Tag Archives: Bell Ford Covered Bridge

It’s All in a Name

Things Trussed Arch are still building and burgeoning on the coming horizon, though this entry holds a brief diversion…

A recent comment on an earlier bio-piece entry I had put up on a New Hampshire born Truss patent holder, ( See New Beginnings ) from a friend and fellow bridge historian, pointed to an error made in spelling of the surname of an associate of the subject of the bio-piece. In my reply, I defended with reason my decision to use the variation I did.

Being that I pride myself with an accuracy relayed in the histories found here on the weblog, and not just the simple rehashing of the work of others. And being that there is also an undercurrent here of working to solve the occasional mysteries sometimes found to be lost or mixed up in the details of history. Particularly when those details twisted or lost have to do with someone’s name, (as in the needless confusion surrounding Nichols Powers) a deeper look demanded attention and as always, more was there for the finding.

The subject of this ramble was a partner in a Cleveland Ohio bridge building firm and agent of the subject Patent Trusses described in New Beginnings, and himself a patent holder of a variation of a deep area of interest for me. He holds No. 47,395 a “Splice for Timbers” And though his name appears in ample written records spelled two ways, in almost equal numbers, it was the seeming spelling found in his own signature in his letters patent which drove my earlier decision. A deeper look said more about him, his partner and their bridge building concern. Also revealed was the proper spelling of the mans name.

Both partners served the Union in the war, all of their time in bridge building units, and with a seeming common story of others described here in these pages, this shared war-time service became the basis of lifelong relationships. Like these others they served under the command of fellow patent holder, Daniel Craig McCallum Military Director and Superintendent of the Union railroads.

In the the years immediately following the war Henry assumed an owners share of Albert McNairy and partners bridge building firm of Thatcher, Burt & Co which then assumed the mantle of McNairy Claflen & Co. Within the decade the company was said to have three hundred and fifty men in their employ and reaching two millions of dollars of business annually. In Cleveland Past & Present published in 1869, NcNairy Clafen is described as “From 1851 to a recent date, the Howe Truss Bridge was nearly the only bridge made by the concern. They now are largely engaged in the construction of iron and combination bridges. The concern has built three thousand two hundred and eighty-one bridges–about sixty miles in the aggregate. The streams of nearly every State east of the Rocky Mountains are spanned by their bridges, and it is a historical fact that not one bridge of their construction has fallen.”

This fits all that was found in the dismantling of the Bell Ford, an amazingly sophisticated construction for 1875. Both the foundry work found in the iron, the castings, and the wrought eyebars, but also in the woodwork. Thatcher & Co’s decade of Howe Truss construction showed itself both in the Shear Block joined Top Chords with their patent Claflen Splices, and also in the compression diagonals (Braces) which swell to a greater dimension at mid-length, something I contend because of amazingly uniform mill & tool marks, are a product almost out of time, and were completely produced by some sort of duplicating machine.

In the Bell Ford even the simple joints joining the Braces to the Cast Sockets which received them were remarkably consistent and lacked any appearance of having been worked by hand - Suggesting a wholly mechanized approach to production

In the Bell Ford even the simple joints joining the Braces to the Cast Sockets which received them were remarkably consistent and lacked any appearance of having been worked by hand – Suggesting a wholly mechanized approach to production

From his time, both a description of the the mans life’s work, his likeness, and his signature.

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.