Dells Dam, Wisconsin

Bridging the Black River

Transcribed by Crystal Wendt

 

 

 

Dells Dam was built on the Black River during the logging days.  It was a means of controlling the river when it was being used to carry the lumbermen's logs downstream to the LaCrosse area saw mills and market.  The great floodwaters, of 1911, with great force, took out the dam as well as other bridges, buildings and businesses in its path farther down the river.  After many years, there are still remnants of the dam visible along the banks of the river.

February 1954

Possibly the one man who has had the most to do with the old Dells Dam bridge over Black River, now to be torn down, is Guy Schultz, chairman of the town of Levis.

He helped to erect the bridge in 1918. He looked out on it every day from his farmhouse, near by. Also he presided at the Levis town board meeting when arrangement of the sale of the bridge was made to Phillips, of Eau Claire.

The bridge, for which the town of Levis is getting $900, was erected in 1918 at a cost of exactly $6, 666, 66. Where all those sixes came from is anybodyís guess; but itís a cinch, in Mr. Schultzís language that the Elkhart (Indiana) Bridge & Iron Co., its builder, lost their shirt on this job.

The reason, according to Mr. Schultz, was that the bids were received in 1916. Before the bridge could be built, the United States entered into World War I against Germany. That move tied up steel production in the nation, and there was no steel available for a bridge at Dells Dam.

In the meantime, the price of steel boomed and the cost of labor increased. So when 1918 came the erection of the Dells Dam bridge was completed, the Elkhart Bridge & Iron Co. had substantial reason to regret its monotonous-sounding bid price.

By way of coincidence, World War Ii and subsequent channeling of steep production, also delayed the building of the new highway 95 bridge, located upstream a few hundred feet from the old iron overhead.

The old Dells Dam bridge was erected to replace a previous bridge, which "went out on top of an ice jam," Mr. Schultz recalls. For over two years those who wanted to cross the stream either had to ford it at a place where the Indians cleared boulders and rocks for a narrow strip across, or go to the Six-miles upstream.

The erection of the Dells Dam bridge required about three months, with 10 men working on the project, Mr. Schultz recalls. Most of the work was done by hand tools. The only motorized equipment was a gas engine-driven cement mixer. The big, heavy superstructure was raised over false work by use of a "traveler" hand winch and a triple block and line.

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