The Anatomy of Bridgework

The Anatomy of Bridgework

William Henry Thorpe
William Henry Thorpe

Author: Thorpe, William Henry
The Anatomy of Bridgework
Please see the Transcriber’s Notes at the end of this text.



E. & F. N. SPON, Limited, 57 HAYMARKET
New York


In offering this little book to the reader interested in Bridgework, the author desires to express his acknowledgments to the proprietors of “Engineering,” in which journal the papers first appeared, for their courtesy in facilitating the production in book form.
It may possibly happen that the scanning of these pages will induce others to observe and collect information extending our knowledge of this subject—information which, while familiar to maintenance engineers of experience, has not been so readily available as is desirable.
No theory which fails to stand the test of practical working can maintain its claims to regard; the study of the behaviour of old work has, therefore, a high educational value, and tends to the occasional correction of views which might otherwise be complacently retained.
60 Winsham Street,
Clapham Common, London, S.W.
October, 1906.


Pressure distribution—Square and skew bearings—Fixed bearings—Knuckles—Rollers—Yield of supports 1
Plate webs: Improper loading of flanges—Twisting of girders—Remedial measures—Cracks in webs—Stiffening of webs—T stiffeners 9
Open webs: Common faults—Top booms—Buckling of bottom booms—Counterbracing—Flat members 17
Liability to defects—Impact—Ends of cross and longitudinal girders—Awkward riveting—Fixed ends to cross girders—Plated floor—Liberal depths desirable—Type connections—Effect of “skew” on floor—Water-tightness—Drainage—Timber floors—Jack arches—Corrugated sheeting—Ballast—Rail joints—Effect of main girders on floors 20
Effect of bracing on girders—Influence of skew on bracing—Flat bars—Overhead girders—Main girders stiffened from floor—Stiffening of light girders—Incomplete bracing—Tall piers—Sea piers 34
Latitude in practice—Laboratory experiments—Care in considering practical instances—Main girder web rivets—Lattice girders investigated—Rivets in small girders—Faulty bridge floor—Stresses in rivets—Cross girder connections—Tension in rivets—Defective rivets—Loose rivets—Table of actual rivet stresses—Bearing pressure—Permissible stresses—Proposed table—Immunity of road bridges from loose rivets—Rivet spacing 45
Elastic limit—Care in calculation—Impact—Examples of high stress—Early examples of high stress in steel girders—Tabulated examples—General remarks 61
Various kinds—Flexing of girder flanges—Examples—Settlement deformations—Creeping—Temperature changes—Local distortions—Imperfect workmanship—Deformation of cast-iron arches 73
Differences as between new work and old—Influence of booms and web structure on deflection—Yield of rivets and stiffness of connections—Working formulæ—Set—Effect of floor system—Deflection diagrams—Loads quickly applied—“Drop” loads—Flexible girders—Measuring deflections—New method of observing deflections—Effect of running load 85
Examples of rusting of wrought-iron girders—Girder over sea-water—Rate of rusting—Steelwork—Precautions—Red-lead—Repainting—Scraping—Girders built into masonry—Cast iron—Effect of sea-water on cast iron—Examples—Tabulated observations—Percentage of submersion—Quality of metal 96
Purpose—Methods of examination—Calculations—Stress in old work—Methods of reducing stress—Repair—Loose rivets—Replacing wasted flange plates—Adding new to old sections—Principles governing additions—Example—Strengthening lattice girder bracings—Bracing between girders—Strengthening floors—Distributing girders 107
Principal methods in use—Method of calculation—Adjustments—Connections—Method of execution—Checks—Effect of skew on method considered—Results of calculation for a typical case—Probable error—Practical examples—Special case—Method of determining flexure curves 122
Limitations of cast iron—Stress examples—Advantages and disadvantages—Foundry stresses—Examples—Want of ductility of cast iron—Repairs—Restricted possibilities 141
Perishable nature—Causes of decay—Sag—Lateral bracing—Piles—Uncertainty respecting decay—Examples—Conditions and practice favourable to durability—Bracing—Protection—Repair—Piles—Cost 149
Definition—Cause of defects or failure—Spreading of abutments—Closing in—Example—Stop piers—Example of failure—Strength of rubble arch—Equilibrium of arches—Effect of vibration on masonry—Safety centring—Methods of repair—Pointing—Rough dressed stonework 157
Previous history—Causes of limited life—Tabulated examples of short-lived metallic bridges—Timber and masonry bridges—Durability—Maintenance charges—First cost—Comparative merits—Choice of material 165
Measuring up—Railway under-bridges—Methods of reconstruction in common use—Reconstruction of bridges of many openings—Timber staging—Traffic arrangements—Sunday work—Railway over-bridges—Widenings—Junction of new and old work—Concluding remarks—Study of old bridgework 172



