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8/15/2012 2:00:00 PM
Meet Bridgekeeper Elwin Page
Elwin Page, the keeper of the Richmond-Dresden swing bridge, has opened the bridge for boats for 12 years. The bridge will be replaced by 2015. (Honora Perkins photo)
Elwin Page, the keeper of the Richmond-Dresden swing bridge, has opened the bridge for boats for 12 years. The bridge will be replaced by 2015. (Honora Perkins photo)
By Honora Perkins

Elwin Page has been tending the Richmond-Dresden swing bridge on Rt. 197 for 12 years. Between April and October he works 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week.

Only two other swing bridges exist in Lincoln County, one in Southport, and one in South Bristol. Both are manned 24 hours.

Other than opening the swing bridge for boats, Page greases the 75 fittings on the bridge every two weeks. "The fittings used to be on the bottom of the bridge, but they are on top now, because it was too dangerous," he said.

It takes ten minutes to open and close the bridge, and the Coast Guard alerts him by the phone or radio when someone needs the bridge open. When Page has no work to do, he watches movies, television, listens to the radio or plays games on the Playstation 3.

On July 30 the bridge was closed to traffic for four hours when the bridge was stuck open for the second time in several years. Page said he thought the heat made the wedge pin shear off, making it impossible for the bridge to swing back into place.

According to Maine Dept. of Transportation's website, approximately 288 bridges in the state are at risk of posting or closure within 10 years, unless repairs or replacements occur first.

With construction slated to begin in 2013, the Richmond-Dresden bridge, built in 1931, is slated to be replaced by a bridge that will not need an operator to open it, as it will be high enough for boats to pass under. When that time comes, Page will join another DOT crew, he said.

Page said he is never scared on the bridge, even though when trucks travel over it, the bridge shakes noticeably. His most memorable moment on the bridge occurred several years back when four car accidents happened inside of two hours due to icy conditions. After that, the bridge surface was studded to make it less slippery, Page said.

Page went to Gardiner High School, and then worked nights at Statler Tissue Co. in Augusta, before taking a job with the DOT. He and his wife Neddie have been married 33 years and they have two children, Elwin Jr., who is 31, and a girl Bobbie Jo, age 30. At home his wife keeps him busy doing things, he said, and they play Bingo.

Page likes the job and wouldn't change a thing, he said. He walks to work from his home in Richmond. "I like being alone. I never see anyone," he said.

Sometimes, from his excellent view of the wide expanse of the Kennebec River, he sees eagles catching fish.

He has four more years until retirement, and will watch the new bridge, costing $24.9 million, under construction from 2013 to 2015. "It will be interesting to see," he said.

(Ed. Note: A previous edition of this story incorrectly reported Elwin Page worked on the bridge from October to April. The text has been changed accordingly.)

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