A Bridge into the Sky
The Mackinac Bridge

Mackinaw City, MI

June 3rd, 2000

One might say that every state in the U.S. has its uniqueness. Some are just more obvious than others. Michigan is no exception but here the uniqueness is quite obvious. For starters, it is the only state that is split in half by a large body of water. The LP (lower peninsula) is separated from the UP (upper peninsula) by the fast moving 4 mile wide Straits of Mackinac which connect Lake Huron to Lake Michigan. Before 1957, life developed independently on either side of the Straits. The infrequent ferries which shut down in the winter because of the ice, were the only way to move from one part to the other without going around through other states. As early as the 1800s thoughts of building a bridge surfaced. But all attempts were stopped by the massive engineering problems facing such a project. The idea almost got off the ground in the 1930s but died when the need for steel for war materials took precedence over the idea. For several more decades the idea was batted back and forth between the politicians and engineers until in 1954, the project found itself with both the money and the design needed. While traveling up from Ohio, we had often talked with the local campground folks about our intent to go to Canada through Michigan. It usually produced the same reaction "You're going to take that rig over the bridge?" This was almost always followed by tales of miles and miles of bridge, hundreds of feet in the air, swinging back and forth in the wind while you drive on it. There always seemed to be someone in the group that "Refused to go over that thing!". And someone else would offer "You know, they have drivers who will drive your rig across if it's too frightening!" It was these thoughts that ran through my mind as we pulled into Mackinaw City, and took a campsite along the shore of Lake Huron where each day I could look out and watch the cars and trucks creeping across the ribbon-like bridge both day and night. We spent a week in the city, taking in the sights and watching the bridge in the evening. On one of our frequent trips to the business district we found the Mackinac Bridge Museum, in the unlikely place of a second floor room in Mama Mia's Pizza. After wandering up the stairs, we found ourselves in a room shaped somewhat like the inside of a large air liner, with seats in the middle and an assortment of photos and memorabilia under glass along both walls. The ceiling displays an array of hard hats warn by the workers during the bridge construction. The 30 minute movie gave a detailed chronicle of the construction which took place between 1954 and 1957, and what a construction it was! Hundreds of men who must have been daredevils, crazy or both, danced along wires and on towers in all kind of weather forming one of the longest and tallest suspension bridges in existence. When finished, 5 miles of roadway stretched out above the ground and water leading from one half of Michigan to the other. The main engineering feat was the mile and a half of bridge held up by suspension cables strung over two immense 552 foot towers built in the middle of the Straits. The basic unit of wire used for these cables was less the 2 tenths of an inch in diameter. Over 42 thousand miles of this coat hanger size wire was systematically wrapped into cables which in turn were wrapped into larger cables until a cable with over 12000 wires and measuring 24 and a half inches thick was created. Each of these two cables is capable of holding 16,000 tons of roadway, suspended a foot short of 200 feet above the water, and YES, IT MOVES! With our weeks work done, it was time to move on and time to drive the rig over Big Mac, as the bridge is affectionately called. The long approach was straight forward as the bridge came into view stretching out like a ribbon rising into the sky. We dropped to a crawl as we passed the oversized speed sign limiting trucks and trailers to a mere 20 mph. and then it was onto the bridge and out over the water, and nothing. No movement, no wind, no thrills, no anything. It was a 4 lane bridge which drove like any other part of and expressway. Awwww, what a disappointment. Not really, those tales of the bridge in bad weather were a little too realistic for me to be wanting to make the run in a high wind. No matter what the weather, day or night, it is for sure, on spectacular piece of expressway.

*** THE END ***