Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Halfway to Hell Club

by Connie Cortright

The amazing achievement of building the Golden Gate Bridge happened in the middle of the Great Depression. Jobs then were so scarce that any able bodied man in the San Francisco area jumped at the chance to work on the project when the call for workers came out. They would be less than truthful about how much experience they had for an ironworker position, for instance. Anything to get employed.

The contractors were required to hire local workers to fill the hundreds of positions needed during the construction. Men from other parts of the country bought addresses and Social Security numbers of city residents just to say they were local. The wages were very good also - $4 to $11 per hour (equivalent today - $45 to $125 per hour).

When they were hired, the workers found themselves working in caverns in the ground where the anchoring towers were built. Tons of cement made the base for the 63 million pound anchor towers. Later on different workers had to climb the 745-foot towers to drive rivets into the steel towers to make them secure.

By June, 1936, the construction workers started building the roadway. Keep in mind that they were working high in the air while this was proceeding. The strong wind at that height was enough to scare any man. The fog added to the problem bringing dampness that turned the steel icy when they were working. On cold days they had to wear all the layers of clothes they could find, and still they almost froze, suspended on the heights.

Joseph Strauss, the structural engineer, implemented safety measures for the men. He insisted that a safety net was in place under the entire bridge during the the roadway construction. During these years of construction, this safety net saved the life of nineteen men who fell from the structure and were caught in the net. These men formed a club and named it the "Halfway to Hell Club".

Unfortunately, during the last months of the construction, an accident happened that claimed the lives of ten men in February, 1937. The men were removing a wooden scaffold underneath the bridge since it was no longer needed. They were working on a temporary catwalk which was not attached properly. As they removed planks from the scaffold, the catwalk collapsed taking down the safety net with it into the freezing water.

A couple of the men survived the 220 foot fall, but ten men were killed, either by the fall or the freezing temperatures of the water. There is a plaque on the southern end of the bridge today commemorating these brave men who built this bridge.

Click on this link to see more amazing pictures of the building of this landmark in our country: Life on the Gate Working on the Golden Gate Bridge-1933-37 The bravery and stamina that these men showed was a great example for others across the country to copy. 

Information taken from American Experience Features/biography/goldengate-Workers

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Bridging the Gate

by Connie Cortright 

One of the most impressive accomplishments of the 1930s was the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge across the strait near San Francisco. In the early 20th Century, San Francisco had a hard time growing because it was so cut off of the surrounding land areas by water. The only way to access the city from the north was by Southern Pacific automobile ferries. It was a timely venture for anyone who lived north of the city to commute by ferry to work on a daily basis. 

By the early 20s, many people were attempting to design a bridge that would span the mile-wide distance between the points of land. Many experts fought the idea, saying it was impossible to build a bridge over the strait with its strong tides and currents with water up to 372 feet deep. The powerful winds blowing through the strait, plus the fog that comes and goes almost daily, would hinder the progress of building this bridge. 

The naysayers lost the battle when the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District Act passed the state legislature in 1923. That act made it possible to do the necessary planning and financing for the bridge. Joseph Strauss, who had drawn up a design for the bridge before 1920, was the chief engineer for the project. With the help of Leon Moisseiff, the architect of the Manhattan Bridge in New York City, the final plans were drawn to make a suspension bridge to cross the expanse. 

Plans for the bridge proceeded until the stock market crash of 1929. After that time, another source of money had to be found when the finances of the country and city collapsed. The $30 million bond was approved in 1931 by the District so construction could now proceed. 

The construction of the bridge began in January of 1933. Thousands of men worked on this project during the next four years under many different contractors. The progress of the building can be seen by clicking on the following link Golden Gate BridgeConstruction/ Photos. The pictures in this link tell the story much better than words can.

The bridge was opened on May 27, 1937 for pedestrian traffic only. Two hundred thousand people walked across the suspension bridge that day to get a close look at the technical achievement accomplished by the brave men who built it. The next day it was open to vehicular traffic. Since that date it has been only closed three times due to high winds.

It's not the longest suspension bridge in the world today, but it was from 1937 until 1964. It is still one of the most photographed and recognized suspension bridges in the world.

Have you ever visited this amazing landmark?

Information taken from American Experience-Golden Gate Workers and from Wikipedia -Golden Gate Bridge. Photos taken from Wikicommons.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Would You Like a Hot Cup of George?

by Connie Cortright

These days coffee comes in all sizes, colors and flavors from Keurig machines to Espresso Cafes. We are used to getting a hot cup of "joe" any time of the day in two minutes flat.

But, how about a "cup of George"?  If you were a soldier in the trenches during World War I, you'd know what I mean. Back then the doughboys drank cups of George-named after George Washington Coffee-when they needed a hit of caffeine.

