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The Second Generation

Okay, fine. Having talked about the first rail bridge over the Genesee River near the Upper Falls, I guess I have to talk about the second. This bridge was constructed in 1875, modified in 1903, and replaced in 2018. But, as always, there’s more to the story than just the bare details. The picture above, however, manages to provide almost no useful information about the bridge other than it was a combination of riveted built-up members and bars, and that at least one photograph found it to be arty. Here’s a slightly better contemporary view:

As I mentioned two days ago, it’s really more of a viaduct than a bridge: the truss spans are barely longer than the tops of the towers that support them. This view, probably dating from shortly before 1903, gives a good sense of that:

The spans are deck Pratt trusses, with bar diagonals, while the towers are also braced with bars and have very short deck trusses across their tops. Depending on your taste, the trusses over the tower tops are either queen-post trusses or three-panel Pratt trusses. Despite the dramatic setting at a waterfall, this bridge is no beauty. There was a word often used in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century specifications: workmanlike. This is a workmanlike bridge, doing the job of getting trains across a gorge without worrying about aesthetics, long spans, or fancy designs.

There is one remarkable fact about this bridge: it was constructed in two months, June and July of 1875. The previous wood trestle burned at the beginning of May, so I’m guessing that the month of May consisted of off-site design and preparation, including iron fabrication. Even so, that is amazingly fast. Based on the subsequent history of the bridge, it would probably have remained in service unchanged if trains stayed the same size. But both locomotives and freight cars were rapidly increasing in size and weight in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The 1903 renovation kept the towers but installed heavier trusses.

As I mentioned before, the Erie Railroad was badly placed to capture much passenger traffic, but it serves to this day as a convenient freight line from the Atlantic seaboard to the midwest. The recent replacement took place because this bridge, more than 100 years old, became a bottleneck because train speeds had to be reduced to prevent overload. As an active line, the bridge couldn’t simply be removed and replaced, so the new bridge was constructed 75 feet upstream and then the tracks switched over. There’s a nice bridge of the new bridge under construction with the old one still in use at the American Bridge website: here.