North American Railroad Bridges


Few railroading scenes are as enduring as those that depict a train traversing river or roadway, creek or cayon, atop a sturdy structure specially engineered for the situation. In this marvelously illustrated work sure to appeal to modelers and railfans alike, prolific rail historian Brian Solomon presents the only completely illustrated book to tackle the development and evolution of North American railroad bridges.

Inside, Solomon examines major types of construction-including...

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Few railroading scenes are as enduring as those that depict a train traversing river or roadway, creek or cayon, atop a sturdy structure specially engineered for the situation. In this marvelously illustrated work sure to appeal to modelers and railfans alike, prolific rail historian Brian Solomon presents the only completely illustrated book to tackle the development and evolution of North American railroad bridges.

Inside, Solomon examines major types of construction-including trusses, trestles, viaducts (both stone arches and steel construction), suspension bridges, and movable spans-as well as many of the men responsible for pioneering them. In addition to explaining in layperson's terms the principles behind each type of construction and why they are used in given situations, Solomon offers histories detailing the origins, construction, and use of iconic structures such as Hell Gate, Starrucca Viaduct, and Suisun Bay Bridge, amoung others, as well as lesser known but nonetheless important and interesting spans.

North American Railroad Bridges is illustrated throughout with landmark patent drawings, period postcards, specially commissioned diagrams, and modern color photography from some of today's top rail photographers, capturing railroads large and small hauling traffic across bridges throughout the United States and Canada.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Garden Railways, April 2008
"The book is beautifully printed on heavy, glossy stock. Photos include historic and contemporary photographs, sometimes of the same structure, as well as early postcard and other views of bridges, both well-known and obscure. Picture reproduction is outstanding. This, coupled with the well-researched and knowledgeably written text, makes the book a vaulable addition to anyone's railroad library".
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780760325278
  • Publisher: Voyageur Press
  • Publication date: 1/15/2008
  • Edition description: First
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 10.63 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Brian Solomon is one of today’s most accomplished railway historians. He has authored more than 30 books about railroads and motive power, and his writing and photography have been featured in Trains, Railway Age, Passenger Train Journal, and RailNews. Solomon divides his time between Monson, Massachusetts, and Dublin, Ireland.

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Table of Contents


Preface and Acknowledgments


Chapter 1         Early Masonry Arches

Chapter 2         Truss Bridges

Chapter 3         Trestles and Metal Viaducts

Chapter 4         Long Spans and Other Big Railroad Bridges

Chapter 5         Replacement Spans

Chapter 6         Concrete Arches

Chapter 7         Movable Spans



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In the Solomon family photo archives exists an image of myself in New Hampshire studying a disused, covered wooden railroad bridge along the old Boston & Maine. I was age two or three at the time. While I do not recall the details gleaned from that early interest, I do recall, about the same time, a photo excursion with my father, Richard Jay Solomon, on the New York subway system's Flushing Line, much of which rides an elevated structure across Queens.

In researching this text I've visited many bridges in the United States and abroad. I've also consulted dozens of books and hundreds of documents, communicated with a great many people, and inspected tens of thousands of images. The bibliography lists the majority of the written sources tapped for the project. Some of the most useful books for understanding the general history and function of bridges were Henry Petroski's To Engineer Is Human (1985) and Engineer of Dreams (1995), David B. Steinman and Sara Ruth Watson's Bridges and Their Builders (1957), David Plowden's well-researched and superbly illustrated Bridges: The Spans of North America (2002), and J. A. L. Waddell's epic Bridge Engineering (1916). Regarding the specifics of railroad engineering, I've long enjoyed William D. Middleton's works. His Landmarks of the Iron Road (1999) covers many of the great historical railroad spans in splendid detail. For those interested in the detailed history of Erie Railroad's Starrucca Viaduct, William S. Young's privately published Starrucca: The Bridge of Stone (2000) is essential reading.

On the topic of railroad bridges, so much has been written, any attempt to touch upon every aspect of the subject, let alonedelve into every detail, is beyond impossible-the task would be so Herculean as to be unimaginable. One source consulted for this book suggested there were as many as 65,000 railroad bridges in the United States. How this figure was quantified is unknown, a fact that itself leads to a problem. By one definition, any span less than 20 feet counts not as a bridge, but as a culvert. Yet, not all writers have acknowledged this pedantic distinction. What I have chosen to include in this modest book are just a select handful of bridges relating to North American railroading that I found the most interesting and/or of significant historical relevance.

