Berkshire fisherman explores Bardwell's Ferry Bridge

Thursday October 18, 2012

Sam Ewing wrote, "When you finally go back to your old hometown, you find it wasn't the old home you missed but your childhood." Things change. What I remember as a short walk to the railroad trestle turns out to be quite a hike.

On the west side of the tracks, I could hardly believe the slope of the bank we climbed up and down.

Dad would always exclaim warily, "Here we go!" when the wooden decking planks rattled and bounced under the weight of the ‘55 Ford wagon as we drove over the Bardwell's Ferry Bridge. I held my breath as the planks clattered. But we were going fishing on the Deerfield River. Small wonder I never noticed the unique construction of the "lenticular truss" bridge itself.

I swore the bridge was new on my recent visit. But my friend and Dalton resident Ken Haynes insisted it's been there from the outset. Rather than argue the point, I did a web search. It turns out we're both right. The bridge linking Conway and Shelburne was built in 1882. But it was restored in the 1990s -- hence its new look.

And driving over the planks didn't bother me. Either they're more firmly anchored, or I am.

Dad was never sure he could find the place. Most of the time when we fished the Deerfield, we'd hit spots along Route 2, the Mohawk Trail. That made for a day's worth of fishing. The Ferry, on the other hand, was a one-shot deal. Its remote locale is well downstream of the Trail. But it's unique. We never ran into another fisherman there.

And once we committed to the drive, the walk, and the climb down, the fishing was unparalleled. So too was the danger.

The electric power companies upstream routinely re lease large amounts of water. If you're fishing Route 2, the river's width diminishes the impact of the sudden floods. The nearly vertical banks at Bardwell's are indicative the river's power of erosion in this ‘bottleneck' section. Wading the Ferry unawares could mean not only getting wet but also getting swept away. Dad used to wade upstream. But he'd never get so far as to be out of earshot.

"Pick one rock and watch it," he'd admonish. In case I didn't hear the change in the sound of the river, I would see its telltale creeping up a dry rock.

So as not to get lost on my recent return visit, I stopped at the post office in Conway for directions: "Just follow the road toward Shelburne and take a right at the fork where the main road heads uphill. You'll come to it."

I did that. And as the road began to descend sharply, I knew the river lay ahead. When I got to the intricate-looking bridge, I noticed a new parking area and a path where some folks had put kayaks in. I took advantage of the parking to set foot on that amazing bridge for the first time in my life.

The river below was un changing and as magnetic as ever. I could tell the water was up, as it was nearly covering a sand bar and some bushes upstream. I drove over the bridge and parked where Dad used to park, on the little access road that runs along the tracks to the west. Walking to the trestle brought a flood of memories. The emergency escape platforms on the railroad bridge showed signs of ageing.

I do, too.

What: Bardwell's Ferry Bridge across the Deerfield River is the longest single-span lenticular -- lens-shaped -- bridge in Massachusetts. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Berlin Iron Bridge Co. of East Berlin, Conn., built the Bardwell's Ferry Bridge in 1882. It is a truss bridge, supported in a structure of linked triangles.

Where: 609 Bardwell's Ferry Road, Conway

Directions: From Route 116 south, bear left onto Shelburne Falls Road and right onto Bardwell's Road, which will become Bardwell's Ferry Road.

From Route 2 east in Shelburne, turn right onto Shelburne Center Road, then quickly left onto Barnard Road and Right onto Allen Road, and Bardwell's Ferry Road will come up on the right.


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