Trusses were used successfully for transporting military equipment and supplies during the war, including the Normandy and Italy. American troops built over 3200 Bailey Trusses in Italy as they advanced through the Alps into Germany from the south.  The longest bridge there was located over the Sangro and had a span of 1200 feet.

Bailey Trusses were also implemented in Germany, when hundreds of key structures were imploded by the Nazis as a way to slowing or stopping the advancement of Allied Troops. This included the bridges along the Rivers Rhine and Main. Canadians were credited for building the longest Bailey Bridge during the war. The Blackfriars Bridge, a 1814 foot long (558 meters) over the River Rhine at Rees, in North Rhine-Westphalia, was the longest span in the world when it opened to traffic on 28 March, 1945.

US Army soldiers working together to put a Bailey Truss span in place at the site of the crossing at Wesel (NRW). Source: Beck, Alfred M., et al, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Even when the war ended on May 7th, 1945, Bailey trusses were in use as temporary crossings while the bridges were either repaired or rebuilt throughout Germany. It had a dual purpose: To help displaced residence get around and to allow for the transportation of necessary goods needed while the country was being rebuilt. Some of them were made permanent, while others, including the major crossings along the Rhine, Main and Elbe were temporary, allowing time for the original structures to be either repaired or rebuilt fully.

Bailey Truss span erected over damaged arch bridge in Italy in 1944. Source: War Office official photographer / Public domain

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After World War II:

When the war was over, there was a surplus of Bailey spans that were available for reuse. This allowed for Americans, British and Canadians alike to reuse them for various projects. Many of them made their way to Iowa, Missouri and Kansas, where counties in the western half of the state needed at least temporary crossings to replace the spans that were destroyed during the floods of 1945 and again in 1952. Some examples still remain in use today. Bailey trusses were used as temporary crossings as bridges were being replaced. In the case of a viaduct in Maryland, the Bailey spans were built prior to the original trestle being replaced with steel trestles.

Large numbers of Bailey truss spans were built in mountainous areas in California where constructing bridges to accomodate travelers was difficult because of the steep, rocky terrain. Some of the spans were part of the ACROW bridge- temporarily built as moveable bridges. The Fore River Bridge and the Lynn Baschule Bridge both in Massachusetts are classic examples of such Bailey Trusses used. Bailey trusses were also used as extra support for the truss bridge, as is the case with the Haiti Island Bridge in New York, which happened in 2007. The span and the truss bridge itself were replaced three years later.

Ontario had the largest number of Bailey truss spans for the years after the war, with the spans being built in and around Toronto in response to damages caused by Hurricane Hazel. The Finch Avenue Bridge is the last of its kind and is now a historic landmark. The Ontario Hydro-Electric Power Commission used some for their office and as walkways. And lastly, Australia built several Bailey bridges, including the world record holder, a 2585-foot (788 meter), two-lane structure over the Derwent River at Hobart, which was constructed in 1975. It served as a temporary structure before the Tasman Bridge was opened to traffic on October 8, 1977. Later, Bailey Truss Bridges were constructed in the far east, including northern Africa, Suriname, and India. Many of them, like the trestle at Wadi el Kuf in Lybia were built by the British during the time of its Empire.

Bailey bridge, Wadi el Kuf, Libya. Constructed by the British Army, shortly after World War II. Source: Jollyswagman on Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

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The Legacy of Bailey:

Many scholars and even those who served in the military during WWII believed that the Bailey Truss was the key to mobilizing Allied Troops and securing a victory over Germany and Italy in World War II. As a result, Mr. Bailey received several international accolades for his work. In Britain alone, he was given the Knighthood on 1 January, 1946 and the Commander of the Order of Orange-Nassau exactly two years later. By that time, Bailey was living in Southbourne in Bournemouth and was unaware that he had been knighted until one of the girls at the bank had informed him about it. Bailey would live out his days in Bournemouth, where he died in 1985.

He was considered a quiet man but one where he left a footprint with his truss bridge design, which is still widely used in bridge construction, big and small. And while the successes of World War II fell to the common person who fought for freedom and democracy, Bailey was considered one that played a key role, not only in helping bring an end to the war, but to help rebuild the areas ravaged by war with the Bailey Truss. And when you see a bridge like this one below, one will see how the use of simple parts and tools, combined with the use of manpower could make a work of simple art, something we still see today on our roads.

