Jefferson National Expansion
Administrative History
NPS Logo
Administrative History
Bob Moore

Maintenance (continued)

Part III: Tram Maintenance

The Unique Arch Transportation System

The tram system for the interior of the Gateway Arch was designed by Richard B. Bowser. In a 1986 letter to former director of the NPS George B. Hartzog, Jr., Bowser outlined the sequence of events which led up to his selection as tram system designer:

Being a college dropout was hardly a credential to qualify me to design the arch trains [Bowser left the University of Maryland in 1942 to enlist in the Navy, serving three years as a fire controlman on the destroyer U.S.S. Wadsworth in the Pacific]. However, I was also a second generation elevator man with more than a fair share of guts. My father and I had developed, manufactured, and installed Bowser Parking System elevator equipment. These elevators could travel horizontally & diagonally through a structure as well as the normal vertical travel. There were no ramps or driveways in a Bowser System Garage. The Bowser System and the competing Pigeon Hole Parking were the only mechanical parking systems that ever got beyond the prototype stage. There were 35 Bowser Garages built, several of which were over 12 stories, some had capacities of over 1,000 stalls and I believe over half of which, after 30 years, still operate . . .

As the design and construction of the Arch progressed I began to realize that the opportunity to work on the Arch was more of a "last resort" than winning a competitive award. Eero Saarinen's office had contacted most of the larger elevator companies [including Otis] and several engineering firms who had little if any elevator experience when almost by accident I had an opportunity to offer to do the transportation system work for a fixed fee. [171]

Dick Bowser entered the Montgomery Elevator Company offices in Moline, Illinois, one day in 1960 to visit a friend, John Martin. The company had recently been called by Eero Saarinen's office, looking for a firm to take on a "transporter" project for the Gateway Arch. "[A]s soon as he saw me in his office, [Martin] had his secretary make a return call to Saarinen's office. While this was going on he was explaining what he was doing. He then took the telephone and was introducing me to one of the partners. By the time he handed the telephone to me there were two of Saarinen's partners on the line.

Their first question was "did an elevator have to travel vertically?" I said I didn't think so. I could remember that my father built and installed a dumbwaiter that transferred from one hatchway to another hatchway about half way up its vertical travel. If they were interested the dumbwaiter was in a church building in Birmingham, Michigan. It turned out that the building was within a mile of their offices. Their next question was "when can you meet with Eero Saarinen?"

I explained my 2 week schedule and rather than wait they made arrangements to see me the following Saturday morning — giving me time enough to travel to their office and get back on my schedule by Monday. [172]

A month after this initial contact, Saarinen called back and requested a presentation from Bowser within two weeks. "The first drawing that I got had an outline of the Arch, and down at the bottom was a square that showed a walkway and it said 'elevator' — that's all there was." Bowser worked day and night at home in his basement for the next two weeks to complete his plans. [173]

Bowser described his thought process in a 1964 interview:

In designing a conveyance system for the Arch, there were very few criteria to meet except that the National Park Service had established a passenger volume of 3,500 people in an 8 hr. day, or up to 11,000 people in a 14 hr. day as visitors to the Arch. It was also required that in no way could the conveyance system distort the exterior of the Arch.

The first attempts in designing an appropriate system were based on several schemes, beginning with elevators. To get 3,500 people to the top of the Arch, which is the equivalent of a 63-story building, in an 8 hr. day would require more than an ordinary elevator, however.

Because of the triangular shape and the different slopes in the Arch, a standard elevator could only go up about 300 ft. Above that level, a small elevator at a steeper angle would be required. Between the larger and smaller elevators would have to be machine rooms, pits, and waiting space for a large number of people, and these would have consumed about six stories of the interior of the Arch. The triangular shape also presented a problem. Elevators were determined to be impractical.

The next solution to be considered was escalators but, here again, many units would have been needed, and the cost would have been very high. In the upper sections of the Arch there was an area where the slope of an escalator would not follow the required curvature.

The Ferris wheel principle was then considered. This involved utilizing small containers of people, with their seats pivoted to swing at any angle. This approach involved a continuous chain, but the distance up one leg of the Arch, and down the other side, and across the bottom, would have been almost half a mile. The Ferris wheel system would also have had to move on the center line of the Arch, and no provision could be made for passengers to get off at the top observation area.

The next solution to be considered was grouping of seats together so that there would be groups simultaneously at a loading zone, at the top, and at an unloading zone. This, too, presented problems, because the center portion of the upper part of the Arch would have been occupied with equipment, leaving no room for stairways and other devices for safety.

