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Bridges and the Girly Nerd-Slideshow
Posting Date: 11/18/2011

By Barbara Ellestad
The itty, bitty truck used to help haul 117-foot long bridge girders to the I-15 Exit 120 construction site. Photo by Barbara Ellestad.

The itty, bitty truck used to help haul
117-foot long bridge girders to the I-15 Exit
120 construction site. Photo by Barbara

I grew up on a farm with three older brothers and no sisters. There, that explains everything you've always wondered about me.

It also explains why I'm so intrigued by the I-15 Exit 120 Interchange construction project. Doesn't it?

My brothers taught me to be curious and try to figure things out for myself or at least stand to the side and "learn a thing or two" as I watched them build something or repair some thing-a-ma-jig around the farm. They taught me to be a girly nerd.

When Alan Preston, Project Manager for W.W. Clyde construction company, mentioned that the crew would be setting new bridge girders on Friday night, I jumped at the chance to watch first hand how they do that. He's in charge of getting the new road open for us by early summer.

It was raining cats and dogs Friday night when I headed out at 8:30 pm. I had already woken Tom Stevenson, NDOT supervisor and my chaperone, from a nap earlier in the afternoon checking to see if the deal was still a go. He wasn't too happy. I forgot these guys had been working at night so we wouldn't be inconvenienced during the day.

I dressed as warmly as I could and remembered to wear hiking boots and not sandals. After all, I wanted to look the part. It only took five minutes at the job site to realize I forgot to bring gloves. From then on I shook hands with everyone I could just to warm my fingers for a few seconds.

Not wanting to be in the way, I stood off to the edge of construction site waiting for something to happen. All the guys were standing under the old bridge - it was dry over there. Obviously feeling sorry for me, one of the crew told me in 'construction worker talk' to get my butt under the bridge where I'd at least be dry. Since I always do what I'm told, I scurried over.

Hey OSHA guys - they made me wear a hard hat and reflective vest, okay.

The first thing they did was close off Falcon Ridge Parkway to traffic. Even with that, I still kept looking for cars whizzing by as I walked across the road. Strange how habits stay with you.

Then a mile-high crane arrived on the job site. It took almost an hour and a half to set it up. To begin, they had to place four huge weights on the back middle platform of the crane. The weights were so heavy and big, about 10-20 tons each, only two could fit on an 18-wheeler at a time. Then, they brought in two more side weights, one for each side of the middle pile.

For those of us who find it a challenge to properly stack towels in the linen closet without them falling over, try hefting these puppies in place while they're dangling from the end of a crane - in the dark while it's raining.

Once the crane was ready, here came the first of five 18-wheelers, each carrying a 117-foot long

bridge girder pre-cast in concrete and rebar. Each one weighed about 100,000 to 120,000 pounds, Stevenson told me.

Thankfully it had quit raining by now but my hands were still freezing.

These babies made their way from Salt Lake City via the back roads through Pioche, Nevada. Imagine finding yourself behind one of these on a leisurely drive down the two-laned Route 93.

Here's what's amazing. Someone, somewhere figured out that a little baby truck about four feet tall, tucked underneath the far end of the girder, used to steer the rear-end, was the best way to maneuver it around. Whodda thought?

I mentioned to Preston that it would be really cool to drive the itty, bitty thing. His reply, "Nope. There's no heat, no radio, no room, and you're sitting under the far back end of a multi-ton, 117 foot long concrete girder." No radio? Okay, Preston, you win that one.

Here's another thing that amazed me as I watched the truck driver back the girder into place without hitting anybody or anything. He did it without pulling forward, backing up, pulling forward, backing up. You get the idea. I can't do that with a 15-foot long car in Smith's parking lot. But he backed up a 117-foot long giant in one try. These guys are good.

I was beginning to realize these guys have probably done this before. I was also realizing how dang cold my hands were without gloves.

The mile-high crane slipped hooks into the top side of each end of the girder. The crew tied guide ropes onto the ends of the concrete monsters. And then, ever so gently, the crane operator lifted the girder into the air and while the crew guided the ropes, swung that huge thing around 90 degrees without hitting anybody or anything.

I can't do that moving a small love seat around in my living room.

Little by little the crane operator raised the monster up in the air as the crew guided it into place. With only inches to work with, the concrete giant was dropped between steel rebar posts on both ends. On the first try.

A couple of the crew secured the ends of the girders into place and then just jumped right up on the girder and unhooked the crane cables. That's not a job I'd want since I'm scared to death of heights.

Man, oh man, these guys are good.

From start to finish, my mouth was agape about 90 minutes. My hands? Frozen.

Preston finally came over to me about 11:30 pm as the crane was lifting the itty, bitty truck on to the back of the 18-wheeler bed for the trip back home. "Barb, we have four more of these to do tonight. All of them will be the same. Why don't you go home, get warm, and get some sleep."

I always do what I'm told.

[Note: Okay, maybe the crane wasn't a mile high, but it seemed that way. If any of the information is wrong in this article, blame it on the girly nerd and not the guys who know what they're doing.]


  • Posted Date: 01/20/2012
    Not bad for a novice observer, it is exciting to watch men and the big toys they play with.
    By: sandy
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