What would you do if you had to build a bridge?
The grandfather of the late Peter Benchley, author of Jaws, would have gained much engineering insight had he been alive to attend last month’s freshman physics bridge building contest at the Proviso Mathematics and Science Academy (PMSA), 1st Ave. and Roosevelt Rd.
The budding engineers at PSMA built model bridges in a regional competition to see which bridge could best withstand prescribed stresses of force, tension, load and endurance. It was all part of the 32nd Annual Chicago Regional Bridge Building Contest. Sound serious? Sound like fun for the participating students? It was.
It’s even more fun when we imagine the senior Benchley undertaking the task himself”only full-scale. You might even imagine yourself confronted with the challenge.
Robert Benchley (Peter’s grandfather) was a much noted and gentle humorist from the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. Along with James Thurber, E.B. White. S.J. Perelman and others, he provided much-needed laughter to a nation beleaguered by a “world war to end all wars,” a horrific worldwide depression, and a second world war.
Benchley, who often portrayed himself as a hapless dupe, did suppose such a situation in a short 1930s piece titled, How To Build a Bridge. My copy of the book will not be found, so it’s hoped that this paraphrase of his essay will suffice.
It seems the townspeople and city fathers approached him about putting up a bridge to span the town river. “Bob.” they cajoled, “We’re at a loss as to how to go about it, and you’ve always been kind of a creative guy…” Clearing his throat uneasily, the honcho city father put it bluntly when he added, “We want you to build us a bridge.”
Imagine Benchley’ s consternation.
Criminy! Dang! Whoa! And Well, Sir! After wresting with the problem, and resting for a couple of months, Bob started in to thinking. Time tip-toed by and still no word to the village hall from Benchley. And as “Time’s winged chariot (hurried) near,” Benchley finally gave it up and presented what he had to the fathers.
Unfurling a sheet of foolscap twelve feet long showing a crudely drawn river, he pointed to a pair of jelly bean-sized holes one atop the other, colon-fashion. Neatly balanced on the thither side was its fellow colon. So much for introductory drawings; our man then unveiled his master plan verbally, while gingerly overstepping bothersome details. It went something like this:
“You build the longest factory you can. Then you assemble all your bridge parts, being sure there aren’t any missing pieces. Then you hire a fleet of flatbed trucks, put your bridge on them and drive it up the river. Drop End ‘A’ into one side, swing her around and drop End ‘B’ into the other side, and by jingo, you’ve got yourself a bridge!”
Odds are it didn’t go that way at the PMSA competition. By whatever method, the winners were Yolanda Mariscal of Maywood, Tyler Hillert of Maywood, Andy Anaskevych of Westchester, and Claudia Chavez of Melrose Park.
NOTE: Robert Benchley was paraphrased here. To find the original, delightful source go to your computer. Or go to your bookseller. Or go to your library”and read a genuinely funny and kind writer who just happened to be born a generation or so too early for most of us to enjoy.