Java Script needed to open printable window views.
Planning & Research >  Spans of Time >  History >  A New Era in Bridge Building Contact Planning & Research

Table of Contents

List of Figures

Acknowledgements

Introduction

History of Oklahoma Highway Bridges
• The Earliest Roads and Bridges
• The Drive For Good
Roads

• A New Era in Bridge Building
• The State Road System and Federal Aid
• The Shifting Direction of Bridge Building
• The Strains of Depression and War
• Meeting New Challenges Since WWII

The Historic Bridges of Oklahoma

Endnotes

Bibliography

Appendices




A New Era in Bridge Building

Most often counties elected to buy prefabricated metal spans made by bridge building companies.  Suspension bridges, a type usually associated with major structures such as the Brooklin Bridge of 1883, gained in early popularity as simple and inexpensive spans because they avoided building piers in shifting sands and required less material for construction.  Counties also saved public money by authorizing private toll bridge companies (Figure 4).  In 1898, for example, Cleveland County permitted construction of a suspension bridge on the Canadian River near Noble to carry increasing amounts of wagon traffic.  Pawnee County in the early 1900s awarded several contracts to N. HJ. Sturgis and his Oklahoma Bridge and Structural Steel Company to put suspension Bridges over the Arkansas River.  Sturgis, whose Oklahoma City company was the state's first bridge builder, erected simple structures, putting up slender, spindly steel towers and stringing wire cable or rope between them to suspend a swaying plank floor (Figures 5 and 6).15



Figure 4.  Three ways of crossing the Neosho River at Miami: ford,
ferry, and toll bridge.
Shows Bridge 58E0062N4510004 in c1901 at its original site. (Miami Public Library)

Figure 5.  Suspension bridge over the South Canadian River at Noble c1900.  Such structures were made from stone, wood, rope, and steel cable. (Western History Collections, University of Iklahoma Library)

Three ways of crossing the Neosho River at Miami: ford, ferry, and toll bridge.  Shows Bridge 58E0062N4510004 in c1901 at its original site. (Miami Public Library)

Suspension bridge over the South Canadian River at Noble c1900.  Such structures were made from stone, wood, rope, and steel cable. (Western History Collections, University of Iklahoma Library)
This Sturgis suspension bridge shown c1899 was one of the first metal bridges from an Oklahoma builder.

Figure 6.  This Sturgis suspension bridge shown c1899 was one of the first metal bridges from an Oklahoma builder.



Figure 7.  Flooding of the South Canadian River in 1921 threatened the Lexington-Purcell Toll Bridge. (McClain County Historical Society)


Flooding of the South Canadian River in 1921 threatened the Lexington-Purcell Toll Bridge. (McClain County Historical Society)

The desire to profit from building bridges at strategic points spared public expense--at least initially, many being bought out by the state later--and resulted in some major projects.  For a cost of $59,870, lawyer and banker Dorsett Carter contracted in 1911 with the Central States Bridge Company of Indianapolis to construct a fifteen span, double intersection Warren through truss on masonary piers ofer the South Canadian joining the towns of Lexington and Purcell (Figure 7).  Fred Barde, Oklahoma correspondent for the Kansas City Star, reflected the enthusiasm of 5,000 people who gathered for this auspicious event to celebrate man's victory over a dangerous natural obstacle.

Throughout its length in Oklahoma the South Canadian River has always been an insurmountable barrier to rural traffic, and because of this fact communities on either side have been as widely separated as if a mountain range lay between them.  The bed of the South Canadian, however, is a flat waste of sand from half a mile to a mile in width with a shallow and often narrow channel of water wandering at will from one side to the other.  The river bed is a quaking quicksand, difficult of passage in low water, and a death trap when the river is in flood.  Hundreds of human lives have been lost in the South Canadian since Oklahoma was opened to settlement, and the loss in wagons and live stock and crops has reached a vast sum.16

Left half of This publicity photo of the Norman Toll Bridge at its opening in 1918 shows it supported 800,000 pounds of weight.  Oklahoma City photographer "That Man Stone" took this picture of Batteries C and E of the 5th Artillery Regiment.
This publicity photo of the Norman Toll Bridge at its opening in 1918 shows it supported 800,000 pounds of weight.  Oklahoma City photographer "That Man Stone" took this picture of Batteries C and E of the 5th Artillery Regiment.
Figure 8.  This publicity photo of the Norman Toll Bridge at its opening in 1918 shows it supported 800,000 pounds of weight.  Oklahoma City photographer "That Man Stone" took this picture of Batteries C and E of the 5th Artillery Regiment.

Bridge 44N3970E1330004 once formed part of the Norman Toll Bridge.  This 152-foot Parker now crosses Walnut Creek near Purcell.
Figure9.  Bridge 44N3970E1330004 once formed part of the Norman Toll Bridge.  This 152-foot Parker now crosses Walnut Creek near Purcell.


