A contingent of 11 men who worked as union Boilermakers during the 1960s fabricating sections of the Gateway Arch traveled 700 miles from Warren, Pa., to St. Louis recently to visit the monument they helped build.
For some, it was their first time to see the 630-foot-tall structure in person - nearly 50 years after its completion in 1965.
The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, headquartered in Kansas City, Kan., arranged the trip.
Ike Erdman, right, discusses work done in Warren, Pa., on the Gateway Arch with Charles Jones, director of the Boilermaker History Preservation Department.
Now in their 70s, 80s and 90s, the men had been part of a 250-person workforce employed at the Pittsburgh-Des Moines steel fabrication shop in Warren. George Probst, a PDM production manager who oversaw work on the arch, and who also took part in the visit last week, said union Boilermakers built about 80 percent of the sections in Warren; the large base elements were constructed at Neville Island, near Pittsburgh.
Boilermakers worked as welders, burners, machinists, fitters, and laborers on the project, which involved 900 tons of stainless steel - at that time the largest use of stainless steel on a single project.
The contingent arrived by motor coach and visited the arch grounds early the next morning. Local news media interviewed the men as they gathered around the arch's north leg, reminiscing about their role in building the sections. Later in the day, National Park Service officials greeted the men and presented them with copies of a book on the Arch's history.
"We've had many reunions here of workers over the years, but none quite like this one," said Tom Bradley, National Parks Service superintendent. "Many of you were instrumental in building the Arch, this incredible memorial, yet never saw it when it was completed. But it's due to your hard work that we're here today."
Some of the Boilermakers rode trams to the top of the Arch and peered out the small windows at the Mississippi River and downtown St. Louis far below. One of the men, Ken Wright, expressed what may have been on the minds of others in the group.
"At the time, it seemed like just another job," Wright said. "We never dreamed it would be this magnificent and this great of a thing. There's nothing like this in the whole world, and I doubt if there ever will be anything like this ever built."
While Boilermakers built the Arch sections, union Ironworkers assembled them onsite, and other union crafts performed the electrical, plumbing, concrete, and related construction.
"Ironworkers, along with other trades, did a masterful job of erecting the arch on site," said Newton B. Jones, Boilermakers International president. "But there is another story that has gone largely untold. The men who did the front-end work, who crafted the individual Arch sections to exacting specifications before shipping them to St. Louis by rail, are a part of the monument's history, too. By organizing this event, we hope to recognize their contributions and secure their place in history."
The family of Ed, Karen, and Walt Atwood helped coordinate the trip from Warren and also accompanied the contingent to St. Louis. Ed Atwood is a retired Boilermaker who worked for another employer. Karen Atwood is the daughter of Boilermaker member Walter Riggle, who worked on the Arch project as a Class A welder. Riggle died on the job at PDM in 1966 without ever seeing the completed Arch. The Atwoods are actively engaged in preserving the history and legacy of PDM's Warren plant and the workers who were employed there.
Former Boilermakers who took part in the Arch visit included Archie Brittain, Donald Chambers, Ike Erdman, Donald Gilmore, Martin Hagstrom, James Hand, David Maze, Ray Nelson, James Phillips, Kenneth Wright, and Robert Youngquist.