Whales, cat tales make memories for Hood Canal Bridge’s sole female worker

Posted 1/19/23

Kitten collector is only one of many roles Virginia Smith has been responsible for as the only woman working on the Hood Canal Bridge.

“People find out I work at the bridge and they go, …

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Whales, cat tales make memories for Hood Canal Bridge’s sole female worker

Posted

Kitten collector is only one of many roles Virginia Smith has been responsible for as the only woman working on the Hood Canal Bridge.

“People find out I work at the bridge and they go, ‘You sit in that tower all day?’ No. There’s a lot more that goes on than sitting in the tower,” said Smith, who played a central role in the story that made national headlines in 2021 when she and her supervisor rescued a kitten stuck on the bridge.

And though she does get down from that tower, while she’s up there it has its advantages, allowing her to spot animals much larger than a kitten.

“When I first started working here, I was up in the tower and I was closing up the bridge and I saw this huge splash. I looked over and there was a gray whale right next to the bridge and it had breached and came out of the water and landed sideways and made this splash. It went up over higher than the road deck,” Smith said.

“That was my first experience with a gray whale and it was probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.”

Stuck kittens and gray whales may have given Smith plenty of cute stories to tell, but the duties she’s responsible for on a regular basis get a little more grimy.

“We go through a lot of grease. A lot of greasing goes on,” Smith said. “Some of the greasing we do, we’re donning life jackets and we’re hanging off the side greasing things.”

These dangerous ordeals are dealt with by pairing up coworkers so that there’s always someone watching out.

“Anytime we’re crawling around on the big moving parts, somebody’s there; you’re in a life jacket,” Smith said.

Her work also takes her beyond the seaside out onto the streets.

“If there’s a big snow event and they’ve exhausted all the drivers for the maintenance crews, they will call us up and we do go out and drive snow plows, too,” Smith said. “We all have Class A [Commercial Driver’s Licenses], so we do once in a while get called out by another department to help out. If we can spare the manpower here; the people power, to be politically correct.”

Despite being the only woman working in these conditions, Smith sees no difficulties she can attribute to her gender.

In fact, it’s been something of a pattern for her.

Before making her way to the bridge, she previously worked in other male-dominated fields like house painting and construction.

“I’ve never had a problem working with a bunch of guys. I think it’s less drama to be honest,” she said.

Even better, since the bathrooms on the bridge are marked separately for men and women, it’s almost as though she has her own private space.

“It’s kind of my joke, I’m like, ‘Yeah, I have my own bathroom.’ But I don’t care whoever uses it as long as they don’t make a mess and clean up after themselves,” she said.

She first found her way to the job five and a half years ago through a significant other who was working on the bridge, but today the social dynamics of the work place are less amorous than ancestral.

“We’re just like a family; like they’re all my brothers or something at this point,” Smith said. “We can sit around at lunch and pretty much talk about anything and nobody gets offended.”

She even encourages other women who feel called to try it to work in what society might consider masculine spaces.

“Give it a try. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. But you never know until you try,” Smith said. “I’m glad I gave this a whirl, I love it here.”

“You can’t beat this view,” she added.

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