Repairs to a bridge over the Smoky Hill River used by the Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad started this week, well under the estimated $500,000 grant which was turned down.
Joe Minick, one of the founders of the excursion train that runs from Old Abilene Town to Enterprise and back, said repairs started Monday.
“The river has never been this low,” Minick said. “This (sand barge) is usually covered with water.”
Minick said the bridge needed to be repaired because the original stone foundation was slowly sliding into the river.
The repair started by driving a cluster of three pilings on each side of the rock foundation. The pilings go down 80 feet deep until hitting bedrock, he said.
“Then we will jack the bridge up where we want it, a little higher,” he said. “The top two layers of rock will come out and then two big (48 inch wide) steel beams go from these towers to support everything. The beams weigh 290 pounds per foot. Then the rock can do whatever it wants to because it (the track) is not sitting on the rock.”
Minick said the bridge was built in 1887. He said the new steel beams were put in somewhere around 1900.
Repairs to the west foundation should be complete before the first of the year.
“The pile driving company, if it doesn’t rain, will be out of here by Wednesday,” Minick said. “Then we’ll start welding up the tower.”
The excursion train is still running two more weekends but the engine stops at the bridge so passengers can see the progress of the repair. The train will not go on to Enterprise until the repair is complete.
Although recent measurements have indicated that the stone has not moved, the railroad didn’t want to take any chances of further damage with the construction taking place. Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad had applied and received a grant through the Dickinson County Commission from the Kansas Department of Transportation to repair the bridge with federal funds. The grant, more than $500,000, also required the railroad to come up with 20 percent of the funds, or about $140,000.
Mary Jane Oard, general manager, said the Smoky Valley Railroad turned down the grant to fix it cheaper and sooner than the government.
“As it looks right now, we’ll come in less than $100,000 for the complete project,” Minick said. “We’ll be coming in at least $48,000 under and I think it will be better than that.”
The railroad is in the process of raising $500,000 to repair the bridge and the railroad tracks. To donate, contact the ASVRR at P.O. Box 744, Abilene, KS. 67410.