Bridge workers battled setbacks, danger

Posted Online: March 08, 2014, 12:01 am
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By Marlene Gantt
The Iowa State Highway Commission in conjunction with the Illinois Division of Highways built the Fred Schwengel Memorial Bridge during the 1960s and opened it to traffic on Oct. 27, 1966.

The bridge, known as the Interstate 80 Bridge, joins Illinois with Iowa as it spans the Mississippi River between Rapids City and LeClaire, Iowa.
The bridge was not built without serious accidents and setbacks.

On Oct. 5, 1964 a 40-foot steel and wood form swayed from its anchorage on pier No. 13 as cement was being dumped into it.

Without warning the lower outside plating of the form gave way and tons of wet concrete spilled out into the river, causing the silo-like structure to tilt dangerously toward the river.

Roy Kouski, Port Byron, had several contracts to deliver fuel to the bridge builders so he was there almost every day during the construction of the bridge. "At the time the bases were in and they were pouring the 'stems' that would support the steel the one on the center span on the north side was a problem.

It was formed and supposed to take eight hours to pour but the eager beaver in charge had it almost full in four hours when the form broke and spilled several hundred yards of concrete, several tons of re-bar and form lumber into the river," said Kouski.

When the form broke and tilted it caused Richard Miller, Davenport, to fall from a four-foot walkway 50 feet into the river below, according to The Rock Island Argus. Efforts to save Miller proved futile.

Frank Olds and Leslie Dehls, both of Moline, were 10 to 15 feet down inside the silo. They were working with the cement as it was poured.
A boatswain's chair was rigged and hung to a cable wire as a crane was lowered to get the chair into the tilted entrance of the structure. They were brought up one at a time.

Dehls incurred a fractured foot. Olds received bruises and possible other internal injuries.

"Then they reformed and poured the stem," said Kouski. "There was an enormous cleanup."

On Oct. 20 another bridge worker was killed in a bridge construction accident. Thomas J. Kirkwood, an employee of the contractor, was killed on Oct. 20.

He was involved in a collision with a train while crossing the DRI (Davenport Rock Island Railroad) near the bridge.

L.M. Clauson, chief Engineer for the Scott Construction Co., wrote a letter to the Iowa State Commerce Commission in Des Moines, Iowa dated Oct, 22. In his letter he alluded to the fact that there was a grade crossing of the DRI Railroad west of the bridge that in the past had been used by people living between the railroad and the river.

"Now, in addition," he wrote, it is used by contractor's employees and employees of the Iowa State Highway Commission who are engaged in the construction of the bridge. The construction traffic has increased the traffic density and hence the opportunity for an accident has been increased accordingly."

Clauson made the suggestion that the danger would be reduced if the railroad would institute a "slow order" for train traffic when passing past the bridge site.

He noted that bridge construction would take another two years. "It is our thinking that slower train traffic will reduce the hazard," he said. "The approaches to this crossing in this area are short and the speed of vehicular traffic is necessarily slow."

In July, 1966, Frank A. Campbell, 63, LeClaire, Iowa, a carpenter foreman, plunged head-first into the Mississippi River, according to research by Bill Gilbert, Port Byron.

He slipped and fell 85 feet to his death. He was pulled from the water by a bridge safety crew and pronounced dead at the scene by Dr. Roland Perkins, Scott County medical examiner.

The center span was installed June 29, 1966. The pier was floated into place by barge. The bridge opened after the highway, Interstate 80, had been completed to U.S. 67 which runs at the foot of the bridge.
Since the collapse of the center span, Kouski has often wondered about the cleanup.

When the stem tipped at least 150 tons of cement poured into the river. "Many years later a friend stopped me in the Brothers Restaurant and mentioned that I had worked on the bridge," said Kouski.

"He is a pole and line cat fisherman. He had hit something near that stem and ruined the lower unit on his outboard motor. Should have been plenty of water there."

"The early news on the (Stephen B. Colby -- the tow boat that partially sank near LeClaire, Iowa, last November) said (the pilot) was going up and met a tow going down and normally would have waited on the loaded tow," said Kouski, "but he was in a hurry so passed in that area. It would be interesting to see who in the Corp (of Engineers) signed off on the cleanup in 1964."

(The Colby supposedly hit a rock. That rock was probably Suiter's rock that was actually a ledge. During 1864, the Mississippi was at the lowest known in history. Phillip Suiter, first licensed floating raft pilot in the area, made a mark in a ledge of rock near his house on the bank of the river. That became the standard gauge for low water.)
Marlene Gantt of Port Byron is a former Rock Island school teacher.


Local events heading

  Today is Tuesday, July 22, the 203rd day of 2014. There are 162 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: Everybody is invited to go on a moonlight excursion next Monday evening on the steamer New Boston. The trip will be from Davenport to Muscatine and back.
1889 -- 125 years ago: The mayor and bridge committee let a contract to the Clinton Bridge company for a $1,125 iron bridge across Sears canal near Milan.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Injunction proceedings to compel the Central Association to keep a baseball team in Rock Island for the remainder of the season were contemplated by some of the Rock Island fans, but they decided to defer action.
1939 -- 75 years ago: The first of the new and more powerful diesel engines built for the Rock Island Lines for the proposed Chicago-Denver run, passed thru the Tri-Cities this morning.
1964 -- 50 years ago: The Rock Island Rescue Mission is negotiating for the purchase of the Prince Hall Masonic Home located at 37th Avenue and 5th Street, Rock Island.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Quad Cities Container Terminal is being lauded as a giant business boon that will save several days and hundreds of dollars on each goods shipment to the coasts. The Quad Cities Container Terminal is the final piece of the puzzle that opens up increase access to world markets, Robert Goldstein said.

(More History)