Those cables that still cross the Colorado River where the Dewey Bridge used to be are deceptive. The old bridge was a suspension design, so those relatively thin ropes of steel were the backbone of the structure, bearing the weight of so many cars, cattle, bikes and people over the decades.
Now the Dewey Bridge Rebuild Committee is hanging their hopes on the high-alloy steel cables.
"On one main cable, I'm not sure if I'm seeing fray on the cable, or if there's some trash on the cable, we'll have to look closer at that," Grand County Engineer Mark Wright said at the committee's first meeting, April 24. "But they are tungsten cables, and the information I get is it takes a red-hot heat to temper tungsten. To verify the cables I think we need to take some samples of the wires, break them, and do the metallurgy. If we've got those high-alloy steels, it's likely that we didn't suffer heat tempering."
That was about the extent of the speculation on the condition of the bridge's remains. Most in the room seemed willing to accept that the bridge's superstructure is still viable. From there, the committee moved forward, discussing the nuts and bolts of the bridge reconstruction.
"The diagonals are tensioned in there with vertical tension rods, and they're snugged up so it holds all the diagonals against the thrust blocks," engineer Don Pettygrove said. "It's a real neat design."
Pettygrove is the engineer who oversaw the restoration of Dewey Bridge at the turn of the century, and his esoteric description wasn't lost on the roomful of bridge buffs. While most people would be confused at the first diagonal in his description, many of the committee members were part of the restoration, and they know Dewey Bridge down to its bolts.
Two couples, Dale and Wilda Irish, and D.L. and Colleen Taylor, were instrumental in the bridge's restoration, and they've returned to see it rebuilt. Grand County Historical Preservation Commission Chairman Bruce Louthan emphasized the importance of having long-term Moabites representing the project.
"The engineering people are going to believe it's either doable or not," Louthan said. "But with regard to fundraising, there's a need for credibility. One of the reasons Dale was able to raise money for both the bridge and the Shafer Home, is that people know Dale has been here his whole life," Louthan told the group. "The same is true of [D.L. Taylor]. This is not a rich community. They've got to be persuaded that we've got community interest at heart, we don't have any personal ax to grind."
The committee also seemed to lean toward creating as accurate a reproduction as possible given the available materials. "I don't think it would be historically accurate unless you build a dimensionally correct bridge. For the validity of the restoration, if you're going to be collecting funds people will want it to be as historically accurate as possible," Pettygrove said.
Historical accuracy is also important because the bridge is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The committee is prepared for some contention over the details of that accuracy. "I'm sure there'll be people who'll quibble. As I've always said, if you've got two archaeologists in a room, you've got three opinions. Historians are very much the same," Louthan said.
Modern standards may also dictate some of the rebuilding specifications. While some suggested that the bridge's recent use, as a link in the Kokopelli Bike Trail, would have lower capacity requirements than its original design, Wright said it will still need to support a great deal of weight. "Our current design standards for a pedestrian/bike bridge are 50 pounds per square foot," he said.
Committee members were encouraged by the turnout from Grand Junction. In addition to Pettygrove, three other Coloradans attended the meeting, including Ron Rorene, who volunteered to co-chair the committee with Dan O'Laurie Museum Director Travis Schenck.
"I feel like the Dewey Bridge is just as much a part of western Colorado as it is of Utah," Rorene said. "If you have a representative from Colorado, Don and I would like to participate, and we believe we could raise some money on that side, too. If it wasn't for our river, you wouldn't have that bridge."
Pettygrove also expressed his personal enthusiasm for the project. "It kind of got under my skin ‒ I love that bridge. There's a lot of love for that bridge in Grand Junction."
There is already an account set up for donations to the bridge, which has about $2,500 left over from the restoration. Committee members estimate the cost will be over $1 million.
Donations can be sent to Diana Carroll, Grand County Clerk/Auditor; Attention: Dewey Bridge, 125 E. Center Street, Moab, UT, 84532. All funds will go into a specific account, earmarked for the bridge. Checks should be made to Grand County, and all donations are tax deductible.