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Gatschet family a construction giant — from Woodbridge Dam to BART

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Posted: Thursday, January 5, 2006 10:00 pm

Tim and Bryan Gatschet were busy surveying the gushing Mokelumne River under their feet at Woodbridge Dam through the fog on a recent afternoon.

The dam is something they're proud of; it has their name on it.

As project manager for F&H Construction, Tim Gatschet, 58, checks with his crews and subcontractors to make sure the nearly completed dam - which replaces the dam that has served the Lodi area for a century - will allow the river to flow or stop with the push of a button. He also makes sure that salmon have an easier time swimming upstream through new fish ladders.

Gatschet's son, Bryan, 33, is a crane operator for Mid-State Steel Erectors in Stockton. He most recently elevated the steel for the pedestrian bridge that will be used by Woodbridge Irrigation District employees as they perform maintenance work on the $8.5 million dam. Both of them live in Lodi.

To put it simply, the Gatschets have multi-million dollar construction projects in their blood. And it goes back four generations, starting with Tim's grandfather, William Gatschet, who helped construct Shasta Dam in the late 1930s.

"It's in the Gatschet blood somewhere," Tim Gatschet said.

The Gatschet stamp can be found on many a familiar landmark. Locally, it can be found on Hutchins Street Square, Lodi's new Public Safety building on Elm Street and the remodel of the clubhouse at Woodbridge Golf and Country Club.

Elsewhere in California, the Gatschet family has contributed to the construction of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, the Stockton East Water District's treatment plant, the Highway 4-Interstate 5 interchange in Stockton, grain silos in Alaska, the expansion of San Francisco International Airport and the parking garage at Banner Island Ballpark and the new arena in Stockton.

"I think it's neat," Bryan Gatschet said, describing his father's work. "He can drive by here, point and say, 'I built that.'"

Four projects at once

Right now, Tim Gatschet is managing four projects. In addition to the new Woodbridge Dam, he divides his time between a sedimentation basin at the Stockton East Water District on East Main Street, an elementary school in Turlock and a fire station in Merced.

Major projects built by Gatschet family

• Shasta Dam (William)
• Hutchins Street Square (Tim)
• New Woodbridge Dam (Tim and Bryan)
• Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) (Tim and Paul)
• Kaiser building in downtown Oakland (Tim and Paul)
• Hearst Castle kitchen (Paul)
• Interstate 5-Highway 4 interchange in Stockton (Tim)
• A pumping station 18 miles south of Los Banos that lifts water from lower elevations to higher ones on the canal that transports water from the Delta to the southern San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.
Source: Tim Gatschet

He takes it all in stride, showing good humor and an easygoing demeanor.

"I've always loved driving nails and building things," Tim Gatschet said.

In fact, his first construction "job" came at the tender age of 7, when he steered a pick-up truck while sitting in the foreman's lap. That was in the East Bay, where his late father, Paul Lewis Gatschet, supervised carpenter crews for 47 years for Stolte, Inc.

Tim Gatschet's roots go back to Hearst Castle, where his parents not only worked, but met. From 1944 through 1947, Paul Gatschet built the three-story kitchen at Hearst Castle. During the same time, a woman named Ollie was the switchboard operator for William Randolph Hearst.

Ollie also lived in the castle's Gold Room and met such movie stars as Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart and Marian Davies, who was reportedly Hearst's long-time mistress.

But Ollie must have found Paul Gatschet more attractive than Gable or Stewart, as the two fell in love while working at Hearst Castle. It was while they worked at the castle that Tim Gatschet was born, on Feb. 17, 1947, in Atascadero.

Now 94 years old, Ollie Gatschet lives in Redding - three miles from Shasta Dam, Tim says with family pride. She has pictures and personal gifts from Davies and other notables who visited Hearst Castle.

"I've been down there a lot," Tim Gatschet said.

One of Tim's recent highlights took place five years ago, when he took his mother back to Hearst Castle. They were given a personal tour that isn't given to just any paying customers. After all, the Gatchets are important to the castle's history.

Tim Gatschet was only 6 months old when his family moved to San Lorenzo. His dad's work at Hearst Castle was completed by then, so they needed to move to the East Bay.

Tim Gatschet got his first job with Stolte, his father's employer, at the age of 16.

"I just loved what he was doing," Tim said.

Bryan Gatschet said virtually the same thing - he enjoyed watching his father on his construction projects.

"I like playing with cranes, basically big Tonka toys," Bryan said.

Paul and Tim Gatschet - father and son - worked together on several projects for Stolte over the years. They include a 17-mile stretch of BART tracks from Fremont to Oakland from 1968 to 1972 and the I-5 interchange at Highway 4 in Stockton.

"I'm not the kind of person who can sit behind a desk all the time," Gatschet said. "I have to be out doing something."

Tim Gatschet split up with his father on a professional basis in 1972, when he joined F&H Construction in Stockton, where he has been ever since. His father retired in 1981 and died four years later.

Building Hutchins Street Square

Tim Gatschet particularly enjoyed remodeling Lodi's Hutchins Street Square's theater and senior area. He said he feels immense satisfaction from people using and enjoying the building.

The performing arts center, which Gatschet helped remodel, was completed in 1998.

One of the most unusual jobs Gatschet had was in the mid-1980s, when he removed a 19th-century cemetery in French Camp to make room for the county jail. There were no names - just numbers - to go with the remains, which were taken to Lodi's Cherokee Memorial Park. More than 3,000 bodies were cremated and placed in individual urns before being buried there, said Chuck Irwin, president of Cherokee Memorial Park.

Bryan Gatschet has built several steel erection bridges, worked on the expansion of San Francisco International Airport, the parking garage adjacent to Stockton's Banner Island Ballpark and Stockton Arena and many structures at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He will soon be part of a crew constructing an 11-story building in downtown Oakland.

Tim Gatschet and his wife of 37 years, Donna Lee, lived in Stockton for 35 years before moving to Lodi in 2003. In addition to Bryan, they have a son, Chris, 37, who lives in Acampo. Like his brother, Chris is a crane operator, but with a different company - Hatton Crane Service.

Tim Gatschet is proud of his family history, whether it be at Hearst Castle or the construction industry.

He enjoys puttering around with woodworking and enjoying his family, which includes his six grandchildren.

So when does Gatschet plan to build his last building or dam?

"I'm going to keep doing it till I don't enjoy it anymore."

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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