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Guess the Time Required to Paint an INCREDIBLY Long Bridge

Railroad Bridge between Wrightsville and Columbia (early 1960s, York County Heritage Trust)

I know the answer if there are just two men painting this mile-long railroad bridge between Wrightsville and Columbia.  Besides the buckets of paint, these men were equipped with little more than some paintbrushes, rope and planks of wood.  Harold L. Smith, my Dad working for the Pennsylvania Railroad, along with another man painted this whole bridge between April 22, 1941 and June 30, 1941.


The stone piers from this railroad bridge are still visible just upriver from the Route 462 bridge.  Three bridges have been built on these stone piers.  The stone piers were put in place downriver from the first bridge between Wrightsville and Columbia after it was destroyed by an ice flow February 5, 1832.

The initial 5,620-foot-long wooden covered bridge constructed on the stone piers was destroyed at the time of the Civil War; during the Confederate Expedition to the Susquehanna River in the days preceding the Battle of Gettysburg.  A replacement wooden covered bridge on the same piers was destroyed by a cyclone September 30, 1896.

The Pennsylvania Railroad erected the steel bridge on the same piers in just 21 working days from prefabricated sections.  The first engine and coach crossed the steel bridge June 5, 1897, and the last train crossed during 1958.  The bridge was dismantled for scrap during 1963 and 1964.

After Dad retired, he started taking walks after his heart-bypass surgery.  One day in 1987 when he walked the Route 462 bridge between Columbia & Wrightsville, he walked across the roadway several times to reflect upon the railway bridge piers just up-river.  That evening Dad reminisced about painting the whole rail bridge that once stood on the abandoned piers.

Page from Pennsylvania Railroad Time Log Book of Harold L. Smith

When Dad was in his late 20s, while worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad, just two men (another man and Dad) painted all the steelwork, end to end, on the railroad bridge; it took them several months to do this, working 8 hours a day, and six days a week.  Besides the paint, they were armed with little more then some paintbrushes, some rope and planks of wood.

After Dad died in 1992, I discovered his Pennsylvania Railroad Time Log Book (he worked for the P.R.R. from July 5, 1934 to February 1, 1943).  It showed that from April 22, 1941 to June 30, 1941, working 8 hours a day, and six days a week, Dad’s sole job was at the Wrightsville Railroad Bridge; I now had some details when they painted the bridge.  The page from his Time Log Book shows that at least he did not have to work Memorial Day, but did have to work the following day Saturday as usual.

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The steel bridge was designed as a double deck bridge.  The bottom deck had rails but was planked for other traffic.  An upper deck would be added if this other traffic volume warranted the investment, however that never happened.  Trains always had first rights to the bridge, however at all other times there were people, horses, carriages and wagons on the bridge.

Later cars and trucks also shared the steel railroad bridge until the November 11, 1930 opening of the concrete arched Veterans Memorial Bridge that now carries Route 462 across the Susquehanna River.  The steel bridge became a heavily used railroad-only bridge through the 1940s, however usage quickly diminished during the 1950s as commercial truck traffic increased.

Railroad Bridge between Wrightsville and Columbia (believed to be taken 1897, York County Heritage Trust)

This photo of the steel railroad bridge is believed to show the crew that erected the bridge in 21 working days during 1897.  Looking at the two men on the upper beam, one gets a greater perspective of the enormity of the task of painting this entire bridge.  Especially when painting the upper beams, Dad indicated that one had to hold on for dear life as each train passed.

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