Like those who call St. Louis home, builders of the Arch have their own special connection to this U.S. icon, and all appreciate the opportunity to participate in creating an American treasure.
As project manager for Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel, Ken Kolkmeier was surprised, but happy, that he was picked as the lead on this once-in-a-lifetime project.
Prior to becoming project manager, “I knew little about it – other than that it was big and stainless,” he recalls. Kolkmeier oversaw construction from the ground up, as the north and south legs converged in unison to connect the Arch’s pinnacle section. “I am proud of it,” he says, “and proud that the darn thing met when we got to the top! But there was never a thought that it wasn’t going to meet.”
The monument means many things to Bob Moore, Arch historian with the National Park Service.
“It’s the physical beauty – I’ve worked here for more than 20 years, and it never looks the same,” he explains, noting how sun, sky and water reflect off of the Arch’s stainless steel skin. “It’s the way people here want to be identified . . . by the time the Arch was being built, the city had already adopted it,” he says. “It has become the front lawn of St. Louis.”
An ironworker on the project, Dean Sample stood atop the Arch as the last section was placed, aware of the bands and people below, but he focused on his job and the safety of himself and others.
“When we put the last piece in, that was great, and every day was a good day on the Arch” he says. “But you had to be an ironworker and not a spectator. You had to make sure you didn’t get hurt or hurt someone else.”
“The Gateway Arch in St. Louis was the shining star of my working life,” he offers. “People will say, ‘Did you see the Arch while you were in town?’ See the arch? I built that son of a b----!”
Ray Fayer, then a local technical sales representative for Lincoln Electric whose territory encompassed St. Louis, also is proud. He watched the placement of the final section on television with the team at the Warren, Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Des Moines plant.
“When they projected this on TV, it looked as if the section would never fit, as there was too small of an opening,” Fayer recalls. “It was nice to be part of the Arch’s construction. They used Lincoln Electric’s material and it went up well…and the Arch is there 50 years later.” Lincoln Electric consumables were used for the steel welding at the plant as well as at the job site. The company did not produce stainless steel MIG (GMAW) wire at that time.
Rick Ziino, a park ranger at the Gateway Arch, leads tours to the top. Ziino always wanted a ranger’s job, and there’s no place he’d rather be than in St. Louis and around the Arch. It’s not only a jobsite for Ziino, it is a memory maker.
“I met my wife here and proposed to her at the top,” he says. “I worked it out so we were the last couple up there.”
At 75 years old, Vito Comporato still lives in the same house as he did when working on the Arch a half century ago. The house, on a bluff, offers him a view to the monument he helped create. As a derrick phone man, Comporato communicated with the crane operator from the top of the Arch on the day the final section went in, guiding its movements upward and into place.
He remembers the crowds on that day, and remembers the crowds that showed up all day every day just to watch the work proceed during the entire construction process. And, most notably he remembers shaking hands with then U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson.
“You start thinking, this thing must be pretty important if the president of the United States is showing up,” Comporato says.
He also fondly recalls the men he worked with on the Arch. There’s one friend who, wanting to be the only person to ever get a haircut at the top of the Arch, did just that. And there’s the birthday party atop the Arch for Comporato’s foreman, “a prince of a man,” as Comporato recalls, who was tragically killed on a bridge-construction job after completing his Arch assignment
“I understand that it is a national monument, and I am proud of that and that people can come and see it” Comporato says. “But, most of the guys I worked with got to be really good friends of mine, and most of them are gone now. I think about them when I drive by there. To me, the Arch is a monument to my friends.”