A Major Milestone in the Construction of a Montana Bridge

June 3, 1958

After a delay of nearly six months, a critically needed delivery of structural steel finally arrived in north-central Montana for use in completing a bridge in that region of the state. This steel-girder bridge was being built across the section of the Missouri River located between the city of Malta in Phillips County and the town of Grass Range in Fergus County.

Construction on this bridge had begun in 1956. The Wyoming-based N.A. Nelson Construction Company was contracted with building the bridge, with the Montana Highway Department (the present-day Montana Department of Transportation) providing oversight for the project.

The construction of this bridge involved several logistical challenges from start to finish. One of the biggest of these challenges was the fact that the main materials for that bridge were delivered by train to a railroad station in the community of Roy, situated about 30 miles (49.3 kilometers) from the construction site. After those materials arrived in Roy, they then had to be transported on trucks to the construction site via local roads that were extremely rough to travel on and sometimes even impassable.

Another major challenge made itself known towards the end of 1957. Just a few days before Christmas, those working on the bridge had completed its substructure. The steel that was ordered from a company in Indiana for the bridge’s superstructure had not yet arrived, however. The Montana State Highway Commission was consequently forced to issue a temporary shutdown order for the project.

Even after that long-distance shipment of steel reached the railroad station in Roy on June 3 of the following year, the troubles in getting the material to the construction workers were far from over. This was because late spring rains in that part of Montana turned the roads between Roy and the construction site into nothing more than gumbo. As a result, it was another 24 days before trucks could finally deliver that steel to the construction site.

After the steel arrived, the efforts to complete the bridge were accelerated as much as possible.  The bridge was opened for traffic in March 1959 and an official dedication ceremony for it was held that August. At least 10,000 people attended that event.

One of the key champions for building this bridge in the first place was a state senator and Malta resident named Fred Robinson. The bridge was named after Robinson to commemorate his strong advocacy for it.

The festivities for the dedication of the bridge included having both Governor J. Hugo Aronson of Montana and Robinson use a two-person saw to cut a cottonwood log in half. This symbolic inaugural gesture was used instead of the more traditional ribbon-cutting formalities. In his public remarks during the ceremony, Montana State Highway Engineer Fred Quinnell Jr. lauded Robinson’s role in making the bridge a reality and called him “the man with the dream.”

The Fred Robinson Bridge is now widely regarded as one of the most significant construction projects supervised by the Montana Highway Department during that era. In 2012, this bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).

For more information on the Fred Robinson Bridge, please check out https://catalog.archives.gov/id/71974702 and https://www.blainecountyjournal.com/story/2016/06/15/news/fred-robinson-bridge-a-great-asset-and-convenience-after-thirty-nine-year-effort/1105.html

Additional information on Montana bridges on the NRHP is available at  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_bridges_on_the_National_Register_of_Historic_Places_in_Montana


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