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calendar   Wednesday - July 11, 2012

A Target Rich Environment

3 Phoenix, 10 Tiny Ponies, 2 “Horses”, 3 Deer, And The Ghost Of A Fink

No, it’s not a phone order for Barbarian Carry Out




The MIL’s health situation got too stressful for me, so I went hunting. With a camera. Bridge Hunting. Boy did I score.

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I am very fortunate to live in an area positively saturated with historic bridges. They’re everywhere, but you’ll never see one if you only stick to the major roads. You have to go a few blocks back, at which point almost all of the county becomes really rural and the calendar seems to rewind about a century or so. I figured out why these old chunks of metal have lived so long too: they are all in a pocket neighborhood, a north-south rectangle that has always had bypass routes on either side. You can get between Clinton and Interstate Route 78 (just north of this map) and Flemington and Route 202/206 by taking the back when down the west side of this zone on county roads and, or you can make the trip using local highway Route 31 to the east. So there is no real reason to go into that neighborhood unless you live there. And if you do live there, heavy trucks can get in and out using both those paths; they never have to pass over any of these antique ironworks.

I’ve written about a few of the bridges around here before, and with the “House” bridge post the other day you were reminded that it’s one of my interests. Well, the weather has been bearable the past two days, and I really, really needed to get away for a bit. So I did. And I really enjoyed the fresh air and the absolute silence you get in the country. I stood in the middle of the road on nearly a dozen bridges, taking loads of pictures, and only twice had to step aside to let any kind of vehicle come past. For a suburbanite, that’s some kind of ideal. Only thing better would be being 16 and spending the day lazily tubing down the river with friends, like I saw a few kids doing. What an excellent way to spend a day in July.

I like old truss bridges because they are science and architecture that I can understand. You can see how they work just by looking at them, and most of them are so light and minimalist that you can actually watch them working when a car drives by. Put a load here and this piece gets stretched, and that piece over there gets compressed. Which means that the load had to have been carried to it by that one over there. Just try doing that with a modern circuit board. I understand nuts and bolts the size of my hands, and rivets big enough to use as hammer heads. But when bridges get too big and too strong, then you can’t see them working, and that’s a shame. Today’s modern spans are so strong, so tight, and so generic that their magic is hidden. And I think that’s a shame. Granted, put me in a big heavy truck, or out in a hurricane on a bridge, and I’ll choose a modern over-built job any day of the week and be thankful. But I just don’t see the grace in them, which is why I appreciate all the flyweight “fairy bridges” we have on the back roads here in Hunterdon County.  Art you can drive on, physics you can see working. All is right with the world.

I took a ton of photos. Maybe I’ll make a bridges section in the Gallery and upload them. But every last one is already online, usually with better photographs than I could take. But I’ll share some anyway.

The entire northern half of New Jersey, except for the western escarpment just a few miles wide along the Delaware River border with Pennsylvania, drains into the Atlantic Ocean at Raritan Bay, just south of Staten Island. Geologists call the land the Newark Basin. And every little stream flows there eventually, joining up with other streams along the way, forming rivers of decent size. One of our rivers is the South Branch of the Raritan River, usually locally just called the South Branch. It’s everywhere it seems. Hunterdon has been populated since the Dutch held New Amsterdam, and most of the roads were laid down long before the revolution. So we had hundreds of little wooden bridges once upon a time, and as they wore out they got replaced with something made from iron or steel. But the population was stable for ages, so the bridges never really got worn out. So they’re still standing. And they get maintained; the county long ago figured out that these old iron works add to the local charm, and help bring in the tourist dollars. Yummy delicious tourist dollars. So very few have been left to rot or replaced with modern ones unless the old ones got destroyed.

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Lower Landsdowne Road, iron Pratt truss, 1885
My 2nd most favorite fairy bridge. It’s made from cast and wrought iron, not steel. Pinned sections of course. It uses cast quarter round sections riveted together into tubes for the uprights and top chords, called Phoenix columns. This single lane bridge is only about 3 car lengths long, and it’s so lightly built that you can hardly even see it from the wrong angle. And it’s been in constant use since 1885. Like the Main Street bridge in downtown Clinton, the other Phoenix column bridges here, and a couple other ones, the metal came from the Cowin iron works in Lambertville NJ, just a couple towns to the south. It’s 4 section Phoenix columns are REALLY small. The modern barrier protects the bridge as much as it protects the drivers, but it kind of hurts the aesthetics. And no, that’s not the hand of God. That’s the hand of Drew. This bridge is skewed, which means that one end is longer than the other. All bridges are built on the cheap and they always have been. A skewed bridge shows that, because nobody was willing to spend the extra money on an unnecessary extra end post. They don’t add much strength, so they often get cut from the budget.


