Robert Schonberger at thought home

I think that bridges are interesting. A lot of the time we think they’re really pretty, but there’s more to the story. The Brooklyn Bridge is famous for being the uniting feature of New York, and its amazing construction. The man in charge, Washington Roebling, famously suffered decompression sickness during construction, and, unable to move, watched and supervised the construction of the bridge from his apartment window.

I want to compare the construction of two bridges I find incredible for different reasons.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge was controversial for its costs while being built. So many odd things about the construction linger. Firstly, it was the longest bridge of its kind when constructed. Then, the huge stone towers on either end of the bridge are just cosmetic—The real supports are on a large ‘king pin’ at either end. Then, the way it was built: every rivet was handmade and heated, at various points on the bridge. The steel was brought from the UK, with a steelyard at the north end of the bridge. That is an incredible distance to bring steel over, and even more incredible, is that Australia is a huge iron and steel exporter now. The noise from the steelworks angered Sydneysiders, and the site is now an olympic swimming pool and a fun park.

The other bridge is the Kaibab Suspension Bridge. It’s a little footbridge, 130 metres long, 1.5 metres wide, over the Colorado River, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It was finished in 1928, 4 years before the Sydney Harbour Bridge, so it was built at the same time. The Grand Canyon is a damn remote place, and every single bit of this bridge was taken, by foot, or mule from the top of the canyon. That is 21 kilometers away, and 1.8 kilometers further up. Incredibly, for instance, the cables for the bridge, some 550ft long, were carried on the shoulders of men from the top of the canyon to the bottom. It took six weeks to take one cable, on the shoulders of about a hundred men, from top to bottom. All of this was built by hand, because there is no food, water, electricity, gas or any sort of infrastructure.

I find the human endeavor in the Grand Canyon bridge so impressive. More than any large bridge around.

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