Want to buy the Mackinac Bridge? Detroit artist hopes to bid on pieces

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

You might look at 470 pounds of pitted steel original deck grating from the Mackinac Bridge and see 470 pounds of pitted steel original deck grating from the Mackinac Bridge.

Detroit artist Tim Burke sees majesty. History. A bench. End tables. Opportunity.

Unfortunately, he doesn't see any way he can place a bid just now on one of five 55-gallon drums of authentic Mighty Mac scrap, up for auction through May 18, courtesy of the state of Michigan. But he's working on that.

Barrels that weigh about 470 pounds and contain around 140 pieces of grating are on sale until May 18 when the auction closes.

Among Burke’s specialties is repurposing chunks of demolished structures. His public works include a bench at the Boll Family YMCA in downtown Detroit that’s crafted of slate from the Detroit College of Law, tile from the Lucy Thurman YWCA and metal bars from the canopy of the Detroiter Hotel, all gone to dust and memory.

“A lot of people know those buildings and maybe have an association with them,” he said. “But the Mackinac Bridge, everybody knows it. That pushes things to another level of ‘Wow!’ factor.”

As of late Sunday night, the five barrels of original chunks of bridge had drawn 74 bids between them. The top bids ranged from $725 to $535, a somewhat inexplicable gap since the description of each is identical.

Each drum holds about 140 pieces, according to GovDeals.com, ranging in size from 5 by 8 inches to 5 by 11 inches. "Condition is used," the listing says helpfully, with "section loss appropriate to steel that is 60 years old."

Oh, and there may be traces of lead paint, commonplace when the bridge opened on schedule on Nov. 1, 1957. "Much of this is gone," the description says, "but buyer will have to sign a 'Hold harmless agreement.'"

Not a concern, Burke said. Though he’s fond of bright colors, “you leave the pieces as they are,” with touches of mottled black, rust and green. “Put about five coats of clear coat on 'em, you’re safe.”

Burke, 61, used to have a well-known home and studio across from Tyree Guyton's Heidelberg Project in Detroit. He's rehabbing an eastside house between Chalmers and Alter Road for the same purposes, which is why he lacks spare cash for spare bridge parts.

“I could make a coffee table with that,” he said, pondering artistic options. “Weld it back together, put a glass top on it. Something else functional, like a bench. Or something non-functional.”

The more he ruminated, the more he questioned his decision not to bid. Late Sunday, he launched a GoFundMe campaign. And if a sponsor found him on Facebook, he said, his fee would be eminently negotiable.

“That’s going to be once in a lifetime,” he said. “Once in a freaking lifetime!”

One potential complication is that the barrels are in St. Ignace, and winning bidders will only have 10 days to haul them off. But if Burke can find a way to corral 470 pounds of historic metal, he'll cross that bridge when he comes to it.


Twitter: @nealrubin_dn