Turlock company helps restore U.S. Capitol Dome in Washington

jholland@modbee.comDecember 16, 2013 

— High above the halls of Congress sits a dome awaiting repair with help from a Turlock company.

Lock-N-Stitch Inc. is making metal “stitches” to be used on about 1,000 cracks in the cast iron that makes up most of the U.S. Capitol dome. It is part of the $59.55 million restoration of the dome, which is 147 years old and showing wear from the elements in Washington, D.C.

“It’s very exciting,” Gary Reed, the company’s chief executive officer, said Monday. “There’s a lot of patriotism. All the people involved in it feel a sense of making a contribution to history.”

Lock-N-Stitch, founded in 1990, has 43 employees at its plant on South Soderquist Road. It specializes in repairing cast iron and does work with other metals in engine blocks, industrial equipment and other uses.

The dome restoration started last month and is expected to take two years, according to the office of the Architect of the Capitol, which is supervising the federally funded effort. Crews will remove lead-based paint, repair and replace windows, stitch the cracks, apply new paint and do other work designed to keep the landmark safe.

Scaffolding will cover the exterior during the work. A canopy in the interior will keep debris from falling onto employees and visitors in the Capitol Rotunda. Most of the work will be done at night and on weekends.

Videos about the project, including details on the stitching, are at www.aoc.gov/dome/videos.

The Capitol opened on a small scale in 1800 and has undergone major expansions and restorations since then. A dome added in 1824 was replaced in 1866 by the current dome, which last was restored in 1959 and 1960.

Rain, snow, sleet and sunlight continue to damage to the dome, which reaches 288 feet above the ground if the Statue of Freedom atop it is included. Water leaks threaten prized artwork in the rotunda, such as the Frieze of American History.

The project is the largest to date for Lock-N-Stitch, which will make the stitches in Turlock and train the workers who will install them. It also will provide technical support.

“Lock-N-Stitch designed and developed a new double-hook pin that specifically works for the Capitol Dome,” said an email from Justin Kieffer, senior communications specialist for the Architect of the Capitol. “The interlocking threads pull the pieces together without stressing the original metal. A series of locks – metal pieces drilled and hammered into the metal across the crack in a perpendicular position spaced several inches apart – further strengthens the repair.”

Kieffer said repair methods using heat, such as welding or brazing, would not work on the type of cast iron in the dome.

Reed said the project is part of the growth of Lock-N-Stitch, which is looking to hire machinists for its everyday work.

Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers expressed gratitude for the Turlock-made stitches in a blog post.

“This is time-consuming work that must be done by hand,” he said. “For the next two years, the Capitol Dome may not look great aesthetically – but please know that when the scaffold is removed, the dome will be even more splendid than before, and we can all be proud of the work that was performed to ensure that it will stand for generations to come.”

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385.

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