Author’s Note: This bridge belongs to a series being constructed on the bridges of the Greater Eau Claire-Menonomie-Chippewa Falls area based on a recent visit by fellow pontist John Marvig, whose articles as a guest columnist will follow this one.
- Downsville Railroad Bridge over the Red Cedar River on the Red Cedar River Trail in Dunn County. Photo taken by John Marvig in May 2012, used with permission
The history of bridge building in the United States up to 1950 does not come without any surprises; especially when it comes to truss bridges. These structures were easy to assemble, as the parts were transported from the steel mills to the place where it was needed, would serve traffic for a limited period of time before being disassembled into parts to be carried away to another destination, where it would be reassembled and used again. This technique was time consuming and required labor, yet for counties that needed to save money, it was less expensive than contracting to a bridge builder to construct either a larger and sturdier truss bridge (or even a cantilever bridge) or another bridge type, whether it was a concrete arch or a suspension span. Of the bridge types that were used for construction; especially during the time span of 1870 to 1920; the truss bridge was the most reliable structure used for transportation, let alone the structure that can be placed anywhere where it was deemed necessary.
Some of the truss bridges that were first built were multiple spans over a large body of water, like the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers or large lakes, like Lake Wissota near Chippewa Falls, for example. An example of this was the Dubuque Railroad Bridge, a multiple-span truss bridge consisting of six Pratt through trusses and a 360 foot swing span built over the Mississippi River in 1868. Upon its replacement beginning in 1893 and ending ten years later, the truss spans were disassembled and relocated to places far away from Dubuque. Three of these spans can still be found in Dubuque County today, one of which was recently located to a city park in Dubuque itself (see info here.)
Could this be the case with a couple bridges brought to our attention? The Fox Road Bridge is located outside the Volga River State Forest approximately 20 kilometers east of Fayette in Fayette County. According to the records, this bridge was built in 1905 using steel from the Carnegie Mills in Pennsylvania (according to the inscription on the endpost). The bridge is 176 feet long, 16 feet wide and has a 45° skew, in addition to its rather unique portal bracing.
- The 45° skew of the portal bracing Photo taken in August 2011
Then we have the second crossing, the Downsville Railroad Bridge in Dunn County Wisconsin, spanning the Red Cedar River on the bike trail bearing the same name. Its truss span is 150 feet but resembles the exact appearance of its counterpart in Iowa. It is the main span of the bridge, whose approaches are mainly trestle spans (18 in all- 6 on one end, 12 on the other). Yet based on Marvig’s findings, the bridge was built by the Milwaukee Railroad although the date has not been given. The bridge is one of a few major crossings that have been incorporated into the Rail-for Trail program and is now part of the 28 kilometer bike trail connecting Menomonie and the Chippewa River and bike trail near Eau Claire.
While an inquiry is being sought through the Fayette County Engineer and the Milwaukee Railroad Museum as Marvig is working on a page for this bridge for his website and I am pursuing information for the book on Iowa’s truss bridges, information pertaining to these two bridges will help solve this problem:
Were these two bridges part of a multiple span and if so, where was it first built and when?
What did the multiple span bridge look like if this theory turns out to be true?
Who built the bridge, let alone relocate and reassemble the two mentioned bridges? In the case of the one near Fayette County, given its steep landscape, how did the workers manage to transport the bridge down the hill to its point where it was reassemble and reused for traffic again?
Have a close look at the bridge through the lens of two photographers and compare. Are they alike and is just a question of coincidence- meaning there were many bridges of this kind built- or was it really part of a bigger bridge?
Please send your thoughts via e-mail or post in the comment section and as soon as the mystery is solved, you will know about it.
The author would like to thank John Marvig for allowing his photos to be used for this article.