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Building a Bridge (Twice!)

Building a bridge—a durable bridge—across the flood-prone Satsop River entailed building it much higher than the author originally planned.

| March/April 1979

  • 056 building a bridge 3 u-hangers.jpg
    U-shaped steel rod hangers—salvaged for free from old silos and bent to shape by a neighborhood black-smith—hang from the bridge's "suspenders" and under-prop the middle and ends of each 16-foot creosoted board.
  • 056 building a bridge 2 anchored cables.jpg
    The bridge's cables are anchored in the ground by cedar logs buried four feet deep (the lines on the other side of the river are set in concrete).  Treated posts hold the cables and the bridge well above the unpredictable torrent that ruined the Dameron's first river spanner. 
  • 056 building a bridge 1 underside view.jpg
    The Damerons had to make two attempts at building a bridge. The second had plenty of clearance above the river..
  • 056 building a bridge 4 bridge cables.jpg
    The cables lie on meal brackets to keep them from cutting down into the posts or rolling to either side. The clamps have to be the proper size—in Jim's case, 3/4"—to properly cradle the steel lines.

  • 056 building a bridge 3 u-hangers.jpg
  • 056 building a bridge 2 anchored cables.jpg
  • 056 building a bridge 1 underside view.jpg
  • 056 building a bridge 4 bridge cables.jpg

Don't get me wrong. My wife Sammie and I never meant to build our bridge two times. Once would have been just tine, thank you!

Only we goofed, and in a big way. I'll tell you about it so you can "go to school on our mistake." That way—if you ever construct your way across a river—your story won't be like ours!

We knew we were a little "green" when we moved from arid southern California to Washington's Olympic Peninsula (where folks say the wells'd go dry if a rainy season totaled less than 70 inches). So, even though the Satsop River that ran through our five acres looked friendly enough, my wife and I decided to be cautious and build our country home on the stream's high side. Unfortunately, the only road (and, of course, our "temporary" trailer) was on the low bank. That's how we found ourselves in the footbridge business.

As I've said, building a bridge was something we only intended to once. So we studied materials, researched permits, and examined local bridges for three solid months. This preparation convinced us that we should pattern our structure after one we'd seen in a nearby park. The planks of that span rested on big U-shaped hangers which, in turn, hooked onto two main overhead cables. These steel support lines were strung over upright poles on both sides of the river and then bound fast to massive maples.

Of course, these days it seems you need government permission before you do anything, even in our isolated valley. The Fish and Game folks gave us one of their "hydraulic permits" right away. But some paper-pushing procrastinators at the EPA made us wait two months for a "substantial development permit," only to tell us our project was so inexpensive that we didn't need their permission in the first place!

Once the red tape was out of the way, though, we were ready to build. I'd picked up a pile of discarded 3/4" galvanized steel cable at work, but the trees on our river's banks were too small to hold such heavy lines. So, we decided to anchor our bridge supports to buried log "deadmen."

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