A story that began over 100 years ago continues to play out in Ford County.
A bridge standing on property owned by Wayne Keller is in need of repair. The county wants to remove the bridge and replace it with a bridge culvert and low-water crossing.
Keller would like to have the bridge repaired.
In the process of making a case to keep the bridge, Keller has uncovered the structure's interesting past.
Crossing the river
The need for a bridge to span the Arkansas River at Dodge City was apparent even before the town was founded.
Fort Dodge attracted activity to the area and a number of camp sites sprang up across the river.
And when the railroad arrived in 1872 and talk of Texas cattle drives started, the need for a way to safely cross the river became urgent.
The Dodge City Bridge Company was formed in 1873. They built a wooden bridge to cross the river at Second Avenue. Traffic wishing to cross the bridge paid a toll at a toll house on the north side of the river.
In 1885, just ahead of the cattle drives, the city bought the bridge and did away with the toll.
The wooden bridge served the purpose until steam-driven machinery became more common and taxed the load-bearing capacity of the structure.
Faced with frequent repairs to the bridge and fears of it washing away with every spring flood, county commissioners boldly decided to replace the wooden bridge with a six-span steel bridge.
The cost was $20,997, but lumber from the old bridge was used bringing the total down by $1,000.
The year was 1906 and the Globe-Republican carried a story about the acceptance and opening of the new bridge.
Noting that the bridge was 'Said to be Best Steel Bridge Which Spans Arkansas River,' the story described the bridge as "a six-span bridge, eighty-five feet to the span, supported by two concrete abutments and five cylinder piers. Its roadway is twenty feet wide and the bridge has a supporting capacity which will be equal to the test of a procession of steam engines."
The bridge was built by the Kansas City Bridge Company.
The contractor used more concrete than was required and completed the project a month ahead of schedule.
The commissioners, county officials and Alex Maitland, president of the bridge company, joined citizens for ceremonies on June 28, 1906. According to county records: "Everything in connection with said bridge having been found satisfactory to the Board, a golden spike, procured for the occasion, was brought forth and with the usual ceremonies attendant upon the occasion of the final consummation of such enterprises, Hon. Nic Mayrath, chairmen of the Board of County Commissioners drove said spike in the center of the bridge and the Board unanimously voted to accept the structure."
Page 2 of 3 - The new bridge was so successful that Mayrath and the rest of the county commission offered to stand 25 percent of the cost of replacing old wooden bridges with new steel and concrete ones in the county's townships.
"Let your folks come down, see the bridge, interview the board of commissioners or Sam Connaway, county clerk, you will not fool away any money on wooden bridges," Mayrath said in a newspaper article.
Connecting two sides
The six-span steel bridge served as a major crossing on the Arkansas River until 1935.
At that time, a new bridge at Second Avenue was built and the six spans of the steel bridge were moved two miles east of Fort Dodge, where it was known as the Coronado Bridge.
Then in 1958, a new concrete bridge was built at that location and the six spans were moved to several locations around the county including Hangman's Bridge and Duck Creek. Two sections went to create a crossing on Valley Road over Mulberry Creek.
According to Keller, when the two spans were reassembled at Mulberry Creek, a pin was missing. A workman apparently replaced the pin with another piece of steel that fit the connection but the replacement pin was actually and axle and had a hole through it. The hole created a weak spot which eventually gave way but didn't cause the bridge to fall down.
The county has developed plans to replace the bridge but Keller objects.
"Taking out that bridge would create a dangerous crossing for me, and more importantly, that bridge has historic value," Keller said.
The Kansas State Historical Society has determined that the bridge is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places and Kim Gant, Review and Compliance Coordinator with the society, recently notified Keller that "replacement is considered an adverse effect in accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. We are currently consulting with the Army Corps of Engineers to avoid and minimize adverse effects to the bridge. We recommend that the bridge be retained and repaired."
Workin' Bridges, a non-profit organization committed to restoring and rehabilitating historic iron truss bridges, presented a report during the open comment segment of the county commission meeting on Nov. 5. Noting that the bridge is "the only extant steel truss bridge in the county," the report estimated that the bridge could be repaired for less than $15,000.
Julie Bowers, executive director of Workin' Bridges, told the Globe that she hopes the bridge can be repaired on the basis of its historic value, which would make other appeals and arguments unnecessary.
"We stand behind our estimate and feel that a low water crossing is a return to a past that isn't necessary in this case. A part broke. Fix the part," Bowers said in an E-mail to the state historical society.
Page 3 of 3 - Bowers also said that the cost of the repair could be significantly lower if done by county workers.
"We're at a point now where we're going to need either reasonable men or a judge to come up with a solution," Keller said.
"I've already spent $10,000 on this and if the appeal goes forward that will double or triple," Keller said. "I'd rather be putting that money into the Ford County economy by buying farm equipment."
Ed Elam, county administrator, told the Globe that, due to legal advice, he and the commissioners are unable to comment on the issue.
There is documentation that suggests that the county may be seeking a solution which would avoid annual inspection of the bridge.
"I think they're moving toward having the bridge classified as a fractured critical structure," Keller said.
Older bridges have come under increased scrutiny since the Minneapolis collapse in 2007.
Currently the bridge in question is only used on a daily basis by Keller, his hired hand and the mail man.
If the bridge is replaced with the culvert, Keller would be forced to take another route when there's water in the crossing. The alternative route adds 1.5 miles and is on minimum maintenance roads which would also be questionable during wet times.
"Seems to me that replacing a pin for a couple hundred dollars would be better than spending $70,000 to tear out and replace a historic bridge," Keller said.