August 15, 2007
Over 100 million people have traveled the famed Mackinac Bridge. A magnificent structure that links our lower peninsula with the upper, spanning the Straits of Mackinaw.
Later this year the bridge will celebrate 50 years of service, it opened November 1, 1957.
I'm not sure how old I was when I first laid eyes on the "Mighty Mac," maybe 9 or 10 years old. But I do recall feeling like all my senses were heightened and I marveled at its size and beauty. It was incredible, unlike anything I had ever seen before. A megastructure, and this at a time before I knew there were such things.
Like so many other families in the mid-60's, taking a family vacation meant going across the Mackinac Bridge. Our tan and white pickup camper riding piggy-back on dad's 1966 red Ford pickup churned its way across the bridge, the eerie humming sound of tires rolling over steel grates as we made our way.
The boats off in the distance were mere specks in the water and even the giant iron-ore ships were dwarfed by the bridge. Looking straight up, you could see the enormous twin pillars that the bridge sat on and they seemed to reach to the clouds.
Since those days, I have crossed the Mackinac Bridge many times. Too many times to count. Each time though, I feel like a kid again, just like the first time I crossed. I'm still in awe of this structure that has become world famous and a symbol of our great state.
My sister Michele doesn't share my entusiam for the bridge. As I recall, she was scared-silly to cross the bridge. As dad drove, mom inevitably put a death grip on the dashboard, cautioning dad to be careful every inch of the way. Meanwhile, in the pickup camper bunk above the cab, I had my nose to the window trying to take it all in, every sight, every smell, every sound. Michele of course had her head under a pillow or blanket and refused to look until we were safely on land.
Only once did she fall for her older brother's prank of, "Okay Michele you can look now." Peeking out and seeing nothing but crystal clear blue water and cables, she'd punch me in the arm, and not peek out from under the covers again until we got to Paul Bunyon and Babe the Blue Ox.
The Mackinac Bridge is the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere at five miles long. It took three years and 2,500 men to build it. It's an imposing sight, the height of the roadway at midspan is 200 feet above water level. The bridge is designed to accommodate wind, change in temperature and weight. It's truly an engineering marvel.
It wasn't always as easy to get to the Michigan's U.P as it is today. Prior to the bridge there were nine ferry boats that transported vehicles and passengers across the 'Straits.'
Obviously, I don't recall a crossing by ferry boat. I'm told it wasn't always such a grand experience. It was not uncommon to wait 24 hours to make the crossing, and at times, traffic was backed up as much as 15 miles or more. It took 25 minutes to load the ferries with passengers, vehicles and cargo and about 40 minutes to make the crossing to St. Ignace.
During those long waits, as you can imagine, tempers flared and sometimes fights broke out along the roadway. The long lines are credited with the now famous U.P. tasty favorite the "pastie," which was sold from the roadside. A pastie, as you may know, is a pie crust filled with most notably, potato, carrot, celery and beef.
The long lines also made Mackinaw City a popular community. It featured many thriving businesses, restaurants and bars in those days. It also offered a great vantage point to view the beautiful and historic Straits of Mackinaw.
How many stories have we heard about the hunters making their way to hunt the the vast wilderness of the U.P.? I've heard my share. Trucks and cars alike loaded with supplies for a couple weeks of fall whitetail hunting or summertime fishing trips.
The St. Ignace and Mackinaw City Chambers of Commerce are planning
a special commemorative
ceremony on November 1, at the Bridge View Park, St. Ignace. The specific events and times are not yet set,
but they are planning to commemorate the opening and first crossing of the bridge.
So if you want to feel like a kid again, simply
make that drive up 1-75, (make a stop at Sea Shell City, of course, and say that three times fast before getting back on the expressway) and prepare yourself for a view of the gigantic towers reaching to the sky. If that sight doesn't recapture a little of your youth, I'm not sure anything can.
For more information on the planned ceremonies, visit www.mackinacbridge.org or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Randy is the President of Page One Inc., which publishes the Tri-City Times, Woods-N-Water News and Page One Printing Company. He has been with the company since 1980. Randy has been writing a local column for 27 years on community events, individuals, sports, hunting and fishing adventures.