The Prototype Bailey Bridge at Stanpit Marsh. Photo by Eugene Birchall for wiki

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Memorials:

There are not many memorials dedicated to Bailey, even in Britain, for most of the places where he lived have been razed and replaced with newer housing. Yet the prototype Bailey span at Stanpit Marsh still exists today and his birthplace at 24 Albany Street in Rotherham still stands albeit privately owned. Yet there are some companies that specialize in Bailey trusses, including one in Alabama that bears its name. Bailey trusses were rarely used in films, except one based on the battle of Arnhem, A Bridge Too Far, released in 1977. There, the Bailey Truss Bridge was used in the film.

It is really hoped that a statue and/or additional honors, even a museum would be created honoring Bailey for his life and works. 75 years after the end of the great war, nothing of that sort has been considered. This should be considered, especially as talk of the significance of World War II is disappearing together with the War Generation and the children of the Baby Boom that followed. For historians, bridge enthusiasts, teachers and the public in general, it would produce some great talks about the common man who did great things and became Sir Donald Bailey in the end.

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Koniska Bridge in McLeod County Coming Down

Photo courtesy of MnDOT

GLENCOE, MINNESOTA- When visiting McLeod County in 2011, rumors had it that the county had no more truss bridges. The last one had been taken down near Lester Prairie three years earlier. SInce my visit, two more truss bridge spans were discovered by local highway officials, including this one, the Koniska Bridge. The five-panel Pratt through truss bridge spans the South Branch Crow River and can be seen from the County Highway 11 bridge, a half mile away. Built in 1904 by William S. Hewett, one of the members of the Minneapolis School of Bridge Building, the bridge is 90 feet long, has A-frame portal bracings and is pin-connected. The bridge was once part of the village of Koniska, which had been abandoned before the bridge was replaced and left abandoned in the 1960s. Since then, it has sat quietly in the wilderness.

That is until now. Crews are planning to remove the bridge sometime in the fall or winter for safety reasons. The bridge’s decking is wooden but it’s rotting. The structure is rusting but there is no word on how bad. Bottom line is the avoidance of liability issues. It is unknown whether the bridge will be scrapped altogether or will be in storage for possible reuse. But as records indicate it was a Hewett truss, there is a chance to take the structure and relocate it for reuse. Furthermore, like another Hewett truss bridge in Mazeppa, it has the potential to be listed on the National Register.

If interested in the truss bridge, contact the McLeod County Highway Department in Glencoe. The contact details are here.

Mystery Bridge Nr. 140: The Slope Truss Bridge at Black Cat Road

Screenshot of the Google Street View photo of the bridge.

This next mystery bridge keeps us in Idaho but we go to Ada County and to this bridge, spanning Indian Creek at Black Cat Road. The bridge is a sloped, camelback Parker through truss bridge with Howe lattice portal bracings, supported by heels. The truss bridge has six panels and all the beams are pin connected.

Screenshot of the portal view

Bridgehunter.com has little information on this structure except for its location and the Street View. Unfortunately no other photos or information on the bridge were found. Hence the screenshot to give the readers an idea what the truss bridge is like. This structure is unique for it is one of the last truss bridges in the US, whose upper chord is sloped all the way to the portal bracings. Dozens of these bridges were built until 1910, when standardized trusses were introduced. Which explains why this bridge, which is between 100 & 150 feet long was built between 1890 and 1910.

Screenshot view of the strut bracings

The bridge has been bypassed for a couple decades, still it has historic value which warrants its nomination to the National Register. What’s missing is the information on its history, combined with the dimensions.

This is where you step in. Got any facts about the bridge? Then post them here as well as in the bridgehunter.com website. The more facts, the more likely it will be on the NRHP. And the more likely it will be used in the future as a recreation crossing.

Good luck and happy bridgehunting. 😎

Great Western Fires Destroy Iconic Historic Bridges

Harpole Through Truss Bridge in Washington: One of many casualties in the Great Western Wildfires. Photo courtesy of Historic Bridge Foundation

PORTLAND, OREGON/ SEATTLE, WASHINGTON/ SAN FRANCISCO- If there is one word to describe 2020, especially in the United States, it would be this: apocalyptic! Eliminating the social, political and economical aspects, eliminating even the Corona Virus- which will put the country into its first Great Depression in over 90 years, we have not seen a year where we had record amounts of prolonged heat waves, flooding, tornadoes, drought, weather extremities and even forest fires as this year, 2020. Especially with regards to forest fires, this year has become the apocalypse, which may be the beginning of something far worse should we continue with the normalcy we are at, at the present time.

