Sydney Harbor Bridge obsession paves way for tourism business

Not all bridges have fan-clubs, but Australia's Sydney Harbor Bridge is a superstar in the superstructure world.

For most of us, that famous arch is the gateway to the New Year, but for Paul Cave, the Sydney Harbor Bridge is personal, reports CBS News' Lee Cowan.

"Just slightly obsessive. Just a tiny bit," Cave said, laughing.

His father-in-law bought the very first train ticket to cross that bridge when it opened back in 1932. It's the centerpiece of Paul's extensive -- and expensive -- collection of bridge-related memorabilia, some 4,000 artifacts in all.

He even spent 17 years tracking down the sword used to cut the inaugural ribbon.

Having ephemera wasn't enough, however. Paul wanted to touch the bridge, to feel it shake under his feet. So one day, he talked a bridge foreman into letting him climb the bridge.

"I was pretty nervous," Cave said. "I mean, I was petrified, really, my knuckles as my leather shoes slid on those rails of that ladder. It was just mind-blowing."

So mind-blowing, he spent years and much of his own money trying to give others the same thrill.

The result was the Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb, an attraction Lonely Planet called one of the world's biggest adrenaline rushes.

As a tourist draw it was great, but as a business proposition, this was no easy sell.

"The research and the homework took a lot longer than we thought it would," Cave said.

Some 10 years in fact, figuring out the environmental, historical and most of all, safety issues involved.

Harnesses were specifically designed for the bridge climb.

"It's really a combination of the sort of equipment you use if you're cleaning the windows on a building or you're attached on a yacht," Cave said.

Even the protective suit was specially made to blend in with the bridge, so as not to distract drivers as you climb through its iron underbelly.

Paul essentially leases the bridge from the Australian government.

In exchange, he promised to use the tourist dollars to help pay for its upkeep.

He gets about 200,000 climbers a year who pay up to $350 a pop for a trip to the top. You get there by climbing more than 1,400 steps and ladders -- the same ones used by bridge workers themselves.

Surprisingly, it's not strenuous unless you're afraid of heights. As we climb about 40 stories above the water, we reach what everyone comes for, and we're told everyone says about the same thing:

"Wow."

The view is unsurpassed. Add in the wind and the sound of the cars far below, you've got the making of a memory.

Cave said it never gets old.

"Look, it always pushes a button for me. Every time."

Had he listened to all the naysayers, this may have never happened. It's not the only bridge climb in the world, but this one is Cave's passion.

"It was the pursuit of something that became an obsession and the pursuit of a journey. It's nice to get to the end and nice to have it happen," he said.

Not the end of the journey. Just the top.

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