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This Old Statehouse: Interview with Bob Hewitt

posted on April 3, 2001 at 10:56 AM

Bob Hewitt
Seedorff Masonry, Inc.

JACK SHEPARD INTERVIEWS BOB HEWITT FOR STORY ON IOWA STATE CAPITOL RENOVATION

Interviewed February 29, 2000

JACK SHEPARD: Bob, how many years have you been out here and what's the future look like for this project?

BOB HEWITT: Well, we started here in February of 1997. We expect to be out of here in July of this year [2000].

JACK SHEPARD: You've been working on this south side the entire time?

BOB HEWITT: We started up here at the east side of this pavilion, and we've gone all the way around the building to the west side of the pavilion. And now we're finishing up on the porch, which is the south side. This is Phase VIII; the whole job is bid in phases. And we're doing what is called Phase VIII.

JACK SHEPARD: After you retire and you look back at this project, what's this going to mean to you?

BOB HEWITT: I was going to retire four years ago, and then we got this project, and I said, "Well, gee, I'd like to do that before I retire." So I asked them to let me do it, and they agreed, and that's why I'm here. I'm going to be sad when it's over. It's been a fun experience, enjoyed every minute of it. Quite a lot of challenges, but it's been a lot of fun.

JACK SHEPARD: Yeah and everybody I talk to is impressed with this Capitol and the way it was built back in the late 1800s. Has that been your opinion also?

BOB HEWITT: Not a day goes by that we're not totally amazed at how they constructed this building with no more equipment than they had. It's just totally mind boggling. We have all the equipment in the world. We've got half-million-dollar cranes, we've got forklifts; we've got everything you could think of. And still some of that stone is a challenge for us to elevate and set. These guys did it with nothing but block and tackles and pulleys and ropes and manpower. It's amazing!

JACK SHEPARD: It's been a passion, too, maybe?

BOB HEWITT: Yeah. And everything is not exactly precise. I mean the stone over in that corner of the building is not exactly the same as the one over here, but they're so close that it's amazing.

JACK SHEPARD: Do you think that everybody associated -- at least on your crew -- is a little proud also of working on this project?

BOB HEWITT: Oh, every one of 'em. We've stopped or shut down for two winters. This winter we worked continually, the winter before we closed down for the winter. And in the spring I'd call up the guys and say, "You want to come back?" The response was usually, "Oh, absolutely, absolutely we want to come back!"

JACK SHEPARD: Tell me about some of the toughest things that are involved with doing your job.

BOB HEWITT: Of course number one is safety. The company is really big on safety. In fact, we are as individuals too. Nobody wants to get hurt. And with handling materials of this size, there are so many things that can go wrong. We look at a phase that we're going to do, we discuss it, we analyze it and then maybe we'll do it all over again before we ever touch the thing. One item is up there on the porch. Steel shoring had to be put up to support the roof while all the existing masonry was torn off. And then when we put the new masonry back on, the steel shoring comes off. Well, that steel shoring is in the way of a lot of the new stone that we have to replace. We have some pieces that are 12 feet long that have to be feathered in between pieces of steel and actually set down on something and then re-hooked to get back where we wanted them. Things like that created quite a challenge.

JACK SHEPARD: I remember you having to get a bigger crane for some of that stuff. Do you remember how big some of those have gotten?

BOB HEWITT: The two stones that set back to back on those columns were about 18 feet long, and they weighed 8 tons a piece. We had to bring in a special crane to set those two. Our crane would have handled it, except that we had it set too far away to reach it, so we had to bring in a special machine to do that. It took forty minutes to set those two pieces of stone after we got that machine in.

JACK SHEPARD: So that was the right move to bring in that other machine?

BOB HEWITT: It was a tremendous amount of money for that 40 minutes.

JACK SHEPARD: But it probably put your mind at ease knowing that you had the right piece of equipment for that job?

BOB HEWITT: Oh yeah, we wouldn't attempt it any other way.

JACK SHEPARD: That's come through in the way you've treated us too; we've always felt like you wanted us to have this hard hat on. You wanted us to be on a certain place on the scaffolding and not moving some place where it was dangerous. I always felt like you were looking out for our best interest too, and I appreciate that. Have there been any injuries in any of the facets of the construction?

BOB HEWITT: Other than cut fingers, raccoon attack and maybe a wrenched muscle, nothing.

JACK SHEPARD: That's great. When you bring your grandchildren out here and they happen to notice how great this building is looking, what do you tell them?

BOB HEWITT: I've only had occasion to have one grandchild here and, of course, they don't really realize what it's all about. They get to go inside, and the thing they're impressed with is the gold on the dome. They don't really understand what we're going through out here at this point. They will later, but I've talked to a lot of kids and given them a lot of pieces of stone for souvenirs. When they get a little older, they appreciate it.

JACK SHEPARD: Now you're working at a really dangerous height. If you don't watch what you're doing, it'll be the last step you take. And it's on your mind all the time, I imagine.

BOB HEWITT: It's on your mind all the time. You don't dwell on it, except that you're aware of where you are. You're aware of where you're stepping. You know you don't step backwards until you know what's behind you and that sort of thing, but no, you don't think about it. You don't dwell on it.

JACK SHEPARD: Have there been some surprises, or is it just like you've studied it well enough to know that if you take that piece out nothing else is going to happen? The rest of them are going to stay in there?

BOB HEWITT: We've had a couple of surprises, and we've been pretty fortunate that there wasn't a serious accident because of them. For example, we'd be taking out a piece of stone, and it'll suddenly break in the middle with no indication that it's going to break. We take all the precautions in the world to prevent that from happening. Or maybe we'll double hook it so if it does happen, no problem. We've had one tremendously large piece of stone we brought down, and it was probably five feet square and probably a foot thick. I'm guessing it weighed 3000 pounds, and we had it all the way down to the rubble pile, three feet from where it was going to land, and it broke. That's scary!

JACK SHEPARD: Can you say that this building's going to be in better shape after you guys get through than it was when it was finished back in 1894?

BOB HEWITT: Oh yeah, absolutely. As far as structurally it probably will not be in any better shape because structurally it's in pretty good shape now. The only problem with it now is the stone projections are all eroded and they've been falling off over the years. And they are dangerous to people on the ground. But once you get by the projections, the stone is solid. The building would last forever. But it's because of the danger of those pieces falling off that they had to replace it all. So, what we're doing now won't make it any stronger structurally, but it'll make it a lot safer. The building should last another couple hundred years, I would think.

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