This is a massive railroad bridge that looms over anyone who looks at it. The bridge is not particularly long, it is just very massive because it was designed to handle three sets of tracks. There is v-lacing and lattice on various built-up beams of this bridge, which adds to the intricacy and aesthetic value of the bridge. Large concrete counterweights, located overhead, are clearly visible. The bridge is skewed and its two truss webs are of unequal length as a result. The bridge is a Strauss heel trunnion bascule bridge. The bridge was built for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, and today the railroad line is Union Pacific.
The Deering bascule bridge is at least the third railroad bridge at this site. A single track wooden bridge was replaced by an 1887 double-track swing bridge that was 176 feet in length, weighed about 400 tons, and was powered by steam.
The current bridge was opened to traffic July 30, 1916. Maintaining railroad traffic during construction was essential, and the bridge had to be designed so that it could be built without interrupting traffic. The bascule bridge was constructed in the raised position so as to keep everything away from the active tracks which carried 200 trains every 24 hours. However when the bascule bridge is in the raised position, the counterweights come down to track level. To prevent the counterweight from blocking traffic, the counterweights were designed as two sections off to the side, rather than a single counterweight spanning between the truss webs. During construction, the 1887 swing bridge remained in place, but temporary wooden approach spans for the railroad line were built to aid in the construction process. In order that the transition from the old bridge to the new bridge could be made in the least amount of time, a detailed plan was developed that enabled the transition from the swing bridge to the bascule bridge to take only 18 hours. Among the more interesting methods employed to meet this swift transition, the swing bridge was moved to the open position and the vertical members and top chords of the center panels of the truss were cut out, which made room to lower the bascule into place for the first time. Once lowered, trains could travel on the bascule bridge, and workers could then continue to demolish the swing bridge without disruption to rail traffic. See the photos below.
Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company, who did work on many of Chicago's bridges was a contractor for this project. The Kelly-Atkinson Construction Company, another familiar Chicago bridge contractor, was also involved with this bridge's construction. The Strauss Bascule Bridge Company played at least some role in the design of this bridge.
Adam Kerman reports that "Deering Harvester Company was nearby (merged into International Harvester). Charles Deering was a director of the Chicago and North Western. It was built for the triple tracking project on what's now the Kenosha Subdivision." This explains the name of the bridge. Further research revealed that there was a train station at this area called Deering Station.
Be sure to follow the link at the top of this narrative to the PDF of articles about this bridge. There, you will find a fascinating and detailed discussion of the construction of this bridge. Included are photos showing the construction of the bridge and the previous swing bridge. Even the construction of the bridgetender building is described in detail right down to mention that the bathroom facilities were designed with "soil pipe discharging into the river below the water level," something that seems rather gross today but was not unusual in 1916.
The Strauss Bascule Bridge Company, like many bridge companies in the late 1800s and early 1900s, found work by making extensive use of advertising to raise awareness of the company and the benefits of its bridges, while at the same time often citing all the things wrong with bridges built by other companies. This was an era where the success of a bridge engineering company was not just based on the quality of service provided; it was also based on the features of a unique product only offered by that particular company. The 1911 issue of Printers' Ink (Vol 77) included an article about advertising through the use of exhibit displays. The article touched on an exhibit that the Strauss Bascule Bridge Company. The discussion provides a rare look into some of the creative advertising methods employed by a bridge company. An excerpt from the article is shown below. Mr. Kaufman, mentioned in the article is Phillip L. Kaufman, an engineer with the company.
"In another booth, The Strauss Bascule Bridge Company of Chicago advertised a proposition ranging from $150,000 to $200,000, by means of miniature models of bridges. These models represented railway bridges, highway bridges and bridges of every description. Mr. Kaufman the bridge expert, in charge of this advertising exhibit, had the advantage of operating in a space hung with beautifully colored pictures of work successfully accomplished in all parts of the world. The booth represented a living advertisement. The space was filled with every element of a good advertisement plus the human equation. Mr. Kaufman said he believed that exhibit advertising was an excellent method of presenting an argument and having it clearly understood. He defined the exhibit ad as a combination of a display ad and a salesman's talk. The results received during the show proved that when a visitor left the booth he had seen the bridge operated, heard its construction and operation intelligently described and had seen actual photographs of bridges in practical use. This display, taken in its entirety, was a big, attractive and convincing advertisement."
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Chicago / Cook County Bridge News
October 2015 - Patrick T. McBriarty, author of Chicago's River Bridges, informs HistoricBridges.org that in recognition for the "outstanding and original reference work that will support future scholarship in the history of technology", the book was awarded the biennial Eugene S. Ferguson Prize by the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) at the SHOT Annual Meeting's awards banquet. See press release. This is the third award for this book. Order Now Direct From The Publisher! or order on Amazon.
September 2015 - Fall Bridge Lift Season is Underway. View Schedule.
October 2014 - A visit to Chicago revealed that the Van Buren Street Pedestrian Bridge was not demolished, but instead extensively rehabbed. The railings are new, but replicate the original design. The concrete encasement was removed and not replaced, and instead the exposed riveted steel beams have been painted. The riveted beams look quite nice, and given the condition of the bridge prior to the project this seems like a good outcome. In other news, the rehabilitation and repainting of the La Salle Street Bridge is ongoing, and the project to extend the Chicago Riverwalk under additional bridges on the Main Branch is continuing.
September 2014 - Chicago's dubious distinction of offering numerous boat tours that pass under the bridges but offer narration only of the buildings has ended with the start of a Wendella tour that focuses on bridges! Information is here.
July 29, 2013 - A project study has been initiated for the reconstruction of historic North Lake Shore Drive. This project puts a large number of historic bridges at risk for demolition and replacement. However, it could also be an opportunity to rehabilitate the bridges. Visit the project website.
April 30, 2013 - Illinois Landmarks has included Chicago's Bascule Bridges as one of their Top 10 Most Endangered Historic Places. View The Official Page.
General Chicago / Cook County Bridge Resources
Chicago's Bridges - By Nathan Holth, author of HistoricBridges.org, this book provides a discussion of the history of Chicago's movable bridges, and includes a virtual tour discussing all movable bridges remaining in Chicago today. Despite this broad coverage, the book is presented in a compact format that is easy to take with you and carry around for reference on a visit to Chicago. The book includes dozens of full color photos. Only $9.95 U.S! ($11.95 Canadian). Order Now Direct From The Publisher! or order on Amazon.
Chicago River Bridges - By Patrick T. McBriarty, this is a great companion to Holth's book shown above. This much larger book offers an extremely in-depth exploration of Chicago's movable highway bridges, including many crossings that have not existed for many years. Order Now Direct From The Publisher! or order on Amazon.
Chicago Loop Bridges - Chicago Loop Bridges is another website on the Internet that is a great companion to the HistoricBridges.org coverage of the 18 movable bridges within the Chicago Loop. This website includes additional information such as connections to popular culture, overview discussions and essays about Chicago's movable bridges, additional videos, and current news and events relating to the bridges.
Additional Online Articles and Resources - This page is a large gathering of interesting articles and resources that HistoricBridges.org has uncovered during research, but which were not specific to a particular bridge listing.
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