News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Editorials

June 22, 2013

RONN MOTT: Backward to the future

It’s been a few weeks since the I-5 Bridge over the Skagit River, north of Seattle, Wash., had a run-in with an 18-wheeler and fell into the river. As bridges go, it was not terribly old, but like so many other bridges of its age, or near its age, it’s rotting away. To repair and bring up to specifications the bridge infrastructure in America will end up costing into the billions of dollars.

It got me thinking. There are bridges everywhere. There are bridges over the ocean connecting the small islands called the Keys in southern Florida. There are bridges over our creeks, our lakes and railroads. Bridges are everywhere.

It then got me thinking about our famous Indiana covered bridges. I can’t say because I do not know if our covered bridges are an answer to the imperfection of concrete or steel bridges. Well, the answer is … maybe.

On the way to the radio station (WAXI 104.9), I took a very slight sidebar trip to the area of Parke County we call Coxville. Originally, it began as Roseville. It was the first grist mill in Parke County. The Roseville Bridge, a wooden covered bridge, was put into service in 1910. It is still there, still being used, and from my naked eyeball examination (I am not an engineer), it looks pretty good.

I hope when I’m 103 years old I will look as good. That’s the thing, you see. This little bridge across the Big Raccoon in Coxville in Parke County is 103 years old. It is just a little north of and across the street from the Rock Run Café and Bakery. It wasn’t made of magic alloy. It was made of wood! And in the main, that wood is still there and the bridge is still serving the people who cross it safely.

The big, bent-wood pillars support the weight structure of the bridge. And it is still there doing the job 103 years later. I do not know if this particular bridge had any major restructuring during its lifetime of service, but if it has not, think about that. One hundred three years of horse-drawn carriages and wagons to automobiles and trucks, and it’s still there. Still doing what it is supposed to do.

I know almost nothing about this bridge, except for observation and reading the dates of when it started. It certainly made me think. Is the obvious staring all of us in the face? Do we still know how to build these kinds of structures? Or maybe we do not need a roof, perhaps just a wooden bridge using the same design techniques. Would it save us money, or cost less than concrete and steel?

I do not know. But this would not be the first time our ancestors did something good and practical and not as expensive as we would do later. Is there a future in bridges made of wood for more than just serving as a tourist attraction? Again, maybe.

Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on Tribstar.com, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.

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