OAKLAND -- Who would dare scrap the iron troll who lives beneath the old Bay Bridge?
Not I, not by the hair on my chinny chin chin, said Bay Bridge Troll, er, Toll Oversight Committee spokesman John Goodwin.
"Why, that would, at the very least, cause one or more individuals to turn to stone, heap upon us countless years of poor harvests and perhaps even bring down the locusts," he said.
The 18-inch fierce-looking steel troll that blacksmith Bill Roan sculpted, and iron workers surreptitiously placed on the old span in the wake of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, is firmly welded to Bay Area's heart and lore. It even has its own Facebook page and a designated impersonator, if you will, in a replica set to go on public display Sunday at the Oakland Museum of California.
The troll's future home -- on the new eastern span or in a museum somewhere -- hasn't yet been decided.
But under no scenario will the troll ever find itself tumbling and twisting among the millions of pounds of World War I-era steel hunks of the old span soon headed for the recycle bin, promised Metropolitan Transportation Commission Chairwoman and Orinda Mayor Amy Worth.
"That's so not gonna happen," she said.
There's no real rush to decide. The section with the troll isn't scheduled to be demolished for two years. And who knows? A new troll could appear as surreptitiously as the last one, making the debate moot.
Goodwin's bosses recommend in a whimsical white paper, "For Whom the Troll Dwells," preserving the troll in perpetuity, carefully removing the little guy -- we're guessing about the gender here -- during the upcoming demolition of the 1936 bridge and moving him to a troll retirement home. Someplace indoors with heat and an ocean view, maybe?
But who will protect the next generation of motorists on the shiny new eastern span set to open in a few days? Must it have a new troll -- or should the old troll move over?
The bridge community is split on this question.
One camp favors renewing the old troll's contract. He's never missed a day of work or demanded higher pay, and he's highly effective, they say, as evidenced by the absence of, any earthquake-related bridge shutdowns on the span since he took up residence.
"It's up to the community, but personally, I'd like to see the existing troll moved to the top of the tower on the new bridge," said Brian Maroney, a veteran Caltrans bridge engineer who has spent the bulk of his career working on the new span.
The other camp insists it is a bad idea to put an old troll on a new bridge.
They won't say it out loud, but they privately suggest -- perhaps facetiously, perhaps not -- that the old troll may have had a hand in snapping those giant steel bolts on the new span back in March.
"It has to be a new troll with no allegiance to the old bridge," said one high-ranking bridge official who declined to be identified speaking on the sensitive issue.
Troll behavior recorded elsewhere offers few clues.
Trolls were first noted a millennium ago in medieval Scandinavia and appeared frequently in Norse mythology, according to "For Whom the Troll Dwells."
According to legend, they are extremely old, possess great strength and are master builders and skilled craftsmen. They also are intolerant to light -- they turn to stone when exposed to the sun -- and take refuge beneath bridges. Deeply loyal, the magical solitary creatures can be ornery and mischievous, too.
The link between bridges and trolls went global after 1859 when the Norwegian folk tale "Three Billy Goats Gruff" was translated into English and republished in countless children's storybooks.
The Bay Bridge troll is not the only modern infrastructure guardian, either, the white paper's authors explained.
Norway's famous Trollstiegen road sports "Troll Crossing" signs. The Fremont Troll guards Seattle's Washington Memorial Bridge, although he flouts troll protocol and he sits in a public area where children climb on him.
The Bay Bridge troll appeared secretly and without official approval on Pier E-9, near where a portion of the deck collapsed in the Loma Prieta earthquake. Since his arrival, no other bridge sections have fallen into the bay.
Frankly, whether he goes into retirement or moves onto the new span is not for mere mortals to decide, Goodwin concludes, tongue-in-cheek.
"Trolls appear and assume their duties under the powers of magic," he said. "Trolls are no more bound by the decisions of government than, say, leprechauns or the Easter Bunny.
"Either the magic happens or it doesn't. But we aren't going to do anything to get in the way."
Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773. Follow her at Twitter.com/lvorderbrueggen.
BAY BRIDGE on display
Learn more about the Bay Bridge through the eyes of artists:
Oakland Museum of California: "Above and Below: Stories From Our Changing Bay," opens Sunday with quirky stories of how people and nature have shaped the Bay Area. The exhibit includes a replica Bay Bridge troll sculpted by Bill Roan on loan from Rigging International of Alameda. The show runs through Feb. 23. Peter Stackpole's bridge photographs also remain on display through Jan. 26. The museum is at 1000 Oak St. in Oakland. Go to www.museumca.org for details.
San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries: Boilermaker, shipfitter and welder Joseph Blum's photographs documenting the construction of the replacement eastern span of the Bay Bridge are on display through Sept. 27 at San Francisco City Hall. See the photos on the ground floor at 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place in San Francisco. Go to www.sfartscommission.org/gallery for details.
-- Lisa Vorderbrueggen