Thursday, February 23, 2012

Great River Bridge, Westfield, MA

Great River Bridge(s)
When the giant camelback truss bridge that crossed the Westfield River started getting creaky, Westfield could have just junked it and replaced it with a standard girder and concrete bridge and life would have gone on. Instead, the city doubled down, built a duplicate bridge just a bit down river, closed the old bridge and started bringing it back to code (the old bridge is foremost in the picture above; the new bridge is behind it).

The old Great River Bridge was even more worse off than was thought, requiring more years and more millions of dollars to finish the job. Westfield could have just stuck with the new bridge at that point but they decided once more to go all in, dug up part of Union Ave and turned the land between the bridges into a beautiful park. At one end, they raised a clock tower (with a REALLY LOUD chime). At the other end, they raised the existing railroad tracks to keep them usable and high enough for trucks to clear.

Park between the bridges, current railroad bridge crossing left to right in the background
Westfield's nickname is "Whip City". It used to be famous for its buggy whips. Hate to be a buggy whip maker when everyone's driving cars goes the saying, and Westfield is now just a suburb to Springfield. In colonial times, Westfield was the western-most settlement in Massachusetts. Now it's home to Pilgrim Candles, and candle shops line Elm Street.

Upriver of the Great River Bridges is an old, abandoned truss railroad bridge. There's nothing stopping anyone from walking right up to it; there's a concrete path leading right past it, actually. While I was taking pictures, a teenager skated up, picked up his skateboard and crossed the river on the bridge.

I figured this was something I'd have to try. We had a railroad bridge back in Linwood that crossed some river connecting Whitin and Linwood Ponds, and it was a rite of passage to cross it. Mind this was an active railroad (and still is, I think). Some of the boys would swing under the bridge and hide in the trusses, but it was enough for me to just cross it without falling into the river or being hit by a train. There was no reason I couldn't just skip over this one.

I couldn't do it. The ties were rounded from wear and the gaps between them wider than I expected. I could walk on those four inch beams, of course. I have been training for that my entire life. My dad and I used to walk along the tracks, and he'd walk on the rails and I'd try to do that, too. I still sometimes walk on the curbs and stuff, narrower than these beams.

I started crossing the bridge, got about halfway through the first span and with the water below me and the lack of anything to fall against (except air) on the sides... I lost my nerve and came back. I felt so ashamed of myself. Ashamed, but without any new broken bones.

You know you're getting old when...

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