Tacoma Narrows Bridge Funsite
The Tacoma Narrows Bridge Funsite Relics

Tacoma Narrows Bridge Relics

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The relics shown below were recovered strictly from the shore & above. The historic designated site for the 1940 Narrows Bridge is underwater where most of the remains lie to this day. Permission to recover relics, though not required, was nevertheless obtained from all parties related to the Narrows bridge, including the WSDOT, The State of Washington, and the Gig Harbor Museum. These relics shown here were most likely discards from the bridge's 1940 era disassembly & removal. They do show a glimpse into a rarely seen worker's point of view of what went into not only the making of the bridges but the removal too, and how dangerous a job it was- for each of these relics falling a great distance, it could have been a man falling to his death. In the 1940's and 1950's when the first 2 bridges were built, the men rarely used or had any safety equipment to save them from a deadly fall. Special thanks to Earl R. White and John V. Robinson for their expertise on the Relics section. Both are ironworkers, and each provided information on some of these parts & tools.




Using a quality Whites metal detector makes a big difference in the hunt for buried treasures, especially under the Tacoma Narrows bridges where unwanted readings for concrete with rebar are plentiful. The other tools of the trade needed are a good shovel & a prybar. The shovel gets to the find, and the prybar gets it out of the clay.


When metals are exposed to salt water they corrode, and usually develop build-up residue which is sometimes called "conglomerate". This material is not organic, and can get quite thick. Nearly all the relics shown in this section were found in this condition, and upon initial discovery, were unrecognizable. The first photo is of a metal bar, not yet pulled out of the ground, but with the top portion of conglomerate removed to show what's inside.


This second photo shows a slightly different conglomerate build-up. It is a thin piece of sheet metal that was found in a layer of clay. The clay has formed around the metal, trapping the metal's corrosion, which turns black; inside the clay. Most of the relics shown below had similar build-up on them, which required a lot of effort to remove the conglomerate & clean them, even to the degree as seen in the relics below. The metal deterioration you see happened over the decades, and in some cases it is a wonder there is any metal left; which did nearly completely destroy some of the relics not seen here, as they crumbled upon discovery.


This recent metal detector find is a very old light fixture made by the Appleton Company, and the porcelain socket is identified by a model number. Upon contacting the Appleton Company, and showing them this fixture & info marked on it; they provided the following information. The fixture was manufactured by their company prior to 1950, it was designed for 60 to 300 watt incandescent bulbs, and it had options for two different types of socket mountings. Unfortunately, they did not have any of their catalog books from the 1930's to early 1940 period, but it appears to be one of the very first fixtures they made. This leaves us with these conclusions: 1) that it is definately from either the 1940 or 1950 bridge; 2) it is not one of the roadway lights as they were sodium vapor fixtures; 3) it is unknown if this fixture was part of the bridge's interior elevators or work stations- or if it was a light mounted on the bridge & used strictly for the construction. If it was part of the bridge- it would have been from the 1940 bridge; or if it was from the existing 1950 bridge it would have been from the construction. In either event it is the only known lite fixture from the Narrows bridge.


The photos above and below are of a hand rope retainer as seen in the 1939 blueprint. There were a pair of wires, called hand "ropes" in the plans, on each of the main suspension cables crossing the bridges that workers held onto while climbing up to the towers. This is one of the many brackets that fastened the hand rope to a rigid bar, which in turn was connected to a cable band.


Below is a look at the 2007 bridge hand ropes that have the same type of support bracket as the 1940 relic shown in the top photos. This photo is courtesy of the Tacoma News Tribune.


The cable seen in the photo below is a new find, and it is believed to be part of one of the original suspender cables that held up the Galloping Gertie bridge. It was found during a rare minus 4.3 foot tide on June 4, 2008, which was the lowest tide that has happened since 1986. A metal detector search at the edge of the water revealed this cable, buried under the sand & rocks, and in an area normally covered with the Narrows waterway. The cable is 2 inches thick; the thickest ever found, which corresponds with the suspender cable's diameter.

