For 24 years, a small troll lived a quiet life on the Bay Bridge. He hid in a shadowed spot on a beam of the former eastern span. Sure, you say, a troll. But really! The wee steel creature was welded by a blacksmith after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and affixed to the repaired stretch of the bridge to symbolically ward off future damage.
Few have met him, but bridge workers and boaters have reported catching glimpses of the elusive troll over the years. And as construction came to a close on the new span this past fall, workers whisked him off to safety to avoid demolition.
The old troll in his secret hideout
In November the sculpture reemerged from a two-month vacation and was placed on public view at the Oakland Museum of California, where visitors can meet and greet him until February 23.Currently, his official retirement plans are still in the works.
So now that the troll is in the museum, who is doing troll duty on the new Bay Bridge? And wait, do we really need a new troll? Are you fucking with me? These are questions I fired at a stranger recently, while sailing beneath I-80 on the way to Treasure Island. Apparently this dude’s dad had helped make the new troll. Mind blown, I went digging for the fairytale-like facts.
The OG troll was created in 1989 by blacksmith and artist Bill Roan during the post-quake reconstruction. Roan was working with Michael Bondi Metal Design to repair the crumbled East Span when Mr. Bondi himself suggested they forge a gargoyle or whimsical badass of sorts and attach it to the bridge, rogue-style.
Inspired by the Norwegian tale of “Three Billy Goats Gruff,” Roan envisioned a troll with a dragon’s face, serpent-like tongue, and webbed hands clutching a spud wrench, and used pieces of the collapsed bridge to create the ugly-cute creature. The 14 to 24-inch troll (his size depends on who you ask and when – some weird folklore shit, I guess) was stealthily welded in place, sans permission of Caltrans authorities.
“In essence the troll is a protector, a good spirit,” Bondi told me. “He was made as a token of respect for those who worked hard at putting up the bridge, and in reverse, for those who repaired the bridge.”
Hence why the newest portion of the bridge needed another friend bolted to its belly. Bondi’s company was commissioned to make a second creature last year; a new hire who can pick up where the old guy left off. Bondi reports that the 2013 troll, called Junior, was created from a single block of steel and all the guys in his shop lent an artistic hand in its construction: Humberto Somayoa, Freddy Rodriguez, Alfonso Vasquez, Felipe Vasquez, Socrates Vasquez.
Junior’s nasty mug, intimidating horns, and awkward, spindly legs have been caught on camera, but no one has been able to confirm whether or not the sculpture has been assigned a home. Upholding mystique, The Bay Area Toll Authority wont give up the particulars of Junior’s newest digs, but spokesman John Goodwin ensures the spot will stay true to standard troll requirements.
“That he be kept in a shaded location, out of direct sunlight, less he be turned to stone,” he told me, grin detectable even over the phone.
It’s also rumored that the troll may be partially visible from the pedestrian-bike path. Don’t be surprised to see me there this weekend, with binoculars and perhaps, a couple of goats. Maybe his miniature sledgehammer will ping the steel hello.
Image of the old troll by billonahill via Flickr; images of Junior courtesy of Michael Bondi