9-Span Industrial Grace

A view of the northbound end of the 9-Span Bridge in Hammond, Ind., late Sunday, January 13, 2013. The bridge, which has connected the cities of Hammond and East Chicago since 1937, will be closed permanently on Monday for demolition and replacement.

Perhaps it can be attributed to my upbringing in one of the most industrial parts of the United States (I’m sure being really interested in engineering and technology hasn’t hurt), but I have a huge soft spot in my heart when it comes to giant structures that have been a part of the local landscape for my entire life. Enter the 9-Span Bridge, the hulk of rusty green steel which carries Indianapolis Blvd. over the Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad’s Gibson Yard just a mile or so from my home. Built in 1935 and opened in 1937, the bridge has connected the cities of Hammond and East Chicago, Indiana, for over 75 years.

Sadly, time and the elements have taken their toll on this engineering marvel, which was once the longest bridge over land in the country. A bridge deck just barely wide enough for two lanes of traffic in each direction (this was limited to one lane in each direction some time ago to save wear and tear on the structure), coupled with significant rust and deterioration, forced the state to design a replacement for the bridge and plan the demolition of the current one. Sunday marked the last day traffic will flow over the quarter-mile-long structure.

On a whim, I decided to head out and document the bridge on its last night of complete existence. With plenty of photos and videos existing online of the bridge as it appears on a normal daytime drive, I decided to use strobes to create more abstract images of the bridge and its mechanical forms. I used an Elinchrom Style 600 monolight at full power with a 50 degree sport reflector, powered with a Vagabond II battery and triggered remotely with a Pocket Wizard Plus, to light the bridge spans from afar. For detail shots, I used a Vivitar 285HV flash.

With a balmy air temperature of 15 degrees Fahrenheit and a stiff north wind, I knew I’d have to make my shoot quick to avoid being totally miserable. Coupled with the cold temperatures, concerns I had about blinding passing motorists on the bridge with my strobes meant that I had to wait for lulls in traffic to make my exposures. To compound matters further, faulty street lights on the bridge kept turning off and on, leaving sections where I was working in near total darkness. Many times, I had to use a small Minimag flashlight just to see what I was focusing on through the lens.

The northernmost two spans of the 9-Span Bridge, lit with a 600 watt second strobe at full power.

Despite the challenges, I was taken aback with the beauty and craftsmanship of this old structure when viewed from up close on foot. Dappled groups of rivets ensure strong connections for each truss, married to its partner on the opposite side of the bridge by graceful steel webbing which sails overhead. The concrete bridge deck, scored with grooves to aid in traction during wet and icy condition, sings out droning musical notes as rubber tires rush over it. When the heaviest trucks roar past, the entire structure subtly gives and bounces (quite unnerving to some, but all by design).

While the new concrete bridge (scheduled to be completed by the end of 2013) will probably be far more efficient for motorists, I’m almost positive it will lack the industrial grace and character I came to appreciate this evening from the 9-Span Bridge.

Gusset plate and beer bottle.

Portal bracing overhead.

Icy darkness.

Rivet detail on the third span to the north.

This slash of light on the trees to the northwest of the bridge was a happy accident. My strobe, which I had balanced atop the Vagabond II battery pack that was powering it about 200 feet away on the sidewalk, fell off without me realizing it. This caused the light to point 90 degrees away from my lens and through the bridge structure across the road, creating an interesting effect.

Looking down through the side of one of the trusses.


A view of rivets inside one of the trusses (I had to stick my lens and flash through very small openings to create this image). You can see the amount of rust which has started to consume the structure. Special thanks to fellow photographer Jim Karczewski for holding the flash through the structure above me for this image. Jim happened to stop by to document the last evening of the bridge as well.

Last view.

Posted in Experimental, Photography by Guy Rhodes on January 14th, 2013.

6 Responses to “9-Span Industrial Grace”

  1. Auntie Jill says:

    AWESOME as usual ……. I’m wondering if my friends who went to the bridge on Saturday left that beer bottle….If it was an MGD….I can bet it was them….. LOL Thanks for the AWESOME pictures.

  2. Pam says:

    thank you for the beautiful pictures of America’s great work. New bridges don’t have the character of the old. thank you for preserving the pictures.

  3. carole kozak says:

    I lived in Calumet City a good part of my life. Driving over that bridge was almost a daily route transporting kids to school, and events.
    Thank you for posting this article and the pictures. They are amazing. I never really appreciated the beauty of this structure until now. You are very talented.
    Thank you again, brought back many fond memories.

  4. Nathan Holth says:

    I greatly enjoyed seeing your artistic, nighttime photos of this bridge. Your photos with their unique angles and lighting help emphasize the fact that this historic bridge has both beauty and complexity.

  5. lisa says:

    I enjoyed viewing your photos great ones. Especially of the bridge there will never be another. thanks

  6. dm says:

    Awesome pictures as always. So sad that this beautiful STEEL bridge in a great STEEL town will be replaced by a cookie cut, bland, concrete bridge :(