Monthly Archives: June 2011

Eighty Beeves Driven in Close Gang & a Wish

An interesting find sparks one more Long post before we move on…

The Colonel in his own words, describing the construction of the Jackson Bridge in a letter accompanying the publication of his letters patent in the 1830 Journal of the Franklin Institute, Vol 5 It’s particularly interesting because it defines a timeline for us, and tells us the Jackson was the only existing example at the time of patent. This is curious because the short-line B&S RR and its three bridges are known to have been built between ’28 and ’31 – So we now know the three examples listed in the ad Moses’ placed, were built following or perhaps even as Stephen penned this letter, or as it sat waiting in the post, and then somewhere in the offices of the Institute for some editorial decision, and after some unknown turn of time and delay, publication.

He also describes the crew that built The Jackson, but sadly does not name even the lead…

I do wish he had put a name to at least the crew lead for the “six workmen”, I am sure these are people from whom he learned much, and used this learned information in his “Description”, and do find it regrettable that he did not share names, and this not simply out of some personal curiosity

This because I do now have some real sense of the man. He had by this point in his life, led expeditions deep into the then unknown vast western wilderness, where survival did quite literally depend on the skills and smarts of every handpicked person in your company. He had accomplished much. And he knew full well, that his own success was in part attributable to the accomplishment and abilities of those under his command.

A Name Unknown and a Face to a Name

The Long journey winds down, though, in the way such quests often do, not with complete or even definite answers. But with something of a greater understanding, and with puzzle pieces found, which were yet to be recognized as missing.

As curiosity suggested I begin a search for an answer to what seemed like a good question, one which might have an answer which might be out there to find. And that it might be a knowable, the name of the Bridgewright that had helped the good Col. Long to know aspects of that which he was designing like only a seasoned bridge carpenter could. (A curious potential in and of itself, for most all of the carpentry work preservationists put eyes and hands on, those we follow, those whose work we come to intimately understand and emulate and even share as coworkers of sorts, almost always, their names are lost to us – More was put to paper with bridges. It is at times, possible to know by name, those whose work we touch, and who it is we are following.)

I began that search with a supposition, that that bridgewright might well be Stephen’s cousin, Horace Childs. This based on the seeming timing of the release of “Description” by a Concord NH publishing house in 1836, at the tail end of a brief three year re-residency in New Hampshire, and with the knowing provided by this earlier 1834 pamphlet announcing his brother Moses as his agent, and making mention that cousin Horace was the “architect” / builder of the pictured bridge. It seems highly probable that all three cousins had direct input in the construction of this span and visited the Haverhill site.

As it turns out the original version of “Description” was titled “Description of the Jackson Bridge, together with directions to builders of wooden or frame bridges” and was published by Sands & Nelson of Baltimore in 1830, this roughly coincident with the March patent date.

This suggests that the Colonel probably had direct interaction with the construction of the Jackson or one of the two other bridges built for this Railroad in two short years. Experience and information he went on to describe in “Description” This RR has often been misidentified as the Baltimore & Ohio, but as the ad included in my earlier entry suggests, this was in fact the Baltimore & Susquehanna, a short line less than a full forty six miles in length. A line soon to, time and again, be acquired by larger railroads. Its records, and the name of the bridgewright contracted to build its bridges seem to have been lost to time.

So, we may return to the Colonel…

But will for the coming entry turn our attention to cousin Horace and his works.

A man who turns up, and extends a wry glance back from the turning pages of time –

Railroading, Adverts and Lists of What Was

In imagining The Col’s schedule as being always incredibly busy, and cyphering through the available source materials in hoping to find some clue, and some sense as to when he might have found the time to actually work directly with a Bridgewright framing one of his patent trusses and who it might have been…

I fell upon this gem of an advertisement, placed by brother Moses, agent for Stephen, in January of 1836 –

The first name on that list of sub-agents is cousin Horace, (much more on this prolific bridgewright and fellow patent holder later) builder of the Henniker and Haverhill examples listed in this ad. And also of the still existing Long, the Rowell’s, in the Long family hometown of Hopkinton NH, and just downriver from Henniker.

