Reigning historic wagon bridge will serve the community again

September 20, 2010

The princess of transportation in Carbondale is going in for a facelift. The pink-hued Satank Bridge that has spanned the Roaring Fork River since 1900 will be measured, detailed and catalogued before leaving her post for a few months, and then will be back in black to represent in glory what she truly is — the last remaining timber wagon truss in Colorado from the 19th century. As such, she ranks among the state’s most important early spans, according to Colorado Preservationist magazine.

With a send-off this week by the Garfield County Commissioners, Assistant County Engineer Jeff Nelson, and other well–wishers, the bridge saw the first step in the process of a complete historic preservation project. Arriving just after the commissioners’ visit was a crane, ready to start lifting the bridge from its settlement. Two cranes will be employed, one to lift the bridge for initial work and the second to pick it up and carry it backwards, turn it around and place it on dollies for disassembling. “Our engineers will go through each structural connection and check it for stability to see if it will hold up or need to be replaced,” said Nelson. “It’s just like they say regarding classic cars — a ‘frame off’ restoration.

“The pink color of the bridge was added only about 20 years ago, so it will return to look like it did originally, to a flat black hue on the steel,” said Nelson. “The only difference you will see on the bridge when it is completed will be a new safety railing; all of the steel and the runners on the deck will be the same. The railing meets today’s codes to protect people from an inadvertent fall from the structure.”

The bridge rehabilitation came in answer to a community push to do the project from a historic preservation standpoint. “We acknowledged at the county the need to restore it,” said Nelson. “The commissioners set aside finances for this project of about $400,000, and we garnered the largest single project grant ever awarded by History Colorado – formally, the Colorado Historical Society, of $297,500. The grant requirements include that the preservation does not alter the aesthetic or historical appearance of the bridge.

Garfield County hired the Pueblo Bridge Company to design and build the Satank Bridge in February 1900 for $3,250 dollars. Its abutments were hand crafted from red stone materials, and the bridge was engineered as a pin–connected timber Pratt through truss structural masterpiece composed of metal and wood materials. It is a single span (102 ft) 14–ft wide structure.

For now, work commences at the bridge’s current location, about a mile north of the main entrance to Carbondale. But September 29, the bridge’s pieces will be moved by PSI Crane to the Garfield County Road and Bridge yard in the Cattle Creek area. The bridge will be returned to its lifelong location December 31. In the spring of 2011, after paving work to the approaches is completed, there will be a grand opening and then the bridge will serve pedestrian and bike traffic. It aligns just a few feet from the popular Rio Grande trail which stretches from Glenwood Springs to Aspen.

Timber work is being done by Western Wood Structures out of Oregon, a company which specializes in rehabilitation work. The company will fabricate all the wood and replacement pieces and ship them back for installation. Gould Construction is doing the south abutment work, where settlement has occurred; the company will excavate the material and bring the abutment to position. Structural engineer Bob Oddo is working with Gould Construction on the exoskeleton necessary for picking and placing the bridge.

“The integral part is how you are preserving something that was engineered and constructed about a hundred years ago, and to hope it stays for another hundred,” said Nelson. “This is my first historic total rehabilitation project, while I have worked on others, this is the first one I have completely rehabilitated and managed, and it’s great to work on it.”