Building starched white shirt

Published 12:06 am Wednesday, June 27, 2012

­William Merrill and Mayor Earl Johnson talk about the giant shirt Merrill is building for the city’s new monument to apparel workers.

William Merrill’s not a starched-white-shirt kind of guy, but he’s busy these days constructing a huge tribute to the men and women who spent their careers sewing those shirts for others.

Merrill, the owner of Wilco Welding, estimates that the frame for the huge shirt he’s making for the former headquarters of Alatex on River Falls Street weighs 1,400 pounds.

It is destined to be a monument to apparel workers, and to be dedicated on Labor Day, Mon., Sept. 3. Local artist Larry Strickland built a scaled model for the design, and Merrill worked with engineers at Clark Trailers on the design.

“First I went to the library and read everything they had on the Statue of Liberty,” he said. He learned that the lady who stands in the harbor of New York City was built by Gustav Eiffel, who later went on to design the Eiffel Tower.

The giant shirt he’s making will be 13 feet tall and will be 11 feet wide from elbow to elbow. It will be covered with a skin that is 3/32nds of an inch thick, and there will be seasonal ties. Merrill will construct them and someone else will paint them, he said.

A scaled model of the shirt with one of the proposed ties promoting the World Championship Domino Tournament.

This isn’t the first monumental project Merrill has undertaken for the city. He also built the obelisk that is the veterans memorial behind city hall. He gained national attention for that, and was featured on the cover of a national welding magazine.

“Nobody could believe that one man and a teenaged helper built it,” he said.

The former Alatex corporate office is being renovated as the new home of the Chamber of Commerce and as a visitor’s center.