A brush with history | AspenTimes.com

A brush with history

Tim Willoughby
Aspen Times Weekly

The second day I worked for the music festival, my boss, Glen Daugherty, told me to “paint the bridge.” He led me to the paint dump, a three-foot pile of rusted paint cans covered by a rotting piece of plywood. These were the frugal days of the festival and Daugherty, comptroller, watched every expense down to the penny. As a retired colonel, he was partial to military surplus. That paint came in three colors, silver, green and brown.

Armed with unmarked cans of lead-based silver paint, I set off to paint the car bridge that spanned Castle Creek. The railing of welded six-inch pipe was easy to paint as I stood on the bridge reaching all sides.

Before and after the nine weeks of the festival, anglers fished from the campus bridge nearly every evening before traffic picked up. Perhaps as many fishermen have crossed the bridge as musicians. It is not the best place to find fish, but fishermen don’t need waders there and they rarely snag a willow when they cast. A few uninformed souls would venture over the bridge to the campus ponds, which were stocked with big rainbow trout. If they managed to cast into the ponds before Colonel Daugherty barked at them for attempting to hook one of his “pets,” it was my duty to warn them away.

At one time, a railroad spur to transport silver ore from the Newman Mine ended on the campus side of the river. It crossed the creek over a trestle much higher than the bridge. Castle Creek Road and the road down to the campus followed that old railroad route. After the railroad line was pulled out, the road to town continued to be on the campus side of the river. That perilous road was prone to avalanches and river erosion. When the old road closed, a car bridge was constructed to reunite the Newman mine site with Castle Creek Road.

After painting the railings, I stooped underneath to paint the supporting struts, where I discovered a strange structure. It made little sense to me until I found out that the bridge was constructed from a railroad flatbed car. Rocks piled on each side of the river supported the ends. The railroad car, fortunately of the appropriate length, provided the bridge skeleton. Four-by-twelve planks with road base on top formed the roadbed.

One end of the bridge was a few feet higher than the other end, making it a slippery challenge in the winter, but that design kept water from pooling. However, time ate holes in the timbers.

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Painting the underside struts across the middle of the stream was a stretch, but I learned much about how railroad cars were constructed.

The bridge needed more than a coat of paint. It supported a limited load. The annual semi delivery of festival pianos had to be unloaded on the west side of the bridge. Even dedicated anglers could be startled if a heavy car passed over the rattling and swaying bridge. Spring’s high water eroded the banks, threatening to take the bridge downstream.

I crossed the old bridge countless times and made an equal number of crossings on its replacement. Although the new bridge offered more security, I missed the lessons of the old bridge.

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