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Dramatic Tree Haus wooden bridge gets hands-on treatment

Taking care of Routt County's wooden bridge

Matt McLaughlin and Mesa Thankful, right, apply a fresh coat of transparent finish to the Tree Haus Bridge on Aug. 18. The bridge is dedicated to the memory of the late Routt County Road and Bridge engineer Lou Gabos.
Tom Ross

— A crew from Western Wood Protection is nearing completion of a one-of-a-kind commercial painting job on the wooden trusses of the Tree Haus Bridge over the Yampa River just west of the interchange of U.S. Highway 40 and Mount Werner Road and just outside the city limits in Routt County.

Strapped into a safety harness affixed to the bridge Thursday, Jace Smith stood nonchalantly on one of the bridge’s horizontal support beams above a placid section of river. Using a roller on an extension pole, he reached above his head to apply a coat of transparent finish to one of the bridge’s heavy timbers.

Routt County Road and Bridge field coordinator Geovanny Romero said Thursday the bridge, which is dedicated to the memory of the late Road and Bridge Department engineer Lou Gabos, was stained within the last five years by Road and Bridge personnel. Wood stain was not the application of choice this time around.

“That was one way to do it, not the best way,” Romero said. “This time, I required them to apply (the transparent finish) by hand and caulk all of the cracks. This will allow a more natural color of wood and protects from U.V. rays.”

The crew doing the work this week is using brushes and hand rollers.

Western Wood founder Tom Williams said the transparent finish is thick when applied and acts almost like a wood glue, bonding the wood fibers together.

Joe Redfern, who purchased the company from Williams, his father-in-law, climbed down from a tall ladder on the bridge to say that he takes pride in tackling a difficult job that is so conspicuous.

“When you’re coming into Steamboat, you see this gorgeous bridge, and to have it on your resume and protect it, is enormously satisfying,” Redfern said.

Western Wood was the sole bidder on the project at $31,540, which includes bringing in certified traffic control workers from Palisade.

Williams, who enthusiastically works for Redfern now, said he researched ways to protect water quality in the Yampa River while rejuvenating the timbers of the bridge, which was built in 1998 to replace a steel bridge that had previously undergone repairs.

Before the bridge timbers could be treated with the new transparent finish, they had to be sanded, and state officials wanted to minimize the amount of stain-impregnated sawdust that fell into the river.

Redfern said they cleaned up the rough surface of the timbers with palm sanders, but instead of relying on the 4-inch dust bags that came with the little sanders, they attached them to the larger dust buckets of shop vacs.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1


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