The Bridge Builders
For a twelve-year-old boy, the hill farm in Grant County was all he had ever known. The constant battle with rocks on those hills was to be expected. But help with clearing off the rocks was on the way. In every farmhouse there was talk about a bridge that was to be built at "the crossing" of Fork Lick Creek, near the village of Cordova. Lots of rock would be needed. Women, too, were excited, as they would furnish room and board for some workers. That meant a bit of cash to add to the egg money.
In time the civil engineer from Pennsylvania came into the area. He lined up workers to be under the direction of a man who was a "Jack of all trades." A two-room shanty of pine boards was built for him on Grandfather's farm. A wife and child also occupied the shanty.
It was an exciting time! New people! My ten-year-old brother Wilbur and I had a little sideline income. In times of high water, we hitched up the horses and pulled stranded cars out. Now there was to be a bridge!
In 1922, one did not go to a storage bin for aggregate, the filling part that makes up the bulk of concrete. It is made from crushed rock, and we had the proper limestone rock. Men stooped and loaded on every hill. IT was hot and tiring work, made a bit easier, when I, the water boy, brought a drink several times a day. The boss had consulted my parents first about the job. I was willing. Money for a twelve-year-old was special. Grandpa had loaned me his buggy without a top. In it I loaded two five-gallon milk cans and headed for the spring. Out horse Old Sam, would protest at times. The spring was on the bank of a creek, and where it made a pool, I used a bucket for dipping. To get to the spring, I drove up the creek bed and turned the buddy around. There were times when the creek was high, and flooded the spring. Then I had to drive up a long hill, over a rough, rocky road to get to a neighbor's house, and pull the water up with a rope from his deep well. Later, when the muddy water receded, lime was put around the mouth of the spring to prevent disease.
Away from the quiet of the creek, I first took water to the woman living in the shanty. Then I moved to the hillsides where the men were prying up rock, and loading it onto the wagons to be hauled to the noisy rock crusher. It was hot and dusty. Old Sam did not like the noise. Many local men were working, and I thought that a twelve-year-old boy was as big as any of them. There were men with horse drawn scoops taking of surface soil. Then, when down to bedrock, the worked by hand to make a solid stand for the forms. This took tons of concrete. My father and uncle drove wagons to Williamstown, eight miles away. There they unloaded cement from a railroad car. They made many trips. They were glad to be getting rocks off the farm, and worked along with the other men.
Every local farmer had done chores before he came to help with the bridge work and would face chores again when he returned home. Somehow, the crops were put out and harvested that summer. The men brought their lunches in wrapped newspaper packs or in tin lunch buckets. Old Sam would get a few ears of corn, and then back to the water hauling.
The bridge was beginning to take shape. There was community pride. There was even a bit of extra cash, too. The boss man kept books, and at an improvised box desk outside, he passed out a pay envelope once a week. Mine contained twelve dollars! The job lasted all summer. I was late started school that fall, but proud of my hidden can that held the money until there was a trip made into town. At those times I used loose change for ice cream or a special treat. The bank account grew to $140 for the summer's work.
On another trip to town, Dad and I went to the bank. As often happened for him his account was overdrawn. Guess what? I had $140. That covered it. I suppose it was a gift, not a loan, for it was never paid back. However, looking back I do not recall having any hard feelings about it. That was just the way it was.
By Ruth Rucker Odor, as told to her by her husband, Hubert Odor. From the Grant County Historical Society Newsletter, Spring, 2003