“I could hear faint baby-like cries. … The net looked like a sinking raft with the tiny men entangled and trying to get free. … Some drifted out of the Gate and out of sight,” said Tex Lester, a steelworker who sat atop the south tower on February 17, 1937, witnessing the deadliest day in the history of the Golden Gate Bridge, and even to this day, the worst ever in the history of bridge construction. Before the accident, the safety net had saved the lives of nineteen workers from a certain death, a lucky elite party calling themselves the “Halfway to Hell Club.”
Charles Lindros was one of the men who perished in that accident. The 30-year old immigrant from Sweden left behind a wife, Margaret, and any chance of a better life in his adopted country. He might have been lost in history if not for a bronze plaque on the Golden Gate Bridge and the efforts of his grand-nephew, Börje Lundvall.
The Halfway to Hell Club book tells the story of the Lindros’ journey from Sweden to America; their life in the redwoods of Humboldt County and their ill-fated move to San Francisco. The stories of the other victims and the author’s own adventures researching the book are included in this fascinating look at history.
With a master’s degree in engineering, Mr. Lundvall works as a project finance advisor for a financial institution in Helsinki, Finland. Börje is married and he and his wife live in Karlstad, Sweden.
This video will give you a sense of the conditions that the workers faced over the Golden Gate Strait.
On a Personal Note
I spent my last 15 years as an electrician working on the Golden Gate Bridge—almost one-third of my career. The circumstances of this accident and the fate of these men was constantly on my mind. Whenever I left the Powerhouse and headed North on the West sidewalk I passed a large bronze memorial plaque that bore their names.
For the first time in the history of bridge construction a safety net was suspended along the entire length of the span from pylon to pylon to catch any falling workers. The $130,000 net had already saved the lives of 19 bridgemen by that February day in 1937.
Made of 3/8 in. diameter manila rope that was woven into a 6 in. square mesh, the net was no match for the ten tons of lumber and moveable scaffolding that fell into it.
The accident happened just 14 weeks before the bridge was officially opened. I always wondered what their last day must have been like—was it anything like the one that I was having?
The Golden Gate Bridge Highway & Transportation District has graciously allowed Börje Lundvall to use a photo of mine in his book and he, in turn, has agreed to send a copy to me as a token of his appreciation. I am grateful to be able to help him honor his great-uncle and the men who gave their lives in an effort to improve the lives of others.