Gateway to the West 1994 By Christopher Gaeddert
“Don’t look down”, my father said as I looked out the angled window, kneeled over the worn carpeted benches in a small room with doors on either side leading to the trams at the top of the Gateway Arch. But instead of listening to him, I, like any other 12-year-old, looked down. I saw the Mississippi River and Illinois to the left, and Missouri to the right. This was the Gateway to the West, and I could see pretty far staring out over the land at 630 feet in the air.
Just a few short hours ago we were driving from our hotel, and watching the arch come into view as we drove along the bumpy highway. My dad kept his video camera rolling no matter where we were. He never really caught anything good on tape, like something you would send into America’s Funniest Home Video’s, but he did like to be obnoxious with it. Closer and closer we got to this astonishing sight. We pulled into a parking garage, I could still see the top of the arch almost matching flush with the dome on the old courthouse. I tended to get more and more scared as we began down the stairs of the parking garage, noticing the giant, disappearing behind the buildings, and still knowing that it was there, lurking, waiting for me to come around the corner, and scream in horror, and amazement at its beauty.
My uncle’s a funny guy. He has certain funny things about him that would make you laugh, no matter if you were mad, or asleep. My uncle, knowing how scared I was of this enormous piece of metal and concrete, tried his best to make me feel even more nervous. He kept telling me that we were to go to the top of the Arch by holding on tight to a rope. Still being 12-years old, I believed him. It sent shivers up my spine thinking about all the rope burn I could get, or would they offer us complimentary gloves, like moist towelleites on an airplane. Or would they make you climb the thousands of stairs if the rope wasn’t working that day. All these things ran through my mind constantly as I continued to make my journey.
“Wow,” I said as the Arch came back into view, “That thing is huge!” I stood in the park below, breaking my 3rd and 4th vertebra, keeping my head at the 90 degrees angle to my body. All that steel, and all that concrete, must have taking a lot of work. I began to picture mental images of how they made this huge piece of artwork. Did they build it on the face of the ground, and raise it from the opposite side, like the Amish? Or was it built in Japan, and flown over, by 47 helicopters, and nestled into the ground below. I only knew one thing about how it was built, and that’s what my Grandpa told me, “Well… it’s still standing”, in his old man winters voice. That was the extent of my knowledge. I walked off into history; just as Lewis and Clark had, when they set out to the sound of cannon shots, and cheering, when they made the track to the vast west. But we traveled by sounds of the people walking and the steel creaking.
A few steps later down a big tunnel and we were in the belly of the earth, below the giant. There was a great museum of St. Louis’s History, and many exhibits about the arch. The one exhibit that caught my attention was the Tram Exhibit. This tram loaded the people, and hauled them to the top. I looked at my uncle, with an almost evil mother look on my face. Like the ones you get after you hear your whole name being yelled throughout the whole house. I said, “Well look here, uncle, they use the Tram to get up.” He replied saying, “That’s what they used to use until one day when a large woman sat inside, broke the cables, and sent her and the passengers plummeting to the ground.” I turned to my mother, and she just looked at him and laughed saying, “They use these trams to get people to the top, not a rope.” My uncles face turned read, as I began to slug him in the arm.
We were to watch a documentary of the making of the arch, in the ULTRA 70 Windscreen room. We grabbed some popcorn and sat in the back to get a good view of the movie, all realizing how incredible sore our necks were from looking up at the arch. The movie played, and music began, as we sat adjusting ourselves to the sardine seating. The movie’s narrator gently rocked me into a slumber but kept me awake with the marvel of the Arch’s construction. “Neither a Nautilus, a Pyramid nor a dome would do, in this place for our time, a great yet simple arch did seem right, and so it was”, the narrator said, continuing, “It would stand higher than any monument in the land, and weigh more than an Aircraft Carrier, yet be strong enough to sway 18 in. in 150 mph winds.”
