Jake’s scribbled notes were excellent. Ten miles later I was inching along a new dirt road cut into the forest. At the end of the road I found a construction site with a couple industrial pole barns in mid-assembly. Workmen and equipment crawled all over the place like ants. Someone was building something to manufacture stuff. My heart swelled with joy… capitalism!
As instructed I swooped past the construction site to a multi acre field stacked high with mountains of huge oak beams. Not logs… these were big fat honkin’ beams. The kind of stuff Thor would use to lay up his man cave. They were tightly stacked, scuffed up, and incredibly filthy.
“That’s odd.” Thought I.
Finally it dawned on me. These were bridge mats. Put on your civil engineering thinking cap because I’m about to explain ‘bridge mats’.
The history and theory of the bridge mat (noun), abridged edition by Adaptive Curmudgeon:
Back in the stone age when industry ran amok and hippies were kept on leashes, rich men wearing ties needed to build things. Wherever earth and water meet, there’s a swamp. Folks in the days of yore said “it’s a damn swamp” and drove across it with machinery. Some machinery sunk in the swamp and had to be pulled out creating big ugly holes. The rest of the machinery churned across the swamps with tires and tracks and cleats and great steel talons. (I’m making that last part up but wouldn’t talons be cool?) It was a big muddy mess but people of the time were like “it’s a friggin’ swamp, of course it’s muddy”. Stuff was built and the place where they worked looked like trench warfare had occured. Then they all pounded a pack of Pall Malls, swigged a Budweiser, and drove home in a car without seatbelts.
Now things are different. Hippies run things and industry is terrified. “Damn swamps” are now “irreplaceable wetland”. “It got muddy ’cause it’s wet” turned into “I’ve disturbed a duck and six tadpoles, please sue my ass until I can’t walk straight”.
Because industry operates on earth (and not a university professor’s theoretical construct) machinery must still venture into
swamps wetlands. But if they so much as make a pint of water turbulent with dirt (which hippies call “deadly suspended sediment”) they’re screwed. The solution to this is the bridge mat.
To make a bridge mat one begins with great squarish beams, often hardwood. These “beams” (which are very hefty) are log sized and log length and tough and solid. Each one is big enough to beat a Prius like a nail. They’re “laced” together with big chains or cables. Many are linked together. The result is a Godzilla sized Lincoln Log arrangement of beams that can be “rolled out” across the swamp. Track hoes, cranes, and various other mechazoid equipment gently lays down the “bridge”. Stuff drives back and forth over the bridge, which spreads the weight and allows very heavy stuff to almost “float” over the mud and vegetation. Steely eyed regulators watch things every second and disturbance to the site is carefully avoided or mitigated.
When construction is done, the mat is gingerly lifted up and set on a flatbed semi to be hauled to the next worksite. If the whole system sounds ludicrous all I can say is that it works.
I’ve seen enough shit to build a city rove back and forth on what looks like chained up wads of logs and then, when it’s pulled, it’s like hardly anything happened. There will be some bent vegetation, picture some squashed weeds and squished cattails. After a few weeks even this is starting to fade. Usually after a winter’s snow pack and freeze/thaw cycle the area is nearly pristine. You’d have to look very hard and know what you’re looking for, just to know a bridge had ever been there.
Frankly I’m in awe of this. I’ve seen some places where huge pipeline has been laid and six months later it looks like a nice place to hunt deer (which it is). Don’t let handwringers get you down, silly sounding approaches like bridge mats really perform miracles.
Also, and I say this in all humility, I’m of the opinion that avoiding turbulent waters and soil compaction and all that is indeed a good thing. As much as I like to make fun of regulators and hippies, I like that a pipeline can be placed in the ground and it’s still “pretty” and “healthy” when it’s all over.