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'T-Bird Country' Bridge Removed

MINOCQUA – Sparks from cutting torches flew throughout Monday night until past 6am Tuesday as construction workers dismantled the “T-Bird” bridge over U.S. Highway 51 in Oneida County, with the highway again open to traffic somewhat later.

The nearly 80-year-old bridge was tagged “T-Bird Country” years ago when high school students spray-painted the words on the south plate girder.

Among the 10 or so spectators watching the bridge removal was Bob Metropulos, Jr., who is spearheading efforts to preserve that special panel to be placed as a memorial at the high school.

“It’s just absolutely amazing how this thing was built back in 1938,” he said. “It’s just incredible that the work it’s taken these guys to tear this thing apart. I would have loved to snap my fingers and go back in time and watch them put this thing together.

“As I walk down on the road and look up at it, I can try to envision what it would look like at the high school. It would look absolutely awesome.”

The school board’s finance committee was to have met Thursday, Aug. 4th to discuss and possibly recommend to the full board a final site at the high school. That placement won’t happen until next year, according to reports.

Nearby resident Karl Hartman brought his camera to “see history in progress.” Now in retirement, he is a volunteer snowmobile trail groomer for the New Tom Sno Fleas Snowmobile Club, and had crossed the bridge many times when he was a groomer for the Forest Riders Snowmobile Club.

“We needed the new bridge,” he said, for the added vehicle clearance.

The work begins

Pheifer Brothers Construction, Neenah, not only built the new bridge adjacent to it, but also had the contract to tear down the old structural steel bridge. “The rivets are pretty rusty,” he said at the construction scene. “The steel is in pretty good shape.”

The bridge did not surrender easily. The road was closed to traffic and motorists detoured to Highway 47 and 8 as work began.

Six of the eight workers on the scene used acetylene torches and a plasma torch to cut through the steel plating that covered the bridge floor. Then they had to cut through a number of thick I-beams before an 80-ton crane could lift the two plate girders that each weighed about 42,000 pounds. The floor of the bridge weighed about 15,000, added Pheifer’s Operations Manager Scott Wesbenberger.

An optimistic projection for bridge removal between 1 and 3am Tuesday came and went. Asphalt that covered the bridge unexpectedly slowed the work, according to Wesbenberger.

Another delay came about 5am when that crane wasn’t able to lift the first panel. A section was removed from the crane to make the lift easier.

A large backhoe bumped the bridge panels a few times to loosen it so the crane could finish the lift as the sun rose.

The “T-Bird” section was placed on a flatbed trailer for transport to Arnott’s Enterprise, town of Nokomis, for later refurbishing. Pheifer said the remaining pieces would be sold as scrap metal, noting the market right now is paying about $200 per ton.

The company will now start tearing down the two concrete abutments that the bridge rested on. That will take about two weeks, necessitating stop-and-go lights on the one-lane access.

Pheifer said the new $1.2 million bridge is about 150 feet long and 16 feet, 3 inches high, about six feet higher than the old bridge. The higher height will be welcomed by truckers, as a number of trucks have hit the underside of the old bridge over the decades.

The new structure is about two feet wider, allowing easier snowmobile groomer passage. The new bridge, which curves over the highway, also carries the Bearskin State Recreation Trail.

Workers used concrete form liners to create facework that looks like it was made of textured stone, stained that night while the road was closed to create a natural rock color.

“It looks so nice,” Pheifer said of the new bridge. “I would hate to see it with graffiti.”