George Constant Louis Washington was the first person to mass produce instant coffee in America around 1910. Coffee had been boiled and consumed for centuries prior to that, but Mr. Washington discovered a way to hurry the process by making instant coffee powder. However, most people didn't appreciate his novel idea because of the disagreeable taste.

The soldiers in France drank it eagerly because the caffeine kept them awake and alert during the long days in the trenches, despite the bad taste. As documented by an American soldier in 1918: "I am very happy despite the rats, the rain, the mud, the drafts, the roar of the cannon and the scream of shells. It takes only a minute to light my little oil heater and make some George Washington Coffee... Every night I offer up a special petition to the health and well-being of [Mr. Washington]." At least they could have coffee without lugging around a coffee pot.

Photos from Wikicommons
After the soldiers returned from the war, instant coffee showed up on more kitchen cabinets in our country. Because of Prohibition in 1919 the sale of coffee soared and other companies introduced an instant coffee line such as Bantam Coffee.

In 1938 the Nestle's company invented freeze-dried coffee which tasted much closer to the real thing. It was sold under the brand name Nescafe. A short time after that Maxwell House started marketing their instant coffee also.

At the start of World War II the demand for instant coffee spiked again to supply the soldiers abroad. During one year the entire production from the US Nescafe plant - over one million cases- went solely to the military.

Today's form of coffee from the Keurig machine is amazingly fast and of a very good quality, but would be hard pressed to be used by soldiers in the field of duty. They probably have to revert to instant coffee again when soldiers need a bit of caffeine.

Information taken from  The History of Instant Coffee

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Little Train That Could

by Connie Cortright

Several years ago my husband and I took a trip to Dubuque, Iowa to visit the sights. We encountered something so unique that I decided to set my second novel in Dubuque just to let my characters experience the same thing. We rode on the Fenelon Place Elevator also known as Fourth Street Elevator - the steepest and shortest railway in the United States.

If anyone has traveled along the Mississippi River, you've seen the bluffs lining both sides of the river-especially the western bank. Dubuque also has these bluffs, west of the downtown area. In the 1800s when Dubuque was growing westward, houses were built on top of the bluffs. The residents had a hard time commuting up and down the bluff to work in the downtown area.

In 1882 Julius K. Graves received permission from the city council to build a one-car rail system using a Swiss-style incline railway. After several fires destroyed the cable cars, a unique system was installed that has lasted until today.

The 286-foot railway that has three rails widening to four in the middle section to allow the two cars to pass each other up or down the 189-foot cliff. It's run by a powerful motor that pulls the cable car up the cliff and conversely the other one goes down the same route, meeting in the middle of the bluff where the tracks are wider to by-pass each other. As one is pulled up the cliff, the other descends.

The two cars hold eight passengers, sitting opposite each other on stair-like seats ten inches below the person seated next to you. The short ride up the bluff in the open car only lasts about five minutes, giving you a splendid view of the city and surrounding river scenery as you approach the pinnacle of the ride on the bluff. The amazing thing is that this fun adventure only costs fifty cents per person today yet.

Here's the description of this event from my second book in the Grace Alone Series -"Lead Me Home". I'm hoping this novel will be published early in 2017.

When the passengers disembarked from the car, Cissy entered first. The tiny car was built at such a steep angle for the hill that each person had to sit on a step-like seat opposite one other person. Harry and Cissy walked up several steps to sit in these highest seats. Romy let Ruth proceed in front of him, climbing to the seat a foot below Cissy. Romy followed after her and sat across from Ruth below Harry.
“Cissy, you sure were right about being tiny.” Ruth looked as excited as a kid eating her first lollipop as she glanced around.
Romy juggled the large box from one leg to the other as he got situated on his narrow bench. His knees brushed against hers in the cramped space. Warmth spread up his leg, so he tried to make himself smaller as the last four passengers entered the tram. He couldn’t move even an inch and resolved to enjoy the ride no matter what.
The cog train jerked as it left the station on its short journey to the top of the bluff. The car rose at a snail's pace and, in due course, cleared the treetops. Cissy pointed toward the east. “Oh, look at the view of the Mississippi River. I just love to see across the valley to Wisconsin and Illinois.”
Romy twisted his neck to see the view out of the dirt-covered windows before looking across at Ruth. Her face was red enough to light up a Christmas tree. What’s wrong now? She gnawed on her lower lip and looked everywhere except at him. Was she uncomfortable because of their knees? Heat rose on his cheeks, but what could he do about it?
There was no way he could maneuver to avoid contact with her. Just ignore the situation. The five-minute ride up the bluff took an eternity. The rhythmic slap, slap of the cable rope strained to tow the tram up the cliff. How long would this take? He bit his tongue to stop himself from screaming. At long last the car shuddered to a stop in the upper station house.

Information taken from Encyclopedia Dubuque