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Galloping Gertie and Other Famous Washington Bridges
Jan 25, 2000 - Jerri Brooker

When I was a kid I loved to go to the movies. One of my favorite things was watching the news clips, previews and cartoons at the beginning of each movie. (In those days we got to see two cartoons generally.) When the black and white movie of "Galloping Gertie" appeared on the screen my jaw dropped. Oh, she was not a gal on horseback, but a bridge: a very famous bridge in Washington State. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed before my cinema eyes in a 42-mile-per-hour wind on November 7, 1940 that produced torsional oscillations which brought the bridge to an end - four months after she was built to span the Tacoma Narrows.

Right there on the screen I watched as the bridge contorted and fell 190 feet into the water below. I couldn't believe my eyes as I watched the 5,939-foot bridge oscillate back and forth like a flag flying in the wind. Only one car went down, but the owner had time to run to safety. I cringed at the replay of that fateful event and the gripping the account of the fall of the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Read newspaper editor Leonard Coatsworth's gripping eyewitness account of the sheer terror experienced by the owner of the car that went down. It'll grab you, I'm sure, as it did me.

The picture of Galloping Gertie's demise is still etched in memory to this day. If you'd like to experience it for yourself, you can. The best site I've found is Mark Ketchum's bridge site. You'll find links, photos, a movie and the story of the rise and fall of a suspended plate girder bridge that changed the way bridges are built. You can read the technical jargon on Mark's page, too. I leave that to my engineer husband and those of you into the into the mechanics of that fateful event. You will enjoy this site and the link to the technical paper on the bridge collapse.

In 1992 the remains of the bridge remaining in the deep were added to the National Register of Historic Places to protect that piece of Washington State History. Seventy-eight other Washington State bridges are also on the Register.

The now-standing, rebuilt Tacoma Narrows Bridge is the first suspension bridge built in the United States. The Narrows bridge is not the only bridge of fame in the state, however. We have four of the world's eight floating bridges. Two side-by-side bridges form the I-90 Interstate bridge crossing Lake Washington, another is the Highway 520 Albert D. Rossellini Bridge crossing Lake Washington and the fourth is the Hood Canal Bridge crossing Hood Canal which also saw a fateful crash into Hood Canal waters in a strong wind. The Hood Canal floating bridge is designed to part to let large ocean vessels through.

We feel like we own a part of the Hood Canal Bridge. We lived in Bremerton, Washington while my husband went to school at the University of Washington in Seattle. He rode the Bremerton ferry to school every day. We took the Hood Canal Bridge to visit our parents on the week-ends and paid tolls for many years. Tolls are no longer required.

If you want to read more about the bridge the Washington State Department of Transportation's (DOT) History Page gives the lowdown on construction of the second pontoon floating bridge built in Washington State, it's crash into the saltwater tidal basin in 120-mile-per-hour winds February 13, 1979, and how it has been rebuilt.

I still cringe when I travel over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and the Hood Canal Bridge to this day. Human nature. I have a weakness for heights and water. I like to keep my feet on the ground, though our state ferries (another story for later) don't seem to have that effect on me.

A few other noteworthy bridges in the State are the Astoria-Megler Bridge across the Columbia River from Washington to Oregon: it's the longest (4.1 miles) continuous-steel-span truss bridge in the world, and the Seattle University Bridge built in 1933. Its fame was the use of steel mesh deck grating that reduced the weight of the small drawbridge and was designed to last longer than wood.

The longest single concrete arch bridge in North America is the Fred Redmon Memorial Bridge on Interstate 82 near Yakima. The Ed Hendler Bridge which also crosses the Columbia River is the second-longest cable-stayed bridge in the world.

And finally, though I'm sure I missed some, is the Grays River Covered Bridge on Highway 4 in Grays Harbor County - it's the state's only existing covered bridge and is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

That's a lot of bridges to cover a lot of water in our great state. Seattle has 167 bridges if you want to count. Hope you get to visit some of them someday.

Copyright 2000, Jerri Brooker

The copyright of the article Galloping Gertie and Other Famous Washington Bridges in Washington State is owned by Jerri Brooker. Permission to republish Galloping Gertie and Other Famous Washington Bridges in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.


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