No book has, so far as the author is aware, been written upon that aspect of bridgework to be treated in the following pages. No excuse need, therefore, be given for adding to the already large amount of published matter dealing with bridges. Indeed, as it too often happens that the designing of such constructions, and their after-maintenance, are in this country entirely separated, it cannot but be useful to give such results of the behaviour of bridges, whether new or old, as have come under observation.
In the early days of metallic bridges there was of necessity no experience available to guide the engineer in his endeavour to avoid objectionable features in design, and he was, as a result, compelled to rely upon his own foresight and judgment in any attempt to anticipate the effects of those influences to which his work might later be subject. How heavily handicapped he must have been under these conditions is evident from the mass of information since acquired by the experimental study of the behaviour of metals under stress, and the growth of the literature of bridgework during the last forty years. That many mistakes were made is little occasion for surprise; rather is it a cause for admiration that some very fine bridges, still in use, were the product of that time. Much may be learned from the study of defects and failures, even though they be of such a character that no experienced designer would now furnish like examples.
Modern instances may, none the less, be found, with faults repeated, which should long since have disappeared from all bridgework, and are only to be accounted for by the unnatural divorce of design and maintenance already referred to. As the reader proceeds, it may appear that details are occasionally touched upon of a character altogether too crude and objectionable to need comment; but the consideration of these cases is none the less interesting, and, so far as the author’s observation goes, not altogether unnecessary.
Most of the instances cited are of bridges, or parts of bridges, of quite small dimensions; but it is these which most commonly give trouble, both because the effects of impact are in such cases most severely felt, and possibly because the smaller class of bridges is very generally designed by men of less experience, than large and imposing structures.
The particulars given relate in all cases to bridges of wrought iron, unless otherwise described.
An endeavour has been made to secure some kind of order in dealing with the subject, but it has been found difficult to avoid a somewhat disjointed treatment, inseparable, perhaps, from the nature of the matter. Finally, the reader may be assured that every case quoted has come under the writer’s personal notice.

Girder Bearings.

In girder-work generally, and more particularly in plate-girders, considerable latitude obtains in the amount of bearing allowed. Clearly, the surface over which the pressure is distributed should be sufficiently ample to avoid overloading and possible crushing or fracture of bedstones where these exist; but if no knuckles are introduced, this is an extremely difficult matter to insure. A long bearing may deliver the load at the extreme end of the surface on which it rests, or, more probably, near the face.
If the girder is made with truly level bearings, and the beds set level, it will certainly, when under load, throw an extreme pressure upon that part of the bearing surface immediately under the forward edge of the bearing-plate. These considerations probably account for bedstones frequently cracking, in addition to which possibility there is the disadvantage that the designer does not know where the girder will rest, and cannot truly define the span. The variation of flange-stress due to this cause may, in a girder of ordinary proportions, having bearings equal in length to the girder’s depth, be as much as 15 per cent. above or below that intended.
If great care be taken in setting beds, in the first instance, to dip toward the centre of the span an amount depending upon the anticipated girder deflection, it may be possible to insure that when under full load the girder bearing shall rest equally upon its seat; but this is evidently a difficult condition to obtain practically, is good only for one degree of loading, and may at any time be nullified by a disturbance of the supports, as, for instance, the very common occurrence of a slight leaning forward of abutment walls.
Double or treble thicknesses of hair-felt are sometimes placed beneath girder bearings, with the object of securing a better distribution of pressure, no doubt with advantage; but this practice, though it may be quite satisfactory as applied to girders carrying an unchangeable load, hardly meets the case for loads which are variable. Notwithstanding the faulty nature of the plain bearing ordinarily used for girders of moderate span, its extreme simplicity commends it to most engineers. It must be admitted that no serious inconvenience need be anticipated in the majority of cases, particularly if the bearings are limited in length, do not approach nearer than 3 inches to the face of bedstones, and are furnished with hair-felt or similar packing.

Fig. 1.

