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Bridge collapse in 2020 at same location as 1952 collapse

Second bridge collapse at same site

Submitted Photo Keith Sethen, 71, Garrison, still owns the 1947 Chevrolet truck his father drove when a bridge near his farm home collapsed beneath it. The truck is in running condition.

VELVA – Lightning struck twice at the same location, nearly on the same date, just 68 years apart.

Well, not actual lightning. Rather a bridge collapse. Really.

On Oct. 9 of this year a 41-year-old Minot man, Kris Lee Walcker, escaped serious injuries when a bridge collapsed under the weight of a tractor he was operating, pulling a plow as well. The steel-framed bridge spanned the Souris River about seven miles northwest of Velva.

The incident was investigated by the North Dakota Highway Patrol. It was determined the bridge decking gave out under the weight of the tractor and plow which was much more than the restriction of 21 tons gross vehicle weight of the bridge. The crossing, located on 20th Avenue North, remains out of service

Now let’s turn back the calendar to Oct. 17, 1952. You guessed it. That’s the date an earlier bridge collapsed at the same location. The crash caused quite a stir and made the front page of The Minot Daily News the following day.

Submitted Photo On Oct. 9 of this year a tractor pulling a plow caused the collapse of a bridge spanning the Souris River, eerily similar to what had happened at the same site in 1952.

According to the story the wooden structure was posted as “unsafe for vehicular traffic” for several years. However, it served as the only exit to the south for Robert Sethen, who farmed on the north side of the river, and was therefore used frequently. At least until it came crashing down.

Sethen was hauling a partial load of gravel in a 1947 Chevrolet farm truck when the bridge gave way. His wife was watching from the large front window of their nearby farm house and witnessed the accident. So, too, was young Keith Sethen, age 3. Now 71 and residing west of Garrison, Sethen remembers the moment.

“I guess you always remember where you were when a certain event happens and I remember it even today,” said Sethen. “Mom let out a scream and my sister and I ran over there.”

Robert Sethen was able to climb out of his truck and scramble up the wreckage to safety. Remarkably, he was not injured even through his truck was precariously perched in a near vertical position.

“I’ve worried about that bridge for a long time,” Robert Sethen told The Minot Daily News. “It will be a welcome change to have somebody else worrying about it. Timbers were flying all around me.”

Submitted Photo A farm truck fell through a bridge northwest of Velva in 1952. Sixty-eight years later it happened again, at the same location. This photograph was on the front page of The Minot Daily News on October 18, 1952.

The loss of the bridge meant a change of operation for the Sethen farm. The southern route was still the closest and best way to get to Velva, which was only a few miles distant. Keith Sethen says he can still remember those trying days that probably seemed more fun than difficult for a young boy.

“Dad left a car, a Mercury, on the south side of the river because our house was on the north side,” recalled Keith Sethen. “I remember crossing the ice on the river. I think in the summer we had a little rowboat, but I’m a little fuzzy on that.”

Keith Sethen does recall a crane being used to hoist the ’47 Chevy truck out of the river. Darned if he doesn’t still have that truck too!

“My dad bought it new and kept it all his life. It was just one of those things,” said Keith Sethen. “He passed away four years ago. That truck sat in his garage for 15 years or so, never used. I worked on it a little bit and got it running. I start it up a couple times every summer just to keep it working.”

The motor and the transmission was replaced in the truck over the years, but it still has original paint and the box built by Keith Sethen’s father.

“It’s like a family member,” said Keith Sethen, adding that he had to keep a few things to remind him of his days on the farm.

As for the crumbled bridge a hundred yards or so from his home, Keith Sethen says he can’t recall how long it took to be replaced. It’s believed the bridge that collapsed underneath Sethen’s Chevy truck was probably constructed sometime around 1920. The replacement bridge, the one that collapsed this past October, had been moved to the site from its previous location on Highway 14 on the west side of Towner.

To date the steel framework of the recent bridge collapse has not been removed from the Souris River, but Ward County commissioners have approved a contract for removal of the fractured structure. A new bridge is expected to be built at the same location following design work and the securing of a contractor.

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