Friday, January 10, 2014

Whither the Bridgetender?

     I recently began reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's The Bully Pulpit about Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, and the muckraking journalists of McClure's magazine. Last night one tiny scene jumped out at me. As Ida Tarbell was travelling on the train from Western Pennsylvania to New York, at one point she noticed the bridgetender. This person had a simple role: every time a train crossed the bridge, he was to make sure no coals had flown off the train and could set the wooden bridge on fire.
     This was a job created by a relatively new industry/technology in the form of railroads. But it also was a job that rather quickly became obsolete with other developments such as steel. And while there remain bridgetenders in other ways, such as on some old drawbridges, it's certainly not a job I'd heard of or even thought about before. I'd like to know how many bridgetenders remain in any form.
     Metaphorically, I also wonder who the bridgetenders of today are. To play off that idea further, I also hope we see the purpose of education to help people become not just bridge builders, but also designers of amazing new bridges.

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