Battle Ground-based Catworks Construction recently completed repairs on the historic Benson Bridge at the base of Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.
A reopening ceremony was held on May 30, in time for Memorial Day Weekend. Mike Nieto, owner of Catworks, commented on their participation.
“(We were) honored, to be pretty frank. It was a great opportunity to work on the project and, for it to be the 100th birthday of the bridge, to give it a make-over for the next 100 years,” Nieto said.
Back in January, a large boulder that gave way from the hillside crashed into the bridge forcing the United States Forest Service (USFS) to close it and a handful of popular hiking trails due to safety concerns.
Catworks has been around since January 2005 and is adept at many facets of construction. Their capabilities include facility maintenance, upgrades and building projects but the bulk of their focus is civil work such as roads, bridges and underground utilities.
The Benson Bridge was not Catworks’ first historic endeavor. The USDA Forest Service hired them in June of 2012 to replace the Timberline Lodge snow melt deck. That building, said Nieto, posed some special issues due to its age – circa 1938 - and history, such as encountering utilities that no one was aware existed.
In November of the same year, they were hired by the United States Coast Guard to help remodel the Captain’s Quarters of the Alki Point Lighthouse in Seattle which was originally built in 1913. They’ve also worked on a restoration project around the steps of the Pioneer Courthouse in Portland, built between 1869-1903.
Through these historic undertakings, Catworks has left an impression and established itself as a team of quality craftsmen. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Forest Service approached Catworks to handle the Benson Bridge repair.
“We had done work with that forest in particular,’’ Nieto said. “(We had a) good reputation with them and they needed to get the project done pretty quickly so we helped them out.”
Working on a bridge 137 feet in the air surrounded by two falls that cascade water from a height of 620 feet poses more than just typical safety concerns. There’s the aspect of operating constantly in the public eye. Multnomah Falls is visited yearly by an average of two million people who travel from all over the world to see the nation’s second tallest waterfall.
Proximity to the falls, Nieto said, meant that everything had to be covered to keep the spray off the jobsite. Cement that close to constant water spray tends to have its own erosion issues, which are factored in with regular maintenance, but for curing of new cement extra steps were taken.
As strong as the bridge is, repairing a historic structure took some finesse. It was Nieto’s team’s greatest desire to retain the original design of the bridge while restoring it to better than it was before the damage. That meant focusing on details such as matching the railings and the color of the cement as closely as possible.
Prior to 1914, the Benson Bridge was constructed of wood by lumber baron, Simon Benson. In 1914, Robert Ringer was hired by Pacific Bridge Company as a subcontractor to build the bridge of stone while they focused on other sections of the historic highway. Nieto shared that it was interesting to Catworks to learn that, basically a small business had been responsible for reconstructing the bridge they were working on. Catworks is classified as a small business, as well.
The Benson Bridge repair being completed above and beyond what the contract called for to ensure longevity and historical accuracy was due to an entire team working toward that common goal. Catworks hired Joe Selby of Selby Bridge Company and much of the prep work was completed by Bridgetown Blasters. According to Nieto, Project Manager Doug Stetler and Project Superintendent Patrick Bachmeier both did a great job coordinating with everyone.
The whole experience has been very humbling for Nieto.
“We probably won’t ever get another chance to work on something quite that iconic again,” Nieto said. “It’s really an honor and it’s really about the project and what it means to our area (the Northwest) than anything else.”
Catworks Construction is located at 22105 B NE 72nd Ave., Battle Ground. For more information call (360) 666-1113 or go to www.catworksconstruction.com.