A friend and I were taking a walk recently when we approached a pedestrian bridge spanning a small creek. We stopped in the middle so we could enjoy the view. As we stood there sharing thoughts on how to solve the world problems, our conversation drifted to bridges, and specifically, how they are built.

My friend, a retired police officer, told me of his interest in bridges. It began, as his work often had him spending time on bridges during rescues or evidence recovery from rivers and lakes. Sometimes, he'd pause his boat under these same structures just to try to figure out how they were put together.

Isn't it funny how something some of us believe is very ordinary can be of great interest to other people?

Now his interest has grown, as he wonders how large famous bridges were built, especially across large bodies of water. A fellow avid motorcyclist, he's trying to convince me to ride with him on weekends so we can visit various parts of the country and check out these structures.

I told him some stories of how we had been involved in building some of the bridges in our area, and how we poured 2500 yards of concrete in one day for one of the piers in the river.

“Isn't that a lot of concrete for one day?” he asked. Then he wondered how the concrete would set under water and how the contractors got the water out of the forms for the pier. My anecdotes brought many questions, and although I tried to answer them to the best of my ability, I couldn't explain all of the engineering aspects.

Field trip

I soon found it difficult to explain everything without pictures. Fortunately about this time, we were in the process of servicing a project that involved widening a local bridge over a small creek. I invited him to come with me the next week and see how a bridge is built. It wouldn't be as big as an interstate bridge or a major project over the river, but it would give him the basic idea of how it was done.

He was very excited when we arrived at the site. He donned his loaner hard hat and stood outside of the vehicle as we watched the ready-mix trucks unload concrete into the hopper of the pump that was placing the bridge deck.

After we stood for a while watching the pour, the supervisor came over and introduced himself. The superintendent explained to him the forming systems, answered his answers about the forms in the water, and was very good at explaining the entire process. On the way back to the office that day, he seemed to have a better understanding of how it all worked.

“Do you think we can check out more bridges some time?” he asked. I agreed to make some stops when we could, but suggested that he do some research of his own beforehand.

I'd better brush up on it, because I know he will have many questions.

The next time we go hunting, I'm sure the little bridge we often cross will be more meaningful to him. And for me, it will be a reminder that while we can gauge success in terms of yards poured, total sales, or margins, it's best measured by how our products serve our community.

If we only took more time to share our successes, we'd build more bridges of understanding.