Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Unintended consequences

My uncle was an engineer maintaining the facilities at Ohio University. He built a little suspension bridge to connect the campus to the golf course. They had no budget, so he scrounged together parts and they built the bridge for about $500 in the 1960s. It was replaced 30+ years later by a bridge that cost about $500,000 -- 1000 times more. Your gov't spenders at work.

But my uncle's bridge was not built far enough over the river. They figured that if the water came up more than four feet, no one was going to go golfing anyway. One winter day, the bridge started catching the ice that was floating down the river, turning it into more of dam than a bridge. It's hard to think of every contingency when designing something. That's true even of something as simple as a 150 foot suspension bridge.

They watched as the water backed up behind the accumulating ice. What to do? One fellow suggested that maybe they could use dynamite to break it up. That seemed a bit dangerous, so they decided to go to breakfast and talk about it.

An hour or so later, they returned to the bridge to find that the water had risen while they were at breakfast and pushed the ice chunks over the bridge and downriver. Problem solved.

Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all. Have a nice breakfast.

1 comment:

miriam said...

I attended Ohio University a long time ago. The river was always overflowing.

When I went back to Athens recently, I saw that they had moved the river. Problem solved.