The old joke finds someone offering to sell a bridge to an unsuspecting fellow but to Bailey Bridges, Inc. selling bridges is not only an incredibly viable business venture but a daily occurrence. Located in Fort Payne, Ala., Bailey Bridges, Inc. manufactures and supplies portable Bailey component panel bridges and also manufactures heavy duty bridge gratings. The fact the company manufacturers the two distinctively different types of bridge components is one of the things that differentiates it from competitors.
“The fact we are in both industries gives us unique opportunities that no one else can offer,” says Gene Gilmore, CEO of Bailey Bridges. “Not only do we offer portable bridges but we can create the decking for those bridges.
Another unique angle is the company’ name, which is literally synonymous with Bailey Bridges, the actual name of the bridge components named after the inventor of the structure.
Donald Bailey was a civil servant in the British War Office during the 1940s who liked to tinker with model bridges as a hobby. After viewing a model he created, a manager saw merit in the design and began construction. At first, sales moved at a slow rate but the first bridge was used in Italy in 1943. The United States licensed the design and started its own rapid production and had a number of bridges available in 1944 for D-Day. The bridges came into prominence during World War II.
The Bailey bridge is a portable pre-fabricated truss bridge, designed for use by military engineering units to bridge up to 60-meter (200-foot) gaps. It requires no special tools or heavy equipment for construction because the bridge elements are small enough to be carried in trucks and the bridge is strong enough to carry tanks. It is considered one of the great examples of military engineering.
Gilmore said the original owners of the company realized no one was operating under the Bailey Bridge name and fortuitously named the company to capitalize on the built-in awareness. Gilmore and his partner, Robert Graham, bought the business in 1998, then partnered with Gilmore and, more recently, Gilmore’s son, all with an eye towards expansion into different, but related, markets.
EXPANDING THE BUSINESS
When originally started Bailey Bridge was a warehouse for bridge components and distributed the components to contractors and builders who would build the bridges. Gilmore said he bought a share of the company to “do something with it.” To grow the company Gilmore relied on his own past as a bridge deck manufacturer and started the grating side of the business that manufactures an open grid bridge decking.
The idea worked and the company has experienced tremendous growth. Gilmore says the grating business has experienced several changes and new requirements are forcing the company to continually adapt. For example, Gilmore pointed to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that requires all city sidewalk grate openings to not exceed a half inch to allow for wheel chairs to roll over them. In addition, some requirements now call for the grates to not exceed a quarter inch to accommodate women’s high heel shoes.
The line of open grid bridge decking is used on its Bailey component panel bridges and on both fixed and movable span (non-Bailey) bridges. On Bailey bridge applications, a clamping system (accessed from the top of the deck), attaches the deck to the transoms and cross beams or to the stringers without the need for through-bolting or welding.
Bailey Bridges will go to the bridge site to assist construction crews in the proper assembly, setting or launching of the Bailey component panel bridge. In addition, Bailey field experts specialize in the cantilever launching technique for setting bridges into position. The field group is also experienced in the setting of pedestrian bridges and small to mid-size vehicular or special use bridges.
Although the grating division is growing by leaps and bounds, Gilmore says bridge grating mostly goes unnoticed because not too many people pay attention to the deck grating when traversing a bridge.
“It’s an obscure product (bridge deck grating) within a fairly obscure market (grating in general),” Gilmore said. “Who’s going to pay attention to that?”
But pay attention to the business is what Gilmore does. From revising the manufacturing of the Bailey Bridge to introducing new products, Gilmore is always examining the market to ensure the company stays ahead of the trends. Having gained a stronghold on the component bridge market and the bridge grating market, Gilmore has turned his attention to the private owner.
He said the company receives numerous inquiries from ranchers, farmers, and other large acreage land owners looking to add a bridge to their properties. Whether to span a brook or reach a cottage on the remote part of their land, Gilmore said he noticed the inquiries increasing throughout the past few years.
However, once private land owners hear the price of an industrial grade bridge the conversation usually heads toward the need for an affordable, easy-to-build bridge for private use.
Enter Bridge-in-a-Box. Gilmore said Bailey Bridges will unveil a product later this year aimed at the private land owner. Made of aluminum and spanning as much as 60 feet the four-foot-wide bridge that will come in a box is made for walking. The concept is the same as an industrial grade Bailey Bridge – components put together without the need heavy tools or equipment.
“It will be the same as our other ‘Erector set’ components but made for the every day guy,” Gilmore said.
So the next time someone offers to sell you a bridge, you may not want to think it’s a joke.
STREAMLINING THE PROCESS
A large part of what makes Bailey Bridges successful and unique is the modular design, and the fact that it could be assembled with minimal aid from heavy equipment. Most, if not all, previous designs for military bridges required cranes to lift up the preassembled bridge and lower it into place. The Bailey parts were made of standard steel alloys, and were simple enough that parts made at a number of different factories could be completely interchangeable. Each individual part could be carried by a small number of men. During World War II this enabled army engineers to move more easily and more quickly than before, in preparing the way for troops advancing behind them. Finally, the modular design allowed engineers to build each bridge to be as long and as strong as needed, doubling or tripling up on the supportive side panels, or on the roadbed sections.
Relying on his background as a bridge grate manufacturer, Gilmore realized the process to build a Bailey Bridge hadn’t changed since the 1940s and needed to be adapted. The original Bailey Bridge components had reversible parts. Having the parts reversible comes in handy when someone is shooting at you when you are building a bridge in a war zone but tends to slow the manufacturing process when making the components for a department of transportation.
Gilmore said the company eliminated the reversible parts and took other steps to streamline the manufacturing process. In addition, Bailey Bridges’ products were originally designed to be one lane for tanks to cross because, as Gilmore quoted General George Patton, the troops “were only going one way.”
However, most state departments of transportation were requiring two-lane roadways on emergency and detour bridges should existing bridges be washed out or in need of repair. That led Bailey Bridges to change the original one-lane design to be two-lane bridges.
Most Bailey bridges are assembled and installed in a matter of days by a small crew. Common hand tools are utilized. All connections are pinned, bolted or clamped. No welding is necessary. Disassembly is similarly easy, and components can be stored in minimal space until reused.
Bailey bridge components can be assembled in seven different configurations to efficiently accommodate a wide range of span and capacity requirements. Panels, the primary Bailey components, are pinned together at the job site to make continuous trusses of any length. Various girder strengths are achieved by assembling either a single row of panels, or two or three rows side-by-side. Panels may also be stacked in double-story height for further increase strength. For greatest strength, longer spans may be chord-reinforced.
There are myriad ways in which the company invents and designs bridged to accommodate a variety of needs. So selling a bridge is no joke for Bailey Bridges or for those who buy them.