Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What did you do on the 4th?

The title of this post is a common question this time of the year, but my story is probably different than yours.  What did I do?  I rebuilt a bridge!  On Saturday the 30th of June two trucks that were heavily loaded with green bean coffee went across the Kingston Bridge just outside of Kainantu.  The first one made some pops and bangs, but the second one bent three I-beams and damaged the bridge.  Thankfully the third truck in their caravan turned around and headed back to where it had come from. 

There are three bridges between the center where we live and the nearest town of Kainantu.  Two of them are Bailey-style metal bridges that were designed during WWII and are still used throughout the world today because of their low cost, light weight, yet very strong characteristics.  The Kingston Bridge is one of these bridges and according to a bit of fact finding (this was asking local people who were around then and not official records) the Kingston Bridge was put in at some point in the early 1960’s with very little maintenance since then.  The original bridge back then was a log bridge and during our rebuilding we actually saw two of those logs are still there buried in the dirt and actually probably still helping to hold the bridge up!

That pointy piece with the plant growth on it is a log.
So on Sunday July 1 a team of guys including myself left our base to go see the damage and determine what we could or should do.  The bridge is actually under the jurisdiction of  our local works department, so technically they are supposed to fix it.  However, things in PNG can and do take a long time to happen and we really didn’t want to wait that long.  So we went to town and this is what we saw.

In this photo you can see the planks laid down over the broken section, plus the nice jog is the side rail that is not supposed to be there.

We met up with a local coffee plantation owner and he too had some ideas on how to fix it, but after much discussion we decided to go talk to the works department because someone told us they had some old beams that we might use to replace the broken ones.  We all agreed that the best option was to replace the beams if we could.  So into the works department we went and amazingly on a Sunday morning they were actually there and they did have beams.  The problem was they were all bent and buried in a sweet potato garden.   However, they didn’t have fist sized rust holes in them (like the ones currently on the bridge) and we figured we could try to straighten them.  The works people told us that if we wanted we could take the beams back to Ukarumpa and straighten them, and then come back to Kainantu and install them.  They would dig them out of the garden and pile them up for us.  So a few hours later I went back into town with another guy and we loaded up the bent beams and brought them back to my shop.  The next question was how were we going to straighten them?  We decided to block them up with 4x4 wood blocks so they were about 8 inches off the workshop floor.  Then using the front end loader and a heavy block of steel we began cold “pressing” the beams back straight.  This method actually worked really well, but the beams were so springy that we had to jump up and down on the bucket of the loader to get the beams to bend back straight again.  We actually have video of us jumping up and down on the bucket like it was a trampoline with 7 tons of front end loader helping.  Afterwards we pulled a string line down the beams and it was amazing how straight we were able to get them.  Out of the seven beams the works department gave us we straighten 5 of the easiest ones.

On Monday July 2 we headed back to town with our load of freshly straighten beams, portable welder and front end loader with the boom on the front to act as our crane.  We put out our road closed signs and had full protection from machine gun toting police and the national defense force who are in town for the PNG elections that also happen to be going on at the same time.  We began removing the temporary wooden beams our coffee plantation friend had put down to allow people to get across and then started removing the steel decking.  This took a few hours, but clearly exposed some bad beams.

You can see part of a log poking out here.


Here is a crowd shot.  If you want you can play where's the white man?
Once the bad beams were out of the way we were able to lower in the “new” beams which was much easier because they didn’t start breaking apart when you lifted on them.  We spent the rest of the day fitting three beams in place and then it was dark and time to go home.  We had all our equipment on the other side of the bridge from our center so we left them in town with a company that provides safe secure storage and then walked across the bridge to catch a ride home.

