Local boilermakers who worked on Gateway Arch share memories

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Those who gathered for the Warren County 2021 Gateway Arch Builders Day at the Baby Arch at Warren County Visitors Bureau include (from left): Larry and Twila Whitten, Helen and Don Chambers, Dale Clark, Ike Erdman, Ken Wright, and Karen and Ed Atwood.

In celebration of the 56th anniversary of the completion of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, a group of Warren County residents got together and swapped stories.

The stainless steel exterior of the arch was constructed at Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel Company (PDM) in Warren by local boilermakers.

In 2012, 2015, and 2018, PDM workers went to St. Louis, twice to be part of the formal Builders Reunion events.

Instead of making a pilgrimage to the arch for Builders Day this year, there was a gathering Thursday morning at the Warren County Visitors Bureau and its Baby Arch.

Ed Atwood, Don Chambers, Ike Erdman, Ken Wright, Dale Clark, and Larry Whitten recalled the parts they played in the construction of the arch — from welding to grinding, to transportation.

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Boilermaker Ike Erdman examines the kiosk at the Baby Arch at Warren County Visitors Bureau during the Warren County 2021 Gateway Arch Builders Day. With Erdman are (from left) Ken Wright, Larry Whitten, Dale Clark, Twila Whitten, and Don Chambers.

Clark was the driver of the truck that transported the final piece of the arch — the keystone — from PDM to St. Louis. “I stayed there all day long while they put it up and welded it together,” he said.

A special jack from Hammond Iron Works — the local company that was bought by PDM — was used to spread the arch to make the keystone fit, Atwood said. That jack bore the name of the company, but PDM didn’t want the records to show Hammond Iron. “They ground ‘Hammond Iron’ off of it and put PDM on it.”

McDonald Construction Company of St. Louis won the bid for the construction and sub-contracted the exterior construction to PDM.

Not all of PDM’s facilities were suitable to the work. Project leaders looked to the Des Moines plant and the Neville Island plant, rejecting them, before visiting Warren, Atwood said. “When he came to Warren, he knew as soon as he got here that this is where it was going to happen. They knew we could get it done.”

Atwood said the reunions have enabled the Warren PDM boilermakers to meet and connect with others who worked on the Arch.

He recalled hearing from the superintendent of the job during the 50th reunion. He was proud of his safety record on the 630-foot-tall monument. “‘I was supposed to lose 13 men on this job,’ he said. ‘I didn’t lose any.'”

“Everything they did (would have been) a violation of OSHA,” Atwood said.

Not all those in attendance were from Warren County.

“I worked on the arch the last year,” Whitten, of Falls Creek, said. “I was hired on as a helper. When it went out the door, I went out the door.”

Members of the group talked about possibly going to the reunion next year.

The men started out their gathering talking about a lost comrade. Martin Hagstrom, the group’s unofficial researcher, died Sunday, Sept. 5, at the age of 74.

“He did a lot with the group,” Ed Atwood said. “He was more than elated to go to St. Louis.”

“It’s hard to lose him,” Atwood said. “He was younger than all the rest of us.”

Ken Wright brought up several more names. “Walt Riggle, Clifford Anderson, Dave Mays… they welded on the arch,” Wright said. “We should be paying tribute to them, too.”

“The arch out here is in honor of all the boilermakers from Warren County,” he said. “We’re here to remember all the boys… all the boilermakers.”


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