The Man Who Saves Covered Bridges
On a mid-September day, Arnold climbs into his ’55 Ford to make the short journey to the bridge. A few boats are docked on the river below, and at the water’s edge a woman is looking up at the 61-foot span with her camera. “It’s so beautiful!” she exclaims, huffing her way back to the road.
For Arnold Graton, each bridge is a little time capsule representing a particular moment of his life. Back when he built this bridge, he was in his mid-fifties, and it wasn’t uncommon for him to put in a 15-hour day, grab a little sleep, then do it all over again. Now he’s more inclined to take a day off, even forgo working through an entire winter. “I can’t climb around like I used to,” he says. “I’m not as flexible. I fear falling more than I used to. I don’t dare jump from one timber to another or one ladder to the next.” It’s one of the reasons why his stepson, Tim, has shouldered more of the work in recent years.
Still, Arnold isn’t afraid to push himself when it’s needed. Last fall, when the town of Ashland needed some emergency work done on a concrete bridge, Arnold worked until midnight, pouring cement. “My hands were cold, but the town needed it done,” he says matter-of-factly.
Besides, he has a preference for staying busy. In December he headed down to Kentucky to rebuild a covered bridge in the river town of Maysville. A few months later he returned to check on his house and put in a last-minute bid for a job in nearby Campton, which he eventually landed. Then in June he headed to Dayton, Ohio, where he was an honored speaker at the Second National Covered Bridge Conference.
On this day, Arnold takes his time walking across the Squam River Bridge. A few years ago he redid the roof, and now it looks as though the walkway will need some attention. “They get torn up with the snow machines,” he says. Yet it’s not hard to detect some admiration from the builder for the way his bridge has held up.
“I suppose I get attached to them,” he says. “I like to see them stay here and stay in good shape. It’s nice to know you accomplished something that will be around for a while.”