Bringing the Generations Together – Butler County Times-Gazette

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Aaron Gulley Cherry Road Media

The first time I visited Bill Wittenbrink’s house was the summer before I reached 9th grade. I was at school with one of his grandchildren, and I was invited to a little party to go swimming at their pond. It was my first time meeting Bill and his family, and he immediately impressed me. I had never seen such a special place for someone to call home. The property is beautifully secluded, with plenty of trees for cover. There is a pond in front of the house and a path leading to a large dock with a small table and set of chairs. On the far right is Bill’s Bridge, resting above the pond.

Once we were all in the water, I swam from the dock to the deck and climbed a ladder to the top of the deck, facing a longer jump than I had ever done before. . Despite my crippling fear of heights, I jumped all the way down in a cannonball, disrupting the calm water. Not once, but twice. Because that’s the kind of natural effect Bill has on people. Even though I was scared, I remember thinking how cool it was to be there and how not to jump off that thing?

THE HEART OF A HOME

In 1993, Bill was standing outside his home in West Miami County, Kansas. He looked at the landscape of his 80 acres of land. With the help of a friend he worked with at KC Power and Light, he scraped a large area to fill a pond. Once the land was dug and ready to be backfilled, Bill and his father discussed the possibilities. As they admired the dirt that lay ahead, Bill devised a plan that would cement his personal legacy on the property.

“I was standing there, I had a beer in my hand, I was talking to my dad, and I said ‘You know what would be way over that pond would be a bridge…a bridge suspended, I could build one.”

This bridge would become the focal point of his domain. For his grandchildren, it has become the heart of their childhood home.

For anyone who visited, it was the first thing they noticed after driving the long, winding, gravel road.

If you were to visit you would find yourself on the dock, fully engaged in conversation with Bill and all of his welcoming demeanor, interesting stories and witty jokes. You can have a drink and then go for a swim. You need to be a good swimmer to get to the bridge from the dock, but of course you can walk the way if you’re not ready for the long splashes across the pond. Once you get to the bridge, you’ll find a ladder that reaches to the top of the hanger.

At the top is a platform with a sign, an image of the Wittenbrink family coat of arms, sketched by his mother. The rig is designed for anyone brave enough to jump through the air and dive into the water.

Of course, to make all of this possible, someone first had to be brave enough to build those things that turned ordinary land into a hidden piece of paradise for years to come.

RACE AGAINST TIME AND WEATHER

Bill is a determined man with a bold charisma. Once he shared his idea with his father, he knew he was going to make it happen. He gathered utility poles and rented a tool to drill holes in them. It was the first stage of his project, and just when he was ready to take the next step, it started to rain. Watching the rain fall from the clouds and into the excavated earth, his future pond, Bill realized he would be one-on-one with the weather to complete the bridge before the water filled.

“I really didn’t have anyone else to help me, I threaded all the wires and found Power and Light parts and pieces that I could use, it was all there right under my rear end, it is the truth.”

He lifted and set up two thirty-five-foot center posts. Once the poles were installed, he was ready to thread his cables. Two 7/16” steel cables anchored in concrete that would span the one hundred and twenty feet of the viaduct.

“I had turnbuckles on all four sides and was installing the cables, but I didn’t have any type of measuring device.”

He had served in the military, while there he gained experience working on airplanes. He used this knowledge, with the help of his wife, to measure the tension of his cables.

“I stood at one end and asked my wife to use something to tap the wire, then I turned the turnbuckle to tighten the wire. And once I had the tension on the big long wires about the same, I had no idea what the bridge would support in terms of weight, but it was just a gut feeling that it would support . And it went well and is still standing today.

Bill didn’t know how he would fill the floor of his deck, so he went with his dad on a trip to a junkyard in Lane, Kansas. What they found were hundreds of bed frames recently removed from nearby Osawatomie State Hospital. The pieces of metal tubing were the perfect size to help reinforce his wooden planks.

As expected, there were a few bumps along the way. One day, when the pond was half full, he was working on deck in a two-man fishing boat and fell into the water. The worst part? It was late fall.

“I had never been in freezing water before.” Said Bill. “I nearly froze to death trying to get back to the bank, and everyone thought it was funny except me! That freezing water will take your breath away.

At the time, he had a Crosley mini truck that he had restored, and as the bridge got closer, Bill told his dad that he would drive that truck all the way once he was done. His father shook his head and answered a long “no” to the idea. Once the bridge was completed, Bill knew his father was right.

“I looked at it and thought, ‘No. It will not arrive.'”

Although he never ventured his truck across, he and his son were able to easily drive their four-wheeled Honda over the overpass.

Building the bridge with the help of his wife and father made it an even more special achievement. It is unofficially one of the longest suspension bridges in the state of Kansas. Bill sold his house and land in 2019 to move, but he still keeps a picture of the bridge on the wall of his new home, showing how proud he is of all his hard work.

Over the years I have had many more opportunities to hang out in the summer with friends at this pond. Like many other people, I have some of my fondest memories from that time. Even after all that time there, it wasn’t until I started interviewing Bill for this story that I found out he built it all on his own. He had never needed to talk about it before, the job was obvious.

One thing I always noticed, though, was how happy it made him to see other people happy. And when you were at his pond and his bridge, it was pretty hard not to be happy.

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