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Amazing bridge built in 3 weeks

Connecting the Dots
Uno Trestle Bridge, rebuilt with steel in 1929.

This week, we received a note from a local reader. Nigel Jeanes says, “I was looking up interesting places to go around here. Found this article on the “Uno” bridge disaster in 1915.”

Sure enough, on the Manitoba Historical Society website there’s an excellent history: “The Uno Railway Disaster”

Mr. Jeanes points out: “These guys rebuilt this trestle bridge in three weeks.” He asks, “Why has it taken so, so long to rebuild the 257 bridge?”

Mr. Jeane’s question is timely. This bridge on PR 257 (east side of Virden) is once again mentioned in our front-page news. Citizens of the area have been waiting over eight years for its restoration. Coincidentally, just a couple of weeks ago a group of sightseers from Evergreen Place also visited the Uno Bridge. It is a historic wonder and the late Helen Martens provided us pictures of the site and the steel bridge that followed the wooden structure.

The unsatisfactory answer, in short - everything takes longer now. And to the point, “it is amazing what can happen when people want something done in a hurry.” In September of 1915, the grain harvest was ready to roll down the rails.

Bridge 257 was far down the province’s priority list since access could be gained to Virden and to the Kola 257 road through a circuitous route. These days towns and municipalities don’t attempt this level of infrastructure on their own, so we have waited.

Bridge 257 deconstruction by a contractor took merely four days last spring. However, as this week’s story points out, even once it begins, the replacement construction won’t be accomplished within a three-week span.

Here’s the Uno Bridge story in brief:

On the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (GTPR) main line between Winnipeg and Melville, Saskatchewan… situated between the Miniota and Uno stations, the bridge over Minnewashta Creek became known as the Uno Bridge. Comprised of a 107-bent pile and frame trestle, it measured 1,573 feet long and 115 feet at its highest. The bridge was constructed in 1907 at a cost of $56,947.

At 2 a.m. Sept. 2, 1915, a tornado knocked down most of the timber trestle. By 2:30 a.m. the storm was still intense and there was heavy rain as an eastbound freight train approached the bridge. There was no warning of the impending disaster… Engineer J. C. Files saw the bridge ahead had disappeared but stayed in the engine in hopes of stopping the train. He went over the edge with his engine, tender, and one car. The couplers broke so the rest of the train remained on the track. Fireman Hugh McKay waited until the last minute and jumped just before the engine went over the brink. Engineer Files perished; McKay survived with only minor injuries.

This was the GTPR main line so it was essential that train service be restored as soon as possible. The timing was bad as the fall grain rush was coming into full swing. In a magnanimous gesture by its rival, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), GTPR passenger and freight trains were permitted to detour over CPR lines.

Restoring the bridge, the next priority, was organized by GTPR Engineer H. A. Woods. Gangs of men were assembled and brought to the site from Winnipeg, Melville, and Edmonton. An emergency supply of timber—lots of it—was stored at Rivers, 42.5 miles to the southeast.

The trestle was rebuilt in kind, using the existing piles and the emergency supply of timber. Train service over the new trestle was restored on Sept. 27, slightly over three weeks later. However, engineers were instructed to travel slowly across the new bridge until full use was restored on Oct. 12. Considering how thoroughly the original bridge was destroyed, reconstruction in such a short period of time was considered an engineering miracle.

The rebuilt Uno Bridge over Minnewashta Creek stood until 1929, when it was replaced by a steel viaduct, still in use today. (This is a brief of the information provided by the Manitoba Historical Society.) Please visit their website for full details:

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