COLERIDGE, Neb. — “It’s all about people helping people.”
That’s how Pete Read, who operates Read Transportation in Virginia, described the effort to transport a donated 43-foot bridge, of all things, from Culpeper, Virginia, to Cedar County, Nebraska, this week.
It wasn’t a simple process to donate a bridge and ship it halfway across the country, but Read and others got it done.
The project started not long after the historic March flooding in northeast Nebraska.
Kai Baldwin, 6, of Vernal, Utah, watched news reports about the flooding, and he went to his mother in tears. He wanted to know what could be done to replace bridges lost to the flood waters.
Kai’s mom asked him how much he thought a bridge would cost. Sixty dollars, he replied.
With that goal in mind, the child went around his neighborhood, asking for donations and collected not $60 but $285.28.
After doing some research, Kai’s mom decided the Nebraska Farm Bureau Disaster Relief Fund would be a reliable recipient, making sure the money would be used for farmers, ranchers and rural communities.
Baldwin’s card that came with the check said, “I’m sorry you got flooded …,” and he expressed hope that a bridge could be fixed.
But that’s not the end of the story.
Jerry Wise of Culpeper heard about Kai’s efforts and decided to take it up a notch — a big notch.
He farms in Virginia but also has a scrap metal recycling business called Wise Services and Recycling. In his scrap yard was a functional bridge he had recently scrapped for the Virginia Department of Roads.
“I knew people were hauling hay to Nebraska. I didn’t have enough hay to share, but I wanted to help. So, I wondered if Nebraska could use the bridge we scrapped. Believe me, I had a lot of dead silence on the phone as I tried to find the bridge a home,” Wise said, with a laugh. “It’s not every day you get a call saying, ‘I have a bridge for you, can you use it?’”
Eventually, Wise contacted the Nebraska Farm Bureau, whose representatives contacted Cedar County Commissioner Craig Bartels of Coleridge.
“About 10 days after the flooding, I got this call from a Farm Bureau rep who said a bridge had been donated and did we want it?” Bartels said. “I thought about it for about 10 seconds and said, ‘Yeah, we’ll take it.’”
There are over 340 bridges in Cedar County, and two of them were impacted by the flood waters and one was destroyed, Bartels said.
He told Farm Bureau officials he didn’t know definitively where the Virginia bridge would end up, but his road crew would make it work. There wasn’t a perfect spot due to the bridge’s size, but his staff could fabricate it as a larger bridge or even make two bridges, Bartels said.
The expense of moving the bridge over 1,000 miles was shared by Wise Services and Read Transportation. The expense of loading the bridge was donated by Neff Crane Rental of Virginia.
The bridge was loaded Friday, and, by Monday morning, Read and a fellow trucker headed to Nebraska, dodging severe weather and tornadoes along the way. The trip took about 30 hours.
“There are about 8,400 residents in Cedar County, and I feel this donation of a bridge has saved my constituents some tax dollars,” Bartels said.
Steve Nelson of Nebraska Farm Bureau said the organization’s foundation has received about $2.5 million in donations for its disaster relief fund and about $1 million has been distributed so far.