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A Windy Adventure - the official version

When closed, each end of the swing span rested on two steel rollers that sat on top of cast iron "shoes" mounted on the concrete end-piers. Gravity latches held the bridge closed. During a fierce wind storm on January 25, 1914, the latches loosened enough to allow the wind to blow the bridge of its shoes...at just the moment when a local boy was crossing on the center span. Local boat tenders eventually heard the cries of George Way, a dishwasher at the Julian Hotel, who was stranded on the open span. At "no small risk to themselves", the boatmen managed to reach the bridge and engage the mechanism to close the bridge and bring the young man to safety.

The real story...?

Why would George be venturing out on such a fierce and stormy night? Surely he would have been aware of the bridge slowly being swung open by the wind? What was he preoccupied with as he lingered on the bridge? Clearly something was afoot - at the Court House, he feared...
Read the Whole Story here

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Message from George


Thank you for getting me off the bridge! I was urgently – urgently – trying to warn the sheriff about a robbery I overheard being planned in the saloon at the Julian Hotel. I fear I may be too late. But please, when the veil through time shifts again, go check out the Court House – I sense ethereal mischief has been perpetrated. The veil wont shift again until Wednesday.

George Way’s Story

Imagine if you were in George Way’s shoes – you’ve overheard something in the Saloon at the Julian Hotel. It seems important.

But I’m only the dishwasher – who’d believe me? No-one, of curse. I should just go home.

Heavens, it is windy tonight – it is a good thing I decided not to be a hero

Anyway, the fellows overheard were probably just bragging and posturing. Best not get involved with those sorts of folk, anyway – remember last time – I got picked on because I was smaller and from ‘over there’? Yeah – best not mingle with those sorts of people.

Walking across the bridge and marveling at the ingenuity of the people who built it, I mull over the resolve of the townspeople to fund it – despite the small mindedness of the stingy northerners who didn’t see the benefit to themselves of a convenient river crossing.

My, but the bridge sure is bucking tonight! That wind is fierce alright.

I think I shouldn’t be small minded myself – ma & pa always impressed the need to put community first and take the high road. Mid span, I stop in mid stride – perhaps I should go warn the Sheriff about what I heard – even if I  do get in trouble, I know if I don’t make the effort it will always haunt me. I  set back. And start rehearsing what to tell the sheriff – and stop short again – one of the men was talking about an insider – someone on the inside who was going to help them make sure the robbery went smoothly. What if the person was an official, or even in the sheriff dept? I’d really be in trouble then, and my life would be miserable going forward, Yeah, I better just keep a low profile and go home – it will all blow over, anyway.

Gosh, did the bridge just move?

I start toward the East bank. Shoulders down, head down, stooped – it was the wind – hunched and small, I progress towards the bank. The wind is making a howling sound through the trusses, and I am startled by the sound, like an organ, almost. Again I stop, and think of the women who stood for their rights and cast a deciding vote for the bridge to be completed. They were small, often ignored, and yet through years of adversity, had persevered and been victorious for what they stood for, and what they wanted. I straightens up, and with brisk step, head back into town – straight to the sheriff – I am going to tell them what I heard!

Suddenly, with a screech and a sickening jerk, the bridge starts to open – the wind!

I burst into a run towards the shore, but now the bridge is loose, the wind is pushing it open faster and faster. I am too late – skidding to a halt just as the edge of the west pier slides off into the dark – the Willamette is rushing down below and the wind is whipping the surface to a roil.

I am stuck – kicking myself for my indecision, lack of resolve and fortitude. And now I am stuck here and really can’t do a thing about it.

Wait, there are some men on the dock – I yell and shout, but they don’t hear me – well, there is a fierce wind blowing… try again, more, louder. Still nothing. It is no use.

Then I remember the women – 5 times they rallied to get their voices heard! I take a huge deep breath and start to produce the scream of my life. And, lo, the wind lulls inexplicably, dropping long enough for the men on the shore to hear!

∴ ∴ ∴ ∴ ∴ ∴ ∴

With consternation the boatsmen realize what has happened and gather some more men to try and get the bridge closed. They also realize that the mechanism to open and close the bridge is in the central pier, and that the key AND six men are needed to get up there to close the bridge again. How are they going to manage that?

The key is kept in the dock and the dockmaster is still enjoying a drink in the saloon, so that is not an issue. Getting six men onto the central pier safely is going to be a challenge. A sturdy skiff is borrowed and a rescue party is assembled and sets out to the pier.

A perilous ascent onto the top of the central span was completed by the most limber and athletic of the assembled party. When he has secured himself at the top, he lowers a rope to assist the rest of the party on to center span. Finally, the large 17-foot turning key is hoisted up, and the men start to rotate the bridge shut. Normally, the high gear is used to get the bridge open or closed, but under the conditions tonight, they have to resort to the lower gearing. It is 3 times as slow, but allows the men to push against the wind, which was still blowing fiercely and against them. Thanks to the foresight of the engineering team in Portland who provided this extra gearing, it now allows the men to overcome the abnormal force operating against them. Eventually the bridge is closed, and as a stop gap, the spans are lashed together with several fathoms of sturdy hemp rope, and a more permanent solution will be engineered in the light of day.

Meanwhile, George was babbling incoherently about having to get to the courthouse to warn the sheriff about a robbery. This is rather lost on the men in the rescue party – they’re celebrating their heroic deeds rescuing the stranded local boy, and are rather annoyed in fact, that no more gratitude is forthcoming.

But, then, what would you expect from one of them from over there.