Shown below is not a part of the bridge, but a tool used to assemble the parts. It is known as a Delta plate, and was used at the end of cranes to secure large loads such as the girder seen in the B & W photo by Jack Durkee. A rare find, perhaps it had gotten stressed beyond acceptable limits and discarded? Or, maybe it fell off the crane hook & it wasn't worth the effort to get it back.



Above is a photo of two TNC workers using the same type of Delta Plate on the 2007 bridge. Notice that they both have safety gear on, and they are fastened to safety lines. Photo is courtesy of a worker from the TNC crew.


An even rarer find shown above is this half of the final cable band designated as Band "G" on the blueprints, that held the hand rope ends to each main cable. These were made in halves, as all the cable bands were so the halves could be put together around the already placed main cables. The bridge only had 4 of the sets "G" bands, and the rest of them were recycled for scrap in the 1940's during World War II. Perhaps it was a Friday when the recyclers were dismantling, they were tired and George was suppose to hold this band up while Frank undid the bolts on the other half, George's side slipped out of his hands because it was heavy, and it ended up falling below. George looked at Frank, Frank looked at George, but neither wanted to go get it from the shore, as each of the bridge's band halves weighs a couple hundred pounds, though this is lighter than the rest at 150 lbs. So there this band half got buried & stayed for over 60 years, the only one of it's kind left in existance.


This 4 bolt-hole band is actually the smallest of them all, the others had either 6, 8, or more bolt holes, and a larger size & weight as they had to secure heavier loads.


Seen below is a rare look at what is believed to be the exact same cable band shown above, being installed as new in 1939 on the Galloping Gertie bridge. The two men have finished bolting it in place on the main suspension cable located on the Gig Harbor side. This photo is a period James Bashford photo, permission courtesy of the Harbor History Museum, Gig Harbor, Washington. The cable band was found directly below this spot approximately 66 years after it was dropped, buried in 2 to 4 feet of clay under the sand & rocks, and it took more than 5 hours to excavate & recover it from the site.


A look at the completed bridge and cables, with the band relic from the above photos seen on the near side main cable, last band just above the top of the girder.


After the bridge collapsed on November 7, 1940 there remained a danger from the hanging span sections of further collapse. So men were dispatched to quickly remove what was left as much as possible. They used jackhammers to break up the concrete roadway as seen here in this November 12, 1940 photo. One of the hammer blades that you see at the bottom of each man's jackhammer was either too worn to be of use anymore, or perhaps it slipped off the tool & between the concrete pieces. It fell to the shore below, and was found 67 years later.



Another shorter jack hammer end bit has been discovered, as seen above. This one is a little shorter, and if you look at the 1940 photo above closely you can see that the men used different sizes on different sections of the bridge. The shorted the blade, the higher the impact level; which makes sense for thicker and thinner areas of demolition.


The photo below shows a few rivet halves, cut off so the bridge sections could be disassembled. The primer coat of paint was actually a bright orange, though it doesn't show well in the photos. The top finish coat was Narrows Green, done in 3 coats.


These are mystery parts shown in the photo below, not sure what they were part of, though they were definately from the bridge as they have they orange primer & Narrows Green color paint. They have a 1920's era look with scalloped grooves, similar to fancy feet on a depression era bed frame. A possibility is they are parts of the lamp shades from the bridge lighting, though it is hard to tell from the known photos of the lamps on the 1940 bridge, and the blueprints don't show the specifics. Only the light posts are on the blueprints, the lamps' housing & fixture shades were contracted out, and as such they would be up to that contractor to select what type they were. Nothing else in the original plans appears in this shape or form. An original light post was saved & erected in a Gig Harbor park, but it has a replacement lamp & housing- not an original.


Here is an anchor block relic, cut off at the shank, and an interesting Chevron gasoline metal tag. Perhaps the tag was on some machine that was in the construction or demolition? Not shown, but also found near this tag was a very old battery case, and a few spark plugs.