On Tuesday July 3 we were back in action with high hopes of finishing.  However, it ended up taking us the whole day to finish attaching the beams and clamping them down and then putting the decking back in place.  Many of the original clamps that are used to hold the beams in place were lost or stolen so we had to fabricate our own version on site and weld them in place.  While we were doing all this work large crowds would come and watch for hours to see all the white people with their big machines making a bunch of noise, but also helping the community.  You also may be asking what everyone one did who wanted to cross the bridge while we did all this work.  They had to ford the river on their own two legs downstream where there is a shallow area and the vehicles just parked on the sides of the road for a mile back.  However, everything continued to go really well.  At the end of the day and to the approval of the crowd we were about to finish the three beams and get the decking back in place so vehicles could once again travel across.  The down side was we had to come back the next day to fix another beam that was broken on a different part of the bridge.

So on Wednesday July 4 we loaded our trucks up again headed to town for our final day.  We opened the bridge back up for more surgery by removing the big steel plates, but by this point we were getting really good at it so things went much quicker.  We located the broken beam and another bent beam and we replaced both.  There was also a third beam that had slid out of its correct position, but was undamaged so we were able to move it back and secure it back down.  We worked all day again, but right as the sun was setting we were able to fit the last panels into place.  However, it still took us another couple hours before we got home because we had to weld some more pieces back into place to keep the deck from moving around and make sure people’s tires didn’t fall into any holes.  So at 8pm I finally arrived home and the bridge was back open for business.

Todd wire wheeling off the "growth" before we set new beams down.

Evan welding the brackets on to hold the beams in place.

Every day we had crowds.

Is this the end of the story?  No, the bridge is still in very poor shape and in desperate need of replacement.  The government had already purchased the new replacement bridge and it is at the works department yard in Kainantu.  However, they still need to source the stone baskets and cement to build a proper abutment for the new bridge to sit on.  They tell us that once the elections are over this month they will begin working on it. The new bridge will be installed just down river of the one we worked on and the survey people were out taking measurements while we were there working so we are hopeful.  Please be in prayer that our repairs will hold until the new bridge is installed and that the new bridge will be installed sooner rather than later.

The new bridge piled up just waiting to be installed.

Also I didn’t tell you that this all happened during my last week in the office before we take off for our year at home.  I guess there is nothing like going out with a bang!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Guess Who is Two?

Greg turned two today, and we managed to find a little time to celebrate in the midst of our furlough preparations (twelve days until we leave… not that I’m counting or anything!).  His party was pretty low-key.  I thought about blowing up some balloons – but then I remembered that I had already packed them.  Or maybe I should make a sign out of construction paper… oh wait, that is already packed away too.  

Normally I am all about decorating a nice cake for birthdays, but Greg wanted to have cupcakes and we had a few box cake mixes in the cupboard that we needed to use.  I also much prefer homemade icing to the store-bought stuff, but since our store is out of powdered sugar at the moment, I decided to go the easy route and buy a can of frosting at the store.  Unfortunately, I tried to save a little money by buying the discounted can that was a month past-date, and then I didn’t try to frost the cupcakes until two hours before his party, when he was taking his nap.  When I opened up the can, this is what I saw:

Thankfully my neighbor had some powdered sugar, and so I whipped up a batch of frosting real quick and ended up with some decent-looking cupcakes.

We also didn’t want to give Greg a lot of presents, since we’d just have to pack them up again.  We’re saving the new toys that we do have to entertain him on the long trip to the U.S, and we know that his grandparents will have birthday presents waiting for him when we arrive.   But Greg was more than thrilled with the few small things he got, including:

a new coloring book...

and a rubber ball

We invited two families over to help us eat all the cupcakes.  Greg loved all the attention that he got, he loved the cupcakes, and seemed to thoroughly enjoy his little party.  So even though it was a rather haphazardly thrown-together celebration, I would say it was a success.

Look how huge he is in this photo!   We measured him against the doorway like we did last year, and he's grown 6 inches this year.

We have another birthday to celebrate before we leave PNG.  My birthday is two days before we go.  We will be moving into the guesthouse and doing final cleaning on our house that day, and I do not plan on cooking at all!.  But we’re having dinner with friends, and I offered to give our remaining cake mix to the hostess so that she could bake it for me for dessert.  How is that for a no-fuss celebration?