Monday, March 08, 2010

The Bridge at Eegeebeegee, Phase I

Turns out building a bridge is not as simple as one might think. This is particularly true if during calculation of the weight-bearing and high-water-stability of the span and supports, the engineering specifications approach tolerances for withstanding a low-yield thermo-nuclear strike. The Colonel wants to make double dang sure that neither his trusty red tractor, Semper Field, nor his rusty red truck, Semper Fillit, becomes a mid-stream monument to poor prior planning.

The creek that divides the vast holdings that are the Colonel's domain is but a pitiful trickle in dry times. But, given a rain storm, said pitiful trickle becomes ye ole raging torrent, yea verily, the erosive effects of which have carved a deep and wide ravine through the clay that passes for soil here at the northern end of southern nowhere. The previous owners of the vast holdings that are now the Colonel's domain traversed the creek by means of a ford, with approaches cut into the steep banks of the ravine and large rocks piled in the stream. When observed at low water, said arrangement seemed indestructible. The rocks were the huge blocks you see lining highway underpasses and bridge abutments everywhere here in the rural south. However, and take the Colonel's experienced word for this, the hydraulic power generated by the aforementioned ye ole raging torrent, yea verily, is a force of nature to behold and beware. Said force of nature easily sweeps away large rocks formerly relied upon for stream crossing, not to mention formerly sure-footed, but now aging, infantrymen (the event not-to-be mentioned is grist for another post). The post-ye ole raging torrent, yea verily, SOP (Standing Operating Procedures for the two civilians among the three readers of this egregious waste of rod and cone time) was for the Colonel to retrieve the boulders, formerly employed as a ford, but now deposited well downstream by ye ole raging torrent, yea verily, and waddle-carry them back upstream for re-deposit on their former site of employment. Waddle-carrying may someday be an Olympic sport. Hey, if sliding a rock on ice can be an Olympic sport...
At any rate, after several sessions of the fun that is the break-breaking and shin-busting future Olympic sport of waddle-carrying several tons of rocks back upstream, the dim-watted bulb in the Colonel's idea factory began to glow ever so faintly.

The gap to be spanned, and allow for the occasional ye ole raging torrent, yea verily, is approximately fifteen feet. When the Colonel approached friends and neighbors hereabout at the northern end of southern nowhere and asked for their wisdom regarding rural bridge construction, most of the advice centered around the local custom of pitching two or three salvaged telephone poles across the creek and nailing salvaged barn boards on top. As appealing to his sense of adventure as is the idea of traversing such a bridge with vehicles for which the Colonel paid a significant portion of his annual income, well... Let's just say that the Colonel's sense of adventure ain't quite what it used to be.

The Colonel began his adult life learning how to destroy bridges and thought that building one would be a simple matter of remembering the end result of strategically placed demolition charges and aim points of precision-delivered munitions, and then reverse-engineering. The Colonel knows that isn't the definition of the concept accepted by the majority of industrialists, but it is the best understanding of the idea that can be cobbled together with the few remaining infantry-addled cognitive cells lying fallow in the recesses of his brain-housing group. Needless to say, when one contemplates the forces of nature and man that might conspire to render an edifice such as a bridge unusable, and, when one considers one's own history of shoddily constructed projects rapidly thereafter rendered unusable, one tends to err on the side of, shall we say, over-engineering.

So, for the past several weeks, the Colonel, with the strong-backed and idea-wealthy help of his two thirty-something sons, has labored over the construction of The Bridge at Eegeebeegee. Construction was proceeded by several months of strategic planning. Unfortunately, none of the very valuable thoughts that took root in the amorphous goo lying fallow in the recesses of the Colonel's brain-housing group ever made the leap through the air gap between ephemeral thought and graphite on paper. Never mind, how complex can a bridge be, anyway?

Pretty stinkin' complex it turns out.

Nevertheless, one would think that someone who has demonstrated a strong enough grasp of the intricacies of the military operational arts (involving orchestrating the movement of thousands of warriors and their stuff over large distances and multitudinous obstacles) to reach the rank of Colonel, would be able to master the construction of a simple, short, one lane bridge. One would think. One would be partially correct.

