Day 6 – A Concrete Bridge

Friday, Nov. 24, 2017

With respect to temperature, each day of the week had been similar, which was a blessing to us since it didn’t rain and it wasn’t bitterly cold.   The mornings were cool and the temperature warmed up as the sun rose.

There were tools and materials we needed to complete the bridge so I had volunteered  the day before to leave before 6 am to go pick them up at the hardware store in Charleston, which I did.

When I returned to the camp site at 7:30, the others had finished breakfast and were talking together as they sat around the table, so I ate some breakfast while they prepared to leave.

When we arrived at the Nichol house, Beverly, Clinton’s wife had also just arrived and she greeted us with tears of joy and hugs.  She had been away all week with her children and grandchildren and she was over-whelmed by what she saw.

Before the concrete arrived at the Nichol house, there were a few items that needed to be completed, such as making vent holes in the bridge structure and and some cleaning and landscaping of the yard.

At 9 am, the concrete arrived, as scheduled and it was all hands on deck.

Justin and Bernie started filling wheelbarrows and dumping the concrete on the bridge deck.

We started at the house end of the bridge.   Wendel and I repositioned  the concrete with a rake and shovel.  Merle, Pat and Steve screened the concrete with a 14 ft 2×6 and Peter trimmed the house side of the bridge.

We were almost half finished, when Clinton, Beverly and their granddaughters put their hand prints in the concrete on the house side of the bridge.

The pouring and screening of the concrete was continuous and we rotated through the different jobs until the deck was complete.

While we poured the concrete, someone had to direct the traffic, which is not a fun job, however, Mary and Spencer did it without a word of complaint.

We completed the concrete deck in approximately 2 hours and it was a very bush and active time.

However, the young men didn’t get tired enough so they had a contest of chin ups on the bridge.

Susan, Mary ( Steve’s wife, who had been helping at the camp site during the week ) and Emily our cook, showed up shortly after we finished and Susan presented Beverly with a hand-made quilt signifying unity.

And of course, the newlyweds of 593 days, Pat and Mary Cash, had to take a picture in front of the bridge.

Each of us signed our names on the steel beams of the bridge.


We took a group photo in front of the bridge as a remembrance of our time together.

And finally, Emily presented Clinton with a birthday cake.

After finishing the cake, we drove back to the camp site, cleaned the vehicles, packed our bags and headed home at 2:30 pm.   We arrived back in Niagara at 10:30 pm having spend a wonderful week building bridges, literally and figuratively, as well as making new friends.

It was such a privilege to work together, in order to re-build the bridge for the Nichols family and we were blessed by having this opportunity, and taking advantage of it.

This journal doesn’t tell the whole story of our trip to West Virginia, but it gives one viewpoint of the many wonderful experiences during the week that we were there.

Day 5 – Thanksgiving

Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017

It was another cool morning and it turned into a sunny mild day in West Virginia.

After another wonderful breakfast we headed to Clinton’s house where he had a small fire going outside.   The frost was still on the ground but it burned off quickly as the sun rose.

We asked Clinton if he wasn’t going to meet his family for Thanksgiving and he told us that his wife Beverly was at their son’s house cooking for his family because his son was hunting.   However, he felt that he wanted to be with us and he didn’t want to be anywhere else.   This was his Thanksgiving.

Spencer, Justin and Bernie, started the day by tying the remainder of the rebar together.

Steve and I started removing the forms around the concrete at the house end of the bridge, while Merle, Pat and Mary removed the forms on the road side of the bridge.

After we removed all but some difficult pieces, Steve filled the Gabion Baskets with rocks using the track hoe, while Clinton  and Peter straightened them out and tied the Gabion Baskets.

Meanwhile I worked at cutting out the sheets of plywood that were jammed between the steel beams and the concrete and Merle assisted me with removing the last piece of wood.  When the forms had been removed Steve started to push dirt up to the concrete form with the track hoe and I compacted the dirt with Spencer’s help.   After that, Steve moved some rocks on top of the dirt.

With the rocks in place, he moved gravel on top of the rocks and then Peter and I smoothed out the gravel.

Steve, Spencer, Bernie and Justin moved a lot of the material on the yard, smoothed out the ground where we had driven.

