What makes Don Dulac’s job so different is its sameness. In 27 years as a painter he has used only one color, the fiery orange with which the builders of the Golden Gate Bridge chose to coat their landmark forevermore—gold itself being too prone to corrosion. For nearly 50 years the chilly salt air over San Francisco Bay has been eating at that finish and for nearly 50 years painters have been restoring it. Every workday when weather permits, Dulac, 55, climbs aboard a two-foot-wide scaffold and is hoisted hundreds of feet in the air, occasionally reaching to the very top of the bridge’s 746-foot twin towers. He is battered routinely by 30 mph winds (“It’s got to get to between 40 and 50 mph before they’ll pull you down”), and when the fog creeps in, it doesn’t come on little cat feet. The noise from sandblasting would make conversation with other workers impossible, even if Dulac weren’t wearing one of the air-hose-equipped hoods that supply compressed air for breathing and shield the painters from sandblasting debris.
Despite the conditions Dulac isn’t complaining. “We’re 80 percent of the way through sandblasting and spray-painting the entire bridge,” he says. “We used to use a pneumatic chipping gun. After that it was all brushwork. It took a lot more time, and the job wasn’t as efficient because chipping didn’t get all the rust off like sandblasting does. This job we’re doing now will hold up a lot longer.”
Dulac isn’t worried about painting himself out of a job, since the top coat must still be replaced constantly. Fear of heights isn’t a problem among the 8,981-foot bridge’s 32 painters either, he says. “If you’re afraid, you wouldn’t be here in the first place.” Still, a little fear would be justified. In 1967 Dulac saw one of his buddies accidentally plunge 180 feet to his death. And he has watched helplessly as several suicides have tossed themselves into the bay. More often, though, all that falls are stray drops of paint, sometimes splattering traffic below. When that happens, a crew removes the paint free of charge. “People come in swearing we dropped paint on them in all different colors,” Dulac says. “But it’s just not possible. We never use green paint up here.”