Monday, August 17, 2009

Man Aloft! (Also I Just Woke Up)

So, I like open my eyes and someone has got Monday all over everything. Ew.

Worked in the wee small hours either last night or this morning, depending on which key you play it in.

Just as an exercise and bearing in mind that I was Miss Safety Officer and not of one the people doin' the scary stuff, imagine ("if you will," as Rod Serling said) that you have to work about nine hundred feet above ground, on a steel truss structure almost ten feet by ten feet. Imagine you can ride a tiny elevator to that height, at which point you must climb onto a narrow balcony-type platform and climb a conventional ladder up the outside of the truss for twenty feet and then the real fun begins: There is a platform atop the truss, which supports a pole about a foot in diameter and one hundred feet tall. You have to climb to the top of it. There are climbing pegs, but they seem to have been spaced for someone just under seven feet tall. To make matters worse, there is a gossamer-fine triple spiral of metal wire around the pole, through which you must reach to grab the pegs. The spiral of wire won't support your weight and must not be touched. Oh, yes, at two points, 33 and 66 feet up, there is a wide spot about four feet across; the pegs are a little longer there but you're climbing around an overhang.

All of this, mind you, lit only by the stars and the distant red lamps below.

Nowhere in this climb is there a place to rest and at no time do you have more than two points of contact. Once you arrive at the top, you are faced with an overhanging red light two feet across and nearly six feet tall, hinged in the center like a Ronson lighter, a huge light bulb in each half. It takes both hands to open it and replace the bulbs -- replacements you have carried all that way, dangling from your belt in a canvas bucket.

And on the distant horizon, lightning is flashing. Is it getting closer to you or farther away? You don't have time to watch.

Men head up to do that job standing tall and joking; they come back down a little quieter, with a tendency to smoke, sip coffee, stare off into the distance and sigh, "Damn, I'm glad we don't do that very often."


Anonymous said...

And folks who fly through the air ought to be grateful, but most never know. Indeed, they take it for granted the flashing red lights will work, and not know the effort involved.

I, for one, will stand your guys a drink, if we ever meet.

Tam said...


No way. Not for love nor money.

karrde said...


I've heard tales from guys who used to work on 33kV, 66kV, and 100kV power lines. (That's "k" as in kilo, and "V" as in Volt...) They say there's a distinct buzzing sound that can be heard near the wires. And that working alone in a small bucket on the end of a doesn't make it any easier.

But this story tops that.

There was one such tower across the street from my first foray into a University. I never saw the guys climbing up it, but I did occasionally wonder what they did when it was time for a little maintenance.

Jim said...

Roberta, could you not be ever-so-slightly more self-revealing? The Starship, for instance; is it WISH or one of its competitors? Do you associate with anyone who might remember my old friend Fred Heckman? Is an FCC permission slip ("first ticket," usually) required for your occupation?

I have a history with Indianapolis and its broadcasters, so when you relate the existential overload of what we technically referred to as "climbing that %^$&^*@# tower," my curiosity meter pegs.

Crucis said...

Brrr! And I have trouble when I climbed to the top of my 35' tower to adjust my beam antenna. I learned the hard way to not wear rubber-soled shoes. Steel reinforced arches only!

Drang said...

Yeah, I don't do stuff like that anymore...

Hey, didn't Mike Rowe do this once?

WV: lithe. Part of why I don't do stuff like this anymore, I ain't. Anymore.

Turk Turon said...

Wow, what a job!

Carteach said...

Count me a base coward then, as I would not do such a job for anything less than someones life.

There's little I am afraid of, and no man is on the list... but climbing to heights.... not a chance in hell.

Mr. Fixit said...

I am so afraid of heights, your description scared me.

I would not climb the pole. There would be one hell of a fight at the bottom.
And I still wouldn't go.

Mr Fixit

Stretch said...

And here I was complaining about slow business and poor sales. I'll turn the Bitch switch to off and give thanks I'm no longer rigging towers and antenna.

Jeffro said...

>teeth chatter<

Not this fat boy, no maam.

I don't even like climbing a freaking windmill, and it's scads closer to the ground.

Alan said...

That is why I no longer climb towers.

it's a job for the young and immortal.

(Well, I still climb the one in my back yard, but it's only 50 feet. Nothing at all, really. )

Tango Juliet said...

