Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Bridge of the Americas (Puente de las Américas)

You know the aphorism, “I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it?” Well, of all the bridges I’ve crossed, one of the most memorable ones I’ve crossed a number of times was the magnificent and historical Bridge of the Americas that crosses the Pacific approach to the Panama Canal at Balboa.

Completed in 1962 by the United States, the bridge was the only non-swinging bridge that connected north and south American land masses until 2004 when the Centennial Bridge (which spans Galliard Cut or Culebra Cut) opened. (There are two swinging bridges one at Miraflores locks and the other at Gatun Locks.)

The bridge is 5,425 feet long and is 384 feet above sea level. It was originally called The Thatcher Ferry Bridge, after the original ferry that crossed the canal at the same point. Interestingly, the ferry was named after Maurice Thatcher, a former member of the canal commission.

From 1976-1978 I was stationed at Howard Air Force Base on the Pacific side of the Canal and almost daily I crossed the bridge—either on my way to Albrook Air Station when I was working (delivering supplies or picking up repairable equipment)—or to Panama City and Balboa when I was not working. It was definitely a breathtaking ride across the bridge with the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Panama Canal/Miraflores Locks on the other. Even more awe-inspiring was glancing to my left or right and watching ships either approaching or exiting the canal.

Without question, crossing the Bridge of America’s was one of my more memorable moments during the two years I was stationed at Howard, especially this one night, just a few days before Christmas in 1976, when a bunch of us from Barracks 714 piled into this guy’s golden dune buggy and headed across the Bridge of the Americas to Panama City.

Crossing the Bridge of Americas in an open top golden dune buggy, standing up in the back and holding onto the roll bar singing “Jingle Bells” at the top of one’s lungs at Christmas in Panama—well, you can’t get any more memorable than that.

(In the photo, you can see Howard Air Force Base in the distance on the left; and right below the bridge near the oil tanks is Canal Zone Junior College. I took one class there, a history class back in 1978.)

8 Comments

  1. Jeffery,
    One of my worst fears is to drive my car on the bridge. My hands start to sweat and my heart beats rapidly. That’s called fear. The very first time I knew I couldn’t drive on the bridge was the time I went on vacation by my self. I have to take Delaware bridge across and my thought process was going 200 miles an hour, then when I approached the bridge I froze, I stopped my car on side of the bridge which made it even worse because now I can feel all the shaking. I sat long enough to contemplate with turn the car around and go home and do nothing or have the opportunity to use a friend front side beach house. As I was making these choices a state trooper knot on my windshield. “Miss are you ok?” I roll down my window and told him “NO”. I need to cross the bridge but I’m afraid the height. He laughs and said it commons with women, come on I’ll drive the car across for you. Oh boy I didn’t know there was such a service. From that day on, when I head to shore, I just wait for the trooper to drive my car across every time.

    Funny ha? because when I fly 35,000 feet in the air for 2o some hours I don’t have any problem. Who would have thought bridges LoL :0)

  2. Jeffrey, that bridge is beautiful, made me think of Laos and not that we’ve a beautiful bridge like that but the scenery is breathtaking. Your story is memorable and thanks for sharing.

    Salalao, that’s a funny story. I never thought much when I drive across a bridge, it’s so narrowed that I only pay attention to both side as to not hit anything.

    The first amazing bridge that I visited was the Brooklyn Bridge in the 80s on a school field trip, I got to visit the museum underneath the bridge on the Brooklyn side, and after that I visit the bridge when ever I’m in the area, the view is amazing, from my blog post http://nyenoona.wordpress.com/2008/08/11/the-views-from-brooklyn-bridge/

    • Thanks so much Nye and Salalao for your kind comments. Yes, the scenery also reminds me a lot of Laos, too.

      Salalao, that is some story about your fear of driving across the bridge. Thanks so much for sharing it here on my blog.

  3. I’ve crossed so many bridges throughout the years of traveling all over. There are some that stand out more then others. I’ll try to list some of them for you guys.

    As some of you guys might know, there are so many bridges in Northern California. The two bridges that I’ve enjoy crossing most are Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge (link Oakland to San Francisco). I’m sure most of you seen the images of the collapsed Bay Bridge during the earth quake in 1989. Where the top decks broke loose and cars are plunged to the bottom deck which are east bound lanes. Few people lost their lives during that tragic accidents. Since then, the Department of Transportation (DOT) had been Seismic retrofits the bridge. Four years ago, the begin construction of new Bay Bridge and expect to finish at end of the next year. Hhhmm I can’t show the pictures on this reply. Perhaps I’ll post it on my blog later on.

    The third bridge came to mind would be the “Floating Bridge” in Seattle, WA. This is one of the most unique bridge design which link Seattle to Bellevue. The road decks would be floating few feet above the Lake Washington.

    The fourth is Point Champlain Bridge, which link to Montreal, Canada. The bridge itself is pretty high and long crossing Saint Laurent River. I’ve always enjoy driving on this particular bridge, it gives you the nice view of downtown Montreal.

    The fifth is Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls which link the U.S. to Canada. It is a short bridge that link the U.S. to Canada. The view of Niagara Falls just a distance away.

    These are my top 5 bridges that I’ve crossed so far. I almost forgot to mention the best hand made bamboo bridge I’ve crossed was in Luang Prabang. The bamboo bridge is only build and use during dry season to cross Nam Kharn River.

    • Hi Seeharhed,

      Thanks so much for sharing your stories about the bridges you have crossed over. I’ve only seen the Golden Gate Bridge from the air when I was flying into San Francisco, but it was just as impressive.

  4. Seeharhed,
    When i was out in San Fransico for conference I say in the a hotel that I can see both the bay bridge and Golden Gate Bridge. I didn’t even try to go across the bridge even by taxi. I took pictures from the 39 pier.

    Oh yeah right the famous bamboo bridge in Luang Prabang that I attemped to cross, but never made it. it was too shaky. 🙁

  5. Jeffrey – It is even more impressive to walk on. Whenever I have relatives/friends visiting from out of states, Golden Gate Bridge is one of the must see spot. I lost counts of the number of times I have visited it. All these years, I only walk crossed it once and probably never will again.

    salalao – That’s too bad you didn’t get a chance to cross any bridges. You probably stayed somewhere near the pier, if your hotel view can see both Golden Gate and Bay Bridge.

  6. Hey Jeffrey, we had to change a flat tire on that (Thatcher Ferry) bridge. Three of us, working like an Indy pit crew. As fast as we could, dodging traffic. And yes Salalao, the bridge was vibrating, which added to all the “excitement”!

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