The Tom Music Bridge
A Pleasant Surprise
In March of 2008 a four-word email from my mother-in-law (Karen) conveyed some news that made me think about identity, and about my place in time.
I had just returned to my desk after a leisurely lunch. Maybe a frozen pizza. Maybe a burrito. Who can remember. I may have had a bottle of soda with me; one of those with the ten-letter code in the cap that you could redeem online for prizes. I'm getting off track.
My inbox had a new message from Karen. She was too excited for a subject line. Opening the message revealed an attached PDF along with four words:
"I had no idea!!"
The attachment had two scanned pages from a Forest Service case study (PDF warning) of a log-jam restoration project. The first page had a few paragraphs and a map:
I started at the top:
"The Cispus River is a sixth order stream flowing west of Mt. Adams and the Goat Rocks Range in southwest Washington. Approximately 155,190 acres drain into the project area. The project area is a response reach. It is..."
Ok, nothing too thrilling just yet. Rivers are cool, but not double-exclamation points cool. Let’s keep reading:
"The primary objective of the project was to protect the sections of roads, the Tom Music Bridge, archeological sites, and streambanks along the Cispus River."
Wait, what was that? The part in the middle...
"Tom Music Bridge"
I had no idea!!
Immediately we got to work trying to figure out the exact location. We knew the forest that it was in, and some other rough details. I worked on matching up satellite images with the figures presented in the case study. The likely candidates were bundled up and sent to Karen, who compared them using her site survey databases. We narrowed it down to two possibilities, one much more likely than the other.
A quick check of family schedules showed that waiting until mid-May would be best. We wanted to make this a right and proper 3-4 hour pilgrimage. The approximate route:
Researching the Bridge
In the meantime I worked on getting more background on the bridge, and the origin of the name. According to Forest Service records, the bridge was named after an early settler to the area (named Tom Music) who staked a claim on National Forest land made available under the Homestead Act.
I also learned that the original Tom Music Bridge was washed out by floods during the late 1990s, and was rebuilt as the longest single-girder bridge in the Pacific Northwest!
"The extra long span allowed for the elimination of a center pier that presented problems with flooding and log jams for a previous bridge at that location."
Before we left we wondered if we would actually be able to find the bridge. We hadn't yet seen any pictures of it after installation. Would there be a sign? An imprint in the concrete? Anything?
Just in case the current signage was inadequate, I made my own:
We packed our cars with CB radios and survival gear. After all, these were going to be rough old Forest Service roads, not smooth scenic byways. And there might even be bears!
It turns out that "Forest Service roads" and "smooth scenic byways" aren’t mutually exclusive. Nice roads led us through the old and verdant forest on what turned out to be a great day of weather.
After a winding stroll through the forest we entered a clearing and drove over a river. Just as soon as we noticed we'd left the trees, they'd surrounded us again. My voice crackled over the CB radio: “I think that was it, guys.” We had found the bridge.
The sun was shining, a nice breeze was in the air, and the river was making a gentle white noise. It was the perfect setting for taking a bunch of pictures and then grabbing a picnic.
Researching the Other
When we got home I scoured the web for more information on the Other Tom Music. Despite hours of web searches, I couldn't seem to find anything useful. I put the matter aside for a few days.
Then, while cleaning my office, I found my long-forgotten library card. Of course! The library! They have information!
A couple hours later I had a bunch of genealogical information; I had found records of Other Tom Music, and of his family. No sign of any relation, yet. This helped me link into some other sources, however, and I was eventually able to trace us back to our common ancestor: George Musick (born in 1664). Based on the generational differences between all of us, it looks like Other Tom and I are 6th cousins (twice-removed). So I am indeed related to the bridge!
Oh, and there was no sign at the bridge. No picture of the bridge's namesake. And definitely no Tom Music Bridge Historical Interpretive Center and Gift Shop. But as I sat under the shade of the bridge listening to the water, it was clear that this place would do just fine without a sign.
Besides, the evidence of its identity (embedded below) was there if you knew where to look...