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New Milwaukee Bridge Biggest in the World

Perry Daily Chief, July 13, 1912

Surpasses Famous Boone Structure in Length - The Biggest Railroad Fill in Iowa

Roadbed to Reach from Bluff to Bluff

Over Three and One-Half Millions to be Expended in Crossing the Valley

When the Northwestern Railway decided to abandon its historic old line, leave Mongonia, with its famous old bridge across the Des Moines and where dwelt the heroine of the line, Kate Shelley, on a little spur track, and decided to dash from the top of the high hills on one side of the valley over to the other side without grade, railroad builders held their breath and gasped that it could be done. Today in answer to such skepticism there spans the valley at a dizzy height the longest and highest (for its length) bridge in America. It is a double tracked structure of steel resting spider like on mammoth big concrete pillars which extend but a short way up the canyon. Its construction involved two and one half million dollars and by it the railroad company saved torturous twisting grades down the bluffs on the other. Two miles of trackage was done away with and the mileage between ocean to ocean was cut down correspondingly as much.

When it was thrown open to traffic, the famous engineers came to visit it. The engineering world marveled at the stupendous quantity of work, the huge pillars and the strength in the vast, expanse of bridge. Thousands of passengers have rushed to the observation end of the trains and hung breathless as they gazed down nearly 200 feet to the twisted silver ribbon of the river below.

Is Greatest Yet

Just east of Perry another engineering marvel is to be constructed. Following the example of the Northwestern, the Milwaukee is to span the valley with another structure longer by double the length, nearly as high and with greater engineering problems to solve. It will cost full $3,500,000 before completed. The new double track bridge will be without question the greatest bridge of its kind not only in Iowa but the entire middle west. Its construction calls for nearly double the amount of steel used in the Boone bridge and joining to it on the east will be the largest fill for railroad trackage ever attempted in Iowa. One hundred or more feet high, a mile in length, containing a million and a half yards of dirt and built by four successive lifts or benches, this fill is the marvel of modern engineering. Its construction does away with the extension of the big steel structure over to the east side, which has such been done, would make the Milwaukee bridge fully two miles long.

As the party making the inspection went down the famous old Godfrey hill and dipped into the wide Des Moines River Valley, scenes on every hand told the story of the immensity of the project which the railroad was undertaking. On both sides of the river are to be seen hundreds of men apparently a score of steam shovel and as many engineers tearing away the face of the earth, piling up huge trainloads of dirt on the grade and getting ready for the bridge gang which will lay the steel and build the monster bridge.

From Bluff to Bluff

The new Milwaukee bridge will start at the west end of the high bluff on the Charles Harlow place which overlooks the entire valley. One hundred and sixty-five feet below it and nearly a mile to the east runs the Des Moines River. It looks like a silver ribbon finding its way through the meadows which border its banks. Hugh concrete piers, now under construction and being built by Mr. Howell the contractor, rise from the sheer face of the bluff and will carry the huge steel bridge across the vast expanse. Beneath the bridge fully 90 feet runs the road which leads to the Phildia coal camp. The new structure will span the roadway like a modern Collosus of Rhodes and will not interfere with the traffic to and from the mine.

A Hive of Industry

But on the east side of the river is where the scene is a hive of industry. Porter Bros., millionaire contractors have the job of building the huge fill which is to meet the bridge and aid in spanning the valley. With them in C. W. Marshall, sub contractor, also of Kansas City. Between the two big companies there are employed six huge steam shovels which are eating their way through small mountains of dirt and depositing the debris in trains of flat cars. A dozen engines steam back and forth pushing the dirt trains out to the end of the grade, where by the latest modern methods the dirt is deposited and placed in the fill.

The equipment which these two firms have employed on the work represent the investment of nearly $2,000,000. There are big standard gauge engines and cars for the Porter Bros. and narrow gauge equipment for the Marshall Company. The Porter people are equipped with huge dump cars which operate by air and the engineer in his cab by the manipulation of levers can dup the dirt, readjust the cars and do all the work which it would otherwise take at least fifty men to do.

Four Sections of Grade

The manner by which the work is accomplished is equally interesting. The fill 100 feet high necessitates a 400 foot base. It is improbable as well as impossible to do this from the top level of the grade. Therefore the grade has been divided in four horizontal sections, each 25 feet high. The first section is being built first, after which, the temporary tracks for the use of the dump cars will be lifted 25 feet higher in the air and the second section will be filled.

Because of the width of the fill, it is necessary for two trucks to be used. Each track is started at the outer edge of the fill, nearly 400 feet apart. As the fill gradually grows and the dirt fills up the interstices of the rude trestle about which the debris is thrown, the tracks are moved by crow bar and manual labor a few feet closer together and the dumping toward the center continues.

On Thursday the two tracks on the first level or lift as they are technically called had been moved about ten feet closer together than when the work was first started. The Marshall crew was working on the second level a thousand feet back of the dumps on the first lift. Within a few days it is expected that the third lift, fifty feet higher than the lowest dump and 75 feet above the natural level of the land will be started.

Like a Big City

Here camp life in a grading camp is to be seen at its best. The steam shovels accompanied by the musical rattle of chains, the toot-trot of the donkey engines as they thread their way through the big bluffs taking dirt out to the dump, the chant of the hundreds of men as they move in unison jacking over the tracks, others laying new ones, some shoveling the dirt down into the fill, all gives one an impression of a big city, and a very busy one at that.

