The bridge that WE built

SOME of the men who helped to build the original Forth Road Bridge were last week reunited on the site of the new Forth Replacement Crossing.

Around 30 former workmen met with members of the team responsible for the construction of the new bridge. They were invited by contractors, Forth Crossing Bridge Constructors (FCBC), to come on site for a detailed briefing on the design and technical challenges involved in building the new bridge.

It is almost 50 years since the Forth Road Bridge opened and while its future will be downgraded to that of a public transport corridor between Fife and the Lothians, the men who helped design and build the bridge still show a genuine pride for the iconic structure.

Many met for the first time since it was opened in September 1964, and among those invited were three men from Queensferry, Alex Bryant (86), Alan McDonald (77) and youngest of the trio, Alex Porteous (67).

Alex served as an electrician and was responsible for the maintenance of seven cranes on the bridge’s south tower for three years. He even got the task of erecting the safety light on the top of the tower. He said: “The job was the best paid job I ever had. We worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week but we enjoyed it.

Although working above the Forth most days, he had one narrow escape underground when working inside the cable anchoring sections, a spark ignited petrol being poured on cables to clean them. He said: “I was covered head to foot in flames but managed to roll on the ground and put the flames out.”

Alex was just 17 when he got a job in the bolt store, a compound based at Port Edgar. After a spell working at Whitequarries Shale Mine pit head, a friend got him a job on the bridge and it was his job to organise and deliver bolts to the steel erectors. In his spare time he was also called upon to help paint the bridge. Alex also agreed it was his best ever paid job, earning £19 a week.

Alan was an engineer and his role was to supervise and consult with the contractors working on the bridge project. He said: “It was a great experience but I am equally interested in the new bridge and will gladly be on hand if FCBC need any advice.”

Transport minister Keith Brown welcomed the former workers to the event, and said after: “It was fascinating to meet with many of those who played such a pivotal role in the construction of the original bridge. They are impressive characters and have many 
stories to tell. Some of the 
challenges, such as coping with the severe weather, are still 
relevant today.”

But it was left to current Forth Road Bridge chief engineer Barry Colford to say: “One of the main things that impresses people is the workmanship 
of the bridge. In these days, there were no computers just sliderules etc!

“We know what it is like to work on the cables and towers but we cannot imagine what it must have been like back then when health and safety was more relaxed. We must also remember the seven workers who died and the many more who were injured while building the bridge. We thank them all.

“Things have changed a great deal in construction over the past half century, so we have a huge amount to learn from each other. We look forward to having an on-going relationship with the ‘veterans’ over the years ahead as the new bridge takes shape and to continue working with the rest of the community in order to inspire interest in what we are constructing out in the Forth.”