Shown below are a couple of tools- the first is a mechanical jack. The gear on the right end rotates and either pushes the jack shaft out or lets it in, depending on which direction it is turned, which was probably done on a machine that had a corresponding gear. The other tool is a rivet set or driver, which was placed on the end of the compression equipment, and the round socket placed over the rivet to forcefully, or drive it securely in place. The photo on the below right is a modern example of the same type of rivet set.


Assorted tools are seen below, the long one being a wrench that went over a band ratchet, the ratchet was found with this handle, but it was severely deteriorated. Next is a hook that took a pin or small bolt to lock it in place on a lifting cable. The small tool is a loop hook with it's own screw-in bolt.


Here are various cables, the top 2 are more than likely lifting cables, then a ground wire with it's lug end still intact, a coated cable of thick-gauge wire, perhaps for electrical service on the bridge, and the smallest wire is a ground wire.


This is the most unique find, a worker needed to improvise to complete a task, so he took 2 bolts and taped them together in a cross pattern to use for some specific job. When he was done he tossed it aside, only for it to be discovered some 67 years later.


An interesting assortment- part of a broken glass insulator which remarkably is embossed with the word "Cable". Yes, the bridge not only had electrical wires & service on it (for the Tower elevators, lighting, etc.), but it also was wired for telephone service. Next is a piece of very thick porcelain, perhaps part of the lamps on the bridge, maybe a lamp socket? Then there are 2 lead "fillers" that were used to seal up & secure joints in the cable bands, etc.


This is a plate bracket that once secured adjacent sections of the bridge together. 5 of the 6 rivets that were in it got removed, and when the last one you see was cut & pounded most of the way out, the bracket fell below with the last rivet still attached to the plate. The lower right corner of the bracket still has some of the orange primer & Narrows Green paint remaining, and you can see the outline of where the rivet in that spot was.


This bolt & nuts is larger than it seems, measuring almost a foot long and weighing in at nearly 10 pounds. A curiousity became evident while recovering relics- it seems as bolts & nuts were removed they were often placed back together, then discarded or dropped by accident. Why bother to put them back together? Only the bridge workers knew.


The object seen below is unidentified, and a rather large size. It was buried deep in the ground, and it consists of a heavy metal shell that has rebar concrete inside. It may not have been part of the bridge, but instead it was part of something used during construction. Many heavy objects of similar nature were left behind, and used to stabilize the hillside. This object ended up at the bottom of the hill.


Here is a very old pipe that nearly didn't remain as one piece. It is so fragile that parts crumbled off when it was found. It was possibly a pipe from Bent #2, which is located halfway up the Gig Harbor hill, and you can see a chunk of Narrows green paint with the orange primer on the right center of the pipe. The orange primer usually indicates it is from the 1940 bridge. Bent #2, which supports the 1950 bridge today has the same size pipe on it.


The photo below reveals an interesting look at a chunk of Gertie's remains. This is a section of the concrete deck, looking at it from below. Notice the pattern of indentations on the right. This was from the riveted framing that the concrete was poured across. The opposite side of this concrete is Gertie's sidewalk and curb.


Shown in the next four photos are some of Earl R. White's tools which he used during the 1950 bridge construction. The picture below is of his worn tool bag, with his spud wrench. Spud wrenches have two ends, and each has a different purpose. Imagine the huge iron sections hanging on the end of a Chicago boom (a large crane), and as each is lowered into place to create the framework of the bridge, the pointed end of a spud wrench is inserted into the iron's rivet holes to align the section that is being placed. The other end of this tool is a wrench which is used to fasten bolts between two or more sections to temporarily secure them together.


Another important tool is the bull pin, the pointed tool with the blunt end seen at the bottom of this photo, below the spud wrench. As the large frame sections of the bridge are lined up with the pointed end of the spud wrench as described above, a bull pin is pounded into the adjacent rivet holes to pull the parts together, so that the temporary bolts can be installed. The first set of guys did these tasks, which were followed up by the rivet guys. They would remove the temporary bolts one by one, and put rivets in their place.


