Dave Simpson: He Led The Band That Saved The Bridge

Columnist Dave Simpson writes, "Pat Mehle's expertise as an engineer, his machine shop magic, and his ability to organize his neighbors saved our bridge.”

Dave Simpson

June 24, 20244 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

I first met Pat under a bridge.

There were four of us down there – Pat, another neighbor who was an engineer, and two retired guys.

Up above, a bunch of neighbors were talking about who could solve our problem. What government agency could we call to keep our bridge from washing away, leaving the 100 lots and about 50 cabins inaccessible?

Supports on both sides of the bridge were in danger of washing out, and might not survive the next spring runoff.

Seemed hopeless to me – expecting government to solve our problem – so I ducked under the bridge to see what the guys down there were doing.

I think Pat had a tape measure, and he might have been jotting numbers on the back of an envelope. An electrical engineer, he had a place not far from my cabin, and he was sizing up how to solve our problem.

The other engineer was an environmental engineer, from Colorado, and you could tell he and Pat were on the same wavelength. The two other guys – a retired railroader and I – were listening closely, ready to take directions.

That was the beginning of a five-year project to save our bridge. The folks up above never came up with someone else to solve our problem. But the guy under the bridge, jotting numbers on the back of an envelope,  made it happen.

And Pat, who I first met under the bridge, came to be one of the most remarkable people I've ever known.

He owned a machine shop in Rock Springs, and on weekends in July and August he'd be at the bridge, with the latest support beam, or the latest bracket, to attach to the old flatcar box beams that spanned the river.

My retired railroader friend and I worked during the week to get the forms ready, so concrete could be poured on the weekends, when more volunteers could pitch in. At one point we hinged a section of the bridge deck so we could pour concrete directly down into the forms. It looked like a drawbridge.

Funds we all donated paid for every cent of the project.

Through it all, Pat was the leader. Some of our neighbors had poured concrete on part-time jobs years ago, and they wanted a soupy mix. But Pat knew that drier concrete is stronger, and he stood at the mixer on every pour, making sure he got his drier, stronger concrete.

We ended up with a fine bridge with a new deck, strong enough for the propane truck, or a firetruck, to cross safely. The project was done thanks in large part to Pat, his expertise as an engineer, his machine shop magic, and his ability to organize his neighbors to do what needed to be done.

Pat and I became friends along the way. I was his carpenter, crafting the forms during the week so they'd be ready for concrete on the weekends.

The Snowy Range made him happy, and for years he loved cutting firewood up there and hauling it back to Rock Springs in his big truck.

We were both ardent conservatives, and one day he said he had little faith in the ability of government to accomplish great things anymore. Too much dissent. But he was heartened by our little band of landowners who found a way to work together. It gave him hope.

My friend Pat learned he had cancer 2½ years ago, and he battled it heroically, with seemingly endless treatments in Salt Lake City. But I never heard him complain. He died two weeks ago, at home in Rock Springs, with his family there for him.

Maybe you knew my friend Pat Mehle, lifelong resident of Rock Springs, active member of his church, high school honor student, engineering graduate of UW, community supporter, and owner of Southwest Machine and Welding, the family business where he worked for 50 years

And the guy who saved our bridge.

We've lost that key guy who spots a problem, comes up with a plan, then brings people together to make it happen. Our adult supervision.

And a great guy in so many ways.

We're sure going to miss Pat Mehle.

Dave Simpson can be reached at: DaveSimpson145@Hotmail.com

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Dave Simpson

Political, Wyoming Life Columnist

Dave has written a weekly column about a wide variety of topics for 39 years, winning top columnist awards in Wyoming, Colorado, Illinois and Nebraska.