“The old St. Louis riverfront was selected in 1935 as the site of a national monument to commemorate the westward expansion of the United States in the 19th century. An area of some 40-city blocks was purchased and all buildings were cleared, but because of World War II, further progress on the Memorial was halted. In 1947 the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association, a group of public-spirited citizens, held a nationwide competition to obtain an appropriate design for the Memorial. The winner in the competition was the late Eero Saarinen, whose design was dominated by the now famous Gateway Arch. The Memorial includes, in addition to the Arch, an underground visitor center located directly beneath the Arch. The center contains the Museum of Westward Expansion, which tells the century-long story of the opening of the West in the 1800s, as well as theaters with movies on westward expansion and the Arch's construction. Magnificent in its concept, majestic in its setting, unique in its execution, the Gateway Arch towers 630 feet above the banks of the Mississippi River, a part of the $30 million Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. The smooth, graceful lines of the Arch, designed by Eero Saarinen, also serve as one of three firsts in the history of engineering in this country, all in the City of St. Louis.” <http://www.nps.gov/jeff/arch-const.htm>
The foundation was set below the ground first, about 26,000 tons of concrete, sunk 60 ft, was embedded in the bedrock. The measurements of the Arch were very complex, and the engineers had a great job in front of themselves, but the work was passed to the hand of the iron man. The “Sandwiches,” or the individual triangle pieces, began to form and rise into the sky. In 1960, the work was halted by the incapable use of groundwork. They fixed supporting columns on the backside of the arch, and lifted scaffolds into place. Then they attached an 80-ton platform derrick to the backside; they were now capable to hoist sandwiches up, higher to the heavens. By 1964, they were approaching 300 feet, up to this level much of their work was concealed in the innards. Before each concrete pour, they placed a set of steel tendons in carefully calculated position. When spliced with the ones below, these tendons formed an unbroken band of strength, running down between the skins deep into the foundations of the arch. When the splicing was done they were ready for the concrete. They brought up over 25,000 tons of concrete, and its weight between the skins gave greater stability to the legs. The concrete also served as a bond between the inner and outer skins, and it was here that the tendons were brought into play. The tendons possessed great tinsel strength, which must now be captured and locked, squeezing the concrete and skins together, to stretch them to the locking point, would take 70-tons of pull.
In the summer 1964, they had built a railroad into the sky and moved the creeper derrick up its tracks. Their margin for error, 1/64 of an inch, could mean failure at the top. June 17, 1965, a 60-ton girding strut was raised 530 feet. They had raised the legs too high now to stand-alone, they must join them together before they could build any higher. By September 1965, more than 2 ˝ years since they first began, getting to work now has become a job in itself. What used to be a short climb up the ladder now was a twelve-minute ride up an elevator on the backside. Down below, the last piece was to be put in place, but due to the sun, the heat caused the south leg to expand. They had to jack the legs apart 4 feet. To cool the leg off, they pumped gallons of water to the top, 630 feet up. Inch, by inch, two feet to go, they made it, and they placed the final piece in its holy position, with proud American flag waving in the wind. The work was done, and the arch was complete. This marvel to America showing the west was only to be explored more as long as you passed through the arch.
This is pure positive proof of how an American can have any dream, and have it fulfilled in our nation. This is not just a Gateway, but also a testimony of our land, our freedom, and our determination to become stronger, and live longer. The evidence lies in our foundation, our creation of all the wonders, of America. This monument is not just spectacular by its look, but by its importance, but for the hours it took for Americans to work, and build our nation. This is an engineering phenomenon that stands in significance to all the men and women who have worked, and bled for America. So I feel as if this historical Memorial is a wonder of art and building, and not just something that was put up for our amusement.
Explore St. Louis. St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission
The Lewis and Clark Journey of Discovery. National Park Service
The Official Website of the Jefferson Nation Expansion Memorial. National Park Service24-Oct-2001 http://www.nps.gov/jeff/index.htm