For anyone who lived in the area between Stow and Bemus Point, the construction of the Chautauqua pier in 1981 was a sight to see.
At the time, Jim LaRose, a native of Virginia American and 24 years old, was on site as a field engineer and timekeeper. He would spend a year of his life in Chautauqua County before returning to Virginia.
LaRose began working with Syracuse Rigging, who specialized in bridge construction in Virginia. However, he was told that his first job would be to build the bridge in Chautauqua County.
“My first question was, ‘Where is that?'” LaRose remembered. “They told me it was in New York State, not far from Lake Erie. I took out a map and saw where it was and that the biggest city was a town called Jamestown. My parents were from Massachusetts, so I had visited the north, but as a lifelong southerner, I knew nothing about New York state. “
LaRose’s wife, Debbie, found work at the former General Nutrition Center on the Chautauqua Mall, and in February LaRose officially began work on the bridge.
LaRose would work with Shane Emerson, the project manager, and Billy Crane, the site manager. LaRose said there would be over 100 workers on the bridge, the three would remain the only company men for the duration of the building.
LaRose described one of his first assignments on site as helping to build the girders on the Stow side of the bridge.
“One of my jobs as a field technician was to check the final height of each beam end during assembly.” LaRose said. “It was a New York City Department of Transportation rule that each end of the beam be within 2 inches of its final height before screws could be placed and tightened. This rule didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but we carried it out. “
When the weather got warmer in March, LaRose described this as “The Real Work” started on the bridge. At this point, more equipment such as cranes, barges, and tugs arrived, and the men were able to line up a crew on either side to begin the work.
“When the girders and stiffeners came from High Steel on the Stow side, we used a land crane to load the steel onto a working boat.” LaRose said. “The working tug would then push it into the set-up position on the lake. The big crane would lift the girder into place and I would be on the bridge at my survey level to check the position. Then the screwing would begin. The smaller barge crane would put the tie frames and other steel between the girders to hold everything in place. “
Sometimes fun and games crept in during normal work – specifically in the form of paycheck poker – something LaRose learned while working as a timekeeper that he was supposed to be delivering paychecks.
“The workers soon realized that each check had a serial number on top and started a weekly pool based on the numbers being a poker hand.” LaRose said. “It was $ 10 to play. So if there were 50 men in it, that would be a $ 500 pot. I didn’t know at first that they did that. The men were always happy to see me handing out paychecks on Fridays, and one day before I gave him his check, a worker said, “Give me two, Jimmy, two are wild this week.” On Fridays there was always a little more drama afterwards. “
In mid-December, construction of the bridge – now known as the Veterans Memorial Bridge – was completed with its official opening in 1982. For LaRose, his last day was December 20th. Then he and his now ex-wife Debbie returned home to Virginia.
LaRose is 64 years old, remarried and has two sons by Debbie. He lives near Mobile, Alabama. He described his memories of the year he spent in Chautauqua County as very happy.
“I have great memories of Jamestown and our time there” he said. “Aside from the cold of winter, I have great memories of our time there and wish I could visit again one day.”
Photo by Jim LaRose Jim LaRose, then field engineer and timekeeper, and Billy Crane, site manager, are pictured building the Chautauqua pier in 1981. The bridge is approaching its 40th birthday. Photo by Jim LaRose
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