Excerpt from Charlie Rainwater's Memoirs
Hurricane Gulch Bridge

by Charlie Rainwater


The Curry north inspection trip was rather routine. The Hurricane Gulch Bridge was not routine. This structure was 295 feet above the water level, a steel box girder supported by an arched truss with the track on top of the girder. To do a good job of inspecting this bridge the inspector was let down the slope on both ends of the structure with a rope around his middle being paid out by his companion. The banks were so steep should the inspector slip he would go hurtling down the slope all the way to the creek below. The results of such a trip was kept out of mind. The towers that supported the truss were based on this steep incline and were inspected for cracks, spalling, and any signs of movement. On the north slope the erosion of the bank supporting the towers had become so acute that the whole surface above and around the bases was paved over with concrete shot over the earth and rocks with a process known as Gunnite. This was a slippery slope for the inspector. Sherman Powell was the supervisor and he was happy to inspect the towers and their concrete bases with a pair of binoculars. This was not a very good method because your ability to see all around the bases was restricted by truss members. A walk through the girders from end to end was on two-inch by twelve-inch planks laid in a single line down the center of the girder's bottom bracing. As you walked this planking while looking at the steep structure from the inside you got a momentary shock each time you stepped off the end of an overlapping plank. That two-inch drop made you feel like you had stepped off the plank into space. Sherm refused to make that walk and inspection.

An incident occurred once when the bridge paint gang was giving the structure a new coat of paint. The painters worked from Bosin chairs, devices similar to playground swings, suspended on a rope attached to the bridge structure at deck level. At one time a painter was working on the outside bottom of the girder while another man was painting the girder above him. A twenty-year old youngster was painting above when he fell out of his chair. Miraculously, the man below caught him in mid-air and together hoisted themselves to the deck. Certain death would have occurred had not the man intercepted the fall that would have ended some two-hundred feet below. This miraculous event made all the news in Alaska at the time. The young fellow worshiped his interceptor whose name I can remember only as Frenchy. Frenchy trapped marten in the winter and painted bridges in the summer. He related to me once about his technique in making sets to trap this beautiful fur-bearing animal. Quite a character!

Another humorous incident occurred when a paint crew was working on the Gulch bridge. One Sunday morning a painter shot a black bear that was walking along the creek below the bridge. He shot from the deck of the bridge and seeing he had killed the bear gathered enough three quarter-inch rope to reach his prey below. He solicited the help of the railroad's inspector and another painter to hoist the bear up once he had got down to the bottom and got the bear tied on. The inspector told me later of what happened. He and the other fellow began hoisting the bear up hand over hand. It was a hell of a loa, but they would hoist a while then take a rest then resume pulling. They were so tired that they didn't notice the difference in weight as the rope accumulated on the tope of the deck where they were standing. Well at long last a black leg showed up over the guardrail. They tied off the rope and when they went to hoist the bear up onto the bridge much to their surprise and consternation it was only a little cub that weighed no more than fifty pounds. He would have sworn that bear weighed at least a hundred and fifty pounds. Rope and all he was correct.


© 2006 Charlie Rainwater