Life of an Ironworker:
The Collected Works of Joseph "Red" Irving
by Joe Irving Trafford Publishing

"This was a good job, where we had to do a lot of pile driving and foundation work of bridge piers also a complete new span on the east end of the bridge."

Joe Irving knows his vocation. That will be clear to both lay readers and fellow ironworkers. Ironworkers will certainly gleam things from Irving's more technical passages that will elude others. But laymen may walk away with something more precious–a new appreciation for projects, especially bridges, built by ironworkers like Irving in the past century.

Irving, a Canadian who wrote this, his second book, at the astounding age of 99, delves a bit into his personal life. But far more interesting is the work memoire. For nearly 50 years, from 1928 to 1976, Irving worked in the United States and Canada on everything from steam power plants and mining tunnels to high school auditoriums and bridges. He did a lot of bridge building and repairing. His technical recollections about things like the proper construction of falsework–temporary structures during in construction–and the sinking of piers into a river, as well as his opinions on famous bridge failures, make for great reading. That he did almost all union work offers an important glimpse into an era when skilled workers drew on union ties to get far-flung jobs. Also of interest are Irving's musings on the demise of great companies like Bethlehem Steel.

However, it's not just the source material that's good. Irving is also a fine penman. This is a well-crafted read that's as frequently witty as it is thoughtful. Irving's granddaughter considered reworking the manuscript, but in the end, she left it as-is. Good choice.

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