How to move a bridge in Alna: Take Route 218

Posted:  Monday, September 10, 2018 - 8:30am
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Shortly after dawn Saturday at Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway Museum on Alna's Cross Road, the nonprofit's volunteers and hired Westport Island firm Chesterfield Associates prepared to head north with a rebuilt 1918, 30-ton Douglas fir bridge.

The trip to Trout Brook took hours. The journey to Saturday took 11 months.

In the museum parking lot with fellow members, the firm, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department and the bridge the museum got as a gift and put back together, museum president Dave Buczkowski said he was jumping out of his skin with excitement.

For the move, two wheel sets were bolted onto the bridge’s back with I-beams and a fifth wheel harness was bolted onto the other end of the bridge, Buczkowski said. A five-ton tractor would tow the bridge, he said.

The rebuild was about as challenging as he expected, with the hot days making it harder to put in full days.

Asked again later Saturday how he was feeling, after the bridge came off Route 218 and onto the final 1,000-foot stretch over the museum's right-of-way to the brook,  he said: "Pleased as punch."

Midcoast Conservancy abuts the right-of-way on both sides and has been wonderful to work with, Buczkowski said.

Sheriff's deputies Brian Collamore and Bryan Chubbuck provided escort and traffic control for Saturday’s expected 3 mph trip. It was Chubbuck's first bridge escort; the department has escorted boats, including Catamarans he said were bigger than the museum's bridge.

The bridge move was not Chesterfield Associates' first or its biggest. Owner E. Davies Allan said it moved the 120-ton Lowe's Bridge in Sangerville in 1990. Allan took part Saturday, including directing the slow, careful backup of the truck wheeling the bridge toward the brook after getting off Route 218. Museum volunteers helped monitor clearance from bottom to top and both sides for the truck and its cargo.

Reflecting on the move, Allan said in an email response later, it went great. "The inconvenienced motorists were pleasant, the weather superb, the equipment sturdy," he continued. "Sure is fun working with those energetic railroaders."

From final prep at the museum, including loading ties onto a pickup truck for use as cribbing, to the walk along Route 218 accompanying the bridge, and a paper sign someone put on the bridge, participants kept their humor. Dana Deering pretended to be pushing the bridge forward as they passed the 1789 Alna Meetinghouse.

The sign on the bridge read in part: "I break for moose trout!" Past museum president Steve Zuppa said he didn't know who did the sign but it was part of a running gag stemming from the bridge's past and its new home over Trout Brook. It previously spanned Moose Brook for the Boston and Maine Railroad, according to information the museum provided.

Kate Nordstrom watched from her driveway with Dock Road’s Ezra Smith as the bridge passed the meetinghouse. “I think it’s fantastic. I’m glad the museum had the opportunity to do this,” Nordstrom said. “Pretty cool,” Smith said of the sight.

The bridge over the brook is part of the narrow gauge train route's expansion north. Plans call for a 2021 public opening of the route over the brook, museum board member Jason Lamontagne said.

Lamontagne said Wayne Duffett, owner of TEC Associates, which specializes in railroad bridge engineering, donated all of his South Portland firm's engineering services. Those have been substantial, Lamontagne added.

Duffett, a museum member, told the Wiscasset Newspaper last year, he heard the 1918 bridge might be available in Gorham, New Hampshire, so he checked it out. Then the museum got it for free from the National Park Service and National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges. It arrived Oct. 4, in pieces. The National Park Service funded contractor Tim Andrews' guidance rebuilding it, museum spokesman Stephen Piwowarski said.

Lamontagne estimated volunteers put roughly 1,500-2,000 hours into the rebuild.

Stephen Hussar, in a tee shirt reading “This Old House,” one of the shows he has worked on, was among those photographing Saturday’s action. Hussar lives outside Boston. He has been chronicling the museum’s progress for years. About the bridge move, he said, “It’s another chapter in the magical story of this.”