Sault Ste. Marie, MI Train Bridge Collapse, Oct 1941



Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. -- (AP) -- Collapse of one arm of a lift bridge -- believed to be the largest of the bascule type in the world -- brought defense-vital iron ore shipping from Lake Superior ports to a temporary halt here today.
The giant span sagged beneath the weight of a loaded freight train. A locomotive and tender shot from the open end into the approach to the St. Mary's Falls Canal, carrying two trainmen to their deaths and effectively blocking the two largest of the Sault Ste. Marie locks which link Lakes Superior and Huron.
A wrecking train was summoned immediately, but Lieut. Col. Jules Houghtaling, intelligence officer for the Sault Ste. Marie military district, estimated it would be four days before the locks would be sufficiently cleared to provide passage for fully laden ore carriers, which include some of the largest craft that navigate the lakes.
Two channels remained open to navigation. They were the Poe locks on the American side and Canadian locks. Military authorities said neither of the open channels, however, provided sufficient draft for fully loaded ore carriers.
An emergency order was issued to vessels now loading to limit their draft to 16 feet 6 inches. The normal draft of ore carriers is 17 to 20 feet, loaded.
By 10:30 a.m. approximately 25 vessels -- downbound from Lake Superior with cargoes -- were at anchor awaiting passage.
Military authorities said another 50 which took on their loads prior to the bridge's collapse would arrive at the entrance to the canal and locks by midnight tomorrow. Light vessels upbound for cargoes were passing steadily through the smaller locks, which also will accommodate downbound craft loaded after receiving notice of the new cargo restriction.
The north leaf of the railroad bridge collapsed into the north section of the canal under the weight of a freight train coming from the Canadian side, according to an official explanation of the accident by J. B. Chadwell, chief administrative assistant in the war department engineer's office.
Chadwell said the north section of the St. Mary's Canal, together with the third and fourth locks, were completely blocked to all traffic as a result.
The south arm of the bridge, he reported is still intact but is three feet below its normal position.
Chadwell said the cause of the bridge collapse was not determined. Col. Fred T. Cruse, commander of the military district, said it appeared to be "purely accidental" and that there seemed to be no reason to suspect sabotage. There had been no similar mishap since the bridge was constructed, about 1914.
Four men were riding in the locomotive. Engineer HAZEN WILLIS and Conductor DAVE MONROE, trapped in the engine cab, were drowned. Fireman CARL ZELNER and Brakeman FRANCIS FULLER climbed back up the twisted bridge girders to safety.
Suspicions of sabotage were discounted by authorities inasmuch as the bridge, which spans a vital canal through which come freighters bearing precious ore from northern Minnesota, has been under guard of Fort Brady troops during the defense emergency.
Soldiers at the fort were routed out of barracks and extra guards posted at the bridge which is just above the Great Soo locks. Numerous vessels were forced to anchor in the river for an indefinite period.
The St. Mary's canal, one of the world's busiest waterways, connects the upper and lower Great Lakes chain and feeds to the steel mills of the east the vast stores of ore from the iron ranges of the north.
The bridge, while American owned, is operated jointly by the Canadian Pacific and Duluth South Shore and Atlantic railways and the Sault St. Marie Bridge company. It consists of a series of sections resting on concrete piers, with a jackknife drawbridge across the main canal channel. It was the jackknife portion which collapsed.

Sterling Daily Gazette Illinois 1941-10-07


Hazel frank Willis

Hazel “Happy” Willis was my great grandpa, the engineer that died that day. He left a wife behind and four children. His wife Loraine died 9 years later from breast cancer. The children moved from Escanaba to Milwaukee. There were two brothers, and two sisters. The brothers both died in WWII but the two sisters, one being my grandma, live in Wisconsin and Michigan.