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.)