LANSING, Mich. – Several dozen prominent engineers, construction contractors, historians, preservationists and government officials will take part in a unique, two-day conference (March 5-6) at Lansing Community College (LCC) in Lansing, Michigan, to discuss what can be done to escalate efforts to preserve and restore historic metals like those used in the nation’s iron and steel truss bridges – some more than 160 years old – that link us to our past and the westward migration that helped shape the nation.
The experts from Ohio, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Georgia, Kentucky, and Canada have chosen to attend because of LCC’s long-recognized leadership in industrial arts training and its more recent emergence as a national leader in historic preservation with a focus on metal structures.
One session, led by historian Patrick Harshbarger from Hunter Research, Inc. in New Jersey, will focus on the Phoenix Column, a transformational design that ushered in the golden age of American truss bridges and made possible the construction of skyscrapers. Demonstrations of metal restoration processes will take place on the second day of the conference, including a replication of a Phoenix Column by an Ohio blacksmith.
Of particular concern to conference attendees is the alarming trend of wrought iron and steel truss bridges – those fabricated between 1850 and 1950 –being needlessly replaced with new concrete and steel bridges. That’s primarily due to a lack of knowledge about the restoration of historic metals.
Some people look at an aging bridge and immediately want to tear it down and build anew. But Vern Mesler, the conference host and LCC adjunct professor of welding technology, sees only possibilities to embrace and celebrate our past.
"Every part of these historic bridges are a craftsman’s record and they tell you things about history, steel manufacturing and bridge building technologies," said Mesler, who at age 73 has lost none of his passion for the topic. "We have to teach young engineers and preservationists that they don’t have to be part of the community that destroys these historic metal bridges and buildings but can instead exercise the option of preserving them for future generations to enjoy."
Those interested in attending can register by calling 517-483-9853. The cost of the conference is $300. To learn more about the conference, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=WBPWGCz91Vc#!.
The Annual Iron & Steel Preservation Conference is funded through a generous $10,000 donation from Nucor, the nation’s largest steel manufacturing company, and support from the Historic Bridge Foundation.