Mystery Bridge nr. 4: The Gochenour Bridge

All photos courtesy of Craig Guttau, used with permission

 

Author’s Note: This is part of a two-article series on the Bridges of Harrison County, Iowa and the bridges that were imported there in the late 1940s and 50s. To view the first part, please click here.
About two miles southwest of the county seat of Logan on Medford Avenue stands another through truss bridge, spanning the small and serene Willow River, used seldomly but has historic features that are worth looking at. The Gochenour Bridge is one of many bridges that was imported to Harrison County in the late 1940s- early 1950s to replace a previous structure that may have been a casualty of the Great Flood of 1945. Built in the 1910s, this bridge is 185 feet long and 18 feet wide. Records from the Historic American Engineer’s Record indicates that this bridge is a Camelback Truss bridge, a type where the top chord of the truss is parallel to the road, thus the truss design itself has five sides (end posts included) instead of the polygonal shape revealed in the Parker or even Pennsylvania truss bridges. Yet the diagonal bracings, which sheer through two panels and supported by upper diagonal bracings, make the bridge appear to look like a Pennsylvania truss. It would not be the only bridge that has this feature, as another bridge over the Cedar River near Otranto in Mitchell County has that exact feature. According to records, the Otranto Bridge is considered a Pennsylvania truss bridge. That bridge is now privately owned. To compromise, the Gochenour Bridge is considered a Pennsylvania petit with Camelback features.

Otranto Bridge in Mitchell County, a distant cousin of the Gochenour Bridge. Photo taken by Jason D. Smith n August 2011

Unlike the four Bakersfield truss spans that were moved to Harrison County from California- two of which are still standing- the Gochenour Bridge is even a bigger mystery, for there are no records found of where the bridge originated from, only speculation that it was imported from neighboring Missouri or Kansas. Unlike other truss bridges, its wider width (18 feet in comparison to 15-16 feet), there is an impression that the bridge used to serve a major highway prior to its relocation to Harrison County.  The bridge still maintains its historic integrity, yet there are a lot of questions as to where this bridge came from originally. And given the unique design of the bridge, one has to find out when it was built and who the contractor was. Finally owing to the demand for explanation of why there records were not kept of the move, the third question is who was responsible for the relocation of the bridge. Was it the Highway Bridge Company of Lincoln, Nebraska, the same bridge company that sold the four Bakersfield spans to the county, or was it another bridge builder, and if so, which one?

Decking of the Gochenour Bridge. Photo taken by Craig Guttau

While the Gochenour Bridge still remains open to traffic, the weight limit has been reduced to three tons and the structure has not been maintained as well as it should. Given the minimal amount of traffic that crosses the bridge, it would not be surprising if the bridge was closed to traffic sometime in the near future.  While the county has been struggling to maintain its bridges due to lack of funds combined with last year’s flooding, it would not be surprising that the bridge is removed, like it happened to the Orr Bridge over the Boyer River near Missouri Valley. Before this happens though, one ought to consider converting the bridge into a recreational area, like a bike trail or a park. There are two reasons for this proposal: 1. The bridge would serve as a historic monument for people to learn more about the bridge and its connection with American history and 2. It would provide more time for researchers to look into the bridge’s origins and solve the riddle of where it originated from and how it got to its location.  The interest in historic bridges and their reuse has increased tenfold since 2000, with many historic bridges already being preserved for recreational use. The restoration is more cost-effective than bridge removal itself, and the public would benefit from it.

Close up of the truss design. Ibid.

And even if the Gochenour Bridge was repaired and left open to traffic for another 30-40 years, it would still be cost-effective, and the bridge would last longer than today’s concrete structures. But the future of the bridge definitely hinges on the following factors: interest in keeping the crossing open, interest in keeping the bridge as a historic site and recreational area, and interest in costs for the bridge itself. Despite the advantages of preserving a bridge like this one (and others in Harrison County and elsewhere), the future of the bridge lies in the hands of those who are responsible for its fate and its future role in the county.

Sign of the times for the bridge: Weight and height restrictions PLUS a threat to close the bridge if the ordinance is ignored! Ibid.

Any clues pertaining to the Gochenour Bridge should be sent to: Flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com.
Furthermore, the author is looking for some information on other bridges in Harrison County for the book on Iowa’s truss bridges, including the Bakersfield spans, the (now removed) Orr Bridge and other through truss spans. If you have any stories and photos of the bridges, please use the address above to send them. Mailing address is available upon request. Thank you for your help.

Thanks to Craig Guttau for the use of his photos of the bridge.

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