Not too far from where I grew up in northern Pennsylvania, there was a railroad bridge 301 feet tall and 2,052 feet long built after the Civil War called the Kinzua Bridge.
It was designed to connect from the top of one mountain to the other in the Allegheny Mountains portion of the Appalachians, and even though it was no longer being used commercially, it was a great place to visit, to look at it in awe, and even to see how brave you were to cross it. President Ulysses S. Grant visited the construction site in the late 1880s, and it replaced what would've been eight miles of railroad track through very tough terrain, helping to bring coal into the county I would later be born in.
On July 21, 2003, however, nature threw its worst at the bridge. A tornado formed in the Kinzua Valley, and within 30 seconds, 80 percent of the bridge had been ripped away from its foundations, and thrown to the valley floor.
What was once the tallest railroad bridge in the world (and was still the fourth tallest in the United States), that attracted hundreds of thousands of tourists to a very low populated area that depended on such travels, had been reduced to rubble, except for the ends of the bridge on the side of either mountain.
What were the people of the area supposed to do now? Obviously, the thrill of seeing the bridge -- of crossing the bridge -- was no longer there. Would tourists return?
A good friend of mine from high school, who had also moved away from the area like me after graduating, had a grand proposal -- raise money and rebuild the portion of the bridge that collapsed. It would restore the beauty of the bridge crossing the valley, and in fact, would be stronger than the old bridge, so maybe even passenger train excursions could start up once again.
The price tag, however, would be in the tens of millions of dollars, if not more. I shared my own thoughts on this, and said that it was not worth that cost to have something that would be nothing more than a replica of the original bridge. Sure, maybe kids can continue to test fate and make their way across the top of the valley as I did -- but it would not be on the same bridge. It would be one built to look like it, and while replicas are great, you only want to spend so much money on it.
That's kind of the conclusion that I've come to in regards to the Galileo shuttlecraft, the original "Star Trek" prop that is going to auction. I'm well aware that the International Federation of Trekkers, who were outbid on its purchase back in the 1980s, would love another shot at the prop, but I think it's simply not worth it.
The fundraising group they were a part of split up completely in ways that can be described as way less than amicable, and the remaining partners are determined to purchase the prop with their own money, and then try to get Star Trek fans to donate money for its restoration -- although it would be all to the financial benefit of the buyers, if they are successful.
Putting together an all-new fundraiser in less than a week, and raising enough money -- at least $25,000 but probably as much as $100,000 -- is nearly impossible. And even then, what exactly are you buying? Before all this, the belief was that the prop is only about 50 percent original, a past restoration effort changing out the interior wood frame, and new paint and foundation being applied to the metal exterior shell.
But now, after decades of neglect, even that shell will be hard to restore, so the actual originality of it could be reduced even more -- to the point of turning it into nothing more than a replica.
Maybe that's good enough for some, but it shouldn't be good enough for Star Trek fans. And trust me, a find like the Galileo is huge -- but only if it had been taken care of over the years, which it had not. It's a prop that was designed to work indoors on a set for a few years and then been dismantled. It's now nearly 50 years old, and has spent most of that time rotting and decaying outside.
And anyone expecting there to be control stations or even seats on the inside of this shuttlecraft would be sorely disappointed. In the original series, the exterior shell was just an exterior prop. The inside was a separate set, so this Galileo has absolutely nothing inside. To me, building a replica at this point from the original plans would be more valuable than trying to acquire this aged relic that is really not much more original than a replica anyway.
I do hope that whomever acquires the prop will try to restore it and allow it to last, despite the originality content. I think it's the nicest thing we could do for Galileo after letting it sit and decay for so long. But if someone is going to buy it with their own money and possess it completely on their own, I think they should think long and hard before asking fans to donate the tens of thousands of dollars -- if not more -- needed for restoration, especially when the benefit goes solely to the owner.
The right owner is the one that can restore it with his own money, and then allow the prop to live on for a long time. It would be nice if fans could see it from time to time, but that is (and should be) up to the new owner.
They never did rebuild the Kinzua Bridge. Instead, they left the debris in the valley, and modified the bridge ends, turning it into an historical monument. The tourist traffic is still a lot less than what it once was, but at least the area didn't burn millions of dollars to create something that is nothing more than a shadow of what the bridge once was.
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