Guest Post: My Back for a Bridge, a Short Story by Leon Moss

Thank you to everyone who submitted work for the January Short Story Contest. The 3rd selected featured entry is:

My Back for a Bridge by Leon Moss

Leon Moss is a retired engineer. He enjoys writing and painting in his retirement. Enjoy his musings on aging at his website: exceedinglysenior.com. This is his second featured short story on this site.

Leon’s entry was based on this writing prompt:

The writing prompt

Please Enjoy

My Back for a Bridge

It’s Sunday, my day of rest and a great day. I’m sitting back in my old rocking chair on the front porch looking out over the fields in front of me. Vegetables, fruit trees, strawberries and in the far distance, cattle grazing peacefully. The sun is shining, there’s a gentle breeze and the sky is bright blue and it doesn’t get much better than this.  

A red pickup comes screeching and sliding around the corner of the house and my son, Jeff jumps out.

“Hey Dad! There’s a cow stuck in the grating! Come and help! Quick!”

No questions. We both pile into the pick-up, the wheels spin on the sand and we shoot along the rutted pathway to the entrance gates. There it is. A large brown and white cow with one withered leg so thin that it has passed through the gap between the bars of the cattle grid. Joe, our handyman, is standing next to the animal. No doubt soothing the poor animal and telling her we will fix the problem?  We splash our way through the rainwater channel I had made years ago and reach the cow, who looks completely disinterested.

“Lift the leg, Joe! Jeff and I will give it a push from behind!” In a few seconds the cow is free and wanders off. No sign of damage.

I sit down on a rock and look around. The ground slopes all the way from the house at the top to the lowest point, the road past the property. Every time it rains the water rushes down the hill, finds its way under the fence and out into the road. The problem is that the water has cut a deep gorge in the soil and is eating away at the dirt road as well. Odd cars that come down this road have to slow down when they cross the trench. It’s time to do something before a cow falls into the stormwater ditch and the 3 of us can’t get her out.

The cow with the bad leg seemed to be the last straw in my ongoing procrastination to the rainwater problem. I consulted with Ed down at the General Store. He listened, thought and finally said, “You must build a bridge”.

“A bridge for the water to go over?”

“A bridge for the cars to go over,” he replied.  “Something simple. Concrete and iron bars will do the trick.”

At home I made a few crude sketches that helped me understand the solution better.  I took one of my diagrams back to Ed and asked him to deliver enough materials for the job.

“Dump it all at a point where you think the bridge should be.”   I own a mini tractor, a small item that comes in very useful on a large farm. I move soil. I carry large loads of feed for the cattle; I pick fruit and strawberries and drive them up to the house. I

have a lawnmower attachment. The tractor works almost every day at many different jobs. I haven’t strained my back since I bought the tractor. But bridge-building is a different ball game. And there is little for the tractor to do. It didn’t take long for me to understand why I am so exhausted at the end of every day and why I have developed a permanent aching back.

I started by digging trenches for the foundations. Halfway done and Ed arrived to see what I was doing.

“That’s all wrong, Pete. You have to first build a protection wall in case it rains while you are in the middle of things and washes it all away. Start again. And those foundation trenches? Make ‘em deeper boy!”

With such encouragement behind me, I dug new trenches so deep that I could walk along without being seen. Then I used the soil from the trenches to build a Great Wall of China to prevent a flood.  And then it was winter and the rains came. I rested.

After 4 months and feeling recovered I looked forward to more bridge building, I mixed concrete for the foundations. No concrete mixer for me. I made a huge pile of stone and sand next the bridge-to-be, made a hole in the middle like Vesuvius, poured water in, picked up the spade and mixed. Have you ever mixed concrete by hand? It is not called concrete for nothing… And the tractor couldn’t help with this. And my back…

I forgot to place the steel reinforcing bars before I poured the concrete but Ed said it didn’t matter because the foundations were not subject to tension, only compression. I sighed deeply in relief. Must say that 2 days later when I stood on the edge of the trench and looked down, the concrete foundations looked great. Strong too! I felt proud. I rested because I knew that the concrete had to set until it was hard. And my back had to rest awhile. 

A month passed and I cut wood planks to make shutters for the upper concrete. I remembered the steel reinforcing bars this time before I filled the shuttering with my special brand of hand-mixed concrete. Everything went well, except for my back. And then it was winter and heavy rains came. My half-built bridge stood firm. It didn’t wash away. The concrete didn’t dissolve. I was proud again. The winter was long and I rested well. When summer arrived, I added walls at both sides of the bridge to keep any stray cars falling off in midstream.

Ed came, stood and looked. “Good job, Pete. Never thought I would see this day!”

“Thank you for all your encouragement, Ed. Couldn’t have done this without you!”

“I’d like to make a suggestion, Pete, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure, Ed. Go ahead.”

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“You still have to cast the concrete floor. It has to be cast in one continuous shot to avoid cracks and you don’t want cracks in the floor of the bridge, do you? And you can’t possibly mix enough concrete by hand to do that, can you?”

“So?”

“I suggest we measure how much concrete you need and then call the Readymix crowd. They’ll send some of those giant mixer trucks full of concrete and pour the whole floor. All you’ll have to do is get all that steel mesh reinforcement in place, spread the concrete out as they pour and float the wet concrete smooth before it dries. Maybe they will even spread it for you. Don’t forget to ask them. Save you buying a pair of gumboots. Save your back too. How do you like that?”

“I love it Ed! Hey, how come you never told me about them before I started the job?”

“Sorry, Pete. Must have forgot.”  

I was ready to strangle him. He knew and he didn’t tell?

I made calculations for the size of the bridge and drove the 20 miles to the General Store so Ed could check them.

“You need about 20 or 30 cubic yards of concrete, Pete. That’s 4 or 5 mixer trucks. Ask them to spread it. It’s a terrible job. Stuff comes pouring out of the mixer truck. It’s wet and heavy. It’ll wreck what’s left of your back.” 

And that’s what I did. What a pleasure it was to stand and watch other men wrecking their backs! Now the bridge looked great. They trowelled the top surface smooth, finished the corners properly and left with my check in hand and smiling with satisfaction. I smiled too. What was left for me to do was to adjust the levels of the road with the bridge. I used the tractor for that.

I bought sturdy pipes from Ed, drilled holes into the tops of both side walls and cemented the pipes in as posts and then welded horizontal pipes across the top of the poles, forming crude balustrades. This is to prevent any pedestrians, sober or drunk, falling off the bridge and into the water below. 

In a final act I bought 2 poles from Ed and painted then white. At the tops I screwed on reflective warning plates for drivers. I didn’t want any careless drivers wrecking my hard-earned bridge.

It’s all done! The bridge stands proudly over rushing water, the road is safe, the cattle grid has gone and everyone is happy! My back? It will take time, the doctor says…      

 

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