The Battle Of Paynes Bridge


This story about love and perseverance, was inspired by the great teachers and mentors in my life.  Though fictional, it’s set against the backdrop of the region I was born in.  I hope you enjoy the lesson found in The Battle Of Payne’s Bridge.

The battle of Payne’s bridge isn’t a story of smokey battlefields, cannon fire, and military strategy. It’s the story of a man who wanted to better his family. It was in the foothills of Virginia, that Hadley Payne lived with his wife Lindsey, and his two daughters Reilly and Anne. 

Hadley worked in the coal mines of the early 1950’s. Like most at that time, money was short, but they loved each other very much. Hadley and Lindsey did their best to make life enjoyable for their daughters. Which is how the battle of Payne’s bridge began.

The closest town was Grundy, and they lived on one of the nearby mountains. Cider’s mountain was the common name for it, but the girls calked it Grandpa’s mountain. Grandpa Nells had lived there since before they were born. To get to town, they had to go half way around the mountain to reach the main road. The other side was much closer to the highway, except for one thing. Smucker’s pond, a stream off of the Levisa Fork River, separated the mountain from the road.  

The one thing that Hadley Payne and those who inhabited Cider’s mountain were rich in, was timber. It was covered in trees, which weren’t exactly valuable in coal country at the time. It was after Anne, their youngest, had a bout of sickness, that the problem weighed on his mind.

Thoughts such as, ‘What would happen if we needed to get one of the kids to the doctor sooner?’ He dwelt on this through the winter, and into the Spring. One warm Saturday morning, before breakfast, Hadley was on his way.  

He rounded up every friend and relative with a strong back, and a sharp saw, then went to work. Every weekend for months, they cut and shaped timbers. He had never built a bridge before, but that didn’t matter to him.

Hadley reasoned, ‘I never was a coal miner until they hired me, but I’ve done it for twelve years now.’ He knew it would be a tough ordeal, but he was up for the fight. As part research, part recreation, Hadley and his brother Tom swam, and explored how deep Smucker’s pond actually was.  

To their surprise, it was much more shallow than anyone had thought. Confident that their plan would succeed, they went forward. Soon word spread through the county that crazy Hadley Payne and his bunch were planning to build a bridge.

It was these stories that caused Sheriff Tipton to make a trip up the mountain. “Hello Sheriff, what brings you here?” “You do Hadley. People all over are talking about your bridge.” “Well, we’ve needed one for a long time Sheriff. My family aren’t the only ones on this mountain, we need a bridge.”

The Sheriff took off his hat. “Yes, yes, you do. Hadley you’re not an engineer, bridges aren’t in your background.” “That’s true, but the county always says it’s too expensive to build. So far, I’ve proven that wrong.”

“Bridges aren’t just wood timbers, they need to be strong enough to carry cars over.” “Sheriff, this bridge isn’t going to be used like a main road. Families on the mountain may go into town once or twice a month.” 

“Except for us miners that is, and we get up before dawn to take the long way round. This isn’t to tread on every day, it’s for emergencies. What if your child was sick, and it took half the day to get her to a doctor. What would you do?”

The man sighed. “I’d build a bridge over a shallow pond just in case. Still, you know the county isn’t going to let you build it. There’s a hearing next week, until then, the Mayor gave me specific instructions. I’m ordering you to cease and desist, pending the results of the hearing.”

Hadley agreed, and the Sheriff left. They say great strategists never show their hand until they’ve tied their opponents in a knot. Hadley had never been a bridge builder, but he had been a soldier in the war.  

He found the army fascinating, particularly the planning steps which officers undertook to win the war. They would distract their enemy with a diversion, and attack elsewhere. 
One of his old commanders had a favorite way of stating it. ‘If you cry wolf long enough, they may not run back to stop the wolf. They will however, run back to shut you up. That’s when you spring the trap.’  

Hadley had never said that his trees were to be the materials of the bridge, just that he intended to build one. There’s more than one way to build something.  Often simple ideas are more creative, and sneaky, than they seem. No one took the time to inspect the trees the men had shaped. If they had, people would have noticed, they would make a better barn than a bridge.  

The night of the public meeting, the entire city council gathered for a fight. Mayor Cooper, a college graduate, was prepared to reason, degrade, and humiliate this simple coal miner. His opening statement pointed out the dangers of a homespun bridge, as well as how unneeded it was.  

Hadley kept his cool, and his seat, right up until the Mayor’s last statement. It was then that Hadley raised his hand “Mr. Mayor, may I ask a question?” Reluctantly he agreed. “Are you saying that anyone who backs this bridge is crazy?”  

“I wouldn’t say it exactly like that, but I would say they’re somewhat disillusioned.” It was then that Lindsey stifled a smile, and Hadley cleared his throat. “Does that include yourself sir?” “Of course not. I never advocated you building a bridge just to satisfy some whim.”  

Hadley raised his voice. “No sir you didn’t, but you did promise these people five years ago, when you were trying to get elected. You promised them if they’d vote for you, you’d build a road from the other side into town.”

“Last winter, my daughter had to suffer longer than she should, just to get to the doctor. How many kids on that mountain had to suffer because you failed to keep your promise. Sir, like you said, I’m not a bridge builder, I’m just a coal miner, but I know enough to keep my word.”

Hadley sat down. That day, the coal miner beat the politician, and the battle of Payne’s bridge was won. It was completed the next spring, just about the time, Hadley was painting  his new barn.  

Without a single shot, or an engineering degree, Hadley proved something to his daughters. With the right approach, you can build anything. Don’t allow what you don’t have to side track you, instead start with the resources you have. Once you do that, you’ll find passion and determination are much stronger and richer than gold and steel.

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