Bridge floats, water rises

Published 9:33 pm Monday, August 10, 2009

Let’s see if we got this right: We have permission to remove one section of the railroad bridge, intact. If the court rules in our favor, we will be able to abandon and remove entire bridge; if they rule against us, not only do we have to put the bridge back and the railroad is back in business, but the bridge will have to be raised over the lake!

Nashville Bridge Company was contracted to float the section out. How do you float out a 250-foot section of railroad? Everyone whispered, very carefully!Workers for the bridge company were positioning the six barges—40-feet by 10-feet by 6-feet—into a platform. The barges were partially filled with water to allow clearance under the span. The water was to be pumped from the barges—the barges would float higher, raising the span. Apparently, the shifting of the water caused the barges to sink in 40 feet of water! Now, we really had problems.

The next day, divers went down. Using a method to raise sunken ships, they pumped air into the barges, causing them to rise to the surface. Plan B was, the next time we place eight barges under the bridge making two platforms, each barge was partially filled with water and were slipped under the section. Now, this time, water had been held back at Logan Martin Dam. The water was released, causing the level to rise and thereby causing the section to float!I thought it looked like a battleship being towed into a dock. Anyway, for sure it was the largest mass ever floated on the Coosa River. A series of cranes and winch trucks pulled the section to shore and tied that baby off! Bring on the water!

The next day, we had water everywhere! Folks woke up with 14 feet more water. Lay Lake was twice its size! Open, low land formed a large lake—not deep but big.

Of course, we had to route boat traffic between the open space left by removing the section. We only had two or three weeks, but that was enough. It was scary.

Then the news came down: they could remove the bridge! Yeah, surprise, surprise. “The Cruiser” learned that a demolition crew was coming in to blast the concrete piling out with explosives. Well, I brought my large ice-chest and a dip net—catfish for supper, I thought. Would you believe that, even with all that blasting, not one fish did I see?

The addition of the new water didn’t cause many problems. One that I remember: I was up past Wilsonville cruising in some of that new water, when, wham…bam! I had gotten into someone’s pasture fence, miles from nowhere and nothing to do but take off my little “sailor suit” and work half a day getting barb wire out of my prop! What a sight that must have been: naked as a jaybird and madder than a hornet!

Welcome to Lay Lake!