Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Chambers Covered Bridge

Sometime ago I became part of a team working on the process of reconstructing the Chambers Covered Bridge, located in Cottage Grove, Oregon. The Chambers Covered Bridge, unique among Oregon's remaining covered spans, was designed not to carry automobiles, but a logging railroad. Built in 1925 at the edge of the J. H. Chambers Mill, it served a small logging railroad that went out to the west and brought the huge trees, and the locomotive that pulled them, over the Coast Fork of the Willamette River, just south of downtown Cottage Grove.

As often happens, the mill burned (twice) and the rail line was scraped.  Eventually the land was sold for residential development but the old bridge remained, disconnected from its track, its purpose, but still too interesting (and large) to remove. After a complex legal process, it ended up in the ownership of the City, who have great plans to transform the bridge into a pedestrian and bike crossing, leading to the local high school and the Cottage Grove Campus of Lane Community College, located nearby. When the project started, the Chambers Covered Bridge was in pretty sorry shape, but the engineers thought it could stand until we got all the paperwork done.  Then we'd take the bridge apart, salvage the larger members for re-use, and mill new wood to replicate the damaged areas as part of  a full, comprehensive, reconstruction based upon the original design.

All was going swimmingly until that big wind storm a few weeks ago. Old covered bridge, with siding, are sort of like sails and can only take so much.  The wind storm, and the bridge's decaying bottom chords, must have been Chambers' limit, forcing the entire structure to lean, or rack, toward the south.  Last week the bridge was out of plumb almost 2" in four feet.  That's a pretty noticeable lean, especially in a tall, narrow, structure, designed to fit a steam-powered locomotive. When I was on site last week  I commented if there is any more wind, it sure as heck better come from the south because the bridge can't take much more from the north.

Quick action by Cottage Grove, by OBEC (the engineering firm in charge of designing the new project), ODOT and Oregon SHPO resulted in the Chambers Bridge being determined an emergency.  That let us skip some of the paperwork (we'll do it later) and begin working immediately.  Careful deconstruction will begin early next week, with the goal of saving the bridge before it falls over, so we can begin to reconstruct it using as much of the original timbers as possible. Let's all hope there are no huge windstorms (or even little windstorms) in Cottage Grove before then.


  1. Good luck! This is a unique bridge and deserves to be saved.

  2. :) This is an old post... the Bridge has been completely restored and provides ped/bike connections over the river to the Cottage Grove H.S. and the adjacent campus of LCC. It was a great project, recognized by an Oregon Heritage Excellence Award two years ago. You can check out my website ( for a recent photo, but there are LOTS of them on the web. Even a video of the rebuilt structure being moved into place, after the truss was built in the lot to the east.