For more than 14 years, Mike Myers has held a front row seat as a bridge keeper of the Alligator River Bridge.

He has kept vigil from the sturdy, cement, windowed, rectangular building watching over motorists traveling east and west across the closed bridge, and boaters passing north and south through the open bridge.

Annually, thousands of people pass over the bridge, also called the Lindsay C. Warren Bridge, which connects the outer banks of Dare County to the mainland of Tyrrell County.

Most never give much thought to how the bridge is operated. Unlike a drawbridge, the roadway swings out instead of rising.

Myers is one of five bridge tenders contracted by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) to operate the Alligator River Bridge.

“When you are out here, you are your own boss — you make your own decisions,” he said.

The electronic bridge controls, he added, “are streamlined. You can’t really mess up.”

There are times, though, he feels like an air traffic controller — keeping an eye on the horizon for incoming boats while watching the weather, tracking wind gusts, monitoring the temperature — all while surveying traffic.

“Usually, a captain will call and give the boat name, saying when they will arrive,” he said. “You never really know what you are going to get. Sometimes a boat will call and say they are 10 minutes out and you can’t even see a light.”

The job can be nerve wracking, particularly when multiple boats are passing through on opposite sides, he said.

Recently, during a late summer storm, he clocked wind gusts of 35 miles per hour. If winds are sustained over 35 mph, the canal created by the open bridge becomes too risky to let boaters travel through.

He then must close the bridge to boat traffic and report it to the United States Coast Guard station in Wilmington. The Coast Guard then radios out the message. Once winds die down, Myers can open the bridge again to boat traffic.

From his perch high above the water, he has been privy to almost every kind of weather, he said, except a waterspout.

“I’ve stayed up here during a tropical storm when the winds were 60 miles per hour,” he said.

The bridge, built in 1960, opened in 1962. It has since undergone several renovations.

“I don’t think anyone expected the number of cars to come across like they do,” said Myers.

The most recent upgrade, in 2018, closed the bridge for a few weeks.

Of the five bridge keepers, Myers has served the most years. He is also the farthest from home.

After 26 years at a copper mine in Tucson, Arizona, the mine closed down. He and his wife, Katherine (House) Myers, who was originally from Williamston, decided to move East.

Summertime brings a steady stream of vehicular traffic, but ironically, slower boat traffic.

Boaters who live North travel the Intracoastal Waterway south before the winter months, then travel back north again during Spring.

“In August, we’ll put 300 boats through, then in October, we’ll be back up to near about 1,000,” he added.

The number of boats starts dropping back off in November, then picks back up as the weather warms.

Myers enjoys working the 16-hour night shift, but will occasionally work the 8-hour day shift.

To keep himself busy between boats, he watches television and reads newspapers.

“Years ago, I used to write letters to my mom in Arizona,” he said.

During the night shift, he prefers to operate in the dark.

“I don’t turn any lights on because it messes up your night vision,” he explained.

Myers loves his work.

“It is a great retirement job — because I can still go home and mow the yard,” he said.

Bridge tenders record daily logs of weather conditions, including visibility and wind speed.

“We stay busy,” Myers said.

Each time a boat passes through, “We log when they hail us, record the motor vessel type, the name of the boat, how long traffic stopped, how many cars crossed [after], and the weather,” he said,

This is especially helpful if the Coast Guard calls looking for a boat.

“We can go through our charts,” he said, confirming if a boat has passed through, or alerting the Coast Guard if it shows up later.

Boats with a 14’ clearance can pass under the bridge without it opening, thus are not logged.

Myers said the bridge keepers also help out local law enforcement.

“They will call every once in a while, and say, ‘We are chasing a car from Tyrrell County to Dare. We can’t stop them — can you open the bridge?’ We will put the gates down, put the lights on and put the barriers out. The barriers stop them,” Myers said.

He said one of the greatest rewards of his job is receiving positive feedback from boat captains after they pass through. Myers said because the Alligator River Bridge is an “on demand” bridge, they try to keep boats from waiting long.

“It really makes your day to hear a captain say, ‘Hey bridge master — you are one of the best,’” he said. “I always tell them, ‘Thanks, I will pass the compliment on to the other bridge tenders.’”

Lindsay C. Warren was a N.C. Democratic politician who served as a U.S. Congressman between 1925-1940 and was the third Comptroller General of the United States from 1940-1954.

Thadd White is Group Editor of the Bertie Ledger-Advance, Chowan Herald, Perquimans Weekly, The Enterprise & Eastern North Carolina Living. He can be reached via email at twhite@ncweeklies.com.