Tag: Ben Sawyer Bridge
It has been my privilege to be one of the few bridgetenders on the planet to have had the opportunity to operate all three of the most common styles of drawbridges. So here is an extremely basic primer.
This is a bascule bridge. These come in the form of a double span, like the Ortega River Bridge in Jacksonville, Florida…
Or a single span like this one in Mystic, Connecticut.
Here’s why all those movies where you see cars jumping over opened bascule bridges are pure fiction. When the span opens, a hole appears at the base. The only way a car can get on an opening span is if it drives on when the bridge has only just started to open…
… or if the bridgetender isn’t paying attention and starts the lift when the vehicle is stopped on the span, as happened in Wisconsin.
Bascule bridges are responsible for the vast majority of drawbridge deaths and injuries. If you hear the warning signals and see the flashing lights and watch the gates lowering, you should have the sense to get out of the way, but you’d be amazed. It’s even more critical for pedestrians to be careful nowadays because some of these bridges are operated remotely. If you want to read some very sad stories, just Google “Drawbridge” and “Dead” sometime.
This is probably the most famous bascule bridge, just outside of Arles, France, immortalized by Van Gogh.
The next style is the lift bridge, like the Main Street Bridge in Jacksonville, Florida. These have counterweights in the towers that are attached to the span by cables. To open the bridge, brakes are released, allowing the counterweights to lower, which pulls up the span. Each one of the counterweights on Main Street weighs over a million pounds. Riding up on a lift bridge can be a heady experience, but it’s so big you don’t get that stomach lurching elevator feeling.
You just get a spectacular view.
Lastly, we have the swing bridge. These can pivot at the end, like the Scale Lane Bridge in Kingston upon Hull, England…
…or they can swivel on a central point like this bridge in Missouri which spans the Mississippi River. These bridges often have oval gears below deck level, which lift them up slightly above the fixed portion of the bridge before they turn.
Incidentally, it’s always a good idea to have very good locking mechanisms on bridges. We learned that the hard way after Hurricane Hugo hit the Ben Sawyer Bridge in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.
There are a variety of creatively designed drawbridges out there, but these are the most common types. Of all three styles, the swing bridge is my favorite to operate. When on it, you don’t feel like you’re moving. It just looks like your surroundings are rotating around you. And since the world does revolve around me, that’s only fitting.
If you are as fascinated by drawbridges as I am, please join my Drawbridge Lovers Facebook page here.
South Carolina Sweetgrass Baskets
A couple of summers ago I had the distinct pleasure of spending six weeks in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina in order to operate the Ben Sawyer swing bridge. That’s a story for another day, But I will say I loved the area. I spent a lot of time exploring Charleston, and Mt. Pleasant itself is pleasant, indeed.
One of the things I loved most about the region is that you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a sweetgrass basket stand. They lined highway 17. I love these baskets. This is the only place in the entire world where you can find them. Each one is a work of art, and the bittersweet thing about them is it’s a dying art.
West African slaves brought the tradition over here, and it’s been passed down to their descendants for the past 300 years. Kids today aren’t interested in such a boring job, plus the boom in land development means sweet grass isn’t as widely available as it used to be, so this type of basket weaving may very well die out with this generation, and that would be a shame.
Realizing these beautiful baskets are collector’s items and an investment in a dying culture, and that even the Smithsonian museum competes to obtain them, I had to get a few. These are mine, and I love them so much I’ve since hung them on my wall.
Learn more about the interesting history of sweetgrass baskets here.