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Welding Works Connection - Metal Fabrication News

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In the last issue of this newsletter, we featured an extensive project which we were working on at the time: architectural ornamentation for the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument. The project was recently completed and shipped to the midwest for installation. Stretching across Interstate 80 in Kearney, Nebraska, this new 309-foot-long archway honors the pioneers who, 150 years ago, traveled west on the Great Platte River Road. The Interstate now follows the same route.

Welding Works' role in this ambitious undertaking was the fabrication of the symbolic exterior ornamentation for the structure. Designed by Kent Bloomer, the ornamentation includes two sets of 27-foot-high aluminum wings which are mounted atop the north and south towers of the Archway. Wings were chosen by Bloomer to symbolize movement, transportation and communication. Bloomer also designed a 309-foot trellis to span the length of the archway. Its braided wave style evokes the feeling of the Platte River. Completing the ornamentation is its centerpiece, an intricately-detailed aluminum horse, representing the Pony Express, that leaps out of one set of wings.

In all, approximately 12 tons of fabricated aluminum plate, sheet, pipe and structurals were used in this project, along with 6 tons of support steel and stainless hardware. All aluminum plate ornaments were cleaned and left in their natural finish. They were fabricated in pieces as large as possible to expedite final on-site assembly.

Walter P. Camp, Vice President, negotiated the contract for the work with Bloomer and originally developed the scope of the work. Price van der Swaagh, President, served as the central clearinghouse for all the information from the ornamenter, engineer, contractor, inspector and trucker involved in the project. Van der Swaagh was actively involved in the daily problems that arose and was out on the floor working them out.

During the engineering and design phase of the project, the design of the wings was the first and most important step. However, each pair of wings needed an independent structure behind it for support and to allow the interfacing of the artwork to itself and to the steel structure on the building. The design of these structures was the responsibility of Doug Rutledge, Project Engineer at K L & A (structural engineer for the project), who supplied rough sketches of the support structure. As complete as they were, there were countless challenges facing Welding Works as they sought to marry the artwork to the structure. Communication between us and the design engineers was ongoing, and the design engineers also made several on-site visits to our facility.

Over 400 pieces of aluminum give detail to the horse's skin.
North tower and trellis.

The welding for the project was done exclusively with the GMAW process. Welding Works certified procedures, as well as eight welders, to AWS standards for 5052-H32 and 6061-T6 aluminum material.

Cutting was accomplished by conventional band saw for the structural shapes (beams, angles, structural tubing, etc.). The plate shapes, which comprised the majority of the feathers and tendrils, were cut on an optic-eye burning machine. This machine has the capacity of cutting 6 feet wide by 16 feet long sections. The shapes were taken from eighth scale and quarter scale models and blown up to full-scale flat patterns. These patterns were then made into black-on-white templates, so that the optic-eye tracer could follow the shapes. An operator was thus able to cut a multitude of varied shapes with speed and accuracy.

Forming presented a considerable challenge. The models were the source of information regarding how much the elements were to be formed. Bloomer's studio scaled the models and developed rolling and forming templates for Welding Works to use. A trial and error method was generally employed in arriving at the finished look of each shape. Once the shape was developed, Welding Works used a press brake, as well as two rolling machines.

The horse was the most time-consuming element of the sculpture, due to the many pieces requiring hand forming. Measuring 14 feet high by 4 feet wide by 17 feet long, its intricate frame is comprised of over 300 aluminum plates of 1/4" and 1/2" thickness that are welded to three main support plates. Over 400 pieces of .090 aluminum were hand-cut and fitted into place to give detail and texture to the skin. After the skin was tacked, all seams were fully welded.

The supports for the horse were critical — the horse had to appear as if it were standing on its hind legs, without any visible support structure. Two external supports were camouflaged by the mane and tail.

In addition, Welding Works completed the trellis that now stretches across the length of the Archway, a process that required hand-feeding 1700 feet of aluminum pipe into an hydraulic pipe bender. The trellis consists of 16 sections, each requiring multiple and differing radii.

In order to ensure the artwork's fit on the Archway, and to develop the struts that hold the artwork, full-scale mock-ups were required for both the north and south towers of the building. A survey of the building was taken and used to develop pedestals that represented the building pedestals. The steel support system was erected in Welding Works' yard. The data to place the foliage were developed from a survey of the building that was taken on the roof in Nebraska. The artwork was then laid out and supported in its proper relationship to the building and to itself. Struts were then developed to hold all the foliage.

Simulations of the existing conditions at the site and test-assembly were especially important. Due to the complexity and the irregular shapes, Welding Works had to make sure that all assemblies fit together and would erect without any interference. The structural engineer was able to clarify many items that were impossible to calculate on paper. The test-assembly also enabled Kent Bloomer to view the completed ornaments and determine if the artistic criteria had been met. In short, it gave all parties concerned a sense of security, knowing that any problems would be worked out at Welding Works before shipment.

After test-assembly at Welding Works, the ornamentation was delivered to Nebraska. It took five oversized truckloads to transport the project to the site. Now that it is installed on the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument, it helps to welcome visitors to two levels of interactive exhibits, housed within the Archway, which make the Wells Fargo Stagecoach and the Pony Express "come alive".

Welding Works won a NOMMA award for this project.

Click here to view more photos of the Archway project.
14-foot-tall horse represents the Pony Express. Its intricate frame is comprised of over 300 aluminum plates, and over 400 pieces of aluminum were hand-cut and fitted into place to give detail and texture to the skin.
Completed Great Platte River Road Archway.




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