Finally, a combination of the elevator principle and the Ferris wheel principle was developed into a train of capsules. [174]

After two weeks, Dick Bowser traveled to Michigan for a 45-minute presentation. "I didn't know the meeting was going to be anything more than a preliminary meeting with the architect and his staff," recalled Bowser, who walked into a room filled with St. Louis area congressmen, the mayors of St. Louis and East St. Louis, MacDonald Construction Company engineers, Director of the Park Service George Hartzog, and Eero Saarinen himself. At 3 p.m., Bowser began to pitch his idea for the transporter system, the concept of which was the same system which was eventually built in the Arch. His presentation lasted 40 minutes; then the questions came, in a session which lasted several hours. "[A]fter the group had been advised that the restaurant could not delay dinner any longer someone asked 'Mr. Bowser, what are you.' I was sure he was addressing my academic credentials. In an effort not to ruin what I felt was a successful presentation I answered 'I'm 38 years old.' This 'brought the house down' and ended the meeting." [175]

Within a few weeks Bowser had a contract, for a fee of $40,000, for a two year job; as it turned out, the job lasted until 1967. In his letter to George Hartzog, Bowser detailed some of the considerations included in designing the trams:

Last spring, when we were in St. Louis, my wife and I were standing in a leg of the Arch watching a train go up. There were relays clicking, motors running, capsules rotating in an effort to remain level, some cables were going up, others were moving down, wheels, trolleys, wires, chains, etc. I told my wife "I can't believe I was involved in all this and I don't believe I have the guts to do such a thing again.". . .

The 8 small capsules, used in each of the 2 Arch trains, are similar to the barrels used in cement mixers. Each train capsule has a 5 ft. diameter barrel that is open on the front and closed on the back. The back has a center pivot shaft and surrounding the open front there is a frame with rollers, so the barrel can rotate within the frame that is supported by wheels running in the channel shaped tracks. There are 5 seats in each barrel so the weight of the passengers helps keep [the capsule] in an upright position. In the lower load zone the capsules hang from the track — in the upper load zone the capsules are above the track. Each capsule rotates approximately 155 degrees during the trip to the top of the Arch . . .

Gateway Arch Transportation System
The Gateway Arch Transportation System.

Each train (8 capsules) is powered by a typical heavy duty elevator machine with cables, counterweights and all of the safety features of a modern high speed passenger elevator. Each of the Arch trains carries 40 passengers and is capable of making a round trip with passengers in 9 minutes — including loading and unloading passengers in both directions[.] When running near capacity each train typically carries 200 to 225 passengers per hour. [176]

It [was] possible to put the entire train on one side of the Arch, leaving half of the upper area for a stairwell . . .

When the capsule starts out from the lower load zone, the tracks are overhead, but as it goes up the Arch they come to be beneath the capsule. All the way along, the framework rotates around the capsule. A separate train runs in each leg of the Arch because there is a great deal of difference in the amount of time that loading takes at the top, where it is cramped, and at the bottom, where there is a great deal of room. Several advantages were gained by having independent units. As crowds increase, each train can run empty one way, or in the case of small attendance, only one train need be used. [177]

Sixteen special passenger capsules were built, which operated in two eight-car trains, one in each leg. The cars were designed by Planet Corporation of Lansing, Michigan, and built by General Steel Industries, Inc., St. Louis Car Division, from Reynolds aluminum supplied by Joseph T. Ryerson & Son. Each capsule carried five passengers seated in fiberglass seats, the only components of the cars and carrier frames not made of aluminum. [178]

The trains have been operating for over 18 years [in 1986], traveling a total of approximately 150,000 miles and carrying over 14 million passengers. They are considered to be a transportation system, and are run by the Bi-State Development Agency. [179]

Repairs and Maintenance

A unique transportation system such as the tram in the Gateway Arch, despite its efficiency and durability, was bound to present unusual problems over the course of time. Employees were kept on staff (including Dick Bowser between 1967 and 1972, and his successor as unit supervisor, Harry Breitenstein) to maintain and repair the Arch tram system. These employees were people with some of the most specialized talents in the National Park Service (NPS), with a history of innovative solutions to their credit, and an almost daily series of one-of-a-kind problems facing them. A $15,000 per year fund from the transportation operation profits was set aside by Bi-State for major repair and replacement of tram components in 1970. In addition, $5,000 was set aside for emergency maintenance other than spare parts. [180] Originally, NPS tram maintenance personnel worked only Monday through Friday shifts, and their duties were assumed by standby mechanics from General Elevator Engineering Company. On February 10, 1971, at the insistence of Dick Bowser, JEFF requested that the park hire two elevator mechanics on a full-time, year-round basis to replace the part-time standby mechanics. The mechanics were paid out of funds generated by Bi-State from the tram operation by bill for collection on a quarterly basis. The additional mechanics enabled the tram operation to start running earlier each day, thus providing better visitor service and more revenues for Bi-State. [181] This agreement proved beneficial to both JEFF and Bi-State, and was continued, with modifications, into the 1990s.

