Thursday, 10 September 2015 21:10

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and its Builders

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I have a story about the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and the engineers who built it John Garcia and Jim Byrd.  Very funny.

the "bridge" is that the one located past Taos.

The basis of the story is that:

Jim Byrd was the “Supervising Engineer” and John Garcia was the younger on-site Project Engineer, and quite frankly, the Supervising Engineer didn’t trust the Mexican rookie engineer---so he kept spot checking him---his log books, his measurements, his notes on the As-Built Plans, his soils testing, his take-off sheets on the materials they needed, etc.  Every phase of the project.  Just really micro-managing the project because it was a high profile project.  I think Byrd was jealous of Garcia even though he was the subordinate, because his name would be forever on the project: the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.  Byrd had told others in the Department that he was going to bust-in-rank this Mexican upstart (very few State Highway Department engineers were Hispanic); and this had gotten back to Garcia.

Byrd would dock people a minute of time for knocking off at 4:29 p.m.  He would drive up to the site at 7:30 a.m. to check if everyone was there (many times he came in from Santa Fe).  Byrd had little log-books in his pocket that he would ask someone their name and put demerits by it.  Workers were creeped out by these actions.

Downriver there was a cabling system to the canyon floor and Garcia brought a little personal life raft that he would use to cross the river to the far west side when Byrd came.  Byrd would use his binoculars to see to the other side and see Garcia laughing with the other workers.  Byrd would burn and think they were laughing at him (and they probably were).  Byrd would motion to workers near a pick-up to get on the radio, and get Garcia to come to the radio.  But it was always breaking up (like the way we joke about plane pilots on the intercom).  So Byrd on the east side would get so mad he would jump in his pickup and drive the 90 miles around through the Pilar Bridge crossing across the dirt roads and up the canyon, and it took well over two hours to do.  Byrd tried a megaphone but the roar of the river and wind in the canyon made it inaudible. 

Byrd ordered new Walkie-Talkies to beat the “radio problem they were having” and they worked.  But all quite innocently batteries would die, or people left them off, or once one slipped into the river causing Byrd to get fuming mad and drive around to Pilar.  Byrd started to order more Walkie-Talkie’s for every crew member to have, and some of the older Hispanic men really didn’t like to have to carry them around.  They felt they were untrusted.  Garcia and the whole crew were under a lot of stress caused by Byrd, the work was dangerous enough without worrying about a domineering boss breathing down your neck.  The crews complained to Garcia about Byrd.  So Garcia knew he had to take on Byrd without being insubordinate.  So he started doing little tricks. 

When Garcia would see the dust flying from Byrd’s truck coming through Pilar he would go down to the raft and go across.  Byrd would drive back around and Garcia said he came back over to see him as Byrd ordered but it was past 4:30 p.m. so they had to go home.  Eventually, Byrd forbid the use of the raft and had a cable hand-car installed so he could “catch Garcia in the act.”  But he was so afraid to be in it, he had to get another man to help him.  When he finally got over to the other side he would ask where Garcia was and the workers would say that he had already gone to the East side to meet with Byrd as requested on the Walkie-Talkie that everyone was a witness to; so Byrd was unable to take formal action against Garcia. 

Byrd started to review the plans Garcia was doing because he thought if he can catch him doing the technical work wrong he could hang him.  But the work was flawless and was produced faster than Byrd could effectively review it.  Garcia had enlisted older men who had been on jobs 30-40 years but had no college education to become engineers, to review the plans; so they were always perfect because it was a matter of honor to the crews.

Garcia had relatives in Taos and Byrd thought if he caught him staying at their house instead of in a motel he could catch him on Per Diem fraud.  So Garcia would see Byrd following him and Garcia would park at the motel.  His relatives would call him and say they had made his favorite dinner for him.  He told them he could not go the first night.  Later, when they called on other nights he would go out the bathroom window to visit his relatives and just leave the Television on like he was in the room.  He would come back at night and in the morning Byrd was parked in the same place.  He knew this guy really had it out for him and he was either going to drive Byrd crazy or he would be put up on some trumped-up charge.  In the end, the Governor shook Garcia’s hand and not Byrd’s on the bridge during the dedication.

Read 1983 times Last modified on Thursday, 10 September 2015 21:48
William Mee

Resident of Agua Fria Village Traditional Historic Community (THC) a place of settlement since 1640, grew up by Cerrillos, N.M.  Went to SFHS, NMSU and College of Santa Fe; and later UNM.  Member of Agua Fria Village Association and Acequia Agua Fria Association.

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