Lots more on the overleaf, if you aren’t already yawning. All of these pictures are now linked, so click on any of them to see them in their original 4000x3000 12MP format.

See More Below The Fold

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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 07/11/2012 at 07:28 PM   
Filed Under: • Bridges •  
Comments (9) Trackbacks(0)  Permalink •  

calendar   Sunday - July 08, 2012

Bridge Spotting Help Request

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Bridgespotting: it’s like trainspotting, only much slower. Go somewhere, find a construction that crosses over a gully, river, stream, or chasm. Yup, that’s a bridge. Spotted. You win. But that’s the easy part. Identifying the form of the bridge is harder because they are made in so many different varieties, and once built, remain standing for a very long time. Styles come and go, and as technology progresses and the weight bearing demands increase, the old styles fade away. For trainspotters it would be as if George Stephenson’s original 1804 locomotive was still on the tracks, along with every make and model of steam engine since then, along with all the electric ones and the diesel ones over the years, right up to today’s multi-turbo monsters. In other words, it can be a bit of a challenge.

To make the challenge harder, reverse the whole process. Choose a particular kind of bridge and then go find an example. Good luck. Finding a particular bridge from a photograph might be harder still, because there are tens of thousands of bridges all over the world. Remember when the Skipper here used to do those Lost posts, where he’d put up an aerial view of some runway and ask where was he? This is probably a thousand times harder, since Google Maps and even Google Earth don’t always give you the kind of ground level viewing angles that make identifying most smaller bridge examples possible.

Ok, so here’s my challenge. I’m going to try to post this on the bridge hunting forums that I’ve been able to find (because bridge spotting is an actual hobby of many folks!) but I don’t know if I can post pictures there. So I’ll link back to this page if I can’t.

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The television show House, starring Hugh Laurie, ran for a good number of years and was a popular medical drama. Every week we’d see acid tongued Dr. House and his team of junior super-doctors take on a patient with some really obscure illness. They’d think it was one thing, then something else, then something else, as the patient got worse and worse. And the illness was NEVER Lupus, a terrible affliction known for it’s random and mysterious presentation. And because the show was a hospital drama, there was always this character fighting with that one, or sleeping with the other, or sometimes both at the same time. And House was just flat out vicious to everyone, all the time, which made for some dark comedy. Anyway, every week as the patient was just about to loose the ultimate fight, Dr. House would have some epiphany, realize what the disease was and why it happened, and effect some cure at the very last second. Ooh, drama. To “keep it real” sometimes the patient didn’t make it. And the diseases were always real ones, not made up magical TV ailments.

The show was set in Princeton New Jersey, at the pretend Princeton/Planesboro hospital. They’d always show the hospital in the opening credits, though the building they showed us was actually one of the halls at Princeton University. And in an odd case of life imitating art, a real Princeton/Planesboro medical center has just opened. But while the show was set in New Jersey, it was actually shot in and around Los Angeles California. Ah, the magic of Hollywood. They did manage to hide most of the palm trees most of the time. Those are really reeeally rare here in NJ.

So that was House. The final episode, named “Everybody Dies” aired in May. Dr. House leaves the medical profession, fakes his own death, and goes off on a motorcycle road trip with his only true friend Dr. Wilson, who is slowly dying of cancer. And they pretty much literally ride off into the sunset, the end.

If you don’t have House episodes on your cable’s On Demand feature, they can be watched online at Hulu.com.

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The where that the two doctors ride off from is what this post is about. They rode of from the middle of a bridge. A very old and rather rare one that immediately piqued my interest. Here in the western central NJ / eastern central PA area we have lots of old bridges. And rolling wooded hills. And so many of the bridges are painted “NJ bridge green” ... yet I can not spot this bridge.

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Both of these screen capture images will open up 4 times larger if you save them or do a View Image on them. The bridge scene in the final House episode is at the end of the show, past the 41 minute mark.