Among the challenges in sifting through the mountains of information accumulated for this project was reconciling incongruities and contradictory facts about individual bridges. Basic information such as dates of construction and dimensions have too frequently been reported differently by various sources. One author may simply overstate a bridge's statistics and the error gets perpetuated. Other situations have more specific difficulties: perhaps a bridge is modified during its lifetime and as a result lengthened or shortened. Somewhere along the line the old information is reprinted without qualification. I've made every attempt to cite individual sources for data and where I can find but one root source, to qualify statistics. In a few instances I cite seemingly contradictory statistics where I've found it impossible or impractical to determine which is more correct.

Many people have aided me in my research, photography, and production tasks. My father not only inspired my early interest in bridges through our trips together but helped in a great many other ways. As a child he crafted a model truss bridge from balsa wood, which fascinated me in my earliest years. Specific to the project, he provided key photographs, lent the use of his vast library of railway and engineering books, reviewed the text, and helped assemble the bibliography. Robert A. Buck of Tucker's Hobbies in Warren, Massachusetts, inspired my interest in Major George Washington Whistler's achievements (and on numerous occasions brought me to visit Whistler's stone arches in the Berkshires), encouraged my interest in railways, and made enumerable introductions. Bob's wife, Silvia Buck, librarian of Warren Public Library, helped in my research of William Howe, himself late of Warren. Fairly late into the research for this text I realized that having grown up in western Massachusetts, I had been in the very bastion of "American trussdom," where more than a century earlier many of the foremost American truss patent holders had trod.

Special thanks to Patrick Yough, who made many connections for me, assisted with captions, on several occasions provided transportation and lodging, personally made first-class illustrations specifically for this project, and patiently waited during photography excursions while I inspected various spans. John Gruber assisted with research, wrote the sidebar on pontoon bridges, made introductions, and provided transportation and lodging in Wisconsin and California. John and I have traveled together many times over the last dozen years, looking at railways and railway bridges. Tom Farenz of the Iowa, Chicago & Eastern organized a visit to the swing bridge over the Mississippi at Rock Island, Illinois. Dave Abeles furthered my understanding of bridge engineering and helped review my text. John P. Hankey provided a tour of Baltimore bridges many years ago, leading me to and highlighting the importance of the Thomas and Carrollton viaducts and the last surviving Bollman truss. In addition, John answered innumerable questions, provided details on matters relating to the Baltimore & Ohio, and offered encouragement in my quest for knowledge. Niall Torpe patiently explained elements of bridge engineering and stresses while assisting with research on historic bridges in Britain and Ireland. Doug Riddell researched bridges on the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac and Atlantic Coast Line, and provided extensive tours in Richmond, Virginia. Tom Carver organized trips on the Adirondack Scenic Railroad and helped with photography and photo captioning. Tom Hoover, who has accompanied me on trips since we were teenagers, brought me on my first visits to Pennsylvania Railroad's stone arches and enlightened me on matters relating to the PRR, B&O, Chesapeake & Ohio, and Clinchfield. William S. Young, whom I consider the foremost authority on the Starrucca and Tunkhannock viaducts, took time to share some of his research with John Gruber and me. Steve Smedley, an accomplished photographer, helped with captioning and participated in discussions on the distinctions between trestles and viaducts-a matter that has yet to be conclusively resolved despite definitive proclamations by pundits and iconoclasts. Keith Van Sant and Scott Snell helped locate bridges on the old Lackawanna. Tessa Bold provided lodging in Oxford, London, Washington, D.C., and Bonn, and has occasionally accompanied me on trips here and there. The Irish Railway Record Society in Dublin provided unlimited access to their archives, allowing me thousands of hours to read, research, and better understand bridges on both sides of the Atlantic. Hassard Stacpoole at the Association of Train Operation Companies in London helped me locate and visit historic bridges in England and Scotland. Thanks to the many railroaders, bridge tenders, signalmen, and engineers who have provided me access to facilities, answered questions, and bettered my knowledge of bridges over the years.

