So, you and a buddy just acquired a butt-load of lumber, enough to provide a really good start on the “huntin’ cabin” you have always dreamed about. Problem is, to get it, you have to completely dismantle a 40-foot long, 20-foot wide, wooden bridge; then load the lumber and cart it all out. And, oh yes, the bridge is perched cock-eyed and twisted on the bank of a creek a quarter-mile into a sandy cotton field. And, another thing, it is the middle of January in Oklahoma, and cotton fields do not have any trees – or anything – growing on them to stop the wind from sandblasting the top layer of skin from your face.
If the aforementioned scenario sounds daunting, that is because it is. I believe it would seem daunting even to the young and agile, much less for the middle-aged and, well, not-so-agile, like me and my buddy, Hoot (at ages 51 and 46, respectively, when this project began). Most men our age, I would venture to say, would have soundly refused such a task. In fact, looking back now, I would not have blamed Hoot at all had he taken that stance, and told me to go jump in a lake – or issued some other response with the same meaning, while employing more descriptive and much stronger language. To his credit, however, even upon personal inspection of the bridge on the morning of January 14, 2012, with the temperatures barely up from a morning low of 29°, Hoot was all in, saying, “Hell yes, let’s go for it! I think we can do this!” So, with that decision behind us, and our conviction to “go for it” in front of us, we climbed in his pickup and drove the 18-mile trip back home from the bridge site to gather the proper tools for the task, excitedly discussing potential cabin designs as we traveled.
Now, at this point in our story, one might be starting to formulate, in one’s mind, pictures of fancy power tools and the like, maybe even a tractor or fork-lift. I wish I could say you were right, but you are not – at least not entirely. No, growing up as simple (translated “poor”) country boys, the tools of the trade for such a task were always of the manual kind, and that had not changed much at this point in our lives – only that Hoot was the proud owner of a real, store-bought, eight-foot, pry bar. Back in the day, he would have had to grab a crow bar, or perhaps an old tire tool from a corner of the garage or, like me, an axle rod from one of my granddad’s old Model “A” or “T” cars. No, the tools we threw in the back of Hoot’s truck to tackle that huge chore on that cool, winter day were not fancy at all:
1 – 8 ft. Pry Bar (store-bought)
1 – 5 ft. Axle Rod (from old, Model “something” car)
2 – 3 ft. Crow Bars
1 – 10 lb. Sledge Hammer
2 – 5 lb. Hand Sledges
6 – 8 inch Concrete Blocks (to stack lumber on)
1 – Bottle Yukon Jack Perma Frost (Rheumetiz Medicine)
But we were pumped about finally turning all our talk and dreams of a hunting cabin into reality, and we were up for the challenge! Smiling, as “Mrs. B”, my lovely wife, would say later, “like a couple young boys about to build their first tree house”, we headed back to Stinking Creek bridge.
By now, the temperature approached the mid forties and the sun was shining, but the Oklahoma wind was gusting up to 20 miles-per-hour from the south. Our spirits still high, we jabbed the eight-foot bar under the first runner plank (the ones running the length of the bridge, serving as “runners” for the vehicle tires) and began to pry it upwards. But the large, ring-shanked nails holding the runner to the cross-planks below did not give and the edge of the board split off. Not to be defeated, I grabbed the ten-pound sledge hammer and beat the pry bar further under the plank. We pried again, and this time the nails gave. Sliding the axle rod in the pry bar’s place and moving the eight-foot bar down to the next set of nails, we repeated the process until we had our first 20-foot plank removed from the old bridge. As we carried the heavy board up the bridge to the stacking area on the edge of the field and placed it on a set of concrete blocks, I thought, “By golly, we CAN do this!” We were on our way and, by the end of that first day, had all of the runner planks from one side of the bridge removed and stacked, awaiting transport to our construction site.
The next day began at a brisk 26° and was, weather-wise, basically a repeat of the day before, with one exception – the wind was blowing steady at 20-25 mph and gusting frequently to 30 mph by the time Hoot attached his 12-foot trailer and stopped by to pick me up. With the excitement still high, however, we quickly packed a lunch and a couple beers, grabbed our tools from my out-building, and headed out for Stinking Creek bridge, where Hoot and I beat, and pried, and hammered, and stacked lumber until we had removed all the runner planks from the bridge. Wind-blown and tired, we decided to call it a day, have a shot of Rheumatiz Medicine (see Granny Moses/Beverly Hillbillies, circa 1962) and then stack a load of planks on Hoot’s trailer and haul them to our future cabin site. We would tackle the chore of removing the “cross-planks” the next weekend.
When we returned home, my loving wife noted (nice way of saying “quipped”) how it seemed the boyish glow on our faces and excitement of that first day had been replaced by windburn and the fatigued look more typical of a couple fellows our age; to which Hoot replied, “Hell, yeah! This is damn hard work!” I could not have agreed more. My face burned, my right elbow ached from swinging the sledge hammers, and my body was tired – but my determination, our determination, was undaunted. We would get that bridge dismantled come hell or high water, though it was looking like the former might be the more likely.
The next weekend began much like the first. Hoot came by and we packed lunch, threw in our tools, and hooked my pickup to a sixteen-foot trailer borrowed from a friend to make hauling of the 20-foot planks easier – and less likely to get us a ticket from the Highway Patrol! Shortly after we arrived at the bridge site, Ronnie drove up to check on us. He was going to have to attend a birthday lunch for his mother-in-law, but might be able to give us a hand later on, if we needed it. Well, we needed it! It was considerably more difficult to pry the ring-shanked nails loose from the heavy, dense bridge beams and, after pouring out much sweat and blood over the course of a couple hours, we had only removed eight cross-planks (about one fifth of them) from the bridge. It was definitely time for a shot of Granny Moses’ Rheumatiz Medicine and a bite of lunch!
As we were eating lunch, Ronnie came down to the site again to let us know the birthday bash had been changed from lunch to an early dinner and he would be able to help us for a few hours. Observing our limited progress, Ronnie suggested he bring his tractor down while we finished our lunch and see if he might be able to use it to put some pressure on the planks while we pried them up. This turned out to be a most excellent (and welcomed) idea.
Reaching the tractor’s loader bucket over from the creek bank, we were able to get a chain, attached to the bucket, around one end of each plank. As Ronnie applied upward pressure with the tractor’s hydraulic system, Hoot and I worked our way from beam to beam, applying manual pressure with our pry bars to assist in lifting the planks from the bridge without snapping them into pieces. As a plank came free, we would run (literally) to the top of the creek bank to guide the plank onto the stack, remove the chain, flip the plank, hammer the protruding nails over, and run back to the bridge to hook the chain around the next plank. This process brought some serious sweat and blood from our old bodies, but it was working well and we wanted to get as much out of Ronnie and his tractor as we could before he had to go, so run we did! (Hoot would later say he thought he was “going to have a goddamned heart attack” before it was through.)
After placing the last cross-plank on the stack with about 30 minutes to spare before he had to leave, Ronnie decided to take a stab at dragging one of the eight-inch, by sixteen-inch, by 40-foot beams out of the depression in the creek bank and up into the field, just to see how his tractor would handle it. Well, it handled it quite effectively, thank you, and thirty minutes later, with me and Hoot again running to hook and unhook the chain, we soon had all eleven beams from Stinking Creek bridge lying in the cotton field at the edge of the creek bank amongst stacks of lumber that had once served as its planking. The bridge was now completely dismantled and, once the long beams were cut in half, ready for transport to a new home – and a new life…
© From Creek to Cabin in 287 Days