THE BRIDGE-‘If you’re scared of heights, I wouldn’t recommend it’|[6/23/05]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 23, 2005

Even though it’s no longer used by motorists, the Old Mississippi River Bridge still must be maintained.

William Boyd is one of six bridge employees with that responsibility.

And Boyd and all those who have gone before him in being hired by the Vicksburg Bridge Commission had to pass a test.

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletter

Receive daily headlines and obituaries

“If you’re scared of heights, I wouldn’t recommend it,” Boyd said.

The test isn’t one you take with pen and paper, and it’s not one for which you can study. But, if you want to work on the bridge, you must be able to climb it. From the roadway to the highest point, it’s 110 feet. Bridge Superintendent Herman Smith said not every applicant passes.

“This one guy was able to climb to the top and walk up there with no problem,” Smith said. “But where you go over the bars, over the side, that’s where he froze.”

Smith said he understands. He’s taken the same test and climbs the bridge frequently. Although he’s never frozen, he admits he does get scared.

“It bothers me, but it’s just something you do,” Smith said.

Workers not only have to climb to the top of the bridge, they occasionally must climb down, 85 feet, inside the bridge’s piers. Inside, signatures of past bridge workers decorate the concrete walls.

Margaret Simmons has never climbed, up or down, the old bridge, but she does know a thing or two about it. Her stepfather, Melvin O. Walker, helped build the bridge that opened in 1930.

“He was an ironworker, honey,” she said. “He even worked on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.”

Simmons’ stepfather participated in the bridge’s 60th anniversary celebration in 1990. He died a year later at 81. Simmons still wears a medallion given to her stepfather at that celebration.

“He built that bridge, every stitch of it,” she said proudly.

It’s that same sense of pride that keeps Smith and his crew coming back to the bridge, day after day.

“I don’t want anything falling down or coming apart that was my responsibility,” Smith said. “I feel like, if I’m going to be here, things are going to be taken care of.”

THE SERIES

In recognition of the 75th anniversary of the opening of the U.S. 80 Bridge over the Mississippi River, The Vicksburg Post is spending a week looking at the old bridge, its operations and history. Many of the photographs accompanying the stories were taken by Post presentation editor Marty Kittrell, who took his camera 110 feet to the top of the span and 85 feet to the bottom of Pier 4, offering rarely seen views.