by Dennis Walikainen
Three Michigan Tech alumni were on the engineering team that helped build the Portage Lake (don't say "lift") Bridge, which marked its fiftieth anniversary in June. John Michels '51 of Ontonagon was a project engineer and remembers it as "quite a stressful engineering feat, especially erecting the steel."
The civil engineer, who worked with Tom Wiseman '49 and Don Kero '58, says the 2,200-ton center span was assembled on barges in Hancock and floated down the canal, pulled by tug boats. It was like threading a huge needle, with only four inches of clearance at either end of the lift span. The fact that it fit perfectly, including the expansion joints, was a relief to all involved, Michels said.
A crew of about one hundred worked on the bridge each day, including Bernard Gestel of Dollar Bay, who patrolled the waters in his boat to retrieve anything that fell in the water, humans included.