Photo taken by C. Hanchey
License: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC)
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BH Photo #235162
Robert railroad companies tend to make unreasonable demands upon anyone seeking to acquire one of their bridges. For example, if a railroad is replacing a through truss. If nobody wants to reuse the bridge, the railroad might still pick the entire span intact with a crane and set it on the ground, so as to minimize the time where the railroad is closed to trains. Then the railroad would have to pay workers to cut up the bridge for scrap. FYI scrap steel value is at an all-time low so its not a profitable endeavor. Given these parameters, one might think that the railroad would be happy to transfer ownership of the truss after its set on the ground for another person to non-destructively disassemble. However, this is not what I have seen happen. First, the railroad will require the third party to remove the bridge from the tracks at the expense of the third party. This includes labor, crane rental, engineering for the pick, as well as flaggers on the railroad tracks, even though the railroad was going to do these things on their own. Second, the railroad will charge a fee for the bridge span as if its a new product being sold at profit. One span was being offered for over $30,000.
If you think there is a way to overcome this attitude on the part of railroads then go for it, it would be nice to see these railroad bridges being reused.
The question is, how can we better communicate with railroad companies. Saving a bridge requires time, energy, and money. If we someone is willing to purchase a doomed bridge, perhaps some companies might be willing to market them. There is a free market solution to everything...
It would be wrong to fault the engineers and builders of the replacement spans... As they are just doing the jobs they are paid to do.
That being said, We who visit, contribute to, and help keep this site going are preservationists. When an injustice like this is executed against any historic bridge, we will not (and should never)restrain from saying our peace against the irrational and illogical actions of the agencies who are short-sighted in their process.
...My two cents worth
I would like to add support for the thought that nobody on this page (or my own page for this bridge on HistoricBridges.org) intended to call into question the competency of the contractors working the job. And I have no doubts that the engineers who designed the new bridge did a great job doing that. Although certainly if we (as is typically the nature of discussion on a website like this) are considering the heritage and aesthetic values of the two bridges, obviously only the old bridge had heritage and aesthetics and the new one has none.
Here are my concerns with the project. Michigan State Historic Preservation Office failed to evaluate the bridge as eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. This eliminated Section 106 from the process and prevented me from having input into the discussion. I disagree that the altered spans were not historic, indeed I submit that the alterations (having occurred so long ago) were themselves historic.
Second, I question the need for a new bridge at this location, when it appears that another railroad bridge that goes to exactly the same two east and west locations is located a bit north of here. This is not the Chicago-Toronto or Chicago-New York City corridor. Its not that busy. I find it odd that today so many railroad bridges are needed here. Had Section 106 taken place, a civilized discussion about this could have taken place.
I will say this 99% of the time, railroads do not care for preservation or history. The problem with railroad companies is that they are for-profit companies, not Non-Profit Foundations. Does preserving a historic bridge get the product delivered faster? Cheaper? More efficiently? If the answer to these is no, than the railroad has no reason to preserve the bridge. The only reason many railroad bridges seem to be preserved by railroads is simply because maintenance makes sense from a financial standpoint. Its usually cheaper and less disruptive to rail traffic to keep what they have in good shape. This is why I get so frustrated with highway DOTs because they waste money by letting bridges deteriorate and then spending a lot of money to replace them.
But when a railroad decides an old bridge isn't getting the job done, watch out...
I think my message was misinterpreted. For starters, I am not an engineer. From a functional perspective, I am quite sure that the new bridge is solid, and will serve traffic well for the coming years. Secondly, I did not mean to offend those who worked on the structure. I understand it was your job, and you can be proud of your work. I understand the need to replace aging structures, however I question if alternatives were ever considered (such as using the north line through Wells, preservation of the trusses, etc). My frustration stems from driving several hundred miles from Minnesota to see a historic through truss structure, which is visually quite appealing to nearly everyone and being met with a modern, and quite plain girder structure. This is a website with contributors who have an interest in documenting and preserving historic bridges, and replacement of a structure like this is not taken well by the group on here.
Lastly, I did not intend to disparage anyone, and I am sorry if you took it like I did. However, I am a historic bridge enthusiast and after driving several hundred miles to document the historic structure, there will be a bad taste in my mouth for seeing the modern girder. Like it or not, the new bridge has little to no character. I understand it was your project and you are proud of it, however it consists of spans pre constructed in a shop, and shipped to the location. The very unique truss bridge that once stood here is only a memory, replaced by a bridge that is significantly less appealing. So when I call the bridge ugly, I am stating my mind, and likely several other contributors to this site. The bridge was built strictly for functionalism and features no visually appealing characteristics.
Naturally, railroad companies are not primarily in the preservation business. Likewise preservationists are not primarily in the transportation business. We would do well to work with each other and learn from each other.
There are historic railroad bridges that continue to serve the companies that maintain them. Preservationists are always happy to see such bridges maintained.
Of course, sometimes replacement is necessary. We don't expect an 1884 wrought iron Pratt truss to carry an Interstate. It is understandable that railroad companies face similar issues related to weight limits, width, height clearance, etc.
If we are serious about preserving historic railroad bridges, we need to be willing to work with the companies. Likewise, if railroad companies were willing to sell, or offer doomed bridges to preservationists, these bridges could be moved for pedestrian or light vehicular use by a new owner. There are options out there if we are willing to find them.
Your employer built an ugly-as-hell replacement bridge whilst passing off the historic structure as "non-historic", and you expect people to be kind about it?
I am sorry to see that John feels the need to disparage the efforts of those that were involved in the replacement of the spans in this bridge. Please understand those that designed and built the new spans are dedicated individuals that take their profession seriously. To many, the demolition of a structure such as this is not taken lightly. The history of this crossing and our place in it is understood, but in the end the realities of the structure's age, design, and materials made replacement the best viable option.
John has taken some excellent photos of the bridge, and these photos are appreciated by those of us that have spent the last five years working on bringing this project to fruition. It is understandable that John may be frustrated by the ultimate outcome, but publicly ridiculing the structure and then essentially writing it off as no longer being a suitable bridge is inappropriate and unprofessional.
This bridge's doom is now sealed. Why? Because the Army Corps and the State SHPO thinks its not historic. That have decided this and therefore will NOT conduct Section 106. I disagree strongly since the alteration to this bridge, while extensive, is itself very old (1940s) and the bridge is the longest lattice truss in Michigan.
I was on Youtube and I found this video.
The bridge is at the end of the video.
This bridge is currently owned by Canadian National Railway (Wisconsin Central is merely a subsidiary unit of the company), who has applied to the Army Corp of Engineers for demolition of this, one of Michigan's longest truss bridges and one of our only lattice truss bridges. The bridge was originally built as a five span bridge and converted to a ten span bridge. It was originally built by Chicago and Northwestern Railway who liked lattice truss bridges. I have a few poor copies of original plan sheets for the bridge but haven't posted them online yet. I did post some photos for the bridge recently on HistoricBridges.org here: http://www.historicbridges.org/bridges/browser/?bridgebrowse...
It's actually a Quadruple Warren (Warren Quadrangular)truss that is found on a number of railroad spans.
Very nice bridge!
Bridge trusses look like a Whipple. Am I correct?