140-year-old covered bridge reopens after repairs

The Star

SPENCERVILLE — Bonnie Money has handled the rehabilitation of six historic bridges over her long career as an engineer.

She’s never come across a project like the repair of the historic Spencerville Covered Bridge.

“You just don’t run into that,” Money told The Star in Auburn Tuesday.

More than nine months after a semi rig barreled through the 140-year-old bridge and ripped its insides out, the span has been put back to normal.

Its rehabilitation complete, the bridge passed a detailed final inspection Tuesday and officially reopened to traffic — that is, traffic under 12 feet, 6 inches and three tons.

Money said the rehabilitation was a tremendous undertaking, considering what the designers with USI Consultants and contractor Jutte Excavating had to work with. Money said when her team came upon the wreckage last September, after the “shock” wore off, the process began to determine what could be salvaged and reused in the repair work.

The short answer, Money said: “There was nothing, almost nothing that could be reused.”

A little over half of the iron shoes that held the timber trusses in place were able to be saved and reused. The rest “exploded” when the tractor-trailer drove through the span, along with numerous 6-by-6-inch crossbeams and the façade and signage on each approach to the bridge. With the bracing annihilated, the bridge’s roof began to sag.

Repairs began with the welding of new shoes that held new timber trusses imported from the Pacific Northwest and repurposed from local barns. New steel — not iron — rods were installed for support.
New approach signage was carved and painted to match the original.

Money said repairs had been made to the bridge over the years that were not done the way the bridge was constructed in the 1870s. USI and Jutte fixed those, as well.

It’s the old bridge, but new.

“It’s all put back the way it was initially constructed,” Money said. “Now it’s done correctly, and everything fits in exactly the way it’s supposed to. You would never know what happened.”

Money said the crew was proud to rehabilitate not just a historic bridge, but such an important piece of the Spencerville and DeKalb County fabric. She said the bridge is strong, and it is apparent the community has taken ownership of its well-being.

“The community should be pleased with this,” said Money. “They have really taken care of it, and we’re happy to bring it back for them. It’s a beautiful bridge. The engineering was minimal. The contractor did a wonderful job.”

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