How The USSR Helped Fund A Small Bridge In South West Virginia

Grace Higgins | April 4th, 2020

Near the border of Kentucky in South West Virginia there is a very small community called Vulcan. It is actually an unincorporated community that was built up as a coal mining town. However in the early 1960s all the mines dried up and the community fell into economic problems. Many simply left to find jobs elsewhere, but some of the community stayed in their homes. With no money the town’s infrastructure started to deteriorate rapidly, in fact, the state’s local government forgot they even existed.

This was an immense problem because the little town was built on the edge of the Big Sandy River by the main railway line of Norfolk & Western Railroad. In fact, there was no road connecting Vulcan to Kentucky, there was just a small suspension foot bridge. This swing bridge was pretty much on the edge of collapsing, yet still children would use it every morning and evening to catch the bus to their school in Kentucky. Many of the footboards were missing so the kids were in danger of falling into the river. Sometimes they would crawl under parked train cars to get to the bridge, already a dangerous act in itself.

The only other route was a gravel road maintained by the Railroad company this road went parallel with the tracks up to Delmore in the north, but it was a private road that was barred to the public. In the 1975 the bridge collapsed and the people of Vulcan were forced to trespass on the railway company road. They asked government officials to build a new bridge but officials were not looking forward to paying money for something that would not really benefit anyone. The community of Vulcan was now just about 50 families.

So a 42 year old bartender by the name of John Robinette decided he would write a letter to the USSR and East Germany. He thought that the Soviets may jump on the chance to embarras America by offering the community foreign aid. Now the Kremlin never did reply to the letter, but media latched onto the story and even a New York based Russian journalist turned up to investigate.

The US government was indeed embarrased by all the media attention, so quickly pledged $1.3 million dollars to build a new bridge. In fact they said it had been planned a long time in advance but that these types of projects take time to happen. Of course they timed the announcement with the arrival of the Russian journalist in Vulcan. And two years later the communitty had a brand new one land bridge connecting them to the ourside world.

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