Tampa Steel Erecting Co., which built Spaceship Earth, celebrates its 75th anniversary

TAMPA – The story of Tampa’s connection to an iconic Florida tourist attraction begins with a German boxer’s 67th victory.

This fighter’s right hook in the fifth round ended Bob Clark Sr.’s boxing career in 1932.

Clark Sr. hung up his gloves and lived like a tramp.

His travels took him to Tampa, where he founded the Tampa Steel Erecting Co., which made Spaceship Earth – the giant golf ball-shaped attraction that has been Disney World’s epcot symbol since the opening of the theme park in 1982.

Tampa Steel Erection also helped build launch towers at Cape Canaveral, Shamu Stadium in Orlando, and the 39-story One Tampa City Center in downtown Tampa.

Today, the company founded in late 1945 celebrates its 75th “full year” in business, making it “the oldest steelmaking company in the state,” said Bob Clark Jr. , who has run the family business since the 1980s.

Today, the name of the company is incorrect.

Tampa Steel Erecting has not performed on-site assembly since the early 1990s, when working at the Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa, Clark Jr. said.

Instead, they focus on making bridges.

They create each steel piece on their 35-acre campus at 5127 Bloomingdale Ave.

“We then put it together like a giant toy set to make sure it’s correct, then take it apart and ship it” to be erected by another company on site, Clark Jr. said.

Bridges manufactured by the company include the 4,700-foot-long Casco Bay Bridge in Portland, Maine, and the Margaret McDermott Bridge in Dallas, which features 328-foot arches.

Bridge making has been a successful specialty, Clark Jr. said, and an appropriate specialty given his father’s desire to travel the country as a young man.

From left to right: John Clark, Bob Clark Sr. and Bob Clark Jr. in 1996. [ Times (1996) ]

From the memoir of Clark Sr.:

Raised in South Georgia as a child, Clark Sr. helped support his family of 12 by hunting and selling rabbits and possums, working on local farms, and chopping the wood that fueled them. wood-burning locomotives. But he believed boxing was his ticket to financial success.

Coaching by William Stribling Jr. – who amassed 256 wins, 129 by knockout, against just 16 losses – Clark Sr. was 18 when he competed and won his first professional fight.

After also eliminating his next two opponents, he considered making boxing his full-time career.

Then the German hunter made him understand.

Boxing had earned Clark Sr. $ 7.50 at this point, which he said was not worth the physical cost.

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So, he retired from sports to become a bum during the Great Depression.

Related: St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Tampa celebrates 150 years

The tramp, Clark Sr. explained, was honorable. The hobos were working and were willing to travel to find work. But there were rules and tips, he said.

When looking for a freight car to sleep on on a rainy night, Clark Sr. said they would choose one that was partially loaded. A full or empty freight car usually had to be shipped in the morning, and sleepers would sometimes wake up miles away.

In 1933, Clark Sr. got on the train and traveled to Texas, where he worked 10 hours a day digging ditches for oil pipelines. The salary was $ 20 a week and he slept in a “tramp jungle,” a makeshift community of itinerant workers living in boxes or on the ground. Dinners were cooked over fires. The ponds were tubs.

He then came to Florida to work dredging Lake Okeechobee. He remembers hitchhiking on the last leg of this trip with a Baptist preacher driving a car without headlights. Clark Sr. said he was not a religious man but prayed all night with this preacher.

He met his wife, Mary, while dredging in South Bay.

They then moved to Tampa, where Clark Sr. worked in the shipyards during World War II.

Tired of traveling and seeing the potential of the developing city of Tampa, in October 1945 Clark Sr. founded the Tampa Steel Erection Co., purchasing equipment with $ 1,500 he had saved.

He offered $ 190 for his first job, erecting steel structures for an estuary project. His expenses were $ 45.

Early work included erecting steel structures for the Florida Brewing Company in Ybor City and juice concentrators for Minute Maid in Orlando.

Clark Jr. joined the company in the 1960s.

They expanded into the manufacturing sector in the 1970s, and the son took over as president of the company about a decade later.

Still, Clark Jr. said, “My father came to work until he died in 2005.”

Clark Jr., meanwhile, has ventured into other ventures as well.

He’s been president of the Miss Tampa Pageant since 1993 and, since 2001, has hosted weekly networking lunches at Columbia Restaurant.

But Tampa Steel Erecting Co. remains his focus, he said.

The business continues to “thrive,” said Clark Jr., but he prefers a different word.

“We survived,” he laughed.

What does it take to survive?

“Lucky,” said Clark Jr., “and a lot of hard work. This is what my father founded us on: hard work.

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