Working for the Rivers and Bridges in the 1980 mainly involved major schemes constructing weirs, work on bridges, dredging or realignment of main rivers but occasionally there was the odd surreal episode.
I thought of one of these prior to the recent flooding when Phil Gawne’s rather grandiose plans for Douglas Prom that caught my eye.
It made me think of ‘a bridge too far’.
No! Not the film but a ‘concrete flyover’ constructed many years ago in the Ballaugh curragh by the old Rivers and Bridges Division of the Highway Board.
In the early eighties a wagon from the old Northern Division of the Highway Board (the board) was making its way through the Ballaugh curragh filling potholes on one of the unmade up roads in the area.
As it crossed the bridge just at the back of the Wildlife Park one of its wheels cracked a slate lintel on the old bridge.
Within days we, the R & B section, had swung into action making our way there in sharp order and setting up camp.
Now ‘the board’ could have just inserted a new slate lintel but as the originals had been manufactured several centuries earlier it was assumed this might be a problem. So the new structure was to consist of three large concrete prefabricated concrete sections manufactured at the R & B site and transported to the site.
Things started to go wrong from day one because as those with knowledge about the curragh will tell you it’s just really like the crusty top on a well cooked rice pudding – dig down and you find water – lots of it. However we cracked on, excavating the site diverted (with some difficulty) the Killane River around it and by the expedient of a very powerful pump managing to keep the site clear of water. I busied myself measuring and photographing the old slate lintels, which were destined for the tip, and sent off the result to MNH where they probably still lie in a dusty file.
Things went further awry when the first prefab concrete arrived from our Close Leece Depot.
The wagon went off the side of the narrow track and overturned.
The crane which was to handle the lift had managed to get through so its first job was rescuing the truck. Then concerns about the crane’s ability to function at the job required the site to be engineered with ‘gabion mattresses’ to support it. Reinforcements were sent for and duly turned up in the shape of the Rivers and Bridges ‘Northern gang’.
In the middle of all this, as the engineers pondered things, one (from the Northern Division) suggested humorously ‘what about borrowing a Chinook helicopter from the British Army at Jurby’.
The Chinook plan never got of the ground but the foreman remarked sardonically: ‘I thought when we arrived this would turn out to be a bridge too far.’
Eventually the road in was widened we got the bridge sections to the site and the crane did its job.
There was only one last snag as we started to flood the job prior to reinstating the river flow the concrete structures started to draw apart – resulting in, a halt, some speedy pumping, and the installation of steel braces to hold the three massive blocks firm.
Job over, much money, effort, and time expended we surveyed our work. It looked quite modest (indeed view it today and you wouldn’t rate it all) and you couldn’t help thinking perhaps there might have been a quicker and cheaper method to achieve the same goal.
When it comes to Douglas Promenade Phil might like to pay heed to this story. After all it’s bad enough having his nationalist chums on the warpath over ‘growth’ but if he screws up the Prom job it really will be ‘a bridge to far’ for him!
Maybe, as in the curragh, something more modest would suffice.