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Day in the Work Life: Steeplewright

Marketplace Staff Apr 6, 2007
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Day in the Work Life: Steeplewright

Marketplace Staff Apr 6, 2007
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TESS VIGELAND: This is Marketplace Money from American Public Media. I’m Tess Vigeland. Christians celebrate Easter this weekend. Lots of Americans will flock to their local church for worship. They might take a moment to remark on how nice everyone looks in their Sunday best. But they probably won’t pay much attention to how the church looks. On this week’s A Day in the Work Life, we meet a guy who’s paid to do just that. He fixes steeples. We caught up with him this winter in his workshop.

BOB HANSCOM: This came from the Castine Historical Society. It’s a cupola. Some people call them steeples. 1850’s, had been repaired in the ’70s. It was leaking and rotten. Oh, I’ll be working on this the rest of the winter. Hi. I’m Bob Hanscom. I’m a steeplewright. And I live here in Greene, Maine. Steeplejack is the common term. You had your wheelwrights, shipwrights, there’s not, why not a steeplewright? And I came up with that in the very beginning, and then just stuck with it. I went to Southern Maine Vocational Technical Institute.

I had built houses for eight years. Then the interest rates went to 22 percent for construction loans in 1981 or ’82 right in there. And my partner and I, both went to work in Bath Iron Works, and I got laid off in the year. And so I went back to pounding nails and Turner Village church. They needed some work done on the steeple. And so, they were good enough to let me do it. Oh, it was fun because it was all brand new. The whole experience was new. I have learned how to move 8 x 8 timbers, 12, 14 feet long. They weigh several hundred pounds a piece from the back of the truck to the top of a tower by myself.

I have a crane there up an old sailboat mass with a big wench on the side of it. Mostly everything I work on is 150, 200 years old. And there are a lot of Paul Revere bells. Paul Revere had his old foundry in business in manufactured bells. The foundry stamped the name right in the side and the year. I like the Byzantine domes, that sort of thing. You know, they’re all interesting. That’s part of, I guess, that’s it. Again, they’re all different. You don’t run into one that’s exactly the same as the next one ever. I had one steeple that had about a foot of pigeon guano up above the ceiling and they expire. So when I took the ceiling down, I filled the back of a ton truck with pigeon guano. That was unexpected.

Steeples? They run from $30,000 to 100 my own personal yearly income. I don’t know, $50,000 maybe. It varies year to year. I have a hard time watching somebody else do what I do. You know, running around up high. My grandson’s interested. But, I don’t think I’m gonna, I don’t know. I think I’d have a hard time watching. Back in the days of building expensive houses, some of the people you deal with are not as nice. And I really never run into people in 22 years that have been nasty or didn’t pay their bills. You’re just dealing with nice people all the time.

VIGELAND: A Day in the Work Life was reported by Sara Nics.

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