Bridge Puts Ghost Town Back on Through Route

By Orlan Love, Reporter

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By Ellen Kurt

MOTOR, Iowa – For the past 21 years, no one has driven to this Clayton County ghost town without intending to do precisely that.

That’s because Motor, the site of a historic, 90-foot-tall limestone mill and other remnants of a long-gone community, has since 1991 been at the end of a hilly, winding gravel road that terminates where a bridge once spanned the Turkey River.

That bridge, taken out a span at a time by floods in 1991 and 2008, has been replaced with two new spans, raised into position on their original stone piers by pair of cranes on Nov. 20.

“We’re hoping to have the bridge open to motor vehicles in early December,” said Larry Stone, a member of the Clayton County Conservation Board, which owns the 155-acre Motor site.

“I never thought I’d see it happen,” said Linda Handke, who has lived a mile north of Motor for the past 46 years.

Handke, who attends church in Littleport, said she will never again be late for worship services. The reconnected bridge will save her at least a dozen miles one-way on her trips to church, she said.

Those same savings, she said, will accrue every time she visits family and friends on the south side of the Turkey.

Besides being a boon to local residents like Handke, the reopened bridge is expected to increase visitors to the mill site and improve access for a growing number of Turkey River canoeists and kayakers, said TimEngelhardt, director of the Clayton County Conservation Board.

“The bridge itself will become a tourist attraction,” said Engelhardt, who coordinated the effort to raise more than $1 million for the project.

The Motor enhancements complement other efforts to make the Turkey River in both Fayette and Clayton counties a regional tourist attraction, Engelhardt said.

Most of the money came from grants including $463,000 from the state Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) fund and $432,427 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency – the latter in compensation for destruction of the span that washed out in 2008. Iowa Great Places provided an additional $33,000, and the Upper Mississippi Gaming Corporation provided $20,000.

The Clayton County Engineer’s Office has also donated time to inspect the construction, an in-kind contribution valued at $21,000.

The drought of 2012, with consequent near-record low flows on the Turkey River, expedited completion of the project, according to Assistant County Engineer Mark Bolsinger.

The contractor, Minnowa Construction of Harmony, Minn., “had to build just one small cofferdam to make repairs at the base of the center pier, and they were able to drive their trucks and other equipment across the river,” Bolsinger said.

“The steel for the spans was delivered right to an exposed sandbar below the bridge site and assembled right there,” he said.

Bolsinger said 2,002 bolts were used to assemble each of the 30 ton spans, which were lifted into place through the coordinated efforts of a pair of Minnowa cranes operating on the bed of the shallow river.

Clayton County, he said, will be responsible for maintaining and removing snow from the formerly little-used mile-long section of Galaxy Road that runs south from the bridge to County Highway X3C.

The new bridge has been designed to look almost like the 1895 structure it replaces, but it will be strong enough to handle modern vehicles, said Stone, who has documented the construction process with photos posted at motormill.org

The bridge’s center, midstream pier has been raised 4 feet, which will put it a foot above the flood crest that swept away the lone remaining pier in 2008.

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