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Big Bailey Bridge a Lifelong Dream for West Virginia Man

Wed September 20, 2006 - Northeast Edition

BIGBEND, WV (AP) Francis Cain has grown tired of walking across a wobbly 300-ft. swinging bridge every time he leaves his house.

If the water’s low enough in the Little Kanawha River, which divides his property from state Route 5, he carefully drives through it.

Cain remembered boating across the river to get to the main stretch of road in this Calhoun County town outside of Grantsville.

Now he and his wife will get to rest their feet and the shock absorbers on their vehicles.

Laborers have pieced together a 30-ton (27.2 t) Bailey bridge that connects the Cain property to state Route 5.

Cain, a well-known farmer and independent oil and gas contractor in Calhoun County, is footing the bill for the private project. He chose not to disclose the costs.

But he expressed joy in finally having access to a bridge after spending most of his life on the family’s 1,500-acre farm.

Contracting firm Turman Construction of Barboursville, WV, erected the steel piers in April, and local workers began assembling the rest of the 320-ft. (97.5 m) long steel bridge in late July.

As the bridge work was wrapping up recently, Cain was anxious to drive the first vehicle across it.

“I told ’em, ’We’re first,’” he said.

Military engineering units have historically designed Bailey bridges for military purposes. They are prefabricated truss bridges.

Donald Bailey, a civil servant in the British War Office, invented the structures during World War II to provide means for forces to cross waters in Europe. They were first used in Italy in 1943.

Bailey parts are made of standard steel alloys and are simple enough to assemble by hand.

Cain needed some heavy equipment to get his project started, but workers then pieced it together like a toy construction set.

“It’s just like a Tinkertoy or Erector Set,” said Cain’s wife, Donna.

“I hope I live another 10 years just to enjoy the new bridge,” she said. “The last two years have gotten terrible walking across that swinging bridge. We have to move on.”

She said the ragged, wooden bridge, resembling something out of an Indiana Jones movie, poses a danger to pedestrians, especially to her 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Francis Cain built it in the 1960s. He cautioned folks walking on it, “Don’t look down.”

“When it was first built, we thought it was as good as sliced bread,” he said.

His father bought the property in 1927, and the Cain family lived in a log house.

Cain went on to serve in Guam during World War II.

He also earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture at West Virginia University. But he was attending Potomac State College when he first met his wife at a Keyser grocery store.

“I was downtown and probably should’ve been studying,” Cain said with a grin.

Building your own bridge can be a drawn-out process, the Cains said. One must first acquire a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a private bridge.

Engineers working on the project had to resubmit the application a few times.

The neighboring area, mostly rural and forested, may have smaller private bridges over streams, but nothing as extensive as a steel Bailey bridge.

Cain doesn’t deny it will lessen the burden of work on his farm.

He said he’s had to find ways to haul oil and gas rigs across the river, as well as trucking cattle and hay elsewhere.

Several people in the county rely on the oil, gas, timber and farming industry, he said.

“To us, this bridge is a big thing,” Cain said.

He chose a Bailey bridge because he believes it’s the most cost-efficient.

His son, David Cain, who’s fronting the bridge assembly efforts, said he’s spoken with a few military friends who recommended building a Bailey bridge.

“There are just 28 basic components to this bridge,” David Cain said. “Once you start doing it, it’s easy. Things just roll into place.”

The son worked on construction jobs in Washington, D.C., in the 1970s and has done contracting work in the Calhoun County area for several years. But he has never put a bridge together.

He and a few local workers have battled 90-degree days clamping steel pieces together.

But he’s looking forward to completing the project, as a sheer personal accomplishment and as a favor to his parents.

“I remember being 12 when the swinging bridge was put up,” David Cain said. “Before that, we had to take a boat across the river. That was different. There weren’t many people around growing up in those circumstances.”

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