In my research about the Kinzua Bridge for the story, I learned a great deal about how it was built and what a remarkable engineering masterpiece the bridge was when it was built. A friend of mine recently shared some of the details of its history. I thought this would be something to add to my blog. The bridge almost becomes a third character between Nicole and Tom — in fact, a few readers have even made that comment to me.
The idea to build what would be come the Kinzua Viaduct was the brainchild of General Thomas Kane, the Civil War hero who was a stakeholder in the New York, Lake Erie & Western Railroad. His idea was to find a way to cross the Kinzua Valley by rail versus a winding six mile route through the valley. He along with Octave Chanute, a civil engineer, agreed that a viaduct high above the Kinzua Valley would be the best choice. They hired the Phoenix Bridge Works Company, who later constructed the Pecos River High Bridge in Texas, to build the viaduct. Preliminary construction began in 1881 when the foundations of the bridge’s 110 stone piers were laid. To build the piers, 7,600 cubic yards of hard limestone was needed. The following year, construction of the viaduct itself began on April 10. 94 days later, the viaduct was complete. Immediately thereafter, word of the accomplishment spread throughout Pennsylvania and the Northeast, and numerous excursion trains visited the Kinzua Valley over the next 30 years. Erecting the viaduct was certainly an accomplishment. Just shy of 302 feet high and at a length of 2,053 feet, the bridge was built without any scaffolding. When one wrought iron tower was completed, a wooden crane was built at the top of that tower to assist the construction of the next tower.
The 40 man crew used this process to build what was then the world’s highest and longest rail bridge ever built. The bridge cost the railway $167,000. As trains and their payloads grew heavier, the ability of the viaduct to handle such loads came into question. The bridge narrowly missed a devastating blow in 1889 when a train derailment saw three rail cars crash into the valley. High winds were also a concern. The winds were severe enough that a five mile an hour limit was in place. A new bridge was necessary, and in May of 1900, the iron viaduct was closed to traffic. Construction of a new steel bridge soon began. The construction of the new viaduct started on May 24th; the entire ironworks were torn down and replaced by the sturdier steel structure. Building the new bridge lasted only 105 days, and on September 25, 1900, rail service returned to the viaduct. The new Kinzua Viaduct was built by the Elmira Bridge Company. The new bridge retained the original height (301.5′) and length (2053′) of the original. However, the steel structure was much heavier. The new bridge consisted of 6,715,000 pounds of steel vs. the 3,105,000 pounds of iron used on the original viaduct 18 years earlier.
As a psychologist, I have counseled men and women struggling with extramarital attractions and understand the emotional conflicts those endure who deeply value fidelity but still feel the pull of falling in love with another, even when one party or the other appears to be happily married. These experiences led me to write my first novel, The Eighth Wonder.
The writing of the book took place while I was recovering from retina detachment surgery. I was housebound for 4 to 5 months. During this time, I was able to use my computer in large print. Like my main character, Nicole Benson, I had always wanted to write a novel. I finally had the time to do it. It started out semi-autobiographical about my own move to Bradford after getting my Ph.D., but then turned into a love story about two people struggling with grief and loss. While writing the novel, as mentioned, I was housebound. I needed a place for the characters to meet. I was not familiar with the region. I looked up landmarks – and that is when I discovered The Kinzua Bridge. I had not heard of it nor had I seen it before (or during) writing the novel. The title for the book came to me in a flash that day I wrote the entire story of the bridge and its description based upon web sites I found on it. The first place that I went to after being released from medical rest was to see the bridge in person.
The novel begins as on how I first moved to Bradford to be near my father who lived in Buffalo, New York, and he was dying from pancreatic cancer. Nicole’s personality and being a career-driven woman who does not have children is generally my story.
Like The Bridges of Madison County, the “bones” of a story portray the complexities of falling in love when one has been married for a long-period of time. It isn’t always easy to stay married and difficult choices must often be made to keep a marriage together. Sometimes, it means even leaving someone that you love in order to keep a family together. The novel also questions the role of commitment-phobic women who fear abandonment, a trend seen more visibly in women today. Like women portrayed in the Sex in the City series, how do they resolve their feelings of wanting to settle down and be taken care of by a man, yet place a protective emotional wall to keep men at a distance.
Instead of an Iowa farm wife (as in BRIDGES), this is a story about a strong, self-reliant woman. Instead of a rambling photographer, we meet Tom Ryan, a very stable and settled community-minded Bradford native who manages a large nursing home and is very content with his life.
While there may be some parallels to Bridges of Madison County, The Eighth Wonder takes on a fresh perspective. Tom discovers in his heart that he is in love with Nicole and the consequences of those feelings in relation to Rose. Nicole’s realization that she is in love with Tom is just as dramatic, due to her fears of abandonment and intimacy, plus, he is married. What is she doing? She can’t possibly be in love with someone who is not hers to have. They take on their own unique journey.
I enjoyed writing The Eighth Wonder. As my first novel, it is so amazing to have people tell me that they could not put the book down. Not just friends either, but strangers who have written to me after reading the novel. They told me how moved they were by the story. I am so touched to have written such a story. I cried writing it. I still tear up re-reading it.
I hope you enjoy reading The Eighth Wonder as I did writing it!
Nicole Benson is a self-made woman. She put herself through school, sacrificing marriage and children for her career. In the summer of 1997, at the age of 35, she finally graduated with a Ph.D. from NYU, but her life is thrust into chaos when her father, the only person she’s ever leaned on emotionally, is diagnosed with terminal cancer. After fifteen years in New York City, Nicole leaves everything and everyone she knows to teach for a year in rural Bradford, Pennsylvania to be close to her father in nearby Buffalo. Now, trapped in tiny Bradford, she has never felt more alone in her life. . . until she meets Tom Ryan.
At 44, Tom represents what Nicole longs to be: settled, secure, and clear about his purpose and direction in life. Emotionally scarred, he and his wife of 23 years survived the death of their daughter to leukemia. Tom and Nicole’s story begins as a journey of self-discovery for both of them but turns to bittersweet tragedy when their friendship becomes love. Nicole risks offering what she has never given before, her heart; and Tom has never felt happier or more conflicted when he falls in love for the second time in his life. Their lives become intertwined and changed forever when they both must make the most difficult decision of their lives.