Full Throttle Saloon Destroyed By Fire

Photos taken by James McCray after the relocation to Full Throttle Saloon

Bridges severely damaged in the fire- future in doubt

STURGIS, SOUTH DAKOTA-  A key icon symbolizing the great American bike trip is gone, and with it, most likely two symbols of America’s architectural past.  The Full Throttle Saloon, the world’s largest biker bar and one of the key meeting points of the annual Motorcycle Rally that takes place every summer in August, was lost by a great fire early this morning (September 8th). Fire crews were called to the site at 12:30am (Mountain Standard Time) or 8:30am Berlin Time this morning when smoke was coming out of the building. Despite attempts by the firemen to put out the smoke and flames inside the building, they were forced to battle the fire from outside, when the heat and smoke became too unbearable. Thanks to high winds and a possible gas line leak, the building complex was engulfed in flames at 2:30am and collapsed a half hour later, according to reports from the fire department and local news. No one was injured in the fire, nor was there anyone in the locked building at the time of the fire. The building complex and all its relics and symbols were considered a total loss. The Rapid City Journal has a gallery of photos taken after the fire, which can be viewed here.  Many videos were posted of the fire, but this one below shows the damage to one of the bridges and its decking:

As far as the two bridges are concerned, their futures are in doubt, as fire burned away the wood decking of both spans, leaving a truss superstructure standing. This is the first time since 2013 that a fire did considerable damage to a historic steel truss bridge. The Bunker Mill Bridge southeast of Kalona, Iowa was set ablaze during the Historic Bridge Weekend in August 2013, causing significant damage to the bridge decking and bridge parts. That bridge has since been repaired and is being used as a venue for summer open-air concerts. The two bridges damaged by the Full Throttle Saloon fire were each built in 1912 and had spanned the Belle Fourche River before being relocated to the Saloon in 2008, to be used as an observatory deck for concerts and other events. Both bridges were built by the Canton Bridge Company in Ohio and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The difference between the two is the length and bridge type. The shorter span, measured at 79 feet, is a pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with A-frame portal bracings, decorated with X-lattice at the top- typical of the Canton bridges. The longer span is a Pennsylvania Petit with A-frame portal bracings and V-laced vertical posts. The bridge is approximately 200 feet long.

While the cause of the fire is being investigated by the state fire marshal, scores of letters of support are being poured in on the Saloon’s website and facebook pages in hopes that the place will be rebuilt. Whether and how this will happen, let alone whether these two bridges will be reconstructed or converted to scrap metal will depend on a series of inspections to be conducted by engineers and other architectural experts. These will be conducted in the coming months. But for now, tourists, bikers and bridge enthusiasts are mourning the loss of one of the most popular gatherings in the country, littered with vintage signs and other items that had once provided a nostalgia of a now bygone era, where the biker can pack little but travel cross country to see the wild west, stopping at places like this one for a good beer and good company. For many, Full Throttle will be missed, but another better one will take its place. And hopefully, the bridges and the salvageable can be used as part of a bigger meeting point for bikers.

Note: The Full Throttle Saloon won the Amman Awards for the Best Example of Historic Bridge Reuse in 2011. It was also the site of the 75th annual Motorcycle Rally this year. More on that here. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest on the future of Full Throttle after the blaze. You can visit their facebook page to provide them with some support for rebuilding the facility.

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