FreightWaves Flashback 1960: Inadequate Bridges Hamper All Transportation in U.S.

The many industries that make up the world of freight have undergone tremendous change over the past several decades. Each Friday, FreightWaves explores the archives of American Shipper’s nearly 70-year-old collection of shipping and maritime publications to showcase interesting freight stories of long ago.

The following is an excerpt from the June 1960 edition of The Jacksonville Seafarer.

“Their lives are in jeopardy.” Those simple words were once used by a black schoolteacher appealing to her county commission to build a new bridge over a creek which her students had to cross to reach the little one-room school building.

The same words tersely summarize the technical and economic arguments advanced by water and truck carriers when they appear before governmental agencies to discuss the critical problem of bridge clearances. The problem is not unique to the truck and water carriers as the airlines are faced by the problem of outmoded runways and terminals and even the railroads were delayed in inaugurating piggy-back service to the Southeast because of restricted tunnels in Baltimore.

“The life of the nation itself is in jeopardy,” in the eyes of Armlon Leonard of Miami, president of Leonard Brothers Transfer Company and a principal hauler of missiles and rockets from factories around the country to launching pads at Cape Canaveral.

Leonard presented the arguments of the highway hauling industry at a special hearing before the House of Public Works Committee in Washington. Barge operators fight the battle endlessly whenever anyone seeks to build a new bridge or road over a navigable waterway. Few builders of bridges have adequately foreseen the needs of the future and provided satisfactory clearance in their structures. The general view is to hold down the cost of the bridge without regard to future needs.

Leonard Brothers Transfer, which operates in 41 states, is a major hauler of over-dimension objects such as the Atlas and Titan missiles, aircraft parts and engines, electric generators and transformers, boats, barges, dredges, road building machinery equipment boilers, naval guns, etc. The company is the only one that has issued a recognized manual for drivers dealing with the handling of giant missiles.

Most Dangerous Hazard

“I can state unequivocally,” Leonard said, “that the most dangerous hazard in moving large and extensive equipment are the inadequate highways, low railroad bridges, and cross-road overpasses, with unrealistic clearances over the highways of our land.”

‘Chinese Wall’

“As our military and economic power grows, the things we manufacture are getting wider, higher and longer. As a result, it would now be unreasonable to forecast that unless our new roads and overpasses are built to handle these new over-dimension objects, we will be building expensive highways which will literally and actually erect a Chinese wall without openings — in and about our nation, stifling the growth of our economy and providing aid and comfort to any potential military aggressor by effectively cutting off access of military machines from the point of production or storage to their point of utilization. In the event of a bombing, rescue and salvage teams and large construction equipment will be blocked off from the damaged areas.”

Leonard said the cost and time required to rebuild the nation’s railroad system to handle missiles could “sound the death knell of the nation if we had to wait for such reconstruction. The same problem is almost upon us now with regard to our new highways.”


A special “Transtainer” developed by Leonard Brothers is used in transporting missiles and rockets over the highway. Two crewmen ride the Transiainer and it is not uncommon for them to have to deflate the tires in order to gain extra inches to clear an underpass or bridge.

Leonard favors raising the minimum clearances on highways from 14 to 17 feet. It is estimated that the cost of raising clearances to 17 feet would cost $1 million but “this is a low cost for a nation with an annual $5-trillion economy to assure its security and growth. Compared to the total expenditure for the new highways, the addition of a few feet to the underpasses to assure safe clearance for many years would be minimal in comparison to the overall cost of the new roads.”