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

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