San Francisco News

Golden Gate Bridge honors rivet technique

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A grand celebration is planned for this weekend at the bridge and the party guests will include a riveting expert from Michigan, who's coming to Crissy Field to demonstrate the now-obsolete technique used to build the bridge.

Vern Mesler is a retired metal fabricator from Michigan, who now teaches welding at Lansing Community College. He also has a passion for saving old riveted bridges.

"An engineer, they wrote books, they got libraries full of books but how many craftsman have you read who wrote a book, you know where their books are? You know where their words are? In the metal," said Mesler.

Mesler is here for the Golden Gate Bridge's 75th anniversary to do a demonstration of its now-obsolete riveting techniques at this weekend's celebration. But this week he's doing an introduction for apprentices at the Ironworkers Training Center in Benicia and for the San Francisco Maritime Museum, which wants to authentically preserve old riveted ships.

"What we're trying to do is we're trying to preserve a part of history, and the history of the building of all of these vessels that were riveted was the fact that they were riveted. Grandpa built them with rivets," said Chris Jannini from the San Francisco Maritime Museum.

"This is a bucking bar that holds the hot rivet in place, then the guy on the other side with a hammer hammers it," said Mesler.

First, the rivets are heated up to 1,900 degrees in a forge, then tossed to a catcher or slid down a tube, then it's put in a hole, with a manufactured button top on one side and the pneumatic hammer shapes another button on the other.

It expands as it cools, locking the steel together.

"Even though that doesn't look good, the characteristic because it expands inside, you can't get that bolt out," said Mesler.

This Golden Gate Bridge district video shows how ironworkers used those forges and hammers hundreds of feet above the bay -- to put 600,000 rivets in each of the bridge's two towers. Mesler wants to make sure no one forgets.

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