Here is a closer look at some of Earl's tools. One thing missing from this group, a tool that he does not have anymore was his sleaver bar. These are usually about 30" long, and they look similar to the spud wrench without the wrench end. Instead, the sleaver bars have a flat blade on the opposite end from the point. These were used to guide the large sections towards where they were going to be installed, thus the flat blade end, which can be used to lift or leverage, and the longer pointed end can reach farther for aligning. Once the section was roughly lined up, the spud wrench and bull pins were used to get an exact fit.


Earl's crescent wrench seen here was modified by him in a number of ways. He notched out the adjustment wheel to allow for larger size nuts & bolts. He also shaved the handle end flat to be used as a smaller version of a sleaver bar end. And he marked his initials "E. W." onto the handle end, as seen on the left.


These are pieces of painted concrete that have fallen off the underside of the 1950 bridge's roadway. Everything gets old, and the existing bridge is no exception. Small chunks like these fall off quite often, but not enough to be cause for concern; unless a person was unfortunate enough to be walking the beach under the bridge when one fell on them. The 1950 bridge was painted in the same Narrows Green color as the 1940 bridge. This color was chosen to blend into & compliment the natural green hillsides of Tacoma & Gig Harbor.


Whoops! This hammer was dropped by one of the Tacoma Narrows Constructors crew while building the 2007 bridge. It was found on the Tacoma shore during a very low tide. It is called a Backing Out Punch, and it is used to knock out the temporary bolts so that rivets can be installed in their place.


A 2008 discovery is seen below, a spud wrench that was found below the new bridge. An ironic thing happened the day of this find. A man who worked for the TNC on the new bridge, Scott McMullen was walking down the beach, and we struck up a conversation. He asked me if I found a sleever bar with my metal detector, to which I replied "no, but it would be nice". Scott said that he had lost his in the deep water, so he was making a joke about it. I mentioned I had just taken photos of Earl White's spud wrench, and we finished our talk. About 10 minutes later this spud wrench was found buried in the ground, and upon Scott's return walk up the beach, he saw the wrench and we joked about the conversation we just had. Perhaps a sleever bar will be the next neat find.


A recent search turned up this Inspection tag, dated in November of 2006. Of note, and actually kind of funny is the fact that the bottom space to be filled out, yet it was left blank; is where the person in charge of being "Competent" was suppose to sign.


The bridge painters always have a tough job, with so much area to cover, and so many coats required to accomplish the task. These paint rollers were found below the bridge, still coated thickly with slightly different shades of the Narrows green color.


Seen below are bridge painters working diligently to get their job done in time. Although the man on the right is using a spray gun, much of the paint job required hand-applications, so as to not waste paint into the air, and to get the round surfaces properly covered. This photo is courtesy of a photographer of many bridges in the United States; Patrick S. O'Donnell.


Another great find, the bolt shown below had been painted on the exposed parts; the end and the head of the bolt. So why did it end up on the shore below the bridge, when it should have been fastened securely on the bridge? Only the TNC workers knew.


Here are an assortment of parts that were meant to be installed as part of the 2007 bridge, but they got dropped like so many parts before. Seen is a connecting plate that would have been riveted in place to secure adjacent sections, a "U" bolt, a couple of regular bolts, and a nut. There actually are at least a couple more parts of the 2007 bridge sitting in the water that I could not recover; one is a much larger connecting plate, about 3 times the size of the one shown here, and a large section of flat rubber stock (not shown) that may have fallen off a moving platform that is underneath the bridge's roadway. The platform is suspended & travels along the girder edges.


Below is the large plate meant for installation on the 2007 bridge, and mentioned above. It is so heavy that it could not be recovered from the water, and this was found at an extremely low tide. In a normal tide it is quite a ways out & underwater- perhaps a relic for the future? A close look at the upper left of the photo reveals what looks like a baby octopus in the water, but it is really just a starfish. This area does have a population of Giant Pacific Octopus that can get quite large as the name implies. An adult octopus' tentacles can reach up to 16 feet in length.


