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.