Whether with long or short bearings, the forward edge should be at right angles to the girder’s length. In skew bridges it is sometimes seen that this edge follows the angle of skew. The effect on the girder is to twist it, as will be clear from a little consideration. In evidence of this the case may be quoted of a lattice girder of 95 feet effective span and 7 feet deep, which, resting on a skew abutment right up to the masonry face at a rather bad angle (about 15 degrees), was, after twenty years, found canted over at the top to the extent of 4 inches, with the further result of springing a joint in the top flange at about the middle of the girder, causing some rivets to loosen. The bedstone was also very badly broken at the face, and had to be replaced in the course of repairs (Fig. 1). This girder had, in addition to the canting from the upright position at its end, and the distortion of the top flange, a curvature in the same direction, though less in amount, at the bottom—an effect very common in the main girders of skew bridges, and possibly accounted for in part by a tendency of the girder end to creep along the abutment away from the point at which it bears hardest, under frequent applications and removals of the live load, and accompanying deflections.
This tendency to travel may be aggravated in bridges carrying a ballasted road, in which there may be a considerable thickness of ballast near the bearings, by the compacting and spreading of this material taking effect upon the girder end, tending to push it outwards, being tied only by a few light cross-girders badly placed for useful effect. The movement may be prevented in new work for moderate angles of skew by carrying the end cross-girders well back, and securing them in some efficient manner; or by the introduction of a diagonal tie following the skew face, and attached to cross and main girder flanges (Fig. 2)—a method which may be applied to existing work also.

Fig. 2.

For such a case as that cited it is imperative that ballast pressure at the girder end should be altogether eliminated.
The fixing of girder ends by bolts—a practice at one time usual—hardly calls for remark, as it is now seldom resorted to unless for special reasons; but it may be well to point out the weakening effect of holes for any purpose in bedstones. Bed-plates commonly need no fixing; the weight carried keeps them in position, or if, in the case of very light girders upon separate plates, it is considered well to secure these from shifting, it may best be done by letting the plate in bodily a small amount, or by means of a very shallow feather sunk into a chase.

Fig. 3.

As an improvement upon the plain bearing usually adopted, it is an easy matter so to design girder-ends as to deliver the load by a narrow strip of bearing-plate carried across the bottom flange, distributing the pressure upon the stone, if there be one, by means of a simple rectangular plate of sufficient stoutness (Fig. 3). An imperfect knuckle will by this means result, with freedom to slide, and the girder span be defined within narrow limits. A true knuckle is, of course, the best means of securing imposition of the load always in the same place; but this by itself is not sufficient where the girder is of a length to make temperature and stress variations important, in which case rollers, or freedom to slide, become necessary. Bridges exist in which roller-bearings have been adopted without the knuckle, or its equivalent, but this is wholly indefensible, as it is obvious that the forward roller will in all probability take the whole load, and cannot be expected to keep its shape and roll freely under this mal-treatment. It is sometimes asserted that rollers are never effective after some years’ use; that they become clogged with dirt, and refuse to perform their office.
There is no reason why rollers should not be boxed in to exclude dirt by a casing easily removed, some attention being given to them, and any possible accumulation of dirt removed each time the bridge is painted.
To test the behaviour of rollers under somewhat unfavourable conditions for their proper action—that of the bearings of main roof trusses of crescent form, 190 feet span—the author, some thirty years since, took occasion to make the necessary observations, and found evidence of a moderate roller movement, though there was in this case no direct horizontal member to communicate motion. With girders resting upon columns, particularly if of cast iron, a roller and knuckle arrangement is most desirable for any but very small spans, as, if not adopted, the result will be a canting of the columns from side to side—a very small amount, it is true, but sufficient to throw the load upon the extreme edges of the base, though the knuckle alone will relieve the top of this danger. The author at one time took the trouble to examine, so far as it could be done superficially and without opening out the ground to make a complete inspection possible, a number of bridges crossing streets, in which girders rested upon and were secured to cast-iron columns standing in the line of kerb; and he found cracks, either at the top or bottom, in about one of every four columns.
When girders passing over columns are not continuous, it may be difficult to find room for a double roller and knuckle arrangement; but this inconvenience may be overcome by carrying one girder-end wholly across the column-top, and securing the next girder-end to it in a manner which a little care and ingenuity will render satisfactory, one free bearing then serving to carry the load from both girders.
Though the wisdom of using roller

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The Anatomy of Bridgework
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