Narrow Bridge Ahead!

As you likely know, our Museum has started the push to extend our main line track northward, down the mountain toward Route 218 three quarters of a mile away! This season saw much right-of-way preparation near the Top of the Mountain, with a major washout repaired. Right-of-way work will continue northward next summer.

Approaching Route 218, our right-of-way crosses Trout Brook (or as it was known during the original railway’s days, Carleton Brook). The original railway had a queen truss bridge at this location. Our museum had planned to build a similar structure, but a series of fortunate circumstances have provided our Museum the opportunity to reuse an historic railroad bridge from New Hampshire.

The bridge, originally constructed in 1918 over Moose Brook near Gorham, New Hampshire on the Berlin Branch of the Boston & Maine Railroad, is a historically-significant example of a Howe Boxed Pony Truss bridge, one of only eight surviving examples of such a design in North America. While the WW&F never had such a design, a bridge of this type was a familiar sight in Head Tide village — Head Tide Road crossed the Sheepscot River over a Howe Boxed Pony Truss bridge well into the 1940s, within sight of the WW&F right-of-way.

After an arsonist set fire to the Moose Brook bridge in 2004, the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges (NSPCB) saved the remains of the bridge by taking possession of it with the hope of rebuilding. Dr. Dario Gasparini of Case Western Reserve University saw a research opportunity in the charred timbers and cracked castings. First, the structure was documented by the National Covered Bridges Recording Project, a documentation program of the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), which is administered by a division of the National Park Service. Later, the remaining iron parts were shipped to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, where Dr. Gasparini, his students, and Tim Andrews of Barns and Bridges of New England completely rebuilt the trusses according to the HAER plans using all new wooden components.

The ensuing tests yielded valuable data on bridge design and load ratings, and provided a framework for the preservation of the remaining examples of this design. At this point, the NSPCB, led by President Bill Caswell, secured a grant from the National Park Service for the re-assembly of the bridge trusses. The next step was to find a suitable home for the historic span, and a number of locations were explored. The original location was no longer in use for railroad purposes, and plans for a static display nearby had stalled. With the assistance of our bridge engineer Wayne Duffett, who has been of substantial assistance in other WW&F projects, talks began about two years ago between the NSPCB and the WW&F about using the Moose Brook trusses for a bridge over Trout Brook. They offered to donate the trusses, including the reassembly funds from its NPS grant to the WW&F, so the bridge could once again be put back into active service on a rail line.

In order to fulfill the requirements of the National Park Service (which funded the reconstruction of the bridge) the trusses have been transported to our Museum and assembly, which must be completed by December 31, 2017, has started on our Sheepscot campus. By the end of 2018, the museum projects that the bridge will be placed onto new abutments and along a new approach span – with trains travelling across the span sometime thereafter. To accomplish this (and not lose the National Park funding) the museum must fund the site preparation, approaches, abutments, and complete the actual erection of the bridge.

As a result, our Museum has started the Narrow Bridge Ahead! campaign on Fundrazr, with the goal of raising $50,000 in donations by 31 December 2017 to complete the required preparation work.

We are asking railroad enthusiasts, bridge aficionados, and other historians and friends to partner with us to safely bring the Moose Brook bridge to the WW&F. While monetary donations are most needed, we are always looking for additional volunteers, who will have opportunities to help with the project. Finally, please help us spread the word about our unique preservation efforts!

You can follow progress on the Trout Brook bridge discussion thread on our Museum forum. The NSPCB has published a two-page PDF information sheet about the Moose Brook bridge. We have also started a 12-part series on our Facebook page telling the story of the Howe Boxed Pony Truss design, the B&M’s Moose Brook bridge, and the WW&F’s Trout Brook bridge. Here is a link to the first chapter, published this past Sunday, October 8th. We will be publishing a new chapter every Sunday.