My Career from Above

I’ve been opening drawbridges since September of 2001, and I love it. I’ve opened 9 different bridges in three different states. I only know one other bridgetender with better statistics than that, so I’m kind of proud.

I’ve been going down memory lane quite a bit lately, so I decided to check out all my bridges on Google Maps. Ah, what memories.

Mainstreet from the sky
Main Street Bridge, Jacksonville, Florida

My first bridge was Main Street Bridge in Jacksonville, Florida. That’s the only lift bridge I’ve operated to date, and it was kind of fun. It’s like being on the world’s biggest elevator. The tenderhouse was suspended about 25 feet above the roadway and it would rise with the bridge. It would also shake and sway when traffic was going over the bridge. I’ll never forget the sound of all our padlocks clanking on our lockers.

The down side to working on this bridge is that they required three bridgetenders per shift because the court ordered it after a drunken sailor drove his car into the drink when the bridge was open. So two bridgetenders spent a lot of time climbing up and down the ladder to act as flagmen at street level during openings. Quite the workout. This three person operation meant that you had to sit in a little room with two other people for 8 hours. That was fine when you got along, but when you didn’t, it was hell. Some of the drama and foolishness that happened up there could constitute a blog all its own.

Ortega from the sky
Ortega River Bridge, Jacksonville, Florida

From there I went to the Ortega River Bridge in Jacksonville. I loved that little bridge. It was a one person operation, but the tenderhouse was smaller than your average walk in closet, so a lot of people couldn’t take it. You had to step outside to change your mind. But it suited me just fine. I liked that I was sitting on sidewalk level, so I got to know a lot of the people in the area. You sort of felt as though you were part of a community. The downside was the bathroom was across the street, which was no fun in the pouring rain or the bitter cold. (Yes, it does happen sometimes in North Florida, believe it or not.)

Eventually, though, the horrible pay and the worse benefits started to get to me, so I decided to go back to school for a third degree. Part of that time I still worked at Ortega. Then for a brief period I moved to South Florida to be closer to school. But even then, bridgetending was in my blood. My employer asked me if I’d like to go spend the summer working the Ben Sawyer drawbridge just outside of Charleston, South Carolina.

Ben Sawyer from the Sky
Ben Sawyer Bridge, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina

I jumped at the chance! I’d never been to Charleston, so when I wasn’t pulling a 12 hour shift on that bridge, I was exploring the city. What an amazing place! And what an amazing bridge! It’s the first time I operated a swing bridge, and the octagonal tenderhouse was right at the pivot, so when you did a bridge opening, it was such a smooth operation that it felt as if you were standing still, and the world was revolving around you. (Finally, some vindication in that belief!) I loved that bridge. I miss it. But it was only a temporary job, and alas, school was calling.

Once I got my third degree, it became painfully obvious that it was going to be as useless as the first two, so I came crawling back to Jacksonville with my tail between my legs and begged for my old job back. Fortunately I had left on good terms, and I was back working at Ortega River Bridge in no time. I also worked a few days a week at Sisters Creek Bridge.

SistersCreek from the Sky
Sisters Creek Bridge, Jacksonville, Florida

This drawbridge no longer exists. It was replaced by a flyover, and that’s a shame because it was a nice quiet bridge. It spanned the Intracoastal Waterway way out in the middle of nowhere, north of Jacksonville, so mostly you opened for barges and the like. But I really got to focus on nature out there, and found a great deal of peace. The only negative thing about that bridge was the long commute.

The horrible pay was killing me, though, so when I heard of a job opening here in Seattle, Washington, for 3 times the pay and more benefits than I know what to do with, I jumped at the chance. Westward ho!

Fremont from the Sky
Fremont Bridge, Seattle, Washington

When you are a bridge operator for the City of Seattle, you get trained on all 5 of their bridges. So I was trained on the Fremont Bridge, which is the most stressful bridge I’ve ever worked on because pedestrians and bicyclists take scary risks, and it opens quite a bit.

Ballard from the sky
Ballard Bridge, Seattle, Washington

And I also trained on Ballard Bridge. I love that bridge because you get to watch the locks, the commute is short for me, and the view is a delight, but walking to your car at night can be scary.

Spokane Street Bridge, Seattle, Washington

And I trained on Spokane Street Bridge as well. That’s a very unique swing bridge, and the tenderhouse (here they call it the tower) is so high up you practically get a nosebleed. It’s the only bridge I’ve ever been in that has an elevator. It’s a complicated bridge to operate. I haven’t been there in so long that I’m not sure I’d remember how to do it.

But now, the two bridges I work most often are South Park Bridge—which is state of the art, but a very long commute…

SouthParkfrom the sky
South Park Bridge, Seattle, Washington

… and University Bridge, which I absolutely love. I love the neighborhood, the community, the view, the tower, and it’s busy enough to keep me interested, but not so busy that I get stressed out.

UNI From the Sky
University Bridge, Seattle, Washington

So the next time Google takes its satellite imagery, maybe I’ll pop my head out the window and wave. It’s pretty cool to look at all these places from the sky. I can imagine a little tiny me sitting inside, making the bridge safe for the traveling public. I have a lot of great memories.


Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

2 thoughts on “My Career from Above”

  1. It’s neat that you appreciate them after having to work on them all day. I am familiar with the ones in Pugetropolis. Tacoma and Everett have vertical lifts. As for Spokane St., I’ve been here long enough to recall the original twinned pair of double bascules–somewhat bigger than the ones you get to play with. One got crunched by a ship not long after my arrival, paralyzing traffic and leading eventually to the construction of the big high do-nothing bridge and the swing span both. For a while people could by t-shirts that said “Where were you when the ship hit the span??” And on the anniversary of the crash, someone hung up a huge banner saying “Free the West Seattle 74,000!”.

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