Bridge back in time at Quick

🕔Dec 07, 2010

About 12 kilometres up the Bulkley River from Telkwa, in the rural community of Quick, there is a single-lane wooden bridge with long fir timbers spanning the 300-foot crossing. This bridge, commonly known as the Quick Bridge, was built in 1921 and is one of fewer than seven wooden Howe truss bridges remaining north of Quesnel.

William Howe was from a family of inventors in Massachusetts and patented the Howe truss in 1840. According to Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoT) Regional Bridge Engineer Ed Cienciala, Howe truss bridges are easily identified as they have upper and lower chords with distinctive triangulation of cross-members. He notes that Howe truss bridges were once popular, and often favoured by railways, because they easily covered long spans and could carry a heavy load.

Cienciala agrees that the Quick Bridge is exceptional as it was built in place in 1921 and is, remarkably, approaching its 90th year in use.

Way back when…
The rural district of Quick was settled by farmers who had grain and produce to export, and breeding stock and farm machinery to import. The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was built along the west bank of the Bulkley upstream from Telkwa in the summer of 1913. Unfortunately for the majority of established farmers there, the railway was on the opposite side of the river from their farms.

Before the construction of the Quick Bridge in 1921, farmers who needed to cross the Bulkley with their loaded wagons were forced to travel all the way to Hubert, a short-lived settlement not far from Telkwa where a low-level Howe truss bridge had been built in 1914. The Omenica Herald of New Hazelton reported that residents of the Quick area had to travel great distances just to collect their mail. “It necessitated trips sometimes over 30 miles return, when the opportunity could be found to make the trip, which usually meant weeks or even months between.” There was also a cable ferry crossing the Bulkley River at Walcott and some farmers reached the railway by using this ferry—also a lengthy trip.

An ice jam in January of 1919 took out two spans of the Hubert Bridge, and this crossing was never replaced. Instead the Public Works Department decided to build a new bridge upstream.

Build a bridge—Quick!
The Quick Howe truss bridge was built in 1920 and 1921 on three concrete piers with its base well above the winter water levels. The critical bottom chord was made of two sets of 180-foot-long fir beams placed end-to-end to run the length of the bridge and support the entire structure. In 1921, the Smithers Interior News reported that “work on the Quick Bridge is progressing quite favorably. This no doubt will prove of great value to this neighbourhood as it will enable the farmers loading hay to make two trips a day.”

That same year, entrepreneur Wadham Locke Paddon purchased land near the river crossing to build a general store and supply depot. With the help of Mr. Long Sing, Paddon built a store right beside the newly completed Quick Bridge. At first he sold feed to the area’s farmers, but by 1923 had established his rural store as a source for dry goods, hardware, tack, farm implements and tools, and even weather information.

The winter of 1923 also saw postal service established for the area, at the Quick railway station by the new bridge. The Omenica Herald reported that the residents welcomed the progress and were happy to see Mr. Bruff out in the piles of snow building a ‘catch-post’ (or ‘mail crane’) that allowed passing trains to pick up the bags of mail hanging from it.

The Quick Bridge was a crucial commercial link between the farmers and the railway. Manufactured goods came in by rail; farm produce, railway ties, vegetables and grain went out. In the 1940s, tons of locally grown potatoes were hand-loaded at the Quick Station into refrigerated railway cars for shipment to Prince Rupert.

In the 1940s the Yellowhead Highway usurped the rails as the chosen transportation method. The train stopped less and less often, then not at all. The Quick Bridge saw less traffic. At the Quick store, Paddon’s business gradually slowed but never quite stopped.

The Quick Bridge now
Dave and Bridget Gillespie bought Paddon’s store on the corner of Quick Station Road and Paddon Avenue in 1976. They renovated the buildings to a family home and raised their two girls in the old store. From their home by the Bulkley River, or from higher and drier ground, they’ve witnessed the old bridge survive ice jams and floods in 1984, 2005 and 2009. These were not the first times: ice jams had threatened the bridge in 1930, 1936 and 1939 as well, and significant high waters flooded the area in 1949 and 1966.

The many years of regular use, and stress from ice and high water, have caused definite wear and tear on the structure. Over the decades, MoT has carried out major repairs and significant structural improvements: a new approach was built, joists and decking were replaced, and the trusses and concrete piers were repaired. The load limit was lowered to eight tonnes.

The MoT’s latest inspection revealed pockets of rot in the fir timbers that make up the bridge’s crucial bottom chord. (The bridge poses no current danger to users and continues to be a safe route across the river for vehicles and pedestrians as long as the posted load limit is obeyed.) Ministry officials explain that to address this problem, the bottom chords have to be removed—and to do this the entire structure must be dismantled.

The Gillespies and many other area residents would like to see efforts continue to repair and ultimately preserve their old Howe truss bridge. The MoT’s Cienciala hears their concerns but points out that it would be a long, difficult and expensive process to rebuild the wooden bridge, adding that if a new wooden Howe truss bridge were to be built there, the wood for the lower cords would be very difficult to find and would likely be preservative-treated and glue-laminated. MoT prefers to remove the Howe truss and replace it with a modern crossing.

Although Cienciala acknowledges that it’s a shame another historic crossing likely has to come down, “the rot endangers the structure and thereby endangers the public,” he says. Ultimately, a long-term safe crossing is needed.

The residents of Quick have seen their little railway station get taken down and their school close. They are hoping to see the Howe truss bridge, one of Quick’s last local historic structures, remain. MoT plans to work with residents to ensure they have a crossing and that their crossing is safe. For this winter, at least, the old Quick Bridge remains.