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Danger is his constant companion

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Being a steelworker on a big construction job is literally living on the edge, and that’s right where Ugo “Hokey” Del Costello likes to be.

“If I [screw] up,” says the project boss for the massive new Woodrow Wilson Bridge that will connect Maryland and Virginia across the Potomac River, “I could kill somebody. I made it all these years without doing that. I ain’t doing it on this one.”

Despite the extreme nature of his job, Del Costello is a leader in familiar ways:
  • He envisions the final product. Del Costello moved up the ranks quickly as a young man because of his uncanny ability to see in three dimensions how a structure could be built. With a great mind for mechanics, he also anticipates problems.

  • He notices details. Although Del Costello’s second hook-on man looks like he’s working slowly, the boss observes that he’s focused and never wastes a movement.

  • He’s obsessed with safety. In fact, that’s what Del Costello likes most about his derrick operator.

  • He hires men he can trust. They need to put their lives in each other’s hands. “These boys are going to be good,” he says. “They’re going to follow in my footsteps.”

  • He backs up his people. When his foreman threatened to slug an engineer from another company and the engineer complained, Del Costello told him: “Welcome to the ironworkers.”

  • He’s a taskmaster. Difficult but fair. That’s how he views himself.

  • He’s the boss. There’s always more than one opinion on how to do something, notes an engineer. But there’s only one alpha male, “and that’s Hokey.”
— Adapted from “Clear and Present Danger,” Michael E. Ruane, The Washington Post Magazine.

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