Thursday, May 03, 2007

Galloping Gertie

Government bureaucrats are always on the job. Always.

After doing some research for work at the library, I was flipping through some old bound volumes of Time. I found some extra information on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse in a Nov. 18, 1940 Time story.

Not wanting to be haunted by the ghost of Henry Luce, I shall quote lightly from the story. The morning of the collapse, the undulations of the bridge were "no worse than usual"...but no worse than usual meant that the bridge was swaying seriously and that drivers and pedestrians got seasick as they went across the bridge "The bridge was throbbing as if it were alive". However, the problem was serious enough that scientists at the nearby University of Washington were doing wind tunnel studies in a futile effort to fix the bridge.

On the morning of the collapse, a U of W prof set up a camera that would wind up taking some of the famous movie footage that you may have seen. Also...

Soon after him came 25 year-old college student Winfield Brown who paid his 10 cent pedestrian fee and walked across for the thrill.

Today, the bridge would be shut down, but back then they collected tolls as usual! Amazing. It's a good thing that the toll collector went off the job later that day: "Sure the bridge is out, but if you hit the gap at about 90 MPH, you may be able to jump it. 25 cents please."

I'm not a fan of safety Nazis, but I draw the line at collecting tolls for a bridge that is about to collapse. I'm fussy that way, I guess.