He also built (credit as to the builder of the Hopkinton Village Bridge was corrected in a later entry) this “Village “ example (an in-town bridge with double sidewalks) in the Contoocook Village section of Hopkinton. Removed in 1935 in a WPA Depression era makework project, it sat just upstream from the still existing covered railroad bridge

Former Contoocook Village Bridges

– In fact, we know this little girl and the scene pictured here were photographed before 1889 when the RR bridge pictured was replaced by the one still standing. Little is known about this bridge. But, it is not at all improbable that it was a Childs built Childs Truss, as Horace and his own tight-knit cadre of brothers went on to do much of their contracting and bridgwrighting work for a number of area railroads.

The RR bridge in the photo has little more overhead clearance than the Village bridge it stands beside, and was likely built in the 40’s or 50’s when Locomotives were smaller and lighter.

Amoskeag - Locally built & favored by small area RR's

The Boston & Maine quickly replaced this bridge soon after acquiring the line from the Concord & Claremont, in anticipation of the heavier rolling stock of the future.

Oddities unEarthed on a quest for Carpenterly Conclusions

In simply asking this question, “How does a non-carpenter (Long) come to the specific carpenterly conclusions he had?” I found myself set upon a path in search of, answers if possible, and at least real clues as to how he might have garnered this information.

So logically this begins with looking at the first patent of 1830, and the work and probable constructions which led to the filing of his letters patent.

His biographers tend to skim right over his multiple bridge patents, preferring to emphasize his military expeditions of the west, and seeming to view the the bridge trusses as but a small aspect of his involvement in Railroads. Work which began in surveys and planning railbeds as a member of the Army’s Topographical Engineers, but seems to have for the Bvt. Col., often morphed into private sector opportunity, (this an accepted norm of the day) and his RR machinery patents, seem to outnumber his five bridge patents. (some mere improvements, but three are distinctly differing trusses) A leave of absence was even brought on by a brief partnership in a locomotive mfg. co.

Long’s Truss seems to have been developed during a time he was working for the Baltimore & Ohio RR, several examples being built. Though by 1836, perhaps to save the running foot price for use of a patent truss, they were building bridges of the truss type pictured below, designed by their in house engineer Benjamin Henry Latrobe Jr.

Biographies shedding little light on his bridgework, forced a search into source materials. And thankfully, private sector activity encourages shameless self promotion. Surprisingly, Stephen’s time was rife with this, and there are numerous pamphlets and recurring releases of his “Description” and also press release type periodical mentions. The man was actually taking time to “post” such releases.

And sifting through all this chaff, looking for that kernel of wheat, I am about thunderstruck to find a similar shameless self promotion type inclusion, about a bridge patent no less, from the good Colonel’s own brother – A younger brother who stepped into Stephen’s very long shadow. (Several brothers went onto higher learning, Dartmouth included, but George Washington was the only one to attend West Point and follow on into the Topographical Engineers)

This does provide a window on their world, (and provides a first hand account that the common story of men stepping up onto models at meetings was something that did happen) and suggests not only were these brothers in regular communication despite their distance, but that Stephen’s bridge work was both seen already with some importance, and that it was also well fleshed out by January 1st 1831.

No such patent seems to have been filed, do wish to find the drawings, they must be out there somewhere. GW’s talk of iron or combination examples is cutting edge, almost ahead of his time kind’a stuff

Sibling rivalry, if ever a factor, would seem to have been put aside by the 1850’s, as both brothers like all their surviving siblings, (a sister and her family included) retired to Alton Illinois. A family reunited

Go’ing Lively

In trying to figure out just what I want this blogging adventure to be, I feel a need to somehow intertwine real historical information around the logic of preservation, and the capitol P Preservation community, and at the same time keep it lively, so that membership in one of the geekdom subcultures of bridges, or preservation, or being a historian maybe needn’t be requisite for interest in reading on…

So maybe I’m missing my own mark, that it might not be possible to keep all those balls in the air. But I can’t know unless I try. And I’ve decided that lively and the history can’t, don’t and maybe even shouldn’t part ways.

