Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Soo Locks and the International Bridge

Location: Brimley State Park; Brimley, Michigan
(click pics to enlarge)

Although I have moved on, this is a catch up post.

One of the main reasons I came to the Sault (pronounced "sue") St. Marie area was to see the International Bridge because my father helped build it back in 1961 and 1962. He went to work with the construction company in 1958 and this was his third project, counting a short project in Iowa. At this time in his career he would have been a Concrete Superintendent. So in the pictures, some of the concrete poured would have been supervised by him. I do not know which parts because the project was a joint venture between two contractors and I don't know the breakdown of who did what. I'm pretty sure though that all of the good looking and strong concrete was poured by his crews.

The International Bridge connects the two Sault St. Marie cities, one on each side of the border. It was completed in 1962 and is 2.8 miles long. It spans the Saint Mary's River which connects Lake Superior to Lake Huron. For some reason, that I haven't figured out yet, they crossed the river exactly where the Soo (pronounced "sue") Locks are located. There is a lot going on at this location.

As I mentioned before, Lake Superior is 21 feet higher than Lake Huron. The area around Lake Superior has a lot of natural resources such as iron ore, limestone and timber. These materials were needed at the mills located along the lower great lakes. To get them there economically, you need a set of River Locks to lower/raise boats that 21 feet. The first set of locks were began in 1855 and today there are 5 locks located at Sault St. Marie with 4 of them in the U.S. and the fifth one on the Canadian side. Over 10,000 ships per year pass through these locks. They are closed during January, February and March for maintenance while the lakes are frozen. So that 10,000 ships is in a time of only 9 months. It is a very busy place. There is a small hydroelectric power house that provides the electricity for the operation so it is self sufficient as far as power.The whole operation is owned and run by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and passage through the locks is free. Yep, Free. 

I guess having the locks, bridge, dam and powerhouse all in the same location was messy enough so they allowed the railroad to cross here too. There is only one set of tracks but there are 3 bridges. Two of the bridges cross the American locks and one crosses the Canadian lock. It seems as though the railroad couldn't make up their minds as to what kind of bridge to build so they just built 3 different ones.

The best way to see all of these things is by boat and of course there is a company that provides that tour. They take you through the locks and you pass under the bridges. The unexpected part of the trip began at the dock. The docks for the boat tour is next to the Edison Sault Hydroelectric Power Plant. It is the longest horizontal shaft power plant in the world and it is 112 years old. This plant should be held up as an example of the benefits of Hydroelectric power.

I've bored you with enough details. The pictures will have captions explaining some of them.

I may have shown this picture before
but here it is again. It is a "thinking
bench" along Lake Superior near
my campsite.

Lake Superior

Lake Superior

Looking back toward the campground

Tour boat on the right. In the background
is the Edison Sault Hydroelectric
Power Plant built in 1902.

Boarding Area

Another view of the Hydro Plant

A close up of the Hydro Plant.
The water exits at each of those
 arches at the water level
American Locks on left. Center is
the spillway area.


An overall view of everything

The power house on left. The rapids
(spillway) in the middle. International
Bridge and Railroad in background

Approaching the Canadian lock.
It is the smallest of the five.

Inside the Canadian lock. The
difference between the water level
and the water mark at the top is
how much we need to be raised.

Still in the lock but we have been
raised the 21 feet to match
the level of Lake Superior. The
gates are about to open.

Leaving the Canadian lock. In the
lock channel. That is one of the spans
of the International Bridge that
we are about to go under. The two
trusses on the right are swing spans,
one is for a road and the other is
for the railroad. The railroad passes
through here about 4 times a day.

At the end of the Canadian lock
channel. Some of the masonry work
on the left date back nearly 100 years

Steel mill on the Canadian side

Good view of the International Bridge

Emergency closure dams to be
used if the lock fails. It will seal
the lock and prevent further damage.

Approaching one of the American
locks. Notice the viewing grandstands
on the right.

In the lock and will be lowered
the 21 feet. Notice the ship in the
lock to the left. He is being raised
the 21 feet.

We have been lowered the 21 feet
and the gates are opening and the
emergency boom is raising.

This downstream of the locks.
The pile of rocks mark the boundry
between Canada and the U.S.
It is has been there over 100 years.

Floating dry dock. The dock is sunk
by flooding ballast tanks underneath it.
The boat is then floating in and the
ballast tanks pumped out thereby
raising the dock and putting the
boat in the dry.

This boat carries supplies to large
ships in the river. The larger ship
doesn't stop. This boat ties up to the
side of the big ship and gives them
things like groceries, etc.

This picture shows just about everything.
We are in the lock channel to one of the
American locks. To the left is one of
the other American locks. We are
going under the railroad "lift span"
bridge. The railroad bridge that spans
the lock to the left is a "double leaf bascule"
bridge (commonly known as a drawbridge).
After going under the railroad, the
International Bridge is in the background.

It was a good tour. I was able to see everything I came to see.

Good job Dad, it is still looking good.

Ya'll take care of each other. Cya down the road.


  1. Mrs. McMillan's classAugust 29, 2014 at 1:12 PM

    We noticed that you like to take pictures of bridges. We like to look at them. Do you miss your job? We learned about state government this week and we know they are in charge of building bridges and states roads.

    1. Mrs. Mac's Class,
      I miss my job sometimes. Mostly I miss the people I worked with at the job. It was good being able to see rough roads and bridges be replaced with new ones.

      I'm glad your learning about state government. Remember, in the United States, government is us, the people. We vote on who we want in government and then those people hire other people to do the jobs like building roads and bridges. If we don't like the job they are doing, we vote for someone else. That is why the first three words of the Constitution of the United States are ,,,,,, "We The People". Those 3 words are in letters bigger than the other words because they so important.