In the early spring of 1883, about the time that the weather had turned warm enough for the Chief Engineer to spend some time outdoors in the garden, the bridge was finished. There was no one moment, no particular day, when he could have said as much, nor would there be. Bridges did not end that way. There was always something more to finish up, some last details to attend to. The final touches at Cincinnati, for example, had dragged on for nearly six months after the opening ceremonies and it looked as though the same might happen here. But the bridge he saw standing now against the sky half a mile in the distance was the finished bridge for all intents and purposes.
As I read this in The Great Bridge — the story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge — I was surprised. My work experience was largely with hard-deadline projects, where delivery of a document (whether 20 pages or 72 boxes) was timed to the minute. There was never any doubt about when it was finished.
But when I went back to Edmonton this November, although I found the old Walterdale Bridge torn down and the new one open to traffic, I had to admit that it was not quite finished. There was evidence of ongoing construction all around it. And I thought of the Chief Engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge back in 1883, and understood his world a little better. And, by extension, the worlds of a lot of other people, too. Thanks to David McCullough for making that insight explicit.
Sometimes I have to know stuff to see it.
It’s been quite a while since I was last in Edmonton, but I have a grandson living there now. Maybe I’ll see that bridge if I go visit him.
Tom – It’s definitely worth the effort to view it from several vantage points!
Ottawa will be a nice town when they finish it…
Barbara – I guess it’s already done, for most intents and purposes . . .
Bridges too obey the laws of evolution. The old Walterdale Bridge, if I remember it rightly, was a rather crude means of getting across the river; the new one adds the complexity of attempting to be aesthetically appealing too.
Jim – It was a through-truss design, and needed more width than it had, so it was a bottleneck for sure. I kinda like old bridges, but think these new ones are exciting. But my favourite bridges are along the coast (pretty much any coast). People who live near water know how to make good bridges.
Awhhh! but I miss that “buzzing” feeling as you drove across the Walterdale Bridge. As a young child I used to think my father would lose control of the vehicle as it vibrated across the bridge – as an adult, I just enjoyed the nostalgic memories it created each time I drove it. With my granddaughter in the vehicle we called out “BUZZZZZZ!” all the way across, and now, well, it LOOKS nice!
Alison – Yes, I had hoped they might find it in their hearts and/or design specifications to replicate the buzz. I liked it too.
Isabel – as an engineer all I can say is that change orders are the bane of an engineer’s existence – and often the cause of construction projects that are only finished “for all intents and purposes”, until there are finally no more bright owner’s ideas and change orders.
John – Change orders might be the bane of the engineer’s existence, but they’re the fond hope of most project managers and every executive, as I’m sure you know. Properly managed, they can make a lot of money. I’m not sure whether McCullough really got/gets project management, though. This book and the other of his that I’ve read (on the Panama Canal) give that topic short shrift.
All too true, but it’s nice to have closure.
John – Indeed. I sort of hate these endings that dribble off. Much better (if not necessarily always possible) to have a clear, full, stop.