Complicated vertical-lift bridge keeps river, road traffic flowing in Satartia|[1/21/06]

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 23, 2006

SATARTIA – Bobby Ragland’s job used to be pretty confining because he had to stay close enough to the Satartia Bridge to hear a horn.

After all, he’s the guy who flips the switch that lifts the roadbed that moves out of the way of boats traveling on the Yazoo River below.

&#8220Now everyone has a cell phone, so they’ll call and tell me they’re leaving Vicksburg,” Ragland said. &#8220I know they’ll be here in anywhere from seven to 10 hours, depending on the load. It’s 50 miles on the river from here to there.”

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Ragland, an employee of Yazoo County, has had the job of raising and lowering the vertical lift bridge – one of only three in the state – for five years.

&#8220I still have to stay where they can get ahold of me to tell me they’re coming,” he said.

A vertical lift is a movable bridge that carries roadways or walkways and can be raised and lowered like a building elevator. The bridge is raised and lowered using supporting end cables attached to rotating drums in the towers on each side of the bridge.

&#8220We used to have a lot of problems with it because of all the mechanics,” said Ragland, 68. &#8220But two or three years ago the electrical work was redone. It works a lot better now.”

Ragland said although most of the mechanical errors on the 30-year-old span can be overridden manually, if one mechanism isn’t working, the entire lift is inoperable.

&#8220It’s designed like that for safety reasons,” he said.

His job activity depends on the river stages, Ragland said.

&#8220Right now, it’s so low, I haven’t had any folks up the river in four or five months. But usually it’s busy this time of year. Sometimes I have to raise it several times a day and sometimes none at all. It just depends,” he said.

&#8220It doesn’t even take a minute to raise the bridge. Sometimes I don’t even have to raise it all the way if the river’s just right,” he said.

Ragland said most of the river traffic is to and from Vicksburg, Yazoo City, Greenwood and Belzoni, he said.

The only two other vertical lift bridges in the state are over the Yazoo River in Leflore County and over the Tallahatchie River in Tallahatchie County.

&#8220I think the one at Satartia is probably the only one that is still lifted these days. The others probably don’t get as much traffic,” said Fred Hollis, bridge engineer with the Mississippi Department of Transportation Office of State Aid Road Construction.

Hollis said the reason vertical lift bridges are unusual is that they’re more mechanically complicated than other bridges.

&#8220That kind of bridge is dependent on a counter-weight and cable system, which is a steel wire, that’s not as durable in weather as other types of bridges might be,” Hollis said.

The bridge is one of the main attractions in the small Yazoo County town of 68 residents. Situated between miles of corn fields and just down the road from a small county grocery and a cotton processing gin, the bridge has a lure all its own.

The river was given its name by the French explorer La Salle in 1682 when he found a small Indian tribe with that name living near its mouth.

Several ghost-hunting Web sites and WJTV News Channel 12 in Jackson have cited hauntings around the Satartia bridge.

The Web site claims visitors to the bridge can see yellow-green bubbling water in the river and hear moans down below at night.

Perhaps it’s the lost souls of the Indians, who according to one legend, marched into the river to their deaths because they refused to surrender to the French.

Or maybe it’s a lost crew of one of the 29 boats sunk in the Yazoo River during the Civil War.

But the people of Satartia say it’s just a tall tale.

&#8220There’s nothing to it,” said Lewis Davis, owner of Davis Grocery down the road from the bridge.

&#8220Unless you’re talking about those two kids who went down there that one night and never came back … Nah, I’m just kidding. People farm those fields over there at night and have never been scared. There’s no ghosts over there,” he said.

&#8220It’s just an old bridge. That’s all.”