The Tacoma Narrows Bridge Funsite Scale Model of 1940 Galloping Gertie Bridge
Scale Model of 1940 Galloping Gertie Bridge
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This is a 7-foot long, scratch-built 1:336 scale model of the 1940 Galloping Gertie Narrows Bridge that collapsed 4 months after it was completed on July 1, 1940. Ironically, it took 4 months to build this model.
The scale model was built using a variety of techniques, many measurements were taken directly from a set of original 1939/1940 blueprints of Galloping Gertie, and it was done with Plastruct flat stock and "T", "I" & "O" strip stock. The Towers and Bents (Bents are the hillside supports) were assembled from multiple sections, all ribbed members on the towers & gerters inside & out were individually cut & assembled, the gerters across the road deck were measured & assembled for a specific arc to match the original bridge's height above the waterline. The 2 main cables are solid end-to-end, they really support the roadway on this model, and the suspension cables number in the hundreds (180 to be exact). Even the roadwaylamp post/lights were made one by one, each having 4 pieces assembled to make one lamp.
The photo wide angle view makes the towers seem to bend away from each other, they actually are straight & even with each other, measured equally top to bottom.
The Narrows waterway was particularly challenging to create as the real water has strong currents which flow both directions under the bridge. A base underwater was created first, which includes seaweed, rocks & sand along with tree stumps on the shores, and the barge & tug boat- both scratch-built. Then layers of waves were built up, finally reaching the level desired, and lastly a top finish of water was applied, all the while using a brush to put the rippling waves on while it dried. The rocks & sand were obtained from the real Narrows bridge area, on the beach.
The original east anchorage structure was designed in the late 1930's with art deco lines, this recreation was done completely with flat stock, measured, cut and assembled to the same dimensions & deco lines as the original. This was time-consuming, but the result looks great, and the parking lot with roadways that the anchorage sits on was actually copied directly from the original blueprint, reduced on a copy machine until it matched the scale. This made it easier to do the landscaping and get the footprint the building has. The railroad tracks were also all scratch-built, individual ties glued one by one to the rails, then painted a rusty brown color to match the look of the real tracks. The telephone poles have 6 wires similar to the original, that is before the real ones were taken down with the advent of underground & cable tv communication lines.
The diorama base is 5/8" finish grade plywood with plywood ends & sides to give the shore contours, and the landscape on each shore was made with a thick layer of modeling plaster over styrofoam. When the plaster dried, it was carved to give the look of bull-dozed earth on the Gig Harbor shore, and rocky cliffs on the Tacoma shore. The water edge rockery/sand, and underwater was then applied as described above. Next came the railroad tracks & telephone poles, finally the groundcover was put on; grass/weeds, bushes & trees, earth, and the ballast for the train tracks. Lastly the edges of the diorama were all covered with black paper, cut to follow the landscape contours, making the finished product look like it is a section of history frozen in time.
Seen here are the tower details, the red safety beacon lights, and the railing between the tower legs. The roadway has expansion joints where the side spans meet the main span, like the original.
Again the photo below makes the towers seem a farther distance between the tops, when in reality they are equal distance top to bottom. The camera lens causes the distortion.
The anchorage structures at both ends presented an assembly problem- they were built and fastened to the diorama, then the towers were fastened to the base, with the roadway gerters supported by temporary measured lengths of stock. The main cables were each strung roughly from one end to the other, then the suspension cables secured carefully to get the main cables' arc starting from each tower and ending at each anchorage. The main cables were not attached to the anchorages but rather slipped thru slots until the last suspension cable was secured, which was a very difficult process. Lastly the main cable ends were secured at the anchorages, and the temporary supports removed, allowing the roadway to be actually held up by the cables. Underneath the diorama base I mounted iron angle bar to keep the wood from flexing, which would have in turn- thrown the bridge's suspension system off alignment had I not added the iron.
I would have liked to been able to model the entire anchorage structures on both ends, the Gig Harbor anchorage is longer than seen here, and the Tacoma anchorage included the toll booth facility and 2 utility buildings with stairways leading down to the road & parking lots, as well as approach lettering as one came up towards the toll booths that said "Tacoma Narrows Bridge" "Gateway to Olympics". I was limited in space, this diorama being 7 feet long by about 2 feet tall, if I were to make it with the exact scale length of the bridge crossing 1 mile distance, and include both anchorages & the toll booths with the roadway, it would have had to be over 22 feet long. I would have to build a separate building in order to make another model in the true length. It was hard enough to move the diorama from upstairs where it was built, to downstairs where it is housed in the Narrows Bridge "museum".
This view shows the builder peeking out from the water. The model and an article was published in the local newspaper, this photo is courtesy of Peter Haley from the Tacoma News Tribune.
The nice folks at the Puyallup Fair saw the Tacoma News Tribune article, and they made a special request for me to have an exhibit of the scale model, museum-quality relics, photos, and some of the memorabilia from this website on display at the 2007 Puyallup Fair's Hobby Hall. The 2 display cases of "Bridgeabilia" were seen by over 1 million people.
The model took up most all of an entire display case, being 7 feet wide, so the Fair made another case available for relics. The exhibit was unique, and many visitors to the Hobby Hall were greatly impressed, some even commenting they came into the Hobby hall just to see the model. This event was most likely a one-time only exhibit.
The relics weigh quite a bit, and metal-on-glass was a bit risky, but it worked for the duration of the Fair. To see these artifacts in person was really impressive to many people.