I remember climbing the forward mast of the good ol' DD-972 many times, many years ago. The catwalk where the VHF whip antennas were located was only 130' above the main deck.

That's quite a ways up as far as I'm concerned.

I can't imagine doing what you just described.

Old Grouch said...

View from above?

(Crazy Russians!)

NattyBumpo said...

I believe the phrase we used was "monkeys in the trees" I had one of those buckets full of a very large wrench and some very heavy nuts and bolts dumped from the top of a "short" cell tower once. I went back inside the relative safety of the concrete box under it. Never had the "opportunity" to climb a tower. I left that to others when they told me I couldn't base-jump off.

og said...

I have been around the 100 foot level on iron, and that was bad enough. A hundred feet in the air, you have a couple of seconds to contemplate your demise.

When I did ironwork, I saw new kids standing on the beams tossing pieces of wood down, counting the seconds until they hit, and blanching at the thought. I fell a few times,nothing high, 12 feet, 26 feet. I don't work aloft anymore.

Shermlock Shomes said...


Did all this take place near (above) the corner of 79th and Township? Hell, I can't even look up at one of those without getting dizzy!

Joseph said...

What Tam said...I have flown airplanes, no problem...but get me on a stepladder and I get the willies. I can overcome them, but it is difficult. You have my admiration, Roberta!

Roberta X said...

Jim: Fred Heckman is still a well-known local name, the FCC doesn't require (or even issue) 1st 'Phone tickets any more (I had one, as well as the GROL that replaced it, plus a "boxtop" Restricted, just in case), and I can't be much more specific -- the Lupine has rules about such things.

I can tell you I have at least toured the buildings at the base of every 1000' tower in town except for the original WISH site. And I was up to the original WRTV site on the old Merchant's Bank building a few times before the took the tower down.

Captain Tightpants said...

My father was a radio engineer years ago out west. One famous story about him involves such a tower - him standing at the base chatting, drinking two Coors beers calmly. His coworker asked if that was such a good idea, to which my father replied "Hell, I need the two just to consider doing this!"
Different times indeed. I will echo the others in saying you may enjoy that particular danger, I'll stick with the stuff I do!

Anonymous said...

It is true I'd do that before I pull off that stunt where seriously crazy people step from a helicopter to a hundreds-of-kV-transmission line to inspect them, but not before. I'd sooner rig up some apparatus to lay the building down on its side so I could work from the comfortable height of my thick-soled work boots.

Bizarre then that I enjoy flying? Well, I do.


dehakal said...

Actually I found it rather peaceful doing thickness inspection on the nozzles of of fractionation towers in the refinery's. Climb up to the top at around 200', clip a safety line then over the side walkway to get to the nozzles under the walkway. A couple of the towers I worked where less than 6' diameter and in a good breeze would have around a 5 to 10' sway at the top.

The interesting viewpoint is comparing height to depth. Doing commercial diving, you think working at 120' is deep, yet when you are 120' up a tower you look down and think 'that is not all that far at all.'

Then you accidentally drop your pager and watch it explode on impact.

rickn8or said...

After years of Naval Aircrew-ery, all it took was a climbing a 20' telephone pole to force my rapid-and-unexpected career change. Now, I do all my work with both heels on the floor.

Whatever they pay these people ain't enough.

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

Antenna riggers deserve everything they get paid and more.

When I was young and skinny, I might have been crazy enough to climb one of those things. I know I used to climb two stories up shaky wooden extension ladders to work on air conditioning units back in the old days, and I didn't think anything of that; it was just part of the job.

Now I'm old and fat and happy to let someone else do it. The highest I ever climb anymore is to my single-story roof to clean out the eavestroughs -- and I paid someone else to do that this year :)

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

something in my lower-abdomen/upper-thigh area just shrunk up a bit, reading that.

Anonymous said...

Lorimor, I spent plenty of time on both the forward and midships masts on DD-973 (now resting in deep water) the midships was more fun since you could get it rocking. I was much younger then, not enough money to get me up on a tower these days.

perlhaqr said...

I'm with Tam. I lost my appetite just reading that.

No way. *twitch* Hell, I have a hard time just climbing to the top of the Thunderdome.

Jim said...

Sigh. No first phone. I quess that means I can toss the study guide which I last opened in the Carter Administration. And my 3rd endorsed probably wouldn't worth much anymore even if it wasn't expired. I miss radio.

It's nice to hear Fred is still known around Indianapolis.