“The contractors and the state were working together out there around the clock, seven days a week,” said Ney. Crews on the bridge worked to install steel pieces fabricated, in part, at a shop in Oakland.
Workers from the Oakland shop contacted a local blacksmith and artist named Bill Roan with an idea — to build a gargoyle to protect the repaired bridge section.
Roan did his research and found that gargoyles are not typically bridge guardians, so he proposed something a little more useful.
The troll is born
"Who's that tripping over my bridge?" roared the troll … "Now, I'm coming to gobble you up." — from "The Three Billy Goats Gruff"
The connection between trolls and bridges reaches back to the Norwegian fairy tale "The Three Billy Goats Gruff," published in the 1840s. The tale finds three billy goats trying to cross a bridge under which lives a scary troll. The three goats outsmart the troll to pass. The story was translated into English in the 1850s, and since then, trolls and bridges became inextricably linked in pop culture. As for what a troll actually looks like or does, that changes from culture to culture, bridge to bridge.
Roan decided a troll was what the repaired Bay Bridge needed to ward off evil spirits — seismic or supernatural. The result, said Ney, was, “particularly special. It was crafted out of a piece of metal that was from the [collapsed] bridge. Bill said he was trying to make a particularly fierce troll.”
Ney said the troll has webbed feet and hands, for swimming. He’s holding “a giant wrench welded into a bolt. And, he has a really long tongue, I mean his tongue is almost as long as half of his body.”
One night, under the cover of darkness, “[the troll] was placed on the bridge segment, facing the outside so no one else would really see it,” said Ney. After the retrofit was completed, the troll stayed on the bridge.
“Ultimately (the troll) did a good job out there for 24 years because we had no further, bigger earthquakes that impacted the structure,” said Ney.
When Caltrans began construction on the new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in 2002, the troll’s artist, Bill Roan, offered to make a new troll for the new bridge. Ney said they turned him down: “You can’t bring that sort of thing in the front door! This is where we talk about science and technology. That’s magic. The original troll came to Caltrans, we didn’t ask for him, and a new troll would need to be of the same ilk.”
No formal plans were made for a new troll. In fact, Caltrans’s official policy was “benign noninterference.” But when the new eastern span opened in 2013, a new, slightly taller troll was unveiled one night. Perched high atop a pier, the 2-foot troll is made of solid steel. He’s got a beard and tools in his hands.
Finding the troll