So it’s a bridge. Big deal. Ah ha, yes it is, because this isn’t just any bridge. What you are looking at is a lightweight pin connected Parker through truss, with unsupported eyebar diagonals, sawtooth laced verticals and top laterals, boxed chords, and the original lattice railings. LACED TOP LATERALS ARE VERY RARE: this is a BIG CLUE. I can’t really see the portal bracing, so I’m going to guess it’s curved. A Frame bracing would be lower on the sides and thus visible, right? The verticals are laced on the sides, not the front and back; this is also rare. It appears to be a one lane bridge, and it appears to be a single span. It also appears to be a 7 - 10 section Parker, not skewed on at least one end, and although we never see the whole bridge in the scene you do see the small river it crosses and the much newer Pi section concrete deck bridge close to it. A few marks of red primer on the old Parker bridge show that it is still being maintained. So somebody cares about this thing. It’s a local landmark. I am no expert, but the mass of the bridge and it’s construction lead me to believe it was built in the 1890-1910 time period. And there simply aren’t that many pin connected Parkers out there anymore. Anywhere. It ought to be easy to find, yet I have been looking for two months now and keep drawing a blank.

[ minor update: a private contact alerted me to notice that the end posts appear to be laced on the underside, which means the are not boxed. It also implies that the rest of top chords may not be fully boxed either, and may be U channel laced on the underside. A response on one of the bridge forums points out that the hip verticals are eyebars (hip verticals are the last vertical connection, the one under the peak of the end posts). All of this shows that this is an OLD bridge, possibly from the 1880s or 90s. Steel was expensive in those days, and labor was cheap. ]

Sure, there are and were many other bridges quite like it. The Berne Bridge in PA. Close, but this one has supported diagonal eyebars. The Prospect Bridge in Ohio, which is too wide, too heavy, and ... oops ... was torn down years ago. The Curlew Bridge in Curlew WA is just about right. It’s the right size, and even the right color. But it has no lattice railings, and the bottom chord looks like it was made from round tubing.  The Lake Street Bridge is about the right mass, about the right size, and about the right height above the river. But the pilings (abutments) at the end of the bridge are wrong, and this one also has supported diagonals. Cache Creek: close but no cigar.

My closest match so far is the Lambert Bridge Road bridge in Sonoma California. It’s a Parker through truss. It has laced verticals. It’s about the right weight and width. It has lattice railings. But the terrain is too flat, too farmish, and Google Maps isn’t showing me a Y intersection just off the end of the bridge like what I saw on the TV show as the camera follows the two doctors on their ride. And from the one picture I can find, it doesn’t look like the top bracing and sway bracing is laced. So this one is out as well.

So I give up. This bridge could be anywhere in the USA or Canada, though it’s more than likely it’s not all that far from LA.  But I’m here in NJ, so I’m asking for help. A spotting spot. If you see it let me know. Bridge name, location, or photographs would be greatly appreciated. Comment here or send me an email; my address is on the right sidebar right up at the top.

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truss detail graphic borrowed from http://okbridges.wkinsler.com/technology/index.html

“Main Tie” and “Counters” are all “Diagonals”

PS - There seems to be some nomenclature difference on what is a bridge section. Some only count the sections between verticals, some count those sections and the end post-hip vertical area as well. Thus the graphic at the top of this post could be a 6 section truss instead of a 4 section truss.

Another bit of knowledge: In the second screen capture picture, on the right you can see that the diagonals in that section are in an X. This is the middle of the bridge. Parkers had either 1 or 2 sections like this, but never more than 2. Thus if your way of counting includes the end sections, and this bridge has 2 center sections, then it may indeed be a 10 section Parker, which is also rather uncommon. Hey, I’m learning as I’m going along here. And to think that a year or two ago I thought that a truss was something you wore when you had a hernia.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 07/08/2012 at 02:33 PM   
Filed Under: • Bridges •  
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Not that very many people ever read this far down, but this blog was the creation of Allan Kelly and his friend Vilmar. Vilmar moved on to his own blog some time ago, and Allan ran this place alone until his sudden and unexpected death partway through 2006. We all miss him. A lot. Even though he is gone this site will always still be more than a little bit his. We who are left to carry on the BMEWS tradition owe him a great debt of gratitude, and we hope to be able to pay that back by following his last advice to us all:
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