So, I still see, a next logical step might be an extension of the last entry. And have decided to do a short series, (in number, not necessarily in a time frame all that short) on New Hampshiremen (yes, this is the historical term of choice for someone who hails from here – political correctness be damned) who influenced the development of wooden bridge construction in the 19th Century.

Though for this entry, just because I keep finding more and more information on the good Colonel, I’ll continue with a reflection on his writings, wrapped ever so slightly around our experiences at the Gilpin’s.

I’ve alluded to how the Gilpin’s had its guts ripped out in a failed attempt to increase its capacity, that Floor Beams and Flooring were changed out for Hardwood species in the all too commonly mistaken notion that stronger wood always makes for a stronger construction.

The Gilpin’s was proof positive evidence that this is not the case. Tens of thousands of pounds of added weight in a “stronger floor” did not strengthen the bridge. But, because those who did this, did not take the time to understand the materials they were working with, or the bridge as a unified structural system, one comprised of multiple systems, They in fact weakened it. The weight they added directly resulted in the failure of every Bottom Chord “splice” in the bridge, so severe were these failures, that the bridge did not see another decade of service.

So, how does a man distracted by a life so busy and so storied. A life so much so, that his multiple bridge patents, do not even register as a minor blip on his research radar. A life of academic achievement, military service, continental exploration, railroad surveys and silkworms. A man who likely never even once watched a shaving roll up off the end of a chisel he was himself pushing, (he was not a timberframer) how does such a man understand these things?

Somehow he did.

In Long’s “Description” in the prologue to “Directions” he cites –

The timber best adapted to a frame bridge, is White Pine. The qualities which entitle it to to this distinction, are its lightness, stiffness (strength to weight ratio in modern engineering-ese) and exemption of the ravages of worms, insects, &c. – In all cases, the material of which it is made should be the lightest attainable. The exterior covering, should it be applied, ought also be constructed of the lightest materials.

So granted, his vast travel is part of this understanding. Even if he had not seen the several examples of Palmer’s trussed arches in New England at this time, he had certainly seen both his “Permanent Bridge” and Wernwag’s “Colussus” in Philly while a resident there. (Home town of his 1819 bride Martha Hodgkins) His exceptionally wide travel for his time would certainly have afforded him the opportunity to see many many bridges in the rivers and streams he crossed. Those crossed by fording or ferry might well have had him wondering after a better way. All this coupled with his very creative mechanical mind explains how a non-timberframer might design a timberframed bridge…

All the same, how does a non-carpenter come to the specific carpenterly related conclusions he had?

Was it just that people of his time were more in tune with the materials that made up their world? Is it his aptitude for over-achievement, or his obvious scary-smart intellect?

I’m not sure we can know –

I do know a mistake he seemingly almost innately avoided, one which was exemplified at the Gilpin’s eighty long years ago, is somehow, and for the same lack of understanding, and failure to properly and fully explore all aspects of the bridges engineering, about to be repeated.

And this none so far away. The Rudolph & Arthur, just over the state line from the Gilpin’s, in Chester County (Perhaps the healthiest most original and intact Burr I have ever visited) is about to be rehab’ed, The plan calls for the Floor Beams, (most of them original and problem free) Sleepers and Flooring to be replaced with Bongossi. A rare African rot resistant (this the siding & roofings purpose and an unnecessary redundancy?) species of hardwood, which is incredibly dense and beyond amazingly heavy.

To para-phrase Yogi Berra – Isn’t this just like Déjà Vu all over again?