Lines of traffic came to a stop in both directions. A 7-horsepower electric motor set the gears in motion and the hulking 100-foot mass of iron and concrete rotated 90 degrees. It’s another summer day; the Bay of Naples Bridge is opening for its 2 p.m. schedule.

The Songo River Queen was returning from its river cruise down to the Songo Lock and back up Brandy Pond before docking at its berth on the Long Lake causeway. On the lake side, five large powerboats were patiently lined up waiting for the big Songo River Queen to pass on their way toward Sebago Lake before they could slide through the narrow stretch of water the bridge spans – the Chutes River, the shortest river in the world according to Guinness. Boats coming from Brandy Pond always have the right-of-way here.

This marks the last full season for the circa 1953 moveable bridge, technically known as a “swing bridge.” Construction will begin soon on a 12-foot high fixed span that will prevent large vessels from passing, effectively severing some 40 miles of water, keeping the Songo River Queen confined to Long Lake. Though construction details are sketchy, DOT officials say the swing bridge may operate for a short time next spring.

Every May 1 through Oct. 15 for the past 20 plus years, two women have operated the bridge, keeping things on schedule. June 15 through Labor Day is the busy season and the two operators work 12-hour shifts, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“I call this my condo on the lake,” says Donna, one of the workers stationed in the tiny control house right next to the bridge. It sports a fine view in both directions up and down the waterway. Donna, who didn’t want her last name used, is a Maine DOT employee.

Sometimes after opening, the bridge has failed to close. “That’s when the motorists really start screaming,” Donna said. “When I first started they were having a lot of trouble with the bridge. There are a few quick fixes we can try, but we have numbers to call if there’s a real problem. And we have to reroute the traffic – telling folks the bridge won’t close. We call the sheriff to help with that.”

Just before the 2 p.m. scheduled opening, a transmission came across the marine radio in the bridge control room.

“Naples Bridge, Naples Bridge. This is the Songo River Queen.”

“Come back for the bridge,” Donna replied.

“We just got into Brandy Pond. We’ll at the bridge around 20 after 2.”

“All right, we’ll see you then.” Donna said. “Bridge clear.”

“He’s a little late,” she said. “I’ll have to tell folks that I’ll be opening a little after 2.”

The big paddle wheeler takes precedence and can move an opening a few minutes one way or the other. In such cases, the bridge operators often make an announcement over the bridge’s loudspeaker for any waiting vessels.

The Songo River Queen gained ground coming up Brandy Pond and arrived just a little past 2 p.m. Donna began her opening procedure. She blasted the horn for any pedestrians on the bridge or anyone in a boat below deck to know the bridge was about to open. She then turned on the red lights and lowered the gates to stop traffic. Then she had to choose whether she wanted to swing the bridge clockwise or counterclockwise. “I have a lever I have to pull down,” she said. “That opens the bridge.”

In 10 minutes it was over. Including the Songo River Queen, seven boats passed: two from Brandy Pond into Long Lake, and five from Long Lake into Brandy Pond. This was the third opening of the day. Typically seven openings are scheduled, but if no boats are waiting, an opening doesn’t occur. Earlier openings were 13 minutes, 16 boats; 11 minutes, 14 boats; and 8 minutes, eight boats.

 

Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at: [email protected]