Swinging Bridge’s Falling Down

Little Red River Journal, November 18, 1981

Some of my earliest memories are of conversations that went like this: “Have you seen the Swinging Bridge?” “Yeah, ain’t that a waste of time and money?” “Never be worth a nickel for wagons to cross.” “Don’t worry, they’ll never get it across – no piers, just wires and some concrete blocks to hold it up; it will fall in the river as fast as they put it together.” “Yeah, and just wait ‘til Old Red gets on a bender – concrete, wires and lumber will be scattered from here to breakfast.” “One thing is sure, I’ll never get Old Beck and Dolly on the thing; mules will be afraid of it.” And so it went. But build it they did, all the way across the Little Red River.

Listening to the people talk, I could sense their fear and with a child’s active imagination I got a mental picture of a contraption that picked people and wagons up and swung them in the air to another side. Well, what else was a swinging bridge supposed to do?

What a surprise when I saw it for the first time. I thought it was the most beautiful and graceful bridge I had ever seen and the longest. From where I stood I could not see where it ended. But I kept wondering how it worked for nothing was swinging things across the river. Then when I crossed the bridge I was really apprehensive. I just knew it would fall. All the things I had heard about it had been too deeply instilled in my mind for me to trust it. In spite of my thumping heart and clinching fists when I got tot he other side I was still right side up. What a relief!

The skeptics and pessimists were right about one thing, though. Most of the mules and horses were afraid of it and were reluctant to cross. Its swaying movement made them unsure of their footing. Also, the fact that one could not see the opposite end of the bridge when starting across did at times pose a problem. Thus it was with Sam and Leck.

When they met on the bridge neither of them could back his team off. But Sam was further along on it than Leck, who was still on a steep part near the end and having a problem with his skittish mules. Sam left his horses standing and walked over to discuss the situation with Leck. He then suggest they unhitch Leck's team and lead them off then the men would hold the wagon while it eased off the end of the bridge the way Leck had come; then when Sam got across Leck could hitch up and cross. Leck got his team off and Sam grabbed the wagon tongue and yelled for Leck to release the brake and “let ‘er roll!” Of course, even with all of Sam’s twisting and yanking, he was no match for a wagon rolling backwards downhill. He lost the battle and the wagon rolled off the bridge, spun around and down the embankment and upended in the ditch. Leck’s load was scattered all over the place and a case of eggs he was taking to market was smashed and splattered, dripping all over the wagon, road and ditch. Sam decided that since the whole operation had been his idea it was his responsibility to pay Leck for the eggs and help him get back on the road and on his way again.

For many years the Swinging Bridge served the people and was the topic of conversations, whether humorous or serious the incidents. But heavier loads and old age took its toll. We knew the bridge was so deteriorated it was dangerous to cross and worried especially about the school bus loaded with children that had to cross. We, the local people, begged and nagged the highway department heads to build a new bridge, but always got the same answer, “no money allotted for a bridge.”

One morning, four people in a pickup truck had gotten almost across the bridge when it collapsed. The dreadful sound as it crashed was heard throughout the communities on both sides of the river. Our worst fears became a reality in moments. Stepping on the bridge planks, I forgot my fear of water as I waded and splashed to get to the ones who had fallen with the wreckage. Injured the worst was a young couple who were on their way to Searcy to get married. Unfortunately, the bridegroom-to-be did not survive his injuries.

What a shame that the era of the Swinging Bridge at Little Red came to such a tragic end.