A 1992 article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch profiled one of the Arch Transportation Services (ATS) employees, Chuck Kalert, indicating some of their routine duties:

"Every day we do thorough inspections to make sure all the safety equipment is working," Kalert said. "We also do monthly and annual safety inspections."

Kalert's day starts at 7 a.m.

"We spend the better part of two hours checking out the tram, making sure the lights work, the doors are operating properly, and that there aren't any problems," he said. "We'll ride to the top on the maintenance platform checking the cables."

A ride on the maintenance platform — attached to the front of the tram — is a bit different than being inside the cars, which adjust to keep level as the tram slopes toward the top.

"The maintenance platform doesn't correct its angle," Kalert said. "What you're standing on when you start is what you're holding onto when you reach the top. You have to do some shuffling."

The nine five-eighths-inch steel cables that pull the trams . . . are replaced every other year. [182]

Negotiations were begun in 1985 to study the entire tram system, with the objective of modifying the electrical and mechanical systems, and changing to state-of-the-art technology where cost-effective. These negotiations had to be abandoned in 1986 due to fiscal constraints. Problems with the tram system were constant during the late 1980s, with above-normal failure on the capsule reversing starters beginning in 1986. These starters were rebuilt the following year; some of them had been in service for 18 years. In addition, the south tram was recabled during January. The north tram was recabled in 1987, but Bethlehem Steel provided cables which were cut too short and not to park specifications. This delayed the completion of the project, but was only a minor inconvenience to the visitors. New control wires were also installed on the outside of the north tram, along with eight new starters. [183]

The south tram was again recabled during January 1988, and several first-time projects were also completed that autumn, including replacement of the original inter-capsule wiring, which was 21 years old. After analyzing the failure pattern on the system, a new program was instituted for changing the counterweight wheels, with any wheel bearing that was over seven years old automatically slated for replacement. This program eliminated shutdowns due to wheel or bearing failure. All the original micro switches on the south tram capsule doors were changed during 1988, as well as drive belts on the door operators for the lower and upper hatch doors. [184]

ATS crew
ATS crew working on a tram car, March 1978. NPS photo by Norman Messinger.

From September 15 through December 20, 1991, several of the 25-year-old components of the north tram were replaced. These included all magnetic hoist-way switches, the capsule cradle wheels, trunion cables, capsule leveling motor output shaft bearings, sprockets and drive chains. All moveable and stationary contacts on the number two section control panel were replaced. [185]

Electrical Systems

In addition to work on the trams, ATS employees performed extensive work on electrical and wiring systems in the park. The ATS crew is primarily responsible for repair to light fixtures at JEFF. In 1989, a program to upgrade several components of the vast Arch electrical system was begun. Replacement fixtures could not be located for the lighting units on the Grand Staircase, and so the ATS crew designed and fabricated a replacement fixture and installed approximately 40% of the units. A program to upgrade the exterior pole fixtures along the Arch walkways began, including the re-welding of all poles to their bases and a modification of the receptacle part of each fixture. An inventory/tracking system was developed for all of the electrical distribution panels in the Arch complex, allowing for the documentation of any future additions or deletions to the electrical system. [186]

The 1990 purchase of a Diahatsu utility vehicle with a hydraulic work platform made repairing grounds lighting safer and more efficient. A major effort was made toward correcting design deficiencies in the north parking garage exterior lighting system, specifically on the top deck. Additionally, an electrical lighting supplies inventory was established. [187]

A 400-amp electrical panel, which supplied power to the south grounds lighting system, was replaced due to damage caused by water intrusion during the Arch complex roof repairs. The first panel to be replaced required many hours of research and four investigative sessions with General Electric and its vendor. The panel size had been changed due to an alteration in the National Electrical Code. Field changes were made by the ATS crew to adapt the new panel to the existing conduit and wiring. Soon after this, as the result of another intrusion of water and sand, the new breakers had to be replaced. The offending sand was so fine that it entered the breakers' internal mechanisms and rendered them inoperative. [188]

A main electrical junction box along the north side of the underground museum, which had been leaking for several years, was replaced during October 1991. Every time it rained, water infiltrated the north mechanical room around the main 440 volt switch gear. During April 1991, the main feeders from #2 emergency generator, for the Arch's main line emergency circuit, were changed to correct an electrical code violation. [189] Thirty grounds light poles were refurbished and re-welded in 1991. The repairs were necessary due to vandalism and the constant vibration of the wind, which caused the welds to fatigue and break. These repairs represented a substantial savings over the cost of replacement poles. [190]

Unique Systems and Repairs

Work was begun in 1985 to install central vacuum systems in each leg of the Arch, to facilitate the annual cleaning of the interior portion of the Arch legs, as well as daily cleaning of load zones and capsules. Piping was installed by 1986, and specifications for the purchase of power units were made. The central vacuum systems were completed in 1987. [191]

Harry Breitenstein
ATS Crew Foreman Harry Breitenstein replaces the aircraft warning light on the top of the Arch, October 1976. NPS photo by Norman Messinger.