When we finished for the day, the bridge was almost ready for the concrete.  I asked Clinton if he would let me take a picture of him in front of the bridge.   With his traditional beaming smile, he agreed and afterwards he gave me a big hug and thanked us for all our work.  He told us that Friday would be his 73rd birthday.

Clinton also told me that he was going to set up his chair in front of the bridge with a nice fire nearby.

When we got back to the camp site, we had a wonderful turkey dinner, after which we all shared about how each of us came to faith and what we were thankful for.   It was a wonderful time of sharing and relaxation.

Day 4 – Preparation for Concrete

Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017

It was cool in the morning but it wasn’t as crisp as Tuesday.  The temperature warranted us to ” layer ” our clothing and as the temperature got warmer, we removed some of our extra shirts or jackets.

After making our lunches we ate a hearty breakfast.

As every morning, we finished our meal with a time of sharing.

Clinton was waiting for us and he was happy to see us.

Shortly after we arrived at Clinton’s house, the cement truck arrived and they started pouring the concrete for the ends of the bridge. Merle and Peter directed the pouring of the concrete for the support at the road.

After the concrete had been tamped down, Merle finished smoothing it out.

After that, Merle, Justin, Spencer, Mary and Bernie, help tamp down the concrete on the house side of the bridge.

Peter smoothed the concrete after it had settled.

Steve and I assisted Wendell with tack welding the metal sheets to the steel beams.

Pat cut the 4×4’s that will be used for the curbs.

Justin, Merle and Peter assisted Steve who was operating the track hoe in order to repair a hole in one of Clinton’s underground tanks.

When the metal sheets had been attached to the steel beams, I assisted Justin with the cutting of some of the rebar, which was something he had been doing with Spencer and Bernie earlier.

By the time we finished for the day, the concrete at the ends of the bridge were curing, the metal sheets were tacked to the steel beams, half of the rebar was in place and the forms to hold the concrete on the bridge were in place.

As we were leaving, we realized that we needed a few things for tomorrow and when I checked the internet, I found out that the hardware stores were open until 9 pm but they would be closed for Thanksgiving, so I offered to go pick up the needed items after supper.   We had a very nice Mexican meal and afterwards, Peter and Susan took us to a Mexican restaurant for dessert.  I had a banana chimichanga.   Others had fried ice cream or cheesecake chimichanga.   I left a little  early so that I could get to the hardware store before 9 pm and I arrived back at the site with needed items at 9:30 pm.

I worked on journal for a while after I got back but the internet was so slow that I couldn’t finish it.


Day 3 – Preparation for Concrete

Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017

It was very brisk morning with a temperature of -5 C ( 23 F ) and the vehicles were covered in frost, so we spent some time after breakfast warming up the trucks and cleaning the ice from the windshield.

While the crew headed to the job site, while I ventured back to Charleston to pick up some more supplies.  By the time I got back to the job site, they had made good progress.

Spencer, Bernie and Justin cut rebar and painted more of the steel.

Steve cut the old support pipes on the road side of the bridge with the welding torch and Merle assisted him.   Wendell welded the steel supports on top of the pipes to help support the beams.

Steve operated the track hoe and Justin helped him move some rocks to the base of the bridge supports.

Pat and Mary ( the newlyweds who were married 592 days ago and still counting – but that’s another story in itself ) completed the concrete forms while Peter orchestrated all of the work and assisted with each of the jobs.

Steve burned off some of the extra metal from the beams with the welding torch and then we started to make preparations for laying the corrugated  metal sheets for the concrete.  It was at this time that I realized that I had forgotten to buy the self-tapping screws at the hardware store – one of the main reasons for me to go to Charleston.  Ooops!

So, I had to drive back to  the Home Depot in Charleston at noon.   By the time I drove back to Charleston, picked up what we needed and returned to the job site, it was 2 pm.   I had spent 5 hours and driven 320 km ( 200 miles ) in making the two trips but I would have saved half the time and distance if I had remembered the screws the first time I went.

When I got back, Steve and I used the screws I had picked up, to attach 2 foot 2×4’s to the corrugated metal sheets that would be placed on the steel beams to hold the concrete.

Today we found out that, similar to paint rollers, paint brushes do not float!


Day 2 – Bridge Preparation

Monday, November 20, 2017

We got up  at 6 am, prepared our lunches and ate a hearty breakfast before heading to the job site. It was cool in the morning but it warmed up during the day to about 10 C ( 50 F ).

