Courtesy Sue Goldberg/ReminisceWhen our oldest daughter and her fiancé were looking for a wedding venue, Jeff and I offered one of our pastures. Chantal and James thought it was perfect, so we set to clearing the site of blackberries and poison oak. The only other problem was the creek. (Check out these other unusual wedding venues.)
Elgarose Creek runs right through the middle of our farm, and the state protects it as an essential salmon habitat. Coho salmon and steelhead trout travel up the Umpqua River for more than 100 miles to spawn in the creek’s gravel beds. But it isn’t unusual for us to get two inches of rain in a single day in the winter, and the creek can rise up to 12 feet during those storms. The former owners often considered building a bridge across it to make working in that pasture easier, because the only way to access the other side was a nearly 10-minute detour over country roads. During hay season we had to pull out on the county road fully loaded with bales of hay and hope none of them fell off on the journey back to the barn.
With the help of the 90-year-old original homesteader, Jeff picked out a section of the creek that would be suitable for a bridge. The expanse was nearly 50 feet across and 20 feet above the water. As if the physical logistics weren’t difficult enough for us, the project had to be finished before the July wedding and it was already May.
Courtesy Sue Goldberg/ReminisceRick Smith, a family friend, drives a logging truck and knew about a 48-foot flatbed semi trailer that was being decommissioned. Jeff is a metalworker and thought this would provide a sturdy base for the bridge. Rick soon delivered the trailer and, before we knew it, all 48 feet of it were in front of our shop.
Once Jeff finished removing the axles, brake lights, and other unnecessary items, he set about preparing the creek bank where the trailer would sit. Preparations involved many hours of measuring the distance, digging out rocks and tree roots, and carving a landing pad on both sides of the creek. There would be no second chances and the bridge couldn’t vary from level even by a quarter-inch.
The final process would happen over the course of two days. First we would move the flatbed trailer “bridge” to the site—we had to turn it 90 degrees and move it through a 12-foot-wide gate to get it into the pasture. To accomplish this monumental task, we gathered small rounds of firewood and put them under the edges of the trailer. Then we could “roll” the flatbed to turn it slightly, reset the firewood and repeat. The going was slow, but the plan worked!
The second day, we would set the bridge in place at the edge of the creek. Our tractor held down the far end of the bridge while Rick waited on the other side of the creek with his log truck, grapples and chains. Our soon-to-be son-in-law was the runner. He ran down through the creek with the chains from the truck and hooked them to the bridge.
Courtesy Sue Goldberg/ReminisceThis was it. We had one chance to set this bridge, one shot to lift it over the creek and hope it would drop into place. Creaking and shifting with sudden jerks, the bridge slowly slid across the wide expanse. We all held our breath with each movement. Though it seemed unbelievable, the bridge dropped into the slots on each side of the creek as if it had been there for years. A huge success!
We decked the bridge with lumber and added a railing before the wedding day. For the ceremony, Jeff drove the bride down to her bridge in the bucket of the tractor before walking her across.
Courtesy Sue Goldberg/ReminisceSince the wedding, Chantal’s Bridge has been a welcome addition. It’s so much easier to gather hay without driving around the farm, and we can wrangle horses in bad weather without crossing the rushing waters. It allows us to check the high water mark during storms, and we watch the salmon from high and dry on Chantal’s Bridge.