Videographer Dick Blood didn’t have to travel far to shoot history in the making.
His Carson Road home is only three miles from the construction site of Ashtabula County’s 17th covered bridge, the Smolen-Gulf Bridge. Further, with his son knowing one of the owners of Union Industrial Contractors, general contractor for the 613-foot-long bridge, Blood often had an inside track on when construction milestones were about to occur.
From slicing through the forest with chain saws to setting the forms for the concrete piers; from raising the four spans to dedicating the completed bridge, Blood was there to capture the moments with his video cameras.
“I played it pretty much by ear,” Blood says when asked how often he visited the site. “If I noticed anything happening, I made it a point to be there.”
Blood says the tremendous job done by John Smolen, former county engineer, in rehabilitating the county’s 12 legacy bridges and building five new ones compelled him to document this bridge’s construction. He also wanted to recognize Smolen’s insightfulness – Smolen recognized that the traffic count on State Road qualified it for federal transportation grant money to the tune of $5 million.
That kind of money drew criticism from some residents. Blood hopes his video will help those critics recognize both the bridge’s tourism value and its practical function of addressing dangerous conditions on the highway.
“It’s a good investment,” Blood says.
By the time the bridge was dedicated Aug. 26, Blood had shot more than 15 hours of site-preparation and bridge-construction footage. Yet, within a couple of weeks after the bridge was dedicated, he had completed a one-hour documentary spanning more than eight years of bridge-building history.
“But what else do I have to do?” says Blood, when asked how he managed to pull off such a big project in a short time. “The frustrating thing about this is that as I get older, I don’t recall things as well and got to write down where everything is (on the tapes).”
Blood’s documentary – his fifth released for public consumption – brings full circle an effort that started shortly after he retired from the newspaper business 10 years ago. He recalls standing in a stream, shooting a covered bridge with his new video camera, and being struck by the spiritual aspect of what was before him: a man-made bridge with cathedral-like strength and beauty, a stream surrounded by nature, nurturing life.
“I said ‘Oh my God, it’s awesome, the beauty of this bridge,’” Blood says.
He continued shooting the bridges and scenery around them and made his first documentary, “Bridges by Man, Colors by God.” He followed that with “This is My Father’s World” and, in 2000, “More Than Mortar,” a documentary about construction of the Route 20 viaduct. He did a patriotic video in 2001 and in 2002 he offered “The Wonder of Nature,” an hour-long video about the antics of both domesticated animals and wildlife in Ashtabula County.
In addition to these documentaries, Blood made numerous “Family Saga” videos for families and school reunions.
His latest production is the most ambitious in terms of time involved. The bridge’s opening was originally planned for the state’s bicentennial in 2003, but lengthy environmental impact studies delayed the start of construction until 2006.
Blood stayed faithful to documenting the project, despite personal health challenges and the painfully slow pace of construction. In July 2006, just as the project was finally getting under way in the gulf, Blood suffered a heart attack, followed by a staph infection.
“Six weeks after that heart attack, I was back down there walking that hill again,” he says.
Like many photographers and videographers who visited the site, Blood was often frustrated by the restrictions that kept onlookers from entering the construction zone. In May, when the second section was being lifted, Blood pushed his luck too far. He decided to wade into the river to get some shots of the event, but the dry interior of one boot became compromised. Blood took the wet lining out of the boot and continued to shoot for the next several hours with his leg rubbing against the rough interior.
More than four months later, Blood is still wearing a bandage over the wound, which has refused to heal. But he got the footage he needed, footage that shows just how painstaking the effort was to ensure the spans would be safely raised the 90 feet to their permanent home.
Blood also kept looking for new angles from which to shoot the construction. He drove the dirt road along the power-line right-of-way behind Web Supply to get a distant view of the bridge across the gulf. From that vantage point, the bridge appears to be floating in a wilderness whose only other man-made intrusion is the power line. He also walked the gulf bank along Plymouth Ridge to find good vantage points, and climbed the hills at the construction site to give viewers fresh angles on the work.
Blood encountered a technical challenge when he started editing his movie because technology and the recording media of his cameras had changed over the years of shooting. He also had to deal with editing all that tape by shuttling between cameras fed into a deck rather than using linear-editing software on a computer.
“People see my videos and can’t believe I don’t use a computer,” he says.
He is selling the bridge DVD for $10 and also has it packaged with other productions for slightly more.
“I want to make it affordable for more people,” he says.
To order, call his home, 998-0495. Blood is also planning to sell the DVD during the Covered Bridge Festival.
Making these films gives Blood the money to buy equipment to document something even more important than the construction of a the nation’s longest covered bridge.
“... so I can film my (five) grandchildren,” he says.
Dick Blood tells story of Smolen-Gulf Bridge in his new documentary
Videographer Dick Blood didn’t have to travel far to shoot history in the making.
Nativity exhibit to open in Kirtland
Volunteers are still busy putting up more than 600 Nativity scenes for the nationally acclaimed exhibit at Historic Kirtland in preparation for the formal opening on Friday. A lighting celebration and musical program will begin 6 p.m. Friday. Nativity sets representing countries and cultures from around the world will fill the Visitors Center and the one-room schoolhouse located next to the center. The theme of the 11th annual exhibit is “Unto Us A Son Is Given.” Admission is free and open to the public. Historic Kirtland is located at 7800 Kirtland-Chardon Road, just off Route 306 south of I-90.
Odd Tales of Ashtabula County
Twins were pretty rare in Williamsfield Township, so when Correne Cutlip delivered twin girls on April 22, 1939, her husband, Bob, started calling neighbors and relatives with the good news and a plea for help: they would need twice as much of everything.
Guilty of treason!
She was a lonely child, precocious, some said; others said she was simply aloof. Two things for certain, she was beautiful — neighbors often remarked on her black curls — and odd, especially by the standards that existed in Conneaut in 1916.
Those 10 Calaway girls
In an era when many couples are happy to dote on just one offspring and most U.S. McMansions have at least 2.5 bathrooms, the story of the Calaway sisters is amazing.
The music got him 'All stirred up inside
Floyd Hewitt loved to listen to the radio, especially that cool jazzy music that got him “all stirred up inside.”
The romantic bachelor
The brass plate is partially obscured by the July grass that grows about the stone substrate.
Second of a two-part series on the Big Blow of November 1913
Launching an industry
Shortly after midnight on Sept. 26, 1941, German U- boat No. 203 fired four torpedoes into convoy HG-73 north of the Azores.
Ransom for an attorney’s little boy
Tony Muscarelli, 13, and Willie Madden, 12, were walking down Depot Street, Ashtabula, on the evening of March 20, 1909, when a 30-year-old man accosted them from across the street.
Kelsey’s Run rambles through the flatlands of Conneaut Township Park, carving graceful curves in the grassy area just north of Lake Road and slipping quietly under the two stone bridges in its final stretch toward Lake Erie.
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- Nativity exhibit to open in Kirtland