When we arrived at the site  we unloaded the track hoe and the tool trailer.   Because the bridge was not yet available, we had to drive through a shallow area in the riverbed to get to the other side.

MDS has build 39 bridges ranging from 18 to 90 ft.   This particular bridge would be 53 feet long.

The homeowner, Clinton Nichols had attempted to repair the bridge to his house, however he had an injury and was not able to complete the work.

While the most of the crew started the work on the bridge, Justin and I drove to Charleston to pick up some supplies at four different locations.   It was 1 hour drive to our first stop and by the time we returned to the job site, it was 1 pm.

While we were away, the crew had made good progress on the bridge.  They had added some supports and cleaned most of the steal in preparation for painting.

Justin and Bernie started painting the steel beams for the bridge, however several people helped with the scraping and painting during the day.

And then they helped drive the support posts for the concrete that will be poured at the foot of the bridge alongside the road, while Spencer helped direct traffic.

In late afternoon, Senator Joe Manchin III, ( the former Governor of West Virginia ) came to the site to see what was being done and Peter presented him with an MDS hat that we had all signed.

We even made the channel 13 news in Charleston, WV –

By the end of the day, some supports had been welded to the bottom of the beams and started to prepare forms so that we can pour concrete later in the week.  Also, all of the outside and some of the inside of the beams had been painted.

I am happy to report that the only thing that fell into the river was a paint roller.

We returned to the campsite at 5 pm, for a much needed shower, a wonderful meal and some time for rest and relaxation.

Day 1 – Drive to West Virginia

Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017

A new adventure begins.

A few months ago, I decided to volunteer with Mennonite Disaster Service ( MDS ) during the American Thanksgiving week.   Spencer  Miller, who had joined me twice before and two other young adults Bernhard “Bernie” Pulst and Justin Reimer from Orchard Park Bible Church decided to join me and we opted to go to West Virginia to help build private bridges that were damaged or destroyed by flooding in the recent years.  These bridges are necessary for the homeowners to access the road on the other side of a river.

The temperature was a crisp 2 C (35 F) and overcast when we left Niagara on the Lake at 7 am on Sunday morning and the temperature climbed a few degrees during the day.

We drove to the border and stopped at the “Duty Free” Tim Horton’s for a coffee to bring with us in case we would be held up at the border for an extended period of time.

We were at the border shortly before 8 am and the guard sent us over to the immigration office for document control.   We had no issues at the office and it took only 15 minutes to get clearance before we were on our way, shortly after 8 am.

Our drive was uneventful and we spent our time solving the world’s problems, resolving political issues as well as discussing many unimportant topics.

At noon we decided to stop at Panera Bread for lunch in a small town south of Pittsburgh.   After a nice lunch of soup, sandwiches, chill and posing in front of the store for a picture, we were on our way again.

From left to right: Justin, Spencer and Bernie.

It was 3 more hours driving to get to Clendenin, West Virginia.  Spencer and I continued to discuss various topics and listened to music while Bernie and Justin spend some time inspecting the inside of their eyelids for defects or anomalies.  We had good weather for most of the day however there was a section in the West Virginia mountains where we experienced some wet snow.

We arrived at the MDS site in the abandoned Stillwater Ministries church in Clendenin at 4 pm where we met the site manager, Peter Thiessen and his wife Susan who are from Calgary Alberta.   We conversed with Peter and Susan for a couple of hours before going to Julio’s Mexican Restaurant for supper.   Bernie ordered a meal that had an unusual container consisting of a big cast iron cauldron in the shape of a pig’s head.

After supper we returned to the MDS site where we met the other volunteers and attended the orientation session.  We were told that would be rebuilding a 53 foot bridge that had been damaged by a flood.   38 private driveway bridges have been built ( or re-built ) by MDS, ranging from 18 to 90 feet in length.

During our conversations, Peter told us a powerful story.   One of the groups had vowed that they would finish the bridge they were working on, before they left on Friday, which they did.   That evening the homeowner suffered a heart attack and they ambulance was able to cross the new bridge to take him to the hospital.  The family attributed the completion of the bridge for the saving of the homeowner’s life.

Below is a picture of the bridge that we will be re-building for a homeowner.

This week should prove to be a very interesting and enjoyable trip for all of us.