The Sciotoville railroad bridge is something many people just drive by and never notice. Maybe you should. A double track railroad bridge of twin spans each 775 feet long, it remained from its construction in 1917 until 1935 the longest continuous truss bridge in the world and stands today as the prototype for continuous structures.
Harold Woods’ replica of that bridge is not quite that big.
“It’s 11 inches wide, 32 inches high, and 32 feet long,” Woods said. It weighs 400 pounds, has 15,000 individual pieces and is held together in one solid piece by 55,000 individual welded connections.
What may be the most amazing part of the story of the replica of the Sciotoville railroad bridge is that Harold Woods has never been to this area.
The way the local tie-in occurred is serendipitous. Art Hossman is a Sciotoville native and has lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan for 30 years, where the ArtPrize is held.
The ArtPrize art show, where the bridge was spotted, is a radically open, independently organized international art competition and a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. ArtPrize is recognized as the most-attended public art event on the planet according to The Art Newspaper, and was recently highlighted in The New York Times’ 52 Places To Go in 2016.
For 19 days in the early fall, around 400,000 attendees descend upon three square miles of downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan where anyone can find a voice in the conversation about what is art and why it matters. Among the artists displaying his art was Harold Woods with his replica of the Sciotoville railroad bridge.
Portsmouth optometrist Dr. Michael Raies, whose wife, optometrist Dr. Kelly Raies, is a cousin to Hossman, said Hossman was having lunch with a friend who showed him a photo of the replica which he had taken at ArtPrize.
“Somebody showed Artie a picture of the train on display in the art show, and he (Hossman) said – ‘that looks like the Sciotoville Bridge,’” Raies said. “The art show was already over and he went online and found this guy’s name, Harold Woods, and looked up his entry and it described that this was a model of the Sciotoville Bridge.”
To be honest, Artie, like many of his friends, actually walked the bridge when he was growing up, so the model was near and dear to his heart.
Hossman called Woods and arranged for him to bring the replica and display it at next weekend’s SOMC Train Show at the Friends Center. Southern Ohio Medical Center has arranged for Luther transfer to go to Michigan and pick the bridge up and bring it to Portsmouth. After it is displayed at the train show, it will be on display for a year in the hallway of the Scioto County Welcome Center on Second Street in Portsmouth.
“The bridge should be there tomorrow (Wednesday) evening. We don’t know what time,” Mark Harris, organizer of the train show, said. “We’ll be over there setting things up all day tomorrow (Wednesday) and all day Friday.”
The SOMC Train Show will be held Saturday (Nov. 26) from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday from 12 noon-4 p.m. Harris said he expects 12-13 train displays at the show.
Why the fascination with trains and bridges?
“I don’t have a layout per se,” Woods said. “Those types of structures interest me and pleasure reading is relaxing and I like to read about railroads and how they evolved. I kind of headed toward the bridge thing because of how it evolved.”
Woods was complimentary of Sciotoville’s structure.
“You have a very special bridge down there,” Woods told the Daily Times. “I started doing models about 15 years ago and that bridge, because of its importance in the evolution of bridge design in railroads, I thought it would be a really neat model to do, but I not only wanted to do it architecturally, I wanted to do it structurally.”
Woods went about his two year project by locating some of the original drawings of the bridge.
“Back then they didn’t have I beams or H beams. All they had was flat stock and angles and they fabricated all the members to whatever size was necessary,” Woods said. “So I decided to do that in a model to the best of my ability.”
Woods took five years to learn the skills required to complete such an undertaking.
“I literally fabricated all the structural members as individual members, and then I assembled them,” Woods said. “It is bridge number 7. The two bridges prior to this were actually in preparation to do this bridge.”
Now, you may ask can a model train run on that bridge like C&O trains run on the real one?
“Yes,” Woods said. “It’s a double track, just as the big one, and while I had it at ArtPrize it was a super hit.”
Woods said a structural engineer came up from Detroit, Michigan who had heard Woods had a structural model of the bridge. The train he had on it while it was on display was an Allegheny, which is what they have in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. He said the engineer knows the weight of the engine and structurally he wanted to know how the model was put together.
“He did some calculations and he came up from Detroit to meet me and see the bridge,” Woods said. “My bridge is gas-welded. It’s braised.”
Woods explained when you put structures together with rivets, no matter how many rivets you use, it is still two piece of metal riveted together. However, when you take two pieces of steel and you braise them by heating them up, they become one piece and it is automatically stronger than the design utilizing rivets.
“The model – in scale – is stronger than the big bridge,” Woods said. “There isn’t any fabricated member above the deck in my model that is not in the big bridge.”
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.