Page 24 - Wire Rope News & Sling Technology - August 2018
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         Ohio River and allows barges to pass
         underneath. It remains the oldest ve-
         hicular suspension bridge in the United
         States still in use and is listed as both
         a National Historic Landmark and His-
         toric Civil Engineering Landmark.
           In the early 1980s, the West Virgin-
         ia  Division  of  Highways  restored  the
         bridge.  The  bridge remains  in  active
         service,  but  with  weight  and  height
         restrictions.  At the time of construc-
         tion, a horse and buggy was the heavi-
         est  live  load that would  be  expected.
         Currently, the bridge has a per vehicle
         weight limit of 4,000 pounds, making
         it unsuitable for trucks, buses, or other   Wheeling Suspension Bridge lithograph included as the frontispiece to the printed argument
         heavy vehicles.                    delivered to the US Supreme Court in the case Pennsylvania v. Wheeling and Belmont Bridge
                                            Company in 1852.
           As the world of the 21st century in-
         trudes on a structure  from the Ante-  limits)  following a West  Virginia  De-  with wire rope and steel. A brief biog-
         bellum world of the 1840s, those still   partment of Transportation (WVDOH)   raphy by Gene D. Lewis,  Charles El-
         involved with  the  bridge continue  to   inspection of the old structure.  let, Jr.  The  Engineer  as Individualist,
         do their best to keep the structure in   Therefore, the following May of that   though written nearly 50 years ago, still
         use.  On  February  17,  2011, a  vehicle   year,  Wheeling’s  police  department   reminds us Ellet accomplished much in
         driving at high speed lost control and   vowed to start enforcing the two-ton   the short time he was here.
         crashed into the sidewalk panels on the   weight  and vehicle  separations limits   “Ellet was recognized by both friend
         bridge. The bridge was closed for four   on  the  bridge more strictly,  advising   and opponent as a true genius,” writes
         to  five  days,  first  for  inspection,  then   traffic to keep at least 50 feet between   Lewis. “He had an inordinate amount
         to repair  the panels,  as well  as  other   vehicles. Additionally, traffic lights at   of imagination, originality and creativ-
         minor repairs. And on March 2, 2013, a   both ends only allow a certain number   ity. His brilliance however, did not lie
         non-load bearing cable snapped, caus-  of cars onto the bridge at one time.  solely in the originality of his concepts,
         ing  the  bridge to be closed  until  the                             but in his ability to adapt practices and
         cable was repaired and detailed inspec-  Charles Ellet, an individualist  procedures often long-used elsewhere,
         tions were completed.                Though Charles Ellet Jr. had a rela-  to an American environment.
           On  March  23, 2016, the bridge was   tively short lifespan, his time here was   “This was true of the suspension bridge
         closed to all vehicle and pedestrian traf-  consequential. Not content with the   and the battering ram. But his vision,
         fic after a Greyhound bus attempted to   agricultural  career  his father  tried to   held in common with other contempo-
         cross  the bridge, damaging  the span.   force on him, he traveled to France and   rary farsighted men, of linking east with
         Eventually the  bridge reopened to all   learned much about bridge construction   west in a continuous network of internal
         traffic  (within  the  height  and  weight   of the time and the possibilities involved   improvements, and his comprehensive
                                                                               program  of  flood  control,  went  beyond
                              A siteseeing boat on the Ohio River passes under the bridge in   the  realm  of  adaptation.  Finally,  his
                              this photo taken in 2015. Photo © David Byron Keener | iStockphoto  articulate publicizing of new ideas, his
                                                                               executive capacity, and his abilities as a
                                                                               theoretical economist bear testimony to
                                                                               his versatility. Furthermore, his concern
                                                                               throughout his career as an engineer for
                                                                               professional reputation always took pre-
                                                                               cedence over monetary profit.”
                                                                                 Ellet ranks at the head along with
                                                                               other notable engineers of his time,
                                                                               among them John A. Roebling. “Whether
                                                                               he stands head and shoulders above all
                                                                               these engineers may possibly be deter-
                                                                               mined  when  the historian studies the
                                                                               careers of these men,” adds Lewis. “Even
                                                                               then, the final decision may not come, for
                                                                               greatness is a relative quality.”
                                                                                 However,  this  forward-looking  in-
                                                                               dividualist and engineer,  unlike  most
                                                                               other great men, received more rec-
                                                                               ognition in his own time than in the
                                                                               twentieth century. As Lewis points
                                                                               out, he deserves a better fate. Perhaps
                                                                               the  twenty-first  century  will  be  when
                                                                               Charles Ellet, Jr. gets his due. WRN

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