Bridge-building 101

The bridge program built on the open houses it conducted for adults by hosting programs in schools. For younger students, fun activities made bridge building come alive; for older students, hands-on training sessions introduced potential apprentices or engineers to the day-to-day challenges and rewards of heavy highway construction.

At Ashland Middle School, students received 2,000 gumdrops, 400 saltine crackers, an endless supply of toothpicks and detailed plan sheets. Their assignment was to build the Rootbeer Creek Bridge on the little-known Candy Highway in Tummyache County. Many worthy contenders resulted, no doubt powered by the gumdrops that became both masonry and brain fuel.

Seventh-graders at what is now Reedsport Community Charter School learned about the connection between bridges and bats: The structures are popular roosting habitat for the nocturnal creatures. The students then built bat boxes to be installed underneath the bridges or in trees within the bridges' right of way. The wooden boxes have a wide opening at the bottom for easy entry and are narrower at the top, because bats like to roost in close, crowded spaces. The students customized their contributions by signing and decorating the bat box they created.

The federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration runs a 10-hour class in safety training for construction workers, and 14 students from McKay High School in Salem received a customized six-hour version from bridge program safety staff. The students practiced putting on fall-protection harnesses, examined damaged electrical equipment for typical faults and analyzed photographs to identify common construction hazards. While these students were too young to receive an OSHA 10 card, they did receive a Construction Safety Certificate, which shows future employers their interest in and enthusiasm for construction work.

At the Siletz Valley School, high school students used a theodolite, a telescope-like instrument mounted on a tripod, to triangulate the distance between themselves and nearby mile posts. The surveying demonstration was popular with the students and inspired many of them to say they'd like to pursue a career in engineering and engineering-related fields.

Communicating through time

Preserving documents and artifacts for a future generation dates to at least medieval times when boxes were commonly placed in building cornerstones. The bridge program took a page from history and included time capsules filled with personal items at three bridge sites.

In Elkton, students contributed to a time capsule placed inside one of the four pylons that mark the ends of the new Elk Creek Bridge nearby. From the preschoolers' poem to the eighth graders' can of Silly String, each grade selected an item that reflected their combined personalities.

Students at McKay Creek Elementary School in eastern Oregon put a lot of mobility-related thought into their time capsule. Each class chose an area of transportation to research and ultimately produced a book that focused on the past, present and future of getting from Point A to Point B. The students included everything from mules and horses to speed boats, sternwheelers and electric cars.

The Whilamut Passage Bridge in Eugene-Springfield includes time capsules from four local elementary schools: Buena Vista Spanish immersion, Maple, Eugene Christian and Lundy, which included a miniature bridge built out of toothpicks and glue. Before they included the bridge in their time capsule, the students at Lundy tested its strength and discovered it withstood 250 pounds of pressure. . The time capsules were inserted in the anti-access wall of the northbound structure, which will remain in place until the bridge is torn down and rebuilt, most likely more than 100 years from now.

These eclectic collections of items are waiting for the next generation of contractors to unearth them so a future community can experience the novelty of the past.