The scene is one which cannot be described and one which must be seen to be appreciated. If one can imagine a pile of dirt 5,000 feet long, or nearly a mile, a block and one-half wide at the bottom and sloping up to about forty feet at the top and as half again as high as the city standpipe, that describes the amount of dirt which will be used in the Des Moines River project. To get this dirt was a problem for the company. Because of the necessity to get the material, the Milwaukee has purchased 215 acres of land in one piece from the old Zack Dalander and the Ben Williams heirs, 7 acres from J.A. Jontz. But even this was not enough so 25 acres of hills have been recently bought to furnish additional material.

Dinner at Camp

The Porter camp is a marvel of completeness. Its bunk houses, its offices, its dining room are all built of boards. The Marshall camp is of canvass but clean, pitched on an eminence overlooking the beautiful valley, and ensconced in a grove of magnificent trees. Here the party was entertained for dinner. And a good dinner it was too.

It is of interest to add here that these camps buy the best of everything. The best meats the packers sell are to the camps along the railroads. The vegetables are secured from the farmers in huge quantities. Professional cooks, usually two or three are employed to prepare the food. In fact, Mr. Marshall explained, to secure the best of help and to get the best results from their laborers, it pays to feed the men well and look out for their personal comfort.

A Historic Spot

It is a historic old place where the Milwaukee is tearing up the surface of the earth and remoulding it to fit the needs of modern transportation. Just north of the huge grade lies the site of the old town of Elk Rapids. There is nothing there now but a farm house or two. In generations past, it was a famous old ford of the river. The pioneers traded there, secured their mail and learned the news that travelled by stage and courier. When the Milwaukee put its line through, the trade went toward the new towns along the line and Elk Rapids died away and became only a memory.

The land over which the bridge will span and upon which the mammoth grade is being erected, was entered by Ben Williams as a homestead in 1850. The Williams family and Zack Dalander, another pioneer, lived there for many years, the latter acquiring land in 1858 which remained in his possession until the Milwaukee bought his entire farm. The houses where these families lived were built of native lumber. When the graders moved in the farmers moved out. The Williams home was torn down, and only the old well sweep marks the spot where it stood. The Dalander house caught fire a few weeks ago and was burned down. It wasn't an accident; it was cheaper to burn than to move and a railroad company is not in the business of a curator of historical spots.

Cemetery to Be Moved

Right in the path of the monster grade is the old Williams Cemetery, grown rank with weeds and wild flowers. Headstones dating back to 1858 mark graves of men and women whose death occurred in that year. It presents a problem which the legal department of the road must solve. The company has purchased one hundred feet to the north of the little city of the dead and has secured permission from as many relatives as can be found for the removal of graves to the other side of the cemetery. The company needs fifty feet of the south end of it. A plat is being prepared locating each of the graves and the new part of the cemetery will be platted just as the old part is. The legal question of the change will be completed in a few days. When completed there will nestle along the side of the grade a neat burying ground, a monument of the past in comparison with the enterprise and ingenuity of modern man.

Grove is Destroyed

In years gone by, on the high hill above the cemetery and near the ridge where the railroad will heap westward across the valley, there was a magnificent grove of trees. A few are left yet, but eighty acres of it have been cleared and the wood used to make the trestles for the grade. A few magnificent monarchs of the forest have been left. One huge birds-eye maple, towering a hundred feet or more high and at least four feet through at the base, stands in silent protest of the devastation of the kingdom he has ruled over for so long. It too, will go down, but the eyes of the engineers are upon it, and it will be sawed up and used for veneer for furniture for some lady's chamber.

In a few weeks this mammoth bill will be eaten away by the battery of steam shovels which are gnawing at its sides. At its foot is an extensive gravel pit which will be used for ballast and just across the river can be seen the stacks of the Phildea mine which furnish the trainloads of coal which are used as fuel by the engines and steam shovels. A temporary bridge has been erected across the river to bring fuel into the works. A big water tank has been erected and a complete water system is piped out over the scene of activity in pipes lying along the surface of the ground.

Gamble in Charge

Upon this work the Milwaukee has placed one of its best engineers, W.S. Gamble, who built the Puget Sound line across the mountains. Mr. Gamble makes his headquarters at Madrid and has a crops of efficient engineers under him. The task of bridging the valley, and superintending the work at the river occupies most of his time. He was a cordial host to the party at his office in Madrid and explained in detail the size of the work under his charge. He exhibited a plan of the big Des Moines River Bridge, and explained that it would be 3,000 feet long exclusive of the mammoth grade at the east end and that the track would be 165 feet above the high water mark of the river. There are alternate spans of 40 and 70 feet, the shorter ones being tied together by huge iron latticework. Across the river bed proper are two longer spans 156.5 feet. The steel superstructure will rest on cement pillars which will start forty or more feet below the present surface.

Naturally this bridge is attracting attention all over the country and the site, one and one-half miles north of the present crossing of the Des Moines, has been visited by railroad men and engineers who express admiration in the way the Milwaukee has solved the river grades question. Monday we will describe the work from the river to Maxwell, and tell a number of interesting facts relating to the change of the right of way and the magnitude of the work which is being accomplished by this road.