By Norval Horner
For Ponoka News
It’s not every day that you see a 100-year-old, 40 ton, 32 foot wide steel bridge travelling down the road but it makes for an interesting story and it happened close to Ponoka on Jan. 14, 2021.
It starts with Ponoka County determining that the old bridge on the Bobtail Road (four km north of Ponoka) installed in 1920 needed to be replaced as its load capacity was down-rated for heavy trucks and it was narrow.
The county contracted Formula Alberta to demolish the old bridge and then build a new precast concrete span for a cost of approximately $1.2 million. Formula planned to cut up the old bridge for scrap and sell the bridge timbers.
That was when local resident Lawrence McKelvie thought there might be another solution. McKelvie’s company had previously rescued a 100-year-old antique steel bridge that had to come out near Markerville and moved it up across the canal at Meridian Beach so he felt there could be a future for the Bobtail bridge as well.
McKelvie contacted Norval Horner, developer of Meridian Beach, and told him about the bridge becoming available and Horner went to see it and immediately liked it.
He reports,“I have a weakness for old bridges.”
There wasn’t much time as the bridge was scheduled to be demolished in the next week.
Blaine Rose, assistant public works superintendent of Ponoka County, was also keen to see the old bridge saved and re-installed in the county and he provided recent reports on the bridge to Horner and structural engineer Colin Campbell.
After a quick analysis they realized it would be a good fit for a residential road crossing a new canal that is planned at Meridian Beach.
Rose then connected Horner to Formula owner Wes Erickson and the two of them worked out a deal. Horner’s company would pay for a big crane to remove the central span and the trucking to get it to his site and then Formula would recycle the rest of the bridge including the two wood approach spans to him.
Erickson said, “I like the idea of not cutting up and scrapping the old bridge and it’s going to save money and time on demolition.”
On that basis Horner arranged with a number of local contractors to lift the main span out and truck it to Meridian Beach.
This was a team Horner had worked with on previous projects and he was confident they could handle this one. For the big lift Sterling Crane was contacted. Their manager Ian White determined that a huge 550 ton crane was required due to the weight and reach needed.
It would cost $12,000 just to get it to the site and a similar amount to go home and they would have to bring the crane from Fort Saskatchewan. They had a bigger crane but it was not in the province.
Horner then hired Ian Mckelvie who worked on his previous bridge move to arrange trucking and coordination. In turn McKelvie brought in Mukluk Oilfield Ventures who had the big rig necessary to truck the bridge the 40 km or so to Meridian Beach.
All that remained was to actually do the removal which was a tall order as the central span was heavy and the crane had to reach a long ways to lift it. After a bit of a struggle that took some perseverance, the main span of the 1920 Bobtail bridge was successfully lifted and transported.
It was an adventure for all concerned and everyone worked hard to save the old bridge. It took a lot of people to do it.
White came to the job site and Sterling went at it carefully and patiently. On the first three attempts, the bridge was above our expected weight so it became necessary to remove weight in order to fit within the capabilities of the crane.
The weight of the steel was well above the original estimate so we ended up removing the wood decks and even the guardrails. It was also a little reluctant to come up (sticky) which is not surprising given it was down for 100 years.
Sterling’s rigging plan worked out very well and they were under control the whole time.
The Formula crew was led by foreman Bill Kilfoil who patiently removed parts of the bridge deck until they got the weight down to what could be lifted safely.
As parts were removed it was clear that the old bridge was in excellent condition, the wood and the steel and even the paint.
Local welder Neil Frank added extra bracing for the stresses of the truck trip.
Mckelvie and Mukluk successfully hauled and unloaded the bridge at Meridian Beach.
Formula will be bringing over the decks, approach spans and other bridge timbers later. The approach spans will be used first to install the new piles for the replacement bridge.
“It will make a great bridge over the proposed new canal,” said Horner.
“It was harder than expected but everyone pulled together and enjoyed the adventure of an unusual project.”