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This Old Statehouse: Interview with Bart Hammond

posted on April 3, 2001 at 10:11 AM

Bart Hammond
Wood Roofing & Sheet Metal

JACK SHEPARD INTERVIEWS BART HAMMOND FOR STORY ON IOWA STATE CAPITOL RENOVATION

Interviewed February 29, 2000

JACK SHEPARD: Tell me what your job has been out here.

BART HAMMOND: Primarily my job has been doing the climbing work out here restoring the braids on the green pavilions. It's been a lot of fun some days. Other days it's been kind of a challenge, having to combat the wind and such. And it's been a lot of fun just to appreciate the old style of doing things and to understand why the building took so long to build.

JACK SHEPARD: What's the toughest thing about your job?

BART HAMMOND: The toughest thing has been battling the elements. It gets pretty windy up here with no trees to block the wind. There was one day in particular where my toes lost contact with the surface of the roof, and that was a little unnerving, but it wasn't nothing I couldn't deal with.

JACK SHEPARD: Do you mean that you slipped and fell?

BART HAMMOND: No, the wind had a little more push on me than I did on gravity, so I got blown around a little bit--kind of like being a human kite.

JACK SHEPARD: You had a run in with a critter up here. Can you tell me that story?

BART HAMMOND: Well, I was trying to take a fast way up to the gutter, not paying close attention 'cause you don't look for much when you're working above everybody, and I come across a raccoon when I was reaching for a handhold to pull myself up. Me and him kind of met face to face. I grabbed him, and he bit my sleeve about the same time, and since it was too far to throw him down off the roof, I figured the best way to get him off the roof was to take him down through the building. So, I looked around and I figured the only way to do it, was to climb down the scaffold, run across the roof, and go down in the elevator. So, I waited a few minutes for the elevator, wrassled him around a bit, and those were the times that I had to stop a few times and hold him between my knees just to get another bite on him. I held him down by his forearms, and when I got down to the ground, I let him go in one of the trees out here and figured he'd be happy. Through all the tussling and everything, I guess I got bit a couple of times. I was a little too excited to notice it at the moment. I had to go get some rabies shots for it. And in the long run that turned out to be better because otherwise they'd cut off his head, I guess.

JACK SHEPARD: No kidding. Because he had rabies?

BART HAMMOND: It's better that I got him down through the building because whether he had rabies or not, the way they find it out is to cut off the head and look for bacteria in it. I think he's better off this way.

JACK SHEPARD: So you had to get a little bite on him you thought, and he got a little bite on you, too, huh?

BART HAMMOND: Yeah. Since I was bigger, I won that argument. Afterwards, I didn't realize I had been bitten, you know, and I didn't know I was going to have to undergo rabies shots. We never did find him. He ran back into the yard. As luck would have it, you know, we didn't find him--luck for him.

JACK SHEPARD: Is it common to see raccoons up here?

BART HAMMOND: I have never found a critter this high off the ground. I suppose he climbed the scaffold, probably eating lunch scraps and such, but I think maybe he's just not a morning person. Made for a long day.

JACK SHEPARD: I'll bet it did. So tell me, your job is pretty demanding, isn't it?

BART HAMMOND: Yeah, it's hard on your hips and knees. So it takes a little limbering up process. Sometimes that belt, once you get to hanging down from the rope, starts to cut into you like baling wire, so I've improvised so I could stay out there longer, and sometimes I flip upside down and hang from the shoulder parts. No sense in coming down every fifteen minutes if I can do it in every half-hour. Oh, I've been called "Spiderman" and "Monkey Man" and since the raccoon, I've been called "the Critter Gitter." I've heard about all kinds of animals up here--opossums, pigeons, a bat. I didn't have any interest in pursuing them after the first one.

This has been a learning job for me. I have found out how things were done nearly a hundred years ago. We've used the old-fashioned hammered rivets, and it is a chore to do. I think that's probably the main reason this building has withstood time so well. Duplicating some of the things that they've done in the past is just awe-inspiring. You can't imagine all the pain and suffering they must have went through without the modern day stuff that we have to work with. I feel very fortunate to be a part of it.

JACK SHEPARD: It's not easy getting it done the way you're doing it, is it?

BART HAMMOND: No, but it's a lot of fun. Part of the fun is just figuring out how I'm going to get out to where the work needs done. The very best part of everything is my two boys. Mickey and Dusty think I got the coolest job in the world. And I wouldn't trade that right now for nothing. So if it puts a smile on their face, it makes me happy.

I've seen some pretty neat things go on out here. Veterans' Day we seen a lot of veterans from two or three wars, Korean War, the Vietnam War and some older fellow from World War II. I've seen people wire themselves up to the scaffold, and it turned out to be a protest. I never knew how one of those was conducted before. I seen kids come in here for the first time with big eyes, and you can't imagine how they must have felt when they seen all this for the first time. I seen a regular guy come in, and he was recognized for a hero for doing a brave act. You see a lot of good things like that out here. Things you wouldn't see otherwise.

This building needs to be preserved. And they need to use all the finesse that they did in the early days.

JACK SHEPARD: Is this a special place for you to work, I mean, as compared to other places that you've worked?

BART HAMMOND: Oh, without a doubt. This is the premiere building I've ever worked on. I've been on top of 801 Grand, and the stuff up here is done completely different than the other copper roof over there. This is something that, unless there's more buildings like this to work on, it's going to be a forgotten art. And I feel very fortunate to be a part of it and be able to learn it.

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