News & Media – Bunker Mill Bridge

Washington County, Iowa

June 4, 2012

After months of fundraising efforts, work on the old Bunker Mill Bridge near Kalona has finally started. But it’s going to take a combination of high-powered equipment and old-fashioned elbow grease to get the job done. A lot of that elbow grease is coming from Nels Raynor, owner of Bach Steel in Holt, Michigan. With his bloodhound Dixie by his side, he works with iron the old-fashioned way.

“When we do a restoration, we try to stay in kind. So we don’t replace rivets with bolts, we replace them with rivets,” Raynor explained. He heats those rivets to 1,900 degrees before driving them in with a special gun. Rivets like this used to go into buildings, bridges, and even ships, like the Titanic. In the next couple days, a crane will lift up one end of the bridge so that Raynor can weld on pieces he fabricated by hand to strengthen it.

Julie Bowers, executive director of the North Skunk River Greenbelt Association, is overseeing the project. She said more hardware is needed to finish up, and it won’t be cheap. “We need 21 40-foot stringers,” Bowers said. “They cost $450 apiece.”

Those stringers will replace the now-charred wood planks that used to be under the wood deck. They sit next to the restoration site of the arson that destroyed the wood portions back in August. The stringers will strengthen the bridge enough to make it useful once again.

“Structurally, it gets it up to the loading that we require for not only pedestrians, bikes, but we can do buggies,” said Bowers, referring to the strong Amish community in the surrounding area. She and the group behind the restoration, Friends of Bunker Mill Bridge, are still trying to make up the $60,000 shortfall to get it all done. However, Raynor said the toughest obstacle for this bridge is already out of the way.

“The hardest part is convincing engineers and municipalities that they can be restored,” Raynor told us. “It’s nice to know that we’ve protected another part of our history. The craftsmanship that went into building these bridges is incredible.”

Workin’ Bridges, 4 June 2012 [cached]

Narrated by Nels Raynor of BACH Steel out of Holt, Michigan and filmed by Julie Bowers of The N. Skunk River Greenbelt Association, the film demonstrates that iron bridges can be restored to many functions including vehicular traffic.

“That’s at least 6 days of motels, food, plus the fuel,” saidNels Raynor, President of BACH Steel, “if I could have volunteered all of our time I would have, but it’s been a tough year.

Communications between the Winneshiek County Engineer, Lee Bjerke, Marty Brennan, Nels Raynor of BACH Steel and Julie Bowers started in late May.

McIntyre Bridge Project, 26 Sept 2011 [cached]

BACH Steel’s Nels Raynor is looking at estimating Plan B to see where we can utilize volunteers and in-kind contributions to limit the cash contributions needed to reach our goals.

NSRGA has been working BACH’s Nels Raynor to do site visits and estimates for other bridges affected by time and water across the country.

The Greater Lansing Business Monthly, 1 April 2009[cached]

Bach Steel Owner Nels Raynor displays some of his iron work, a clock and a free-form chair.

Although there’s nothing to eat, and you might lose a finger if you touch anything, you get the sense that this is indeed a place where magical things happen courtesy of the gifted hands of Nels Raynor. As he told it, “My dad was a ceramics professor at Michigan State.

Raynor has sold work in Wyoming, Idaho and Texas, but the vast majority stays in Michigan, and most of that in mid-Michigan, including a fancy cable rail system for the new Christman building downtown, and several exclusive homes in the area. Bach Steel also recently completed the biggest steel truss bridge that’s ever been refabricated, located part way between Lansing and Grand Rapids. Raynor does all the ornamental work himself, and currently has three men who work for him; but he’s flexed up to six, depending on the work load. Of the ornamental work, he said, “Really, it’s a hard thing to do. I do it more out of love of what I do than the money. I can’t pay my bills by the love of it, but if you were to do it just because you wanted to make money at it, you’d have to be a whiz at it. He also said that although people “fall in love” with high-end ornamental work, “If people see something that’s close for a lot less money, they’ll go for it.” Asked what type of people make good metal workers,Raynor said, “I’d just as soon have someone come in with very little experience and be able to teach them how to do it, then have someone come in here with all this knowledge of what they think they’re supposed to be able to do. It’s very hard to break those habits.” He summed up by saying, “We’ve got a great reputation for the quality of the work that we do and that’s the number one [thing] I won’t sacrifice.