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'That's a ton of weight,' bridge competition demolishes records

'That's a ton of weight,' bridge competition demolishes records

NORFOLK, NE – Right from the start, it appeared that Jeffrey House was the one to beat in Northeast’s Community College’s drafting program bridge competition.

The first of eleven, second-year drafting students to compete, House, Neligh, began stacking weight on his 3.6525 lbs. bridge, constructed of popsicle sticks and glue, until it collapsed from the 2,285 lbs. of free weights, steel tubing and sections of railroad track sitting on it. More importantly, the bridge held 641.4 times its weight.

House watched three others students behind him attempt to do what he had accomplished. Those bridges held a combined weight of 695 lbs. or 275.2 times the total weight of all three structures.

When the fourth competitor stepped onto the stage, House began to really take notice.

Tyler Stubben, Creighton, also began piling on the mass of weight to his 3.40625 lbs. bridge until the free weights, tubing and rail track got higher and higher. After several minutes of stacking, the bridge finally gave way, but set a new record in the nearly ten-year old competition. After a second count of the weights, it was determined that Stubben’s bridge held 765.5 times its weight, balancing 2,607.5 lbs.   

The competition is designed to demonstrate the structural integrity and structural concentration of the bridges the students spend weeks and months constructing. The competition, organized by Michael Holcomb, Northeast structural CAD (computer aided design)/drafting instructor, is normally held the last week of the academic year each May, however, a competition for two students who finished this past winter was held in December.

Holcomb said he was pleased with the overall competition. He said he thinks some extra tools the students were allowed to use may in the recent competition may have had an impact on why the bridge’s held more weight.

“The drafting department purchased vise grips, bolts and boards for this group of students to use. The vise grips assured that the glue joints were as strong as possible. The boards and bolts were used as jigs to assure they were straight and true. I feel that is the reason that we saw such a noticeable improvement in the performance of the bridges.”

Holcomb said students were able use the 60 lbs. structural steel tubing that was donated by Stubben, but there was a catch.

“The students were allowed to put on the structural steel tubing after they placed two or more layers of free weights in the center 46 inches of their bridge,” he said. “This allowed them to spread out weights on the tubing so the stack would not get as tall and top heavy, while still concentrating the load on the center 46 inches of the bridge. This makes the loading of the bridge more uniform and safer.”

Not only did Stubben and House rise to the top two spots on the competition’s all-time Top 20 list, two other students in the 2019 edition of the event joined them.

The 6.5065 lbs. bridge by Whitney Lindsay, Norfolk, held 253.6 times its weight with 1,650 lbs. of weight, placing her seventh on the Top 20 list. Seth Rasmussen, Norfolk, saw his 2.6125 lbs. bridge hold 485 lbs. or 185.6 times its weight. That landed him in the number 14 spot. In the December competition, student David Avery’s 3.425 lbs. bridge held 262.77 times its weight; balancing 900 pounds of free weights before it collapsed. The accomplishment put the Norfolk man at fourth place on the all-time list.

A new record was set just last year when a 3.78-pound bridge built by student Austin Berg, of Austin, TX, held 1,456 pounds of free weights and sections of railroad track – 385.06 times its weight.

Holcomb said, “It’s always a thrill for me to have a student exceed the 200 times weight ratio.”

Stubben was presented $100 and a certificate from the Nucor Detailing Center, which awards the overall winner from the competition each year. He was also presented another $100 from Nucor for setting a new all-time record.

Holcomb said he appreciates all the people at the college and Nucor who work to make the day special for the students and the drafting program.

I am always blown away at how everyone works so hard to make it an awesome event. The students do a great job not only designing, building and testing their bridges, but it involves so much work, moving and setting up the blocks and weights. This has really been a great group of students and I have really enjoyed them this year.”

Holcomb and Lynette Frey, CAD instructor, teach architectural, structural and mechanical drafting to students who learn to design residential, commercial structures and machine parts using two-dimensional and three-dimensional CAD software. Students are trained to develop detailed working drawings for use in manufacturing and industrial facilities.

Other areas covered in the concentration are preparing material-takeoffs and cost estimates, construction surveying, developing building information models (BIM). After graduating from Northeast, students may find employment with architectural and engineering firms, general contractors, facility and building maintenance engineering departments.

Students in the Northeast media arts program streamed the annual bridge competition live on KHWK-TV on Cable One Channel 20. The rebroadcast may be seen on YouTube at


                                                        PHOTO CUTLINE


Tyler Stubben Creighton, (left) watches his bridge made of popsicle sticks and glue collapses after it held 2,607.5 lbs. of weight or 765 times its weight during Northeast Community College’s drafting program bridge competition recently. Stubben’s bridge set a new all record placing him at the top of the competition’s Top 20 All-Time list.