January 20, 2019

My Days at O&G: Mike Weston

“My Days at O&G” profiles employees around the company working at unusual jobs every day

The Hauser Bridge stands mute, far out in the woods, more than a mile from any roads or homes. It spans the Shepaug River as it rifles through the Steep Rock Preserve in Washington Depot. It is a “jewel,” a favorite feature of the preserve says the Steep Rock Association, the nonprofit which owns and maintains the park.

The Hauser Bridge is picturesque. Two steel cables, braced by 18-foot-tall supports and heavy anchors, suspend the bridge for 120 feet across the river and another 20 feet above it. Hikers at the preserve routinely cross it. Less-outdoors- inclined folks have never seen it, including O&G Superintendent Mike Weston.

Since he took up carpentry at 17, Weston has been honing his skills. He has been assigned to all kinds of jobs with O&G where since 2005 he’s worked as a carpenter, foreman and superintendent. He and the bridge met last summer. The bridge challenged his skills and his resourcefulness. “I remember the first day at the bridge. I’m there thinking someone is going to jump out from behind a tree and say, ‘Just kidding!’ ” Weston helped Reich Bridgeassemble large jobs like the Yankee Gas LNG Facility in Waterbury and dormitories and classrooms at universities. They were busy jobs in populous areas. Working in a forest with a two-man crew required a whole new mindset.

“This job was not all thought out for you, either. We were continually presented with unique challenges we had to figure out on the fly.”

Just getting to the bridge in its rugged and remote location (“1.7 miles from the paved road, believe me I know,” he laughs) meant Weston had to anticipate all the things his crew might need for the day. Forget close contact with operations back in Torrington: there was not a bar of cell phone signal. The opposite side of the bridge had no road access either, just a foot path, so wood and fasteners and tools had to be toted across.

Exposure to the elements for nearly 25 years had left the bridge in a fragile condition. “The supports on either side of the river had rotted so badly, up high where you couldn’t really see well, I was surprised the bridge hadn’t collapsed. A couple of 1/4-inch steel plates on the supports were what saved the whole bridge,” says Weston.

With the perilous condition of the supports and the distance from any kind of help he knew the risks. “We’d never all three of us do any one task, especially up in the air. One of us was always ready to go for help should something happen.”

That hanging scaffolding was notable. Fresh to the project, Weston stared at the bridge. How could he replace the rotting supports barely holding up the bridge deck without the whole thing tumbling like a Jenga tower into the river below? Setting up scaffolding in the rushing water was off the table. “So I wondered if we could hang scaffolding from the bridge and work from the underside. Have it be movable the length of the bridge. I wasn’t sure how to put that together.”

At this point Weston can’t say enough about the resources O&G provided. Ideas and supplies flowed. “We’re at a great advantage at O&G with so many experienced people you can run ideas by. Leo Nardi helped me determine how to raise the cross beams on the supports. He knew we had heavy jacks in storage. When I needed a welder Jimmy Zambero sent Brian Donovan out right away. Mike Ciarlo and Bob Puzacke are a great team to get you what you need. Bobby was the one who suggested we use heavy rollers to slide the hanging scaffolding up and down the length of the bridge – he knew we had them for rolling Jersey barriers so they’d be beefy enough.

The hanging, rolling scaffolding idea worked brilliantly and the bridge was restored, safely.

Weston’s crew members varied, but included carpenter Jamie Blasette and a willing young laborer, Dakota Hock, who Weston took under his wing. The novelty of the location and the tasks turned out to be something they grew to love.

“It was a substantial undertaking and they did a really fine job,” according to Steep Rock Association’s Executive Director, Steve Law. “Mike had to be creative on the fly, especially on how to replace the cross beam. I can’t say enough good things about them. They were great to work with, very accommodating to the public who use the preserve. After the Hauser Bridge repair we moved them to our Hidden Valley preserve to re- pair the access to our Reich Bridge that O&G also built,” says Law. “Winter shut us down and I’m anxious for spring to get Mike back in there to finish up.