When the coal mines of Vulcan, W.Va., gave out in the early 1960s, the only legal route by which to enter and exit the town was a swinging bridge too narrow to accommodate a vehicle. The 200 remaining residents pleaded with the state to repair the bridge, but no action was taken, and in 1975 the bridge collapsed, leaving the residents hemmed in between a river to the west and impassable mountains to the east, reduced to using a hazardous gravel road owned by the Norfolk and Western Railway. Still state officials were reluctant to rebuild the bridge, noting the limited traffic it would carry and the competing priorities in the state.
So the residents of Vulcan wrote to the Soviet embassy in Washington, requesting foreign aid. Soviet journalist Iona Andronov arrived on Dec. 17, 1977, to survey the problem. “He was sincere,” said resident John Robinette. “The Russians said they would keep an eye on the bridge and see if it were built. If not, they would.”
Within an hour the state announced it would do the work, and today a one-lane bridge connects Vulcan to the outside world. “Our government was afraid the Russians would build the bridge,” Robinette said. “They were embarrassed into it, and nothing will convince me otherwise.”