GRATIS — Residents near and far were saddened by the news of a semi driver getting his truck and trailer stuck inside, and severely damaging, the historic Brubaker Covered Bridge when he attempted to drive through it on Friday, Aug. 5.
The 88-foot Brubaker Bridge was built in 1887 on what is now Brubaker Road. It is located one mile northwest of Gratis near the Preble County Historical Society. The bridge was renovated in 2006.
Now, it is closed for an undetermined amount of time, until repairs can be made — and that’s good news.
It can and will be repaired, according to Preble County Engineer Kyle Cross.
“We went down and took a look at it this morning,” Cross said on Monday, Aug. 8. “Kind of a little bit more of a thorough inspection of it and it’s definitely going to be repairable. It’s going to be a slow process because of the way we have to do things as a government entity, as far as hiring a consultant than to get the plans and then to competitively bid it,” he added. “We finally then can get someone in there to work on it and make the repairs. I’m optimistic maybe by the end of 2023 to have it back open.
“Fingers crossed. That’s what we’re going to shoot for.”
“He was a relatively inexperienced truck driver, who was following his GPS and he went down a road that he shouldn’t have been on,” Cross said of the truck driver. “Obviously, there were postings as far as the weight and the opening of the bridge. Other than him saying that his GPS told him to go this way, I don’t know why he would have tried to go down that road. Long before you get to that covered bridge, driving a semi, you’d really question what you were doing on that road in the first place.”
Cross said his heart sank when he heard the crash had occurred. “I mean, we’ve got a lot of covered bridges. Just a couple of months ago, the Historical Society put together a tour that visited all of these bridges, and told the stories of them. Brubaker is actually the oldest covered bridge in the county that’s on an active roadway you can physically drive through.
“Initially the thought was that there’s no saving this,” he said. “But you know, the pictures look worse than it is — but that’s not to say it’s not going to be very, very costly repairs to get it back opened up.”
Insurance will help with the repair costs, according to Cross. “We have not seen the sheriff’s report yet. I spoke with Sheriff Simpson on Saturday, and they were finishing that up. And once we get that report, that’ll start the ball rolling as far as contacting his insurance. We are in contact with ours as well.”
“We do have additional insurance policies on our covered bridges, for this very reason,” Cross added. “Hopefully, he does have insurance and he does have adequate coverage to pay for the repairs as a commercial vehicle. But we do have additional insurance of our own to make up any difference that there may be, so it’s not out of pocket expense directly that would affect our annual operating budget.”
Other truck drivers taking roads they shouldn’t as detours during Ohio Department of Transportation’s closure of Ohio 122 for a bridge project over Aukerman Creek near Gratis is frustrating local residents and has caused more than one semi-related accident in the area.
“You can only put out so many signs, short of having a person there to monitor,” Cross said. “I don’t know what more we can do. I still contribute a lot of these issues to GPS, and I don’t think a lot of these truck drivers have the correct GPS they should be using. But, I was there Friday night until the truck was actually removed from the bridge and you know, walking through there past the truck, you could see as plain as day on his dash was the GPS mount — and it showed him parked in the middle of a bridge.”
While the bridge is closed and awaiting the next step in the process, Cross is asking for the public’s cooperation to keep themselves safe.
“Be patient with us because it is going to be a slow process. And we’re just really appreciative of all of the positive comments and the outreach from the community and the desire to save this bridge and to keep part of our fabric of Preble County. We understand that people are going to want to see this. But we ask, please, that they stay out of the bridge itself. Because number one, it is damaged. And number two, there is broken timber up above that could still potentially come loose and fall and injure someone. So look at it from afar but don’t get beyond the barricades on the east end in particular,” he said.
Brubaker and Preble County’s other covered bridges are a major tourist attraction for families and groups from across the country and even world.
“The members of the Preble County Convention & Visitors Bureau are devastated by this news,” PCCVB President Stephanie Garrett said Sunday, Aug. 7. “We take pride in the county’s eight covered bridges and sharing them with tourists from all over the world. Their historical relevance and value to our Preble County heritage is undeniable, and the tourism value is priceless.”