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Missouri River Bridge


That Jarvis Entrepreneuring

After the war, in the 1870s, Grandfather demonstrated his innate, entrepreneurial skill by becoming a gravel contractor for the railroad. He landed the entire gravel contract for one of the earliest bridges across the Missouri River, a concrete railroad bridge. He used several teams of horses on this project. His brother Millard drove one of the teams.

The bridge was being built by a modern technique that employed compressed air to force the water out of the pylon chamber, which went down to the river bottom, and thus permitted the embedding of steel reinforced piers in the river. Grandfather recalled that he saw many workmen doubled over in pain when they came up from the compressed air chamber; he knew of several who died. The phenomenon of “the bends,” due to nitrogen in the blood stream, was not understood by the bridge builders.

Grandfather made a killing on this contract, but couldn’t continue this type of work because he developed a terrible case of rheumatism. He was so sick for a while that he actually hoped he would die.

He eventually regained full health, then became the Marshal of a small Illinois town. Later he served as the head of a rehabilitation institution—a work farm. During his stay in Illinois, Grandfather also bought horses and shipped them by carloads back to Philadelphia where they were used for pulling street cars, as well as for other work.

Grandfather’s brother Theodore lived in Princeton, Illinois, to the west of Chicago. It was during a visit to his brother in Princeton that Grandfather met his future bride, Ellen B. Greer, who was there staying with her relatives.

There was one incident that upset Grandfather during his visit to Princeton. He noticed that a “nigger” was sitting in on a poker game with some whites. Although he claimed that he wasn’t prejudiced at all, that bothered him.


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