UPDATE: The large plate that is shown in the water above, was recovered from the water during a low tide in 2008, and photographed below. This was no easy feat, as the plate is about 2 feet by 3 feet, and is triple thick. In other words- it is 3 plates bonded together to make one heavy-duty plate, and it weighs nearly 200 pounds!


Below is an interesting find. When the 2007 bridge was being built, the 1950 bridge had a utility platform built on it to hold concrete supply piping, and electric high-voltage lines to the towers. Seen here is one of the many brackets which were fastened to the upper girders of the 1950 bridge, and held up the work platform. After the 2007 bridge was completed, the platform was taken down, and the brackets were cut off. Most were kept for their scrap metal value, but this one got away from the workers & fell below.


The photos below were taken in 2007, and show the supporting brackets for the platform in place.


The following objects are curiosities; if you have any ideas of their use or purpose, please send a message using the Email Us button on the top of this page.


This is one of those "unidentified" objects recovered from deep in the shore under the 1940/1950 bridge. Earl White, an ironworker who examined this, shared his observations. He noted that the hexagonal end was welded onto a cylindrical pipe, that the pipe had a cut out section in the middle, and that the cone shaped end had also been cut & bent inward to form the shape. He did not, however, have any idea what the intended use was.


The length and diameter of the shaft on this bolt suggest it might have been one that held a Galloping Gertie cable band in place. The left end still has the original lock washer, and that was the end which got cut off in order for the bolt to get removed.


The curved metal band seen below was attached to the bridge at the two holes, and it may have been used to keep wires or a hand rope in place, but it has yet to be found on a blueprint. Note the Narrows green paint remnants still on the surface.


The sheathed cable in this photo is heavy-duty. Note the number of wires in each group within the sheathing, and the core consists of rope; which was typical of cables in that era.


The picture below is one of the thick bolts and nuts that held the Gertie bridge together. So much effort was put into fastening the bridge components, that when it was dis-assembled after the collapse; most bolts were cut off rather than taken apart.


An end view of the same bolt & nut show the dimensions.


Square rebar is a thing of the past, and this piece of Gertie rebar tells it's age. This was recovered from a huge section of concrete.


The part shown below is from a tool or equipment. It appears to be a "knuckle" that would have been attached by the holes on the sides. It was a manufactured part, as the maker's logo is still evident on the top surface, however it is too deteriorated to tell what it says.


An unsettling fact about the 1950 bridge, still in heavy use today, is that it's subject to deterioration & damages. Seen here is evidence of this. It is a large piece of concrete that crumbled & fell off the bridge. The Narrows green paint clearly shows on the surface. This fell off the underneath portion of the road.


The metal remnant in the next photo is easily identified as half of a drain cover, but where it originally was is unknown. The bridge blueprints show no such drain cover. It may have simply fallen off a vehicle carrying scrap metal during the 4 months Gertie was traveled on.


Another mystery is shown below. It looks to be part of some kind of equipment, perhaps that held a rotating shaft on the right side. It also has a manufacturer's logo, but it is too far gone to tell what it was.



The part shown in the photos above (side view) and below (bottom view) is curious. It has remnants of Narrows green paint on the surface, indicating that it was originally part of the bridge, and it looks like it could have been half of a suspender cables retainer, but it is not the correct dimensions or shape that the blueprints show. If you have an idea, send a message using the button at the top of this page.


The object in the photo below may or may not have been part of the bridge. It is large size, and the flanged holes in either end seem to be for fastening. The bar between is thick and rigid, designed to be made in this shape.


Many other relics have been recovered, and many still remain, I have selected some of the most interesting to present here. The fact that sticks in my mind, is that of all the relics that have fallen over a 68 year period of time, not one is more important than the safety record of the people that built these 3 bridges, how they risked their lives, and only a very few made that ultimate sacrifice, when so many more could have fallen as these many relics did.



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