Figure 10.  View of a typical shop manufactureing metal truss bridges by the early twentieth century.  (Darnell, Directory of American Bridge-Building Companies, 1840-1900)

View of a typical shop manufactureing metal truss bridges by the early twentieth century.  (Darnell, <i>Directory of American Bridge-Building Companies, 1840-1900</i>)


  However, businessmen in the neighboring town of Norman saw the new Lexington-Purcell Toll Bridge as an economic challange and promptly began efforts to build a rival span.  Completed in 1913 by the Kansas City Bridge Company, the 2,200-foot Norman Bridge, offered an alternative route for travel and trade in central Oklahoma.  Spans salvaged from both these toll bridges can be found today on rural roads in the state (Figures 8 and 9).
  When it came time to purchase highway bridges, spending sizable sums of money for items most only dimly understood, county commissioners moved ahead cautiously.  Some counties even delegated representatives to visit bridge manfactures in the Middle West--the Chicago Bridge and Iron Company, for instance.  After meeting company officials and inspecting the shops, they placed orders for standard structures that could be shipped west in railroad gondolas and erected by local workers sometimes supervised by a company representative.17  This approach to buying bridges soon became unnecessary when companies sent salesmen or "territory men" into Oklahoma to visit the counties.  Agents ordinarily brought catalogs illustrating standard designs made by the company in different lengths and weights, with or without ornamental features.  Some catalogs contained testimonials to the soundness of the company''s bridges made by satisfied customers in some remote town or county.  Representatives of the Austin Brothers Bridge Comapny of Dallas sold from a Book of Standard Steel Truss and Beam Span Bridges that included prints and illustrations of bridges that could be ordered for six to ten ton loadings and in widths of twelve to sixteen feet.18
  By the early twentieth century, when Oklahoma was beginning to develop its roads and bridges, the principal bridge companies had already made great progress in designing and producing standard truss bridges.  As these bridge shops received orders and specifications from the field, they laid out a truss suited to the particular job and then employed mass production techniques to prefabricate the span according to standard plans.  Writing in the early 1900s, a bridge engineer and expert on hte subject, Thomas Curtis Clarke, sharply contrasted older methods, whereby "every new span was a new problem" for engineers, with modern techniques.

Now, the proportions of lengths of span to height, and the length of panels, have been fixed by practice.  Connections have become so far standardized theat the duplication of parts can be carried to its fullest extent.  The proper spacing of rivets is now better understood.  Designs are so made that machine tools can make every part.  Great accuracy is attained and the sizes of parts have increased.  The bridge is never assembled until it reaches the staging or falseworks, and it comes together like the parts of a clock.  Much of it is fastened together by power rivetrers.  Except in a few instances, the American bridge builders know that the designs of the engineer of the purchaser will be simular to those that he has been in the habit of working under, and no abnormal features will be embodied.  Everybody now knows what every one else is doing.19

  Bridges built from patterns by these methods would become the mainstays of the Oklahoma road system as it grew through the early years of statehood (Figures 10 and 11).



Delivering a new truss bridge by railroad in 1909, Okfuskee County. (Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Library)
Figure 11.  Delivering a new truss bridge by railroad in 1909, Okfuskee County. (Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Library)


  Numerous bridge companies with national and regional reputations joined the bidding for Oklahoma contracts.  Established builders from Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, looking for new markets away from the highly competitive Middle West, gained an early foothold in the state by setting up offices in Oklahoma or nearby.  Central States Bridge Company, Rochester Bridge Company, and Vincennes Bridge Company were among the most aggresive Indiana builders to come.  Ohio's Canton Bridge Company quickly took a leading role through the work of a civil engineer and agent named Joseph W. Hoover who made Kansas City, Missouri, his base for selling truss bridges throughout Oklahoma (Figures 12 and 13).  Besides Hoover himself, Canton's success, which lasted until about 1919, may be attributed to its flexibility in offering counties a wide range of standard bridge types from inexpensive bedsteads to big Parker-type through trusses (Figures 14 and 15).
  Companies more regional in scope also became active in Oklahoma.  Prior to the First World War, for instance, the John Gilligan Company and Monarch Engineering, perhaps related in some way since both operated out of the small Nebraska town of Falls City, sucessfully bid for projects in the northernmost counties along the Kansas border.  But preeminent among the regional builders were several located in the Kansas City area, including the Midland Bridge Company (often personally represented in Oklahoma by owners Messrs. Freygang and Trocon), the Kansas City Bridge Company, the Pioneer Construction Company (created in 1918 by leaders of the Canton Bridge Company in Kansas City), and the Missouri Valley Bridge and Iron Company of neighboring Leavenworth, Kansas.  This group of companies, along with agents from a few midwestern firms, made Kansas City the principal center for building Oklahoma's highway bridges, relying on the superior system of railroads connecting Kansas City to combine reputations for good, serviceable trusses, proxmity to Oklahoma, low freight rates, aggresive marketing of their product, and simular factors to become the predominant builders(Figures 16 and 17).
  