The text is but half of this book. Illustrations are the other half and in this I also owe thanks to many people. I have been making photographs for more than three decades and some of my earliest attempts were of railroad bridges, but at no stage could I have done this without help. Many photographers, including those mentioned above, have traveled with me over the years: Brian L. Jennison, J. D. Schmid, Mel Patrick, Michael L. Gardner, George S. and Candace Pitarys, Tim Doherty, Mike Abalos, Dean Sauvola, Tom Danneman, Mike Danneman, Dick Gruber, Chris Burger, Scott Bontz, Blair Kooistra, Mark Hemphill, Brian Rutherford, Joe McMillan, Don Gulbrandsen, Joe Snopek, Dan Munson, Doug Moore, Doug Eisele, Mike Schafer, Otto Vondrak, Dave Burton, Don Marson, Gerald Hook, Danny Johnson, F. L. Becht, Ed Beaudette, George C. Corey, Howard Ande, Brandon Delaney, David Hegarty, Colm O'Callaghan, Mark Hodge, Paul Quinlan, Denis McCabe, Norman McAdams, John Cleary, Markku Pulkkinen, Mark Leppert, Bill Linley, George Melvin, Marshall Beecher, Pete Ruesch, Brian Plant, Vic Neves, Emile Tobenfeld, Will Holloway, Hal Miller, John Peters, and Norman Yellin. When traveling to make photos a portion of the vision is shared.

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Mankind has been constructing bridges for at least as long as we have found the time to write about them. The art of bridge building produced many fine examples before the advent of the railway. But the coming of the railway incurred a great need for new types of bridges. This spurred a frantic age of bridge building, as railways not only needed economically built bridges, but placed on bridge builders a host of new requirements, due to the great weights to be carried and obstacles to be crossed. Thus, railroads contributed to the rapid evolution of bridge design.

Traditional bridge designs were expanded and modified, new designs created, new materials employed, and new construction techniques developed and perfected. Certainly, railways were not alone in their need for better bridges, but a great many of the new bridge-building methods were used in the construction of railway bridges. In America alone, tens of thousands of railway bridges were built. As bridge builders learned their trade, the maximum spans (bridge-builder language for lengths) of railroad bridges increased dramatically. Perhaps as important, bridge builders learned to build with much greater economy while maintaining high levels of strength and stability, thus increasing safety. Nevertheless, the path to better bridge building was scarred with tragedy. The art and science of bridge building is still being perfected, and early on, some structures were swept away by floods, ice, wind, and other natural calamity; others collapsed as trains passed over them, sometimes sending railroaders and passengers to their doom.

As the American railroads grew, their bridge needs evolved. An important part of thestory of American railroad bridge building has been the need for ever stronger, taller, and longer spans. In the early years of American railroading, railroads often needed to replace bridges as traffic demands required heavier locomotives and cars, greater operating speeds, and more tracks. Bridge replacement became an important part of bridge engineering. During the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth century, railroads replaced or rebuilt most of their bridges-often more than once. This effort, accompanied by line relocation and new construction, established much of the railroad infrastructure that exists to this day.

Advances in bridge design, along with new materials and efficient construction techniques, increasingly enabled railroads in North America and around the world to build bridges never before possible. Economical, solid bridges, combined with improved tunneling and modern railroad construction techniques, enabled railroads to be built rapidly and cost-effectively with private financing and little regard for most geographical impediments. Larger spans were erected and railroads reached places previously economically unattainable and unjustifiable. American railroads became characterized by tall steel viaducts, great steel and concrete arches, massive cantilever trusses, long tunnels, and deep rock cuttings.

When American railroads reached their zenith in the first decades of the twentieth century they were among the largest and most important corporations in the world. Before the advent of modern highways, railroads dominated American business and transport. Without full command of the sciences of bridge engineering, fears of defective bridge design from the bad experiences of the previous century made bridge designers overly cautious. As a result of this conservatism, engineers tended to "overdesign" their structures. Bridges were made stronger than needed to provide a greater cushion of safety. Engineers built in a greater factor of safety than may have been necessary for axle loadings of the time, but they also took into consideration the likelihood of heavier axle weights in the future. The railroad industry has largely survived on this earlier conservatism, and many of the bridges installed during this period have proven adequate for modern times.

Railroad mileage peaked in the early 1920s, but by that time the industry had entered its long period of decline. As railroad finances gradually waned and public road building grew steadily, funds for new bridges became increasingly scarce. Railroads built few new lines and because of the great strength of their more modern structures had less need to replace bridges. While some magnificent new railroad bridges were constructed in the later years of the twentieth century-some as replacements, some on new routes and line relocations, and some in conjunction with highway projects-the vast majority of railroad bridges surviving today were constructed between 1890 and 1930.
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