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Restoration on Historic Bridge Underway

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WASHINGTON COUNTY, Iowa - After months of fundraising efforts, work on the old Bunker Mill Bridge near Kalona has finally started. But it's going to take a combination of high-powered equipment and old-fashioned elbow grease to get the job done.

A lot of that elbow grease is coming from Nels Raynor, owner of Bach Steel in Holt, Michigan. With his bloodhound Dixie by his side, he works with iron the old-fashioned way.

"When we do a restoration, we try to stay in kind. So we don't replace rivets with bolts, we replace them with rivets," Raynor explained.

He heats those rivets to 1,900 degrees before driving them in with a special gun. Rivets like this used to go into buildings, bridges, and even ships, like the Titanic. In the next couple days, a crane will lift up one end of the bridge so that Raynor can weld on pieces he fabricated by hand to strengthen it.

Julie Bowers, executive director of the North Skunk River Greenbelt Association, is overseeing the project. She said more hardware is needed to finish up, and it won't be cheap.

"We need 21 40-foot stringers," Bowers said. "They cost $450 apiece."

Those stringers will replace the now-charred wood planks that used to be under the wood deck. They sit next to the restoration site of the arson that destroyed the wood portions back in August. The stringers will strengthen the bridge enough to make it useful once again.

"Structurally, it gets it up to the loading that we require for not only pedestrians, bikes, but we can do buggies," said Bowers, referring to the strong Amish community in the surrounding area.

She and the group behind the restoration, Friends of Bunker Mill Bridge, are still trying to make up the $60,000 shortfall to get it all done.

However, Raynor said the toughest obstacle for this bridge is already out of the way.

"The hardest part is convincing engineers and municipalities that they can be restored," Raynor told us. "It's nice to know that we've protected another part of our history. The craftsmanship that went into building these bridges is incredible."

Bowers said the timeline for completing the project is all going to depend on funding. You can find more about the bridge restoration project by visiting the page for Friends of Bunker Mill Bridge on Facebook: