This article and photos appeared in Chapter II of the Norman Transcript on September 13, 1964 (reprinted with permission)
by Elviretta Heon
Ed Garee, 91-year old Noble nurseryman, always wanted to be an engineer.
As a young man growing up in Missouri and the Oklahoma Territory he read books on his favorite subject.
"There wasn't any money for me to go to school to become an engineer," he said. "So I did the best thing I knew how. I got myself a drawing board and studied all the books I could find."
In 1897, when Garee was not yet 24 years old, he had his chance to translate his studies into reality -- cement mortar, wire cables, quarried stone and cottonwood timber. Garee built a bridge.
As secretary of a company capitalized at $7,000, young Garee drew up designs and supervised the construction of a suspension bridge with a central span of 265 feet, and two approaches 400 feet in length. The swinging bridge joined the banks of the South Canadian River at its narrowest point, just west of Noble.
Piles for the bridge were driven down into the river more than 22 feet on the west side. On the east side, "it took just three or four feet to reach solid rock."
Two mules furnished the power to drive the piles into the river bottom.
Wire cables were strung over towers that tapered up from four-feet square blocks, to reach a height of 22 feet. One tower sat on quarried stone, the other on a block of cement mortar. The stone was quarried near Noble. Native timber was used in the bridge; railings and frame were of pine and the flooring sawed in Noble.
Workmen making up the bridge crew were paid $1 a day, said Garee. "And they worked 9 to 10 hours a day."
When finished, the bridge, with a 14-foot-wide roadway, could accomodate both foot and wagon traffic -- going one way.
"We painted our bridge red," said Garee. "It was a beauty."
First to cross the toll bridge during opening celebrations in August of 1898 was a team of horses pulling a buckboard wagon. Other travellers crossed by horseback, in buggies or other types of wagons. Noble townspeople could cross at a reduced rate, by buying season tickets. Toll fees depended upon the type of vehicle crossing. The former bridge builder recalls that the fee averaged "about 25 cents," the toll keeper, J. D. Wise, receiving a salary of $1 a day.
President of the bridge company - which was to ill-fated,- was pioneer Noble resident, C. P. Klingelsmith, now deceased, father of the late Mrs. Mary Brosius and Mrs. Harry E. Mussom.
The South Canadian River, with its fickle temperament, its reputation for treachery, was to play an important part in fortunes of the bridge-building company.
The bridge had taken more than a year to complete. A rise in the river in the early stages of construction, in 1897, washed away the parially-built bridge "and we had to begin all over."
Five years after the bridge was opened to traffic the river, in a completely unpredictable mood, said Garee, "took a notion to cut across and make another channel and left us hanging over a flue!"
Garee's beautiful suspension bridge covered sand and scrub trees and brush.
"The town fellows put it up to us to turn the river back under the bridge. We didn't want to tackle the job, so we sold out to them at a low price. They spent a little time trying to build rock barriers and put the river back under the bridge and finally gave it up."
After the rise of 1903 that changed the river's channel, the new company built another bridge about one-quarter of a mile from Garee's. The second bridge was completed in 1904.
"Then came the biggest rise of all times," said Garee. "Their bridge was barely finished, hardly painted, when the big rise came in October. The river was two miles wide, it came right to the foot of the hill, and it cut their bridge out: wasn't a mark where it had been."
The raging river flowed again under Garee's bridge - but with such a force that it unmoored the west end.
"Our bridge was a suspension bridge and even though the river took out the west end, it held. It swung around with the channel and we were able to salvage some of the material from it."
Thinking back over his own bridge-building efforts compared with those of the second company, Garee is satisfied that "Our bridge was better, no doubt about it."
Garee's bridge saw horsepowered traffic for five years.
A 300 pound cast iron cap from one of the towers is one of the pioneer bridge-builder's souvenirs. "I sometimes offer it to my friends as a little memento," laughed Garee. "I know they won't take me up on it."
Although the bridge-building venture didn't pay off for the self-taught engineer and his partner, the effort played an important part in the historical development of Cleveland County. Garee's toll bridge was the first one of any permanency to span the Canadian River in this area. An earlier one at Purcell had washed away.
"We thought our bridge would be a bonanza," recalled Garee, "since there was no bridge over the river at Purcell at that time."
Certain townspeople, amoung them James H. Bradley, had been piloting farmers across the river with a team of horses.
"We thought the bridge would make us some money. It did, but not as much as we thought. The Purcell bridge wasn't supposed to be built for a while, but it was built sooner than we thought, within a year or so. This cut into our revenue, because the Purcell area was a better crossing point. It had big communities, better roads leading to the bridge."
Between the vagaries of the river and healthy competition, the Noble suspension bridge didn't produce its windfall of money, but Garee's profits led him into another business.
"I took my bridge stock and used it to enlarge my father's nursery business, which he had begun the year before."
The switch from engineering to horticulture was a practical move on the young man's part. "I saw an opening for honest nurseryman, so I went into it."
Since 1899 the Garee nursery has been one of the most active business enterprises of Cleveland County.
Much nursery business in the early days of Oklahoma was transacted by traveling tree peddlers, said Garee, "many of them crooked as a snake. They gave the early horticulturists of the county kind of a bad name and the profession got off badly."
Garee told of an instance, before the turn of the century, where a settler bought 100 fruit trees, ordering 10 trees of a kind for a varied orchard.
"He had come from a fruit-bearing state and wanted to start an orchard here. When the trees reached fruit-bearing age, 70 per cent of them were one kind - a summer sweet apple. You wouldn't want more than one or two of them in your orchard."
Orchards were the big sellers for both farmers and nurserymen in the days just after the Unassigned Lands opened up, and for many years after statehood.
"In those days orchards had hundreds of trees in them. If we sell an orchard of 20 to 25 trees today we think it is a pretty big one. For a number of years we had several acres of fruit trees and had a good market for them. Now our back yard would hold all the fruit trees we grow. Our market is to other lines, ornamental things mostly."
Other changes have taken place in the nursery business during the last 75 years.
"We sell more to townspeople now and less to country people."
Garee said that while customers now drive up in station wagons or fill a truck with plants, "People used to come in with a top box on their wagon. We would fill the wagon with small trees, pack them in with damp hay. Maybe they'd come back in a day or so for another load. They'd buy hundreds."
While Garee's bridge-building venture contributed to the county's history, he feels that his nursery business has left a living mark throughout the state.
The Garees furnished much of the nursery stock for the Unassigned Lands and in addition, "We did a lot toward furnishing orchard stock for the new country southwest of Chickasha, all through Caddo and Comanche counties. This came early in the century. We also developed the Caddo Maple."
Garee, a widower, has five daughters. Three live in Noble. They are Miss Rubi Garee, Mrs. Elizabeth Bullard and Mrs. Frances Peters. Mrs. Bullard works with her father in the nursery. Another daughter, Mrs. Stella Dean, lives at Tinley Park, Ill. The youngest of the Garee daughters, Mrs. Lucy Nemecek, works with her husband at Fort Supply Hospital, Fort Supply.
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