An overhead I-beam system was installed in the lower load zone during 1989, which allowed for the removal of heavy pumps from the bottom of the pump station. Weighing more than 500 pounds each, these pumps could only be removed through the effort of four men physically carrying them out. The pumps had to be raised 45 feet vertically, and moved up 29 steps. The new I-beam system allowed the pumps to be moved mechanically, and was a good safety project. [192]

Water intrusion, as a result of the water mitigation project on the MWE roof, "shattered nerves in the ATS shop," and consumed many hours of labor in cleaning up mud and water. "Several call outs in the middle of the night brought employees in to find water running from the ceiling and from electrical panels and light fixtures, a very unsettling experience." Spring rains during the waterproofing of the visitor center roof consumed many hours of labor in cleaning up mud and water in the ATS shop. After several change orders and negotiations with the contractor, this was finally corrected with the installation of new ventilation system piping to the exterior of the building. [193]

Les Doolittle
ATS crew member Les Doolittle working on a tram capsule, March 1978. NPS photo by Norman Messinger.

Specialized Staffing Problems

The ATS unit was affected by staffing shortages because of injuries in 1987 and 1988. Due to the technical nature of the work involved, it was impossible to find temporary help to alleviate the problem. [194] Staff-days lost totaled 192. Three new mechanics were hired for the ATS crew, which created unique problems, since this was the first time so many men had to be trained on the job at the same time. Schedule changes were required in order to cover all phases of the job, as few employees were experienced enough to perform all the needed tasks. [195]

During 1990, four positions that were vacated on the ATS crew were filled by individuals who were members of the military reserves. Park operating standards required at least two members of the ATS crew be present at all times when the trams were operating, so this created scheduling problems due to the mandatory drill weekends for the reservists. As a result of the unusually large turnover of personnel, more scheduling and training was necessary, and less annual maintenance was accomplished. [196]

The services of ATS Mechanic John Rousan were lost from February through November, 1991, due to his activation for military duty in Saudi Arabia. During the first quarter of 1991, three new mechanics were hired to fill vacancies on the ATS crew. An additional, temporary mechanic was hired as a replacement for John Rousan during his call to active duty. [197]

Motor Generator Set Replacement

The motor generator (MG) sets are the devices which produce direct current (DC) power to operate the Arch tram system. Industrial electrical systems requiring close, precise motion and speed control have historically operated on DC power, rather than commercially available AC power. Each of the two trams has an MG set, located beneath the floor of the observation deck at the top of the Arch. The original MG sets, installed in 1967, continued in use until 1992. [198]

Major repairs were made to the fuel distribution system on the #1 emergency generator, and all fuel hoses were replaced in 1988. [199] The south motor generator (MG) shorted out during the summer season of 1989. Emergency repairs were made, with the tram being down during the heavy visitor use season for four days. This breakdown indicated that the MG sets were approaching the end of their life cycle and were in need of replacement. [200]

The park negotiated for more than two years to replace the 25-year-old MG sets with a kinetic rectifier drive system. A bid was received in May 1991 to accomplish this, but was beyond the reach of available funding. To this end, 1991 was another year of many meetings and field trips to the interior of the Arch legs to investigate the work sites. Superintendent Schober commented:

So much of the equipment that was first-line stuff twenty years ago, is not nearly as good now. And when you try to redo something you find there are only a very few people that could install this system and none of them want competition. And without competition it means they name their own price. So we have found that the overriding thing has been greed in almost every case that we've gotten involved in . . . [201]

The ATS maintenance staff was assisted by General Electric investigators with coal mine MG set experience. Work continued into 1992 to obtain replacement MG sets, to be produced by G.E. for installation in March. The old sets were cut in two in order to remove them from the top of the Arch, and transport them to ground level. The MG sets, both the 1967 and 1992 models, are unique, and were specially designed for the Arch. They were installed in an inverted position due to the small size and unusual shape of their housing area at the top of the Arch. [202]

Ticket for Gateway Arch Transportation System, c. 1968.

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004