Jake Burke's popsicle bridge was so strong, it wiped out a key component of the machine a group of professional engineers devised to apply the crushing force in the 16th annual Ultimate Bridge Building Contest and Geo Rocks Event.
The 12-year-old didn't win his Grade 4-7 category, but left Pine Centre Mall on Saturday satisfied his bridge put up a great fight before it snapped under the weight of the hydraulic ram.
"I was pretty surprised that their loading thing broke, I guess my bridge was strong," said Burke.
"My bridge broke their machine."
Burke, a Grade 6 student Pineview elementary school, got involved in the contest after picking up a kit available to all the students at his school. He concentrated on building up the centre of his bridge, using triple-thick sticks on the centre span. Burke's grandfather, Lutz Klaar, introduced him to welding a few years ago and he's always liked building things. His was among 51 bridges entered Saturday.
Tristan Dodge, a Grade 3 student at Edgewood elementary, won the $150 primary category top prize with a bridge design that was light and strong. The load-to-weight ratio determines the winner, so even though Samuel Good's 175-gram bridge was able to take a heavier load (343.9 pounds) before it snapped, Dodge won the contest because his bridge was lighter (142 g) and was able to withstand 335 lbs before it broke. Dodge's load-to-weight ratio was 1,072.34 and Good's was 893.25, good enough to claim the second-place prize of $100.
Dodge was a first-place finisher and won the best-looking bridge prize two years ago, and admitted the chance to win more cash was a motivating factor in entering the contest again.
"I wanted to get some money to buy Lego and stuff," said Dodge. "I make airplanes and jets and houses and stuff like that out of Lego."
He scrapped the two-tiered diamond pattern bridge design he used two years ago, and instead built a bridge consisting of just one upper truss. This year's bridge was lighter and held more than double the weight. He also glued more sticks together along their entire length to make his beams.
"Next year I'll add more glue," said Dodge.
Each contestant was limited to a maximum of 100 popsicle sticks. The third-place finisher was six-year-old Brooke Dodge, Tristan's sister, whose 149 g bridge broke at 276 lbs, a 841.98 ratio. She left the mall with a $50 prize.
Burke's bridge caused the load cell that measures the force applied to fail, and the contest was delayed until repairs could be made.
"He did a good job with his bridge, and until we had our glitch, everything has been going well," said event organizer Don Williams. "There are lots of kids, lots of fun, we're breaking bridges and getting the word about what engineers do. We try to do that throughout the year, visiting schools and stuff."
The event was sponsored by the Association of Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C.
Williams has been involved in organizing the annual event since it began in Prince George in 1998. He's a structural engineer for All-North Consultants who has had a hand in designing some of the city's landmark bridges (Cameron Street replacement, Simon Fraser twinning), and he offered a few tips for next year's contestants.
"A lot of the bridges were twisting and if they aren't quite square they will twist on you," said Williams. "It just takes careful construction and lots of clamps. It also helps if you sand the popsicle sticks because they have wax on them and the glue binds better if you rough them up a bit."