Pioneering Bridges and the Saga of the Bridge of Fifteen Nations


Bridge Project built in Brazilian Boy Scout Camp
Bridge Project built in Brazilian Boy Scout Camp

Before we relate this interesting, real-life account, here’s a little about building bridges and Pioneering: To open up the frontier, pioneers built BRIDGES. To this day, the most familiar and most  functional of all “larger” pioneering projects are bridges. In the older edition of the Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet, pioneering legend Adolph Peschke provides details for five “boy-sized” projects. Four of them are bridges: (Double A-Frame Monkey Bridge, Single Lock Bridge, Single Trestle Bridge, Single A-frame Bridge).

Here are some scanned photos and text from the 1976 printing of the Boy Scout Fieldbook where, again, there is a major emphasis on building bridges:

The 1967 edition of the Boy Scout Fieldbook is replete with photos of real Scouts doing real Scouting, old-school-style!
Three Walkway Bridges

“With your knots and lashings down pat, you’re ready for one of the most exciting outdoor crafts going: pioneering—building structures of timbers for practical purposes. It tests many skills, including teamwork. Probably your first try ought to be a simple project—but you may get your gang really steamed up by the notion of a bridge to avoid a long walk around a gully, stream, or pond on your campsite. So bridge it!

“LOCK BRIDGES are used for spanning streams with steeply sloping sides. If the stream is narrow, use a single-lock bridge (top right), consisting of two trestles and two roadways. For a wider stream, build a double lock bridge (center) in which the two trestles that are placed in the water are locked into a horizontal trestle that carries the center section of the roadway.

“TRESTLE BRIDGES are used to span fairly wide streams with shallow beds and gently sloping sides. The trestles are of different heights, depending on the depth of the water at various points. The bridge is constructed by placing the first trestle in the water, then lashing two “road bearers” (lateral spars) to the top of it, and anchoring the other end of the bearers to the bank. Other trestles are then placed in the water and connected with more road bearers.”


In the preface of his book, Progressive Pioneering, John Thurman tells a story illustrating a modern-day scenario of pioneering in action and how it “saved the day.” Additionally, the account provides a shining example of people from fifteen different countries working very well together to satisfy a common objective:

“SOMETIMES cynical people say, “Why pioneering, anyway?”, “What is the practical application in the  modern world?” Well if ever pioneering was justified, the true story that follows surely proves the point.  From the very start of Scouting, one overall idea was ‘being prepared’ and I still find that this makes sense, in any country, in any situation, in any age.”

John Thurman goes on to describe exceedingly rainy conditions that prevailed for nine days throughout the training session. With the training at an end, the last day, a September Sunday, was set aside for a special celebration:

“We, that is myself and the members of the Training Teams of fifteen countries of the Americas—North, South, Central, and the Caribbean—had the previous night, at midnight exactly, come to the end of a strenuous, exacting, but very satisfying “Training the Team” Course. The course had been held in the National Training Centre of Mexico, a place called Meztitla. The site was literally hacked out of the jungle, on the lower slope of a considerable mountain range. I had done what I went to Mexico to do and on this Sunday I was relieved of all responsibility and content to be a part of whatever final celebrations the Mexican Scout people planned. The morning was glorious with brilliant sunshine and a fresh and pleasant breeze. The camp looked lovely, although it  was a little wet under foot. The flags of fifteen nations flew proudly and unitedly in the centre of the camp. Visitors, many of considerable importance, began to gather; the Mexican Minister of Education, the First Secretary of the British Embassy, the Governor of the State, the Mayor and his supporters, and wives and families, relatives and grandparents of many of those who had taken part in the course.”

In his book, what follows are descriptions of the festivities. It was quite a party with lots of speeches, special presentations, Mexican music, and lots of Mexican food. Then, like it had during the previous nine days, the rain began to fall…and fall, and then really fall. It was one serious downpour, a veritable deluge. John describes that rivers appeared where the paths had been. The only way into camp was a ford across a mountain stream, and this, it was discovered, was already impassable. He writes:

“It steadily worsened; the mountain stream was now a raging torrent, bringing down boulders, tree trunks, and great lumps of what had been the bank. The ford had vanished completely and in front of us was a chasm or ravine about twelve feet deep with a raging torrent tumbling along its new course.

“There was no other way out of camp. We could have stayed and we could have managed, but it would have been hard on the woman and children who were our guests. We could have thrown a foot bridge across the ravine but then they would have been faced with abandoning vehicles and a very long and tiring walk to the nearest habitation.

“Unanimously it was decided that we should build a bridge; not a foot bridge, not a monkey bridge, not an aerial runway, but a road bridge which would carry the vehicles, the equipment, and the people.

“And so began the Saga of the Bridge of Fifteen Nations, for the men of fifteen nations contributed to its building. Mercifully equipment was available and there was a large supply of timber. The hands were willing, experienced, and capable. The men knew their knots and lashings and their basic pioneering.

“Three hours later, as darkness began to cover the area, the first car—a little Renault—gingerly felt its way across the bridge. As it accelerated up the bank on the far side of the ravine, the cheers from the men of fifteen nations were united, vociferous, and heartwarming. We were wet and tired; some of us were bruised and battered, and some had minor cuts, but spirits were never higher. Within the next half hour, every vehicle and every person made their way across the bridge and so onward to Mexico City; perhaps a little later than expected, but Mexico is one of the countries of ‘manana’, so why be concerned about slight errors in punctuality?

“It was truly a memorable day. It was Scouting in action and Scouting in practice. It was good to know that we could build a bridge when a bridge was the only answer. It was even better to know that the men of fifteen nations could work unitedly and effectively to build the bridge.”