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Encountered any low bridges lately?

A 2009 study blames drivers following automobile GPS in 80% of commercial vehicle low bridge collisions in New York State. This is mostly trucks, although as I recall there was a horrific crash when a double-decker bus sheared off its top resulting in horrible injuries and fatalities not so long ago.

New York State is bad for low bridges on the secondary highways, and Buffalo is bad for 12 foot bridges as well. GPS units that supply truck routing are a good idea, but relying on GPS blindly is crazy. Even in the city I want to see where the place is on the street guide, too. Ever see that episode of The Office where Michael Scott insists that the GPS screen is always right and drives into a lake? Self-styled Sufi-saint. Ivan Gregorovich Gurdjieff insisted that all maps lie, and I hold this truth up to the satellites that guide our big rigs.

Anyway, this got me thinking about famous low bridges that have been hit by trucks. U-tube is full of these incidences. Unlike New York, Ontario is pretty good in this regard, you know. They’ve gradually phased or raised or hollowed under most of the low stuff. But the most famous low bridge I’ve hit, albeit only glancingly, was the one in Toronto at King and Dufferin.

I worked for Canada Bread in one of my incarnations and the plant was just down the road on Fraser Ave—still there I believe. Most of the year we’d access the highway by driving through the CNE grounds and get to the Gardiner off the Lakeshore. But those months when the exhibition was on, or during the Toronto Indy, we’d have to go along King Street and pick up the Don Valley Parkway off Bayview. Now these trailers were probably not 13’6”, probably a little lower and they’d fit through the King Street underpass. But you had to stay in the middle and drop the trailer air.

This is a long underpass and people couldn’t believe your tractor trailer was going under despite the flashing lights and warning chains. One day I was pulling a rental trailer and thought I was through when I felt a bump and some tearing. I’d caught the last two spars just as I was exciting. No big deal, it didn’t rip a hole and the plant manager told me to forget about it.

Toronto has some other low bridges of note, particularly in the Junction area, along Dupont in the west end. Most of the old industrial area is now lofts but there are a few hold outs north off Symington.

Years ago, mid 1980s I was really tired and doing a peddle run in Detroit. We were all tired in those days, all the time. So I made a delivery to a GM stamping plant, there were a whole lot of automotive places in this area. My next call was an American Motors plant (remember them?) and Scott Street and it was a few blocks over in this Polish area. So I’m bopping along following a map and right under the Kwinters Sausages sign is a 12’4” sign and I just got the binders locked up in time, sliding withing half a foot of that structure. Another low bridge was on Dix Ave., south of Detroit, near Lincoln Park..A strong summer storm had flooded the underpasses and I couldn’t get onto I’75 any other way. This happens in Detroit, the sewers can’t handle the downpours and you get 8 feet of water under some bridges. I held my breath and squeaked under that one but don’t suggest you try it.

Most famous bridge that kept getting hit repeatedly was in Windsor, Ont., on Tecumseth Ave.. This was a main route, Hwy 3 I think but there’s lots of warning you’re coming to a problem, low hanging chains, flashing lights. But the Windsor drivers at this company I worked for had a penchant for hitting this bridge. The worst one really shook the foundations and it was closed for a good while as engineers checked it out. The driver was hauling Dangerous Goods as well, a load of paint and paint thinner, no placards, no nothing.

The old timers talked about “Hole in Wall” which was a round opening under the CP tracks on Higway 12 on the way to Midland. Most trailers couldn’t get through this round opening. Ross Mackie mentions an underpass in Saskatchewan. You had to unhook and drag the trailer through with a chain. In those days, dolly wheels were actually metal “wheels” and there was no such thing as Maxi brakes.

More in my era, there’s the bridge on Water Street in Cambridge, Ont. Most trailers could get under it but not all. About once a month someone would get stuck there. Kent Road 15 was another one I took one day trying to get to Chatham. I got under it with a load of lumber but it dinged my stack slightly and I got called down about it. Both these bridges have been raised I believe.

I remember my friend David Logan, sadly missed, who supervised equipment moves at Hendrie Cartage. He told me that he knew every bridge between Toronto and Montreal, and that was before the 401. Montreal’s still got some low ones but luckily I don’t get down that way too much. But my trucker friendly GPS was convinced I was going to hit one on Rue Norman in Lachine the other day. A ghost bridge I suppose. I know that route so I didn’t flinch. Encountered any low bridges lately, real or imaginary?

Harry Rudolfs

Harry Rudolfs

Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio. With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude.
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5 Comments » for Encountered any low bridges lately?
  1. Vic says:

    Great Harry, to bring this..
    Truckers have always been struggling getting a good navigation unit. But trip planning and right product like “Rand mcnally” might save you from a disaster

  2. Harry Rudolfs says:

    Thanks Vic, I’m checking out a few trucker-specific GPS for an upcoming issue and the latest Rand McNally is one of them. Stay tuned. But I wanted to mention the bridges on Hwy 400 between Toronto and Barrie. Ever notice how scraped up the undersides are? They must have been hit many, many times, probably by over-height vehicles as most of the posted heights are 4.0 meters or better. During my short career as an auto hauler, we were told to get in the middle lane on the 400. This was tough when entering the southbound 400 from Hwy 7 as one had to immediately swing into the middle lane. That ramp has been changed now, but I sill remember the puzzled looks on motorists’ faces as they got cut off in the middle lane for no apparent reason.

  3. G. Paul Langman says:

    A well researched article on “truck” GPS might be good. Try to spend some real world time with each unit if you can. I have tried a couple of truck GPS and have never been happy. One couldn’t stand up to the stress of a truck dash and was unworkable in 3 months. The other was a fairly recent Rand Mcnally that is back in it’s box riding in the sleeper. I’d sell it cheap cause I don’t like how it works. I am currently using a 5″ screen regular Garmin. After many different units over a number of years you can’t even give me anything that isn’t Garmin. And even then “ya gotta be dumb to follow it blindly”.

    Garmin does now have a “truck” unit I’m wondering about. I move oversize loads regularly and thought the truck units that you could program your size into would help, but I certainly would have to prove the accuracy of the GPS very well to trust one much. It appears to me they may help regular 13’6″ trailers to avoid 12′ places like “Hole in the Wall” (which I have my own story to tell about and which I believe I recently seen still standing in the trees off to the side of 12 hwy- the hwy bypasses it and the rails are gone) but are of little use to help with 14′ loads avoiding 13’10” disasters. My loads are farm equipment that never damage the overpass but can be completely destroyed in a contact incident. The consequences are such that I really can only afford to trust my own measuring tape!

  4. Tom says:

    You forgot the low bridge on 169 near Bala! In the 90’s my partner and I were on route to Chicago on I-90 I believe and I was the lead truck with a heoght of 11″ 6″. My partners truck was 14′ 6″. Tall due to the overhead crane in the wagon. I noticed the brige sign reading 13’6″ and the road had just been repaved. I hollared one the c.b. for him to drop all air now. He just made it! Can you imagine the mess we could have made of the bridge not to mention the trailer.

  5. Lolo says:

    Its 2017 is there a list of low bridges sonewhere.
    I need it.

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