Working high above the Columbia River to build the Astoria Bridge a half century ago, crews braved torrential rain and high winds. The workers would hang on to ropes and walk across the bridge on small wooden planks, often while rain came at them horizontally.
John Anderson, who worked as a crane operator on the bridge, jokes that the driest people on the job were probably the divers in the water.
“It’s the worst weather I ever worked in, period,” he said.
Anderson was joined by two other workers last week for a panel discussion in Astoria as a part of “Bridge Talks,” a monthly series hosted by the Clatsop County Historical Society. The presentations and discussions mark the bridge’s 50th anniversary this summer.
McAndrew Burns, executive director of the Clatsop County Historical Society, is planning to recreate a ribbon-cutting dedication that was held Aug. 27, 1966. The recreation will likely happen during Astoria Regatta weekend.
An exhibit on the story of the bridge opened last week inside the historical society’s Heritage Museum. Information on the bridge has also been complied online at www.astoriamegler50.com.
While researching the bridge history for the exhibit and anniversary events, Burns was able to track down more than a dozen people who worked on the 4.1-mile span.
Three were able to come back last week and share their experiences.
Jerry Reagor, a general inspector, and Pat O’Brien, owner of Astoria Ready Mix, spoke on the panel with Anderson.
The three reminisced about being housed at the Astor Hotel and frequenting a bar called the Fur Trader. At the time, they said, the bar was full of fishermen, loggers and construction workers.
Construction on the bridge lasted from November 1962 to August 1966.
O’Brien said he came from McMinnville in 1963 and started Astoria Ready Mix, which provided concrete for the bridge. He stayed in town and raised his children in Astoria.
“I was about 30 years old when I started,” O’Brien said. “It was quite an experience for me.”
Reagor, who now lives in Kelso, Washington, described working on barges and waiting for tugboats. While waiting, Reagor said, the crew would fish off the barge.
“The superintendent got mad and said we weren’t supposed to be fishing, we were supposed to be working,” Reagor said. “I said, ‘Well, move the barge and we will quit fishing and do some work.’”
Anderson, now of Vancouver, Washington, said people forget the construction was done in an era when safety standards were not as strict as today.
One person died during construction. Anderson said there could have been more fatalities if it wasn’t for teamwork and skill. “Everybody had everybody’s back,” he said.
At the time, the men said, they never thought about the bridge still being used 50 years later. Every time they see the bridge, they think about those youthful days working in Astoria.
“This job was 50 years ago and I always think about the good memories and the good people that were here,” Anderson said. “I have traveled all over the world, but this was a very good job.”