New Beginnings Marked by an End

With this entry, a return to those native New Hampshire sons who made their mark on the development of wooden bridges, this brings us to a name now little recognized as one once seen as a famous native son, and little remembered as someone who made the significant impacts he did.

Humble beginnings building towards impacts of significance. Little remembered, in large measure, because his time and the works he did in it were marked by change so huge, that huge works have been almost lost in the fabric of time. The beginnings of that change and the huge shift in the social fabric of our then young nation was itself marked by an end. An end to modes of commerce formed by canal boats and river trade, and overland trade shaped by turnpikes, and teamsters, and taverner’s. Ways of life then nearing an almost abrupt end, brought about by the building of railroads, and the ripples of change in travel and commerce they would carry into being.

As this shift was unfolding, Lebanon’s Simeon Post went off to help build both, the railroads, and a growing nation. Seemingly a commonality amongst the uncommon men drawn to bridge building innovation in his time.

His stepping stone vocation and humble hometown beginnings would last though his mid-twenties, in these formative years he is often described as having apprenticed as a “House Joiner.” He and his fellow Lebanon native bride, Parthenia Peck married there in 1830, but had moved onto opportunity in Montpelier Vermont by the time their second child, Andrew Jackson (who will closely follow on in his fathers footsteps, which we will come back to downpage) was born four years later.

We can’t really know with what is left to us, but it can’t be helped but to imagine that Simeon was a naturally gifted draftsman, and possessed something of a towering intellect and was perhaps, in some ways, both charming, and a bit of a force of personality. For somehow, with no record of a formal education but a recently completed timber-framing apprenticeship, he set up in Montpelier as a practicing architect. This move began a meteoric career, first with work under the direct supervision of the Surveyor General of Vermont, which would see young Simeon as influential in the choice of his recently adopted city as the new state capitol. This in turn would see him offered by the General’s son, his first in a long series of railroad positions, by 1836 he is now serving as Assistant to the chief Engineer for the Auburn & Syracuse RR.

By July of ’40 he would monopolize this position into one as Resident Engineer of the NY & Erie RR. He would move up through the hierarchical ranks there at the NY & E, then engaged in endless construction, from Superintendent of Transportation to Chief Engineer by the time of his leaving in March of 1853, when he would move onto the same position with the Ohio & Mississippi RR, leaving their employ just two years later as General Superintendent. In ’55 he returned to the New York City area serving both as consulting engineer with his former employer The NY & Erie, and as chief Engineer for the Long Dock Co. in its construction of the Bergen Tunnel, continuing as chief of this project until its suspension five years later for lack of funds.

It was at this time he turned his attentions and long railroad influenced study of the bridge building branch of engineering, publishing his “Treatise on the Principals of Civil Engineering as Applied to the Construction of Wooden Bridges” in ’59. He is said to have during this period “tinkered with models” and prepared his Letters Patent for an “Improvement in Iron Bridges” receiving Patent 38,910 in June 1863.

He formed the “Atlantic Bridge Works” with fellow patent holder Daniel McCallum in 1867, This company would go onto build “hundreds” of Post Patent Trusses, most of these for railroads, both partners having deep roots in that community. The following year Atlantic dissolved, and Simeon formed a bridge building concern with his son called “SS & AJ Post, Civil Engineers and Bridge Builders” Andrew would that year patent both details for built up Iron Posts and a “Combination Truss” wood & iron variation of his fathers truss, No. 81,817

Bell Ford Covered Bridge - A Post Combination Wood & Iron Patent Truss - Photo provided courtesy of Tony Dillon

Their firm contracted Watson Manufacturing Company to fabricate its cast and wrought iron parts. AJ would later partner with this firm and become its chief Engineer. Building SS Post Patent Trusses would become Watson’s primary business for a full decade. At its height employing some 200 men at its plant and foundry in Paterson NJ, and another six to seven hundred divided up among multiple crews building bridges at sites across the nation.

A 19th C Stereoscopic view of an Unhoused Post Combination Truss Bridge - Colorado Central Railroad

Other well known and geographically dispersed bridge building concerns such as Boomer Brothers of St. Louis & Chicago (see prior entry Sister Bridge) would be granted right to build the patent. Some, such as Cleveland’s McNairy Claflen & Co. (company principles thought to be among former RR’ing associates of Simeon’s) would go on to specialize in this Truss Type.

Henry Claflen even filing an associated patent No. 47,395 for Top Chord Splices for the “Combination” versions their firm and foundry tooled up for and specialized in.

A Bell Ford Top Chord Panel Point

The last existing Post Combination Truss was lost just five years ago, the 1868 Bell Ford Covered Bridge was built by McNairy Claflen. I was part of a team which dismantled it after its collapse, and cataloged its parts for storage and a hoped for future rebuilding. It stood in Seymour IN, a town at one time served by, and which served as a north south / east west hub for Mr. Posts former employer, the O & Miss RR.

A Bell Ford Bottom Chord Panel Point

Thousands of Post Truss spans formerly bridged the nations waterways serving both highways and railroads. Single spans over modest streams and long multiple span versions bridging wide nationally known rivers. Only three all-iron examples still exist.

In March of ’70 Simeon returned to railroading, appointed chief engineer of the Northern Pacific RR, but would only some months later be stricken by a “Paralysis”. He passed quietly in his Jersey City home 29 June 1872, while at the height of his own personal success, a success also shared by his namesake Truss.

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About Will Truax

I'm a timberframer and preservation carpenter, and regularly work on Covered Bridge restoration projects. Bridgewrighting can be a tough row to hoe, for a myriad of reasons. From scheduling issues to differing opinions and philosophies on what is appropriate in methods and materials, to multiple jurisdictions still not sufficiently vetting bidders resumes - Which is to say, just because a company is on that state approved list and capable of building that seven figure overpass, this does not mean they are capable of restoring a wooden bridge... So, I have much to say about all this and more - And despite my tough row observation, I promise not to whine. View all posts by Will Truax

5 responses to “New Beginnings Marked by an End

  • FkA

    Will it is Claflen not Claflin which mfg. the components to Bell Ford.

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    • Will Truax

      Fleeta –

      Many thanks for pointing out and reminding me of this of the spelling of Henry’s surname. It is something which had caught my eye, and one of those small details I had hoped to clear up somehow and some day, as I am always troubled with how written history is peppered with errors simply repeated time and again.

      The mystery here is more than confused, this going right to the mans letters patent for his “Splice for Timbers” (the very same Top Chord splices found in Bell Ford) in these the name remarkably appears spelled both ways. Though it is his signature which drove me to choose the spelling I did, In it he clearly uses an i.

      Have you ever found any advertising the company placed? It would say much also.

      — Will

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    • Will Truax

      Fleeta –

      Your prompt had me take a second and deeper look, and Henry is the subject of my most recent entry – https://bridgewright.wordpress.com/2013/11/30/its-all-in-a-name/

      Thanks again,

      — Will

      Like

  • Covbridges

    Is there a list of the bridges thought to have been built with Post’s truss ? I continue to find others that are either probable or definite in searching old bridge images.

    Like

    • Will Truax

      Todd –

      No sorry, I know of no list of Post Combination Truss bridges compiled anywhere, not even an incomplete one. No one has yet done the research, and it would be quite the challenge to do so, given the numbers built and the number of companies sanctioned to build them.

      I would be interested in seeing the images you’ve turned up, and could perhaps help confirm the Truss types pictured.

      Thanks for stopping in.

      — Will

      Like

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