The Great Western Fires of 2020 will undoubtedly go down as the worst fires in US history. Over 300,000 fires have been reported in 12 western states- yet the hardest hit areas are California, Oregon and Washington. Over 8 million acres along the entire West Coast have been burned, caused by dry conditions, high winds of up to 100 km/h and high temperatures reaching 50°C! Communities have been wiped off the map with hundreds of thousands being forced to evacuate and losing their homes in the process. At the time of this report, 17 people have been reported dead with scores more missing- and the numbers are expected to skyrocket.

With these flames burning out of control come the loss of historic places- including historic bridges. Reports have come out that dozens of structures have been destroyed by the flames. Some of them come from Oregon, where over a dozen covered bridges used to exist. Some of them did not survive the inferno. In Washington state, a pair of rare bridges were burned to the ground. In California, some bridges narrowly escaped the flames yet others were not so lucky.

The Chronicles is doing a quick summary on the casualties of the Great Fires, keeping in mind that it will be updated frequently as more reports come in on the destruction of the fires. For now, here is what we know from the historic bridges that fell victim to the blazes:

Photo by Michael Goff

Belknap Covered Bridge

Spanning the MacKenzie River on King West Road near Rainbow, this 180-foot covered bridge was built in 1966, even though the Howe truss span dates back to 1911 and it had been built three times. The Bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The bridge and nearby Rainbow were both destroyed in the fires that happened on September 7th.

Photo taken by Michael Goff

Goodpasture Covered Bridge

Built in 1938, this bridge features three spans totalling 237 feet with its largest span, a through Howe Truss, being 138 feet long. The design is similar to the one at Rainbow. And like the Belknap CB, this bridge was also listed on the National Register in 1979. While the MacKenzie River structure barely survived the fires, despite contridicting reports, its nearby town of Vida did not and that was confirmed by officials.

Source: https://www.facebook.com/HolidayFarmFire/photos/pcb.118888883278900/118888093278979

https://cdn.loc.gov/service/pnp/habshaer/wa/wa0600/wa0614/photos/371078pv.jpg
Photo courtesy of the US Library of Congress

Harpole/ Manning Covered Bridge

One of the most heart-breaking losses of a historic bridge is this one, near Colfax in Whitman County, Washington. The Harpole Bridge was an encased Howe truss bridge with each truss being covered in wooden siding. The structure, which used to carry railroad traffic before it was handed over to property owners, was a through truss bridge that spanned the Palouse River. It was built in 1922 but the trusses were encased six years later. It had been the last bridge of its kind left in the entire country untils fires swept through the region and brought this structure down to the ground on September 7th. Still no word on whether it will be rebuilt. Ironically, the last encased truss span remaining in the US is a Howe pony truss bridge in Coos County, New Hampshire. That bridge was rehabilitated and repurposed for pedestrian use in 2015.

Photo courtesy of Historic Bridge Foundation

Bidwell Bar Suspension Bridges

If there were some bridges that survived close calls with a blazing inferno, it would be the two suspension bridges in California. The original Bidwell Bar Suspension Bridge was built in 1856 by Starbuck Iron Works of Troy, New York and is the last known suspension bridge west of the Mississippi River that was over 160 years old. The bridge is located at the Oroville Lake and Dam area. The Bidwell Bar Bridge replaced the 1856 span and spans the Middle Fork Feather River at the Loafer Creek Recreational Site. The suspension bridge was built in 1966 and has a total length of 1793 feet, with a span of 1100 feet. That bridge became a poster boy of the Oroville Fires that devastated much of the area, wiping out villages, resorts and the like. Berry Creek has been decimated whereas fires are threatening the Oroville area at the time of this posting. Despite fears that the two structures would be destroyed, news have come out that the bridges are still standing and are safe- for now that is. Work is underway to keep the structures in tact while using it to allow for people still stranded to evacuate.

Soruce: Tri-City News

Gibbon Trestle

Spanning the Yakima River in Benton County, Washington, this 680-foot long railroad trestle features a series of steel and wooden spans. Owned by Central Washington Railroad, this bridge had regularily served train traffic until fires destroyed the wooden spans on September 8th. It is unknown whether the fires caused the 1941 bridge’s demise or if sparks from trains crossing it may have caused the fire. It is known that much of the bridge will need to be replaced in order for the service line, which connects Benton City and Prosser to reopen.

More stories of bridge tragedies and close calls will follow was the Great Western Fire is still raging. As widespread as it is, there will surely be more casualties to be added to the list. For now though, stay tuned. For those living out west, stay safe and if ordered to do so, get out while you still can.