Oysterman Jay Fairty's radioed a morning call to raise the Ferry Street Bridge (seen in the distance). Fairty said the Quinnipiac River was good for business. "There's no better spot for oystering," Fairty said. "A lot of it's the water quality. The salinity. The food supply, everything is good here." Photo by Ryan Caron King for Connecticut Public Radio

Oysterman Jay Fairty’s radioed a morning call to raise the Ferry Street Bridge (seen in the distance). Fairty said the Quinnipiac River was good for business. “There’s no better spot for oystering,” Fairty said. “A lot of it’s the water quality. The salinity. The food supply, everything is good here.” Photo by Ryan Caron King for Connecticut Public Radio

When a boat needs to pass under a low bridge on a river, that bridge needs to move out of the way. A drawbridge lifts up so a boat can pass under. A swing bridge pivots out of the way so a boat can pass by. But these decades-old bridges don’t operate on their own. They rely on a small group of “bridge tenders” who specialize in a peculiar and slow-moving job.

When you drive over the Grand Avenue Swing Bridge in New Haven, look up and you’ll see a house. Inside that house is a bridge tender. Someone like Maurice Little who is waiting patiently.

“Some people don’t want to do it because it’s like a boring job,” Little said. “You’re just sitting there all day. Waiting on a radio call.”

Boats call when they want to pass. Making sure those bridges open when boats need them to.

It’s a lot of waiting.

“My wife, she knows. She said, ‘Oh your job is boring.’ No it’s not boring. I’m used to it. I enjoy my job,” Little said.

Between radio calls Little says he passes the time with a book or on his computer.

His colleague, Mike Dorsey, said even though the job can be slow sometimes, bridge tenders perform a vital service, especially if there’s an emergency on the river.

“Somebody has to be on each bridge at all times,” Dorsey said. “Because the Coast Guard might need to come through.”

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