Thursday, February 11, 2010

11 February -- Al Zampa

The Carquinez bridge crosses the Carquinez Straits north of Richmond, California, carrying Interstate 80 from Oakland to Sacramento. The first Carquinez bridge was opened in 1927. The two bridges we see today date from 1958 and 2003. The newest bridge is officially named the Alfred Zampa Memorial Bridge.

Travelers stopping at the Vista point just before the bridge can see a plaque dedicated to Al Zampa. It reads:


Alfred "Al" Zampa was the first-born son of Emilio and Maria Zampa, Italian immigrants who migrated to the USA from Abruzzi, Italy. Al was born on March 12, 1905 in Selby, California down river from where this plaque sits. He was the eldest of three brothers and two sisters.

Al started his career in ironwork when he was 20 years old on the first Carquinez bridge opening in 1927. He worked on all of the highway and railroad bridges in the area, including the san Francisco-Oakland Bay bridge and the Golden Gate bridge. In 1936 Al fell from the Golden Gate into a safety net designed by famous bridge engineer Joseph Strauss. He survived the fall but it severely injured him. After recovering Al immediately returned to his job on the bridge and along with other fall survivors, he helped form the Halfway To Hell Club. The highlight of Al's career came when his two sons joined him as ironworkers to help build the second Carquinez bridge that would open in 1958 to carry traffic eastbound on the new Interstate 80 highway.

In 1987, some years after his retirement, on the 50th anniversary of the completion of the Golden Gate bridge a play called The Ace was produced based on Al's life story. The play ran at Ft. Point in San Francisco for several weeks. Al began to share his story with the media and was interviewed by magazines, radio shows and TV programs such as "on the Road with charles Kuralt". Later Al contributed to the documentary "Skywalkers", a story of the ironworkers.

Al always spoke highly of being a union ironworker and the benefits he received as a union member. He was very competitive and did not like to fail. He enjoyed playing pool and coaching Little League baseball. He started the first Tri-City Little League with friends in 1947. He coached his Crockett team to victory, winning the League 6 consecutive years. While working, coaching Little League baseball, playing pool, or any of his pastimes, Al Zampa was dedicated to achievement.

In March of 2000 ground was broken on a new suspension bridge to replace the original Carquinez bridge. Al was there to see history repeat itself. This new bridge is named in memory of Crockett's own Alfred Zampa, and in recognition of the men and women of the building and construction trades who build these great monuments.

We enjoy learning about individuals named on roads, bridges, ferry boats and the like, but it's not often we find such a graceful appreciation of their work.


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