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There are a lot of books about Portland’s bridges — the city’s most visible defining feature.


But how many of them lay flat on a desk when opened, with pictures and maps that pop off the page, the front and back reinforced to last as long as a steel bridge?

That’s the extra effort Sharon Wood Wortman, aka the “Bridge Lady,” put into her latest book, “The Big & Awesome Bridges of Portland & Vancouver — A Book for Young Readers and Their Teachers.”

Five years in the making, the 240-page hardcover book makes its debut this week to the public and the hands of 5,000 schoolchildren in Portland and Vancouver, Wash.

“I feel like I’m a teapot ready to overboil,” says Wood Wortman, who turns 70 this month and just had her first great-grandchild.

Wood Wortman and her husband, co-author Ed Wortman, are half celebrating, half busily preparing for the book’s launch party on Dec. 13.

Afterward, she wants to create a teachers’ guide to the book and a digital text, so it has wider readership.

“There are so many bridges, so little time,” she says.

One of the best surprises throughout the process, Wood Wortman says, was the $25,000 donation from Portland Public Schools.

“I’m so grateful to have Portland Public as a partner,” she says. “Because we got adopted (by them), we got to work together on this project.”

Sponsored by the nonprofit PDX Bridge Festival, Inc., the book includes full-color photos and illustrations; detailed facts about all 22 of the Portland and Vancouver big-river bridges, including four railway bridges; photos of nine footbridges; interviews with bridge engineers and other experts; students’ bridge poetry and art; math exercises; and step-by-step instructions to build and load-test a truss bridge.

Wood Wortman had sought out rich, diverse content that’s intended for student use with the help of teachers.

“PPS guided us so we started simplifying phrases,” Wood Wortman says, without dumbing down the content.

Teachers, school librarians, curriculum advisers, bridge engineers, bridge operators, peregrine falcon experts, ironworkers and other experts consulted on the content and helped interpret information and check facts.

The teachers sent bridge poems written by their students, shared their materials and invited Wood Wortman’s team into their classrooms.

Some of the bridge art came directly from the Sabin/ACCESS Art Project in Northeast Portland, where students focus on art-based learning.

The Portland State chapter of the Society of Women Engineers and the American Society of Civil Engineers Oregon section volunteered to send their members into classrooms to implement the bridge building and load-testing curriculum.

More than 150 photographers, artists, poets, students, composers and a comic strip artist gave permission to use their work.

Portland Community College’s graphic design students helped add arrows, boxes, animals, graphs, charts and elevation drawings to bring life to the pages.

Some of the students helped launch the book’s Web page and create an Indiegogo campaign that raised $4,000 to help toward publishing costs.

Dozens of other individuals, in-kind donors and professional organizations supported the book financially.

For the past 20 years, Wood Wortman has led her walking bridge tours around town to students of all ages, organizations, fellow bridge geeks and the public.

In 1989 she published the “Portland Bridge Book,” now in its third edition. In 2005, she created “Bridge in a Box,” a bridge building and testing kit that comes with seven patterns of local truss bridges, a glue gun, glue sticks, other bridge parts and a glossary of engineering terms.

She’s also done a CD of bridge songs, bridge poetry and an illustrated guide to climbing the Fremont Bridge.

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