Three ways of crossing the Neosho River at Miami: ford, ferry, and toll bridge.  Shows Bridge 58E0062N4510004 in c1901 at its original site. (Miami Public Library)
Figure 12.  Three ways of crossing the Neosho River at Miami: ford,
ferry, and toll bridge.
Shows Bridge 58E0062N4510004 in c1901 at its original site. (Miami Public Library)



Figure 13.  Suspension bridge over the South Canadian River at Noble c1900.  Such structures were made from stone, wood, rope, and steel cable. (Western History Collections, University of Iklahoma Library)


Three ways of crossing the Neosho River at Miami: ford, ferry, and toll bridge.  Shows Bridge 58E0062N4510004 in c1901 at its original site. (Miami Public Library)

Flooding of the South Canadian River in 1921 threatened the Lexington-Purcell Toll Bridge. (McClain County Historical Society)
Figure 14.  This Sturgis suspension bridge shown c1899 was one of the first metal bridges from an Oklahoma builder.

The Canton Bridge Company built Bridge 72N3950E0460005, a pinned Parker, across Bird Creek south of Skiatook.  The builder plates on the portals show 1912 as the date of construction.

Figure 15.  The Canton Bridge Company built Bridge 72N3950E0460005, a pinned Parker, across Bird Creek south of Skiatook.  The builder plates on the portals show 1912 as the date of construction.

Figure 16.  Among the most ornamental bridge plates in Oklahoma, this one identifies the Rochester Bridge Company.

Among the most ornamental bridge plates in Oklahoma, this one identifies the Rochester Bridge Company.



  Two companies established plants in Oklahoma City for fabricating steel bridges and selling them to both county governments and the Oklahoma State Department of Highways.  Austrian-born Jacob B. Klein and his brother organized the Jacob B. Klein Iron and Foundry Company in 1909 and made structural and ornamental items until the 1920s when they also began building bridges.  Choosing to operate under another name until establishing a reputation, Klein's bridge business expanded under the skillful direction of R. W. Robberson.  He later reorganized the firm as the Robberson Steel Company.20  Meanwhile, John R. Boardman, who came to Oklahoma City from his native Illinois, founded the Boardman Company in 1910 (Figure 18).  He became a bridge builder around 1915 after purchasing the Imperial Iron and Steel Company on a site in the southwest part of the city that remains the company plant today.21  Klein and Boardman did not deal exclusively in bridges, but sold a variety of metal products, including oilfield supplies and structural steel for building contractors.  Although no other Oklahoma company matched them in bridge building, an Oklahoma Ironworks in Tulsa and a Muskogee Ironworks made some trusses in the state.

Builder plate from a Pratt bedstead pony truss in Rogers County.
Figure 17.  Builder plate from a Pratt bedstead pony truss in Rogers County.

  Catalog bridges acquired by the counties in the early days became objects of ridicule and criticism that seemed to originate among trained engineers who hoped to establish higher technical standards for bridge construction.  W. C. Burnham, long the state's chief bridge engineer, apparently remarked that the only requirement for a highway bridge prior to 1910 was that it carry a "threshing outfit" a few times a year.22  This fit the view expressed by others that foolish and stingy county commissioners, who were also corrupted by dishonest bridge salesmen, built cheap, flimsy spans contemptuously referred to as "tin bridges."  Journalist Frederick Barde, who promoted stone and concrete structures, found Oklahoma's metal bridges "notorious for their general worthlessness" blaming the "mistaken judgement" of commissioners and the "business cunning" of the companies.  However, State Highway Commissioner Suggs exonerated the



A letterhead rendering of the Boardman Company's plant in Oklahoma City.  Boardman and J. B. Klein were the principal home-owned Oklahoma bridge builders.
Figure 18.  A letterhead rendering of the Boardman Company's plant in Oklahoma City.  Boardman and J. B. Klein were the principal home-owned Oklahoma bridge builders.



"absolutely helpless" county officials for they had come under the sway of the "tin bridge trust", a "blood-sucking outfit" that erected shoddy bridges.  "The cheap stuff that is being installed with your money," he warned taxpayers in 1912, "is not only costing you nearly twice as much as it is worth, but is a constant drain on you for repairs."23
  The fact that so many of these early trusses survived long past their intended lifespan, intact after washouts, accidents, collapses, and minimal maintenance, attests to their general quality.  The reputation of the bridge companies, even the best of them, suffered from their association with banker J. P. Morgan"s steel trust, formed in 1901, and his American Bridge Company, a consolidation of many formerly separate and independent builders.  In practice Oklahoma county commissioners did not seem intimidated by the companies since they often rejected bids for being too high or not sufficiently competitive and they withheld payment until new bridges satisfied them.24  There is evidence that commissioners changed their mind about work already under contract, deciding on a different location or size of structure, and became so delinquent in paying for work completed that companies were forced to seek redress in the courts.  Reporting that late payments became "almost a custom" in some counties, the State Engineer in 1917 believed bridge companies raised prices anticipating the expense of legal fees from court cases.  Still county records show justifiable complaints against the companies for careless work and at least circumstantial evidence exists of collusion and bid-rigging.  In most counties, after an initial period of active bidding by as many as eight to ten major companies, one or two builders would become dominant, consistently edging out competitors by a few dollars and receiving the contracts.  Despite persistant complaints that company agents conspired in bidding for projects, critics never proved their allegations against the bridge companies.25



Go to : Next    Table of Contents    Main Content



Planning & Research >  Spans of Time >  History >  A New Era in Bridge Building  BACK TO TOP