JAMESTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) – You’ve probably seen him but had no idea he was only months away from his 88th birthday, and you’d never guess what he’s seen in his life.
Meet Newport Bridge toll-taker Donald Richardson, who back in 1969 was the first employee of the company that maintained the bridge and took your tolls.
“I counted it once,” Richardson said. “On a busy day, every five seconds, you’re collecting four dollars.”
Up until he temporarily retired back in 1995, he was part of the maintenance team and used to climb the bridges cables at least once a year to make sure the structure was in good shape.
“It’s kind of tough when you get to the very top to get over onto the top of the tower which is 400 feet off the water,” he said, shaking his head when asked if the high wire act ever scared him.
After a relatively short stint on the couch, he came back to work about 13 years ago and now spends about 16 hours a week taking tolls.
“It’s easy sometimes, except when there’s a lot of traffic. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, it’s non-stop,” he said. “You hardly have enough time to arrange your money.”
This is an 87-year old with plenty of stories that don’t involve the bridge.
The Jamestown native, who still lives on the island, was 10 in 1938 and remembers helping the grown-ups look for casualties from the hurricane that raced through the state.
At 18 in 1946, he was part of the American forces led by General Douglas MacArthur that took control of Japan after the country was hit by a pair of atomic bombs.
“It was terrible,” Richardson said. “Everything was leveled. It looked like the moon.”
He’ll never forget taking a train through the flattened city of Nagasaki, as starving residents ran toward them.
“The train was very, very slow and people would come running out from broken down houses,” he said. “When we slowed up or stopped, they came from all directions.”
For decades he dreamed of going back to see how the country had been rebuilt. He made it there just six weeks ago.
“It looked great. Modern, clean. I was relieved to see that.”
As far as retiring, and traveling more, it may not be in his plans.
“I like working. I don’t like to stop.”
Neither does the traffic that he serves.