Bridge crew chats about job

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

WALL WORK — Wyman & Simpson, Inc. employee Cory Colby works on a wall at the future Bay of Naples Bridge. (De Busk Photo)

NAPLES — The crew working on the Bay of Naples Bridge construction project agree it is a job site they love, and bridge building is a job they enjoy doing — most days, at least.

“It’s not just punching in from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” said Mike Mason, 31, who has been working for the general contractor Wyman & Simpson Inc. for three years.

“It’s fun to come here and see Long Lake and the mountains. It’s one of the better jobs we have worked on,” said Mike Mason, 31.

Other co-workers echoed Mason’s statements on Monday as they stood or sat in the Naples field office for the Maine Department of Transportation’s bridge and causeway project.

“It is unbelievable — he read my mind and said what I was thinking,” said Rick Kelly, 50, who lives in Chesterville.

“It’s a nice place to work,” Kelly said.

“And, the fact that I am doing something that will be around for 50 years, and I won’t,” he said.

Some of the benefits employees cited: A waterside view of the year round scenery, the Naples-based catering service that served warm food to workers last winter, and a dependable pay check.

There is the weather to deal with: Muggy summer days, driving rains, and winter temperatures driven colder by a wind off the lake.

Then, there is the project that will keep them working in Naples for another 19 months.

The Bay of Naples Bridge will replace the town’s 60-year-old swing bridge. The new bridge will be an arch bridge with an 80-foot span between two concrete abutments. The bridge is scheduled to be unveiled — ready to drive over in May 2012, while the rest of the project, including a revamped Causeway with an amphitheater, will be completed by June 2013.

According to MDOT Resident Engineer Craig Hurd, the cost of the project is between $8.9 and $9.1 million. The Town of Naples will be responsible for $405,000 of that cost.

On Monday, Hurd said the plan for the week had been laid out: Tuesday, crews would place concrete to beat the adverse weather and get the job done before the holiday break.

So, on Monday, crews were preparing for a big concrete placement that would take place the following day.

“Today, it feels like punching in because we are waiting for concrete,” said Eric Nichols, 49.

But other days, “it flies right by. It always changes. It’s always exciting,” said Nichols, who has been with Wyman & Simpson for six years.

Everyone concurred that an almost day-to-day change occurred with both the scenery and the tasks involved with building the bridge and reconstructing the town’s Causeway.

“I like working building bridges,” Jim Buckhoff, 48. The Poland resident has worked for Wyman & Simpson for four years.

“Every day is different. You come in and do something different every day. Sometimes, you do something, and you won’t do it again for five years,” Buckhoff said.

“It is a pretty cool way to make a living,” he said, adding he enjoyed being outdoors, and that was a plus.

While Wyman & Simpson employees who have been in the bridge-building business for a while are still amazed by what they do for a living; for 32-year-old Cory Colby, the newness of the job makes it thrilling.

“For me, it’s all new. I’ve only been building bridges for one-and-a-half years. I was a residential carpenter for 10 years,” said Colby, a resident of Waterford who was raised in the Oxford Hills.

“Every day is mindboggling to me. Flying steel, driving sheets — it’s all new. So, it’s exciting to me,” Colby said.

“Seeing a 30-by-30 foot wall flying through the air — it’s impressive,” Colby said.

Mason said it was remarkable to see what had been done, to step back at look at what had been accomplished.

“In the last month, it is starting to take shape, the bridge. You can see what is coming as far as the wing-wall,” Mason said.

Nichols, who spent the last few months wrapping up another Wyman & Simpson project, the Westbrook Exit 48, compared it to the Naples plans.

“This bridge is an arch bridge. I just came from Exit 48,” he said. “This is not steel, it’s all concrete. This is just a different bridge. It is one-of-a-kind.”

With a year on the Causeway under their belts, and another cycle of seasons ahead, how do the crews feel about the weather?

“It’s great in the summer, spring, and fall,” Mason said.

There was a succession of nods in omitting winter from the list of favorites for working outdoors.

“I don’t like the winter, that lake has wind and it gets chilly,” Kelly said.

Buckhoff agreed. “It gets really windy and cold in the winter. We were in tents last winter,” he said.

Colby said he had a harder time with the summer temperatures than staying warm in the winter.

“The cold you can dress for. The heat kills you. You can only take so many clothes off,” he said. The additional required safety equipment when working on the water like the personal floatation devises — or life jackets — just adds to the heat retention, he said.

“When it’s hot, it is miserable,” Colby said.

When asked if they were thankful to have a job — especially in the current economic environment, there were resounding “Yeses.”

The crew members also said they appreciated the individuals in Naples, the residents who made their construction timeline stay a little better.

“The lady over at Sun Sports would make coffee for us, and bring it over. The caterer down the road made food for us,” Colby said.

Lake Region Caterers, run by Jeffrey and Vickie Toole, provided a meal for workers this past winter.

“We love stuff like that. It lets us know people appreciate what we are doing,” Colby said.

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