1 Demise of Galloping Gertie

The Olympic Peninsula is situated at the northwest corner of the continental USA. In the late 1930s it was decided that, in order to open up this area of spectacular natural beauty for tourism and economic development, a great suspension bridge would be built over Puget Sound. The site chosen was the only location narrow enough for a bridge to span the Puget Sound, a vast inland sea formed by glaciers long ago. Since the city of Tacoma was the population center nearest to the site, the bridge was appropriately named the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

At the time it was built it was the third longest suspension bridge in the world, just short of the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge with its high towers that reached skyward and long arching cables were designed with special regard for beauty and sleekness.

Although it was impressive sight, the bridge seemed to have problems from the beginning. While it was being built, workers noticed an unsteadiness about it. However, concerns were allayed because the engineers in charge assured everyone that the bridge was strong enough according to their computations.

Soon after the bridge was opened to traffic, drivers noticed a lot of unnerving movement while crossing over it. Somebody in jest called the bridge Galloping Gertie. This person likened driving over the bridge to the up and down motion experienced while riding a horse very fast. The nickname Galloping Gertie stuck.

Demise of Galloping Gertie 2

 Even though travelers complained about Galloping Gertie, authorities still insisted it was safe because it was designed according to proven scientific formulas. According to these formulas the bridge was more than capable of handling the everyday stress of traffic.

The bridge designers got the shock of their lives when, four months after the completion of the bridge, a windstorm howled through the area. The sustained winds of over forty miles an hour acted on the bridge in ways the engineers never anticipated. The bridge, which always seemed a little unsteady, all of a sudden began pitching and rolling violently from side to side. Apparently the wind passing over the bridge's road surface was creating lift in the same manner as air currents passing over the wing of an airplane.

A driver caught on the bridge when this rolling began became fearful for his life. He stopped his car and opened the door to get out. The bridge tilted so violently beneath him as he stepped out that his face slammed into the pavement. In desperation to escape with his life, he left his dog in the car. Unable to stand on the crazily moving bridge he crawled hundreds yards on his hands and knees to safety. He was no sooner off the rolling part of the bridge when, turning around, he saw his car tumble off the bridge and fall the long distance into the churning waves below. Seconds later he watched aghast as the long mid-section of the bridge broke apart. He had gotten off just in time. The great modern bridge so carefully designed, plunged through the air crashing into the depths of Puget Sound. Fortunately no one was seriously injured when the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed.

Why did Galloping Gertie breakup? It broke up because the effects of the wind were not clearly understood by the engineers. Their formulas were correct as far as they went but they did not take into account the effect of strong side winds.

The demise of Galloping Gertie teaches everyone a lesson. People have always had many different ideas on what will get them into heaven. There seems to be a whole array of formulas on how to bridge the gap between themselves and God.