The first challenge was the installation of the bridge's support pilings. For this critical component, the Colonel chose eight and one half foot long 6 x 9 railroad cross ties. To emplace these support pilings at the ten feet apart distance with which the Colonel would be the most comfortable spanning with anything across which he would drive vehicles for which he paid the significant portion of his annual income, holes would have to be excavated in the actual creek bed. As the steepness of the ravine in which the creek runs prevents diversion of the creek in a temporary alternate channel, the Colonel's not-so-bright idea was to LOWER the creek bed into a more narrow channel. Fortunately, the Colonel's participation in the aforementioned future Olympic sport of upstream ford rock waddle-carrying had the unforeseen benefit of preparing him for the now required participation in the future Olympic sport of ford rock heaving. Said sport involves squatting in posterior-deep February-cold creek water, thrusting one's hands under said February-cold creek water and around 1/20th of a ton of rock, straightening to the approximate heighth of a semi-erect Australopithecus habilis and part shot-putting, part lugging said 1/20th of a ton of rock into a ballistic trajectory that will place it, upon re-entry, onto a pile of 1/20th of a ton rocks strategically located streamside. Judging and scoring for this particular future Olympic sport will most likely require a synthesis of the systems for judging and scoring shot-putting, ice-dancing, curling, and platform diving.

Once the Colonel lowered the creek bed below the level of the event horizons of the holes required for installation of the bridge pilings, the real fun began. If the Colonel could have gotten his trusty red tractor, Semper Field, into the creek bed, he could have used his tractor's auger implement to dig the holes...if his tractor had an auger implement. Needless to say, the fingers of the Colonel's hands are now permanently cramped in the shape of the handles of a post hole digger.

Holes complete, the Colonel and his strong-backed and idea-wealthy sons manhandled the future bridge piling cross ties down to the creek and upright into their holes. This evolution might also someday spawn its own Olympic sport, but the memories of it are too freshly painful to allow for detailed description at this point. Not only did the Colonel and his strong-backed and idea-wealthy sons think that it would be a good idea to cement each piling into the creek bed, but they further concluded, without considering the method by which it would be accomplished, that it would be an even better idea to concrete all three pilings on each side of the creek into their own block of cement footer.

At this point, most bridge builders would whistle up a fleet of concrete mixer trucks and quickly pour, with a minimum of effort, all of the cement and aggregate mixture required to complete the aforementioned piling connecting footers. However, as one of his neighbors, who has had the great joy of helping the Colonel "un-stick" vehicles on the back side of the Colonel's vast holdings, put it, "You might not have a problem getting a concrete truck down to that creek, but you would never get it back up from it." So, in lieu of a fleet of concrete mixers, the Colonel, never one to use his head if his back will do, used his rusty red truck, Semper Fillit, to shuttle 15 to 20 sixty pound bags of ready mix concrete at a time from the local lumber yard to creekside. Another future Olympic sport whose memory is too freshly painful to describe in detail will surely derive from loading, by hand, sixty pound bags of ready mix concrete onto a dolly at the store, pushing said dolly to, and unloading into the bed of the Colonel's rusty red truck, Semper Fillit, and completing this process in reverse creekside, with the added joy of waddle-carrying each bag (did the Colonel mention they were 60 pounds apiece?) down to a wheel barrow in which three bags at a time were mixed with water from the creek to be spanned, hopefully by the end of this decade.

The Colonel apologizes to the three of you dear readers, who have nothing else in your lives more valuable to do with your rod and cone time than to spend it perusing posts herein, for this missive's interminable length and the purgatorial nature that has been your experience in reading it. The Colonel will, in recognition of your fatigue, and his own, bring this chapter in the retelling of a village idiot's guide to bridge-building to a merciful close. The Colonel will, when able to cobble together enough cognitive cells in the grey amorphous goo lying fallow in the recesses of his brain-housing group to do so, continue The Bridge at Eegeebeegee narrative at some future date.

Now, where did those rocket launch pad plans go?
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