By: Mark Abrams
It was a typical hot summer day in Tampa, Florida when we were working on the installation of a new 10 channel trunked radio system at the top of the building. In an area of the country like Florida where the land is flat, towers and tall buildings are required to get reliable radio communications since they do not have tall mountains to get the antenna height. The Barnett Bank building is located in downtown Tampa and was one of the tallest buildings in the downtown Tampa area. Since the height of the antenna above ground is the primary factor that determines the range of the radio signal, having the equipment located on top of one of the tallest buildings in the city provides the best radio coverage that can be obtained in the area.
We started the project by building the equipment at the local radio shop. This was a 10 channel 900MHz trunked repeater system that was configured to operate on top of the bank building where we had sufficient antenna space to place 5 transmit antennas with two transmitters utilizing each transmit antenna and one receive antenna which provides receive signal to all 10 repeater receivers. We completely assembled the system at the local radio shop and verified its operation. We then began planning to haul the repeater system to the bank building.
The equipment filled three full 7.5’ racks which had to be loaded into vehicles and transported to the bank building. We loaded all the equipment into the vehicles from the radio shop and proceeded to drive to the bank building. It was a 30 minute drive through normal Tampa traffic and since we started loading the equipment at 7AM, we did not get to the building until about 9AM. The equipment had to be partially disassembled and had to be properly loaded in the vehicles for safe transport to the site. There we proceeded to park in the loading dock area with our vehicles and arrange with the building management to be able to leave our vehicles there all day. We had to contact the building engineer to gain access to the room where the radio equipment was to be installed. As normal with any installation in a building, the process of making the site access available takes some time. While we were waiting, we loaded the equipment onto equipment dollies. We had over 1000 pounds of equipment to move from the loading dock to the radio room which included taking the elevator to the 40th floor and then hauling the equipment up the stairs to the radio room. (In most buildings, there are 1-3 floors above the highest floor that is serviced by the elevators which include many utility areas for the proper operation of the building electrical, mechanical and air handling systems.) Once we had access to the room, we proceeded to move the equipment up the elevators and then carrying the equipment up the stairs to the radio room. The process continued until we had all the radio gear up into the radio room.
Now was the task of reassembling the repeater system and checking it for proper operation. Each piece of equipment was bolted into the rack at the appropriate location per the drawing that we had made that depicted the proper way to assemble the equipment. Cables had been made by cutting them to length, labeling the cable and installing the connectors on the cables. In order for the cables to reach from one piece of equipment to the next, the equipment had to be assembled as it was before, otherwise some cables would be too short and some cables would be too long. Cables that are too long will work, but are aesthetically displeasing; however cables that are too short will not work at all. Therefore, it is imperative to place each piece of equipment in the correct location within the system.
We mounted the racks in radio room in the space where we were instructed to install our equipment. We assembled the equipment into the racks and proceeded to install the cables. We then fired up the equipment and proceeded to test all of the functions on each channel to verify the equipment operation. After the day was over, we had the equipment installed in the radio room and fully operational less the antenna system.
The next day, we still had to install the antennas on the roof of the building. This required a similar process of getting the equipment up to the top of the building, except that we were dealing with antennas and antenna cables instead of electronic equipment. We took the 5 transmit antennas, the antenna cables, connectors, clamps and placed them into the elevator. The receive antenna was taller than the transmit antennas. When we attempted to place the receive antenna in the elevator, it would not fit because it was too tall. The freight elevator had an extra tall area in the rear of the elevator car, but it still was not tall enough. The building engineer told us that we would have to get the elevator man out to the building to open the top hatch and allow us to have the antenna stick out the top of the elevator. So we waited and waited for the elevator man to arrive. Eventually, he showed up at the building at which time he informed us that he could not allow us to do what we wanted. After 15 minutes of arguing with him to no avail, we decided that we had to come up with a plan B to get the antenna to the roof of the building.
We considered several alternative solutions to getting the antenna to the roof of the building. We looked at lifting the antenna via helicopter, but we decided it was too expensive after we attempted to negotiate with a helicopter company and the local authorities. Next we looked at using a rope to lift the antenna over the side of the building from the ground. Unfortunately, the side of the building had a lot of glass so there was too great a risk of breaking one or more of the glass panes. Also, we did not have a rope long enough to reach the ground from the roof. We tried to get use of the window washing apparatus, but we were told that we could not use it unless the window washers were present. The window washer crew was working at another building and indicated that it would be about a month before they would be able to get to this building to assist us in lifting the antenna.
We were now down to one option which was not an attractive alternative, but it was time to move forward to complete the job. We had two men carry the antenna up the 40 floors through the stairwell. Each man took one end of the antenna and climbed up the stairs, one step at a time, approximately 18 steps per floor (except for the lobby level which was much taller) times the 40 floors plus the additional utility floors up to the roof. The antenna barely was able to negotiate the corners as they proceeded towards the higher floors where the stairwell became narrower leaving less maneuvering room to get the antenna around the corners. Our greatest fear was that we would get within a few floors of the top of the building and then be unable to get it up to the roof causing us to be required to bring the antenna down the 40 floors.
Have you every walked up 40 floors with two flights of stairs for each floor? Have you ever carried a 60 pound antenna with you going up the stairs? Have you ever had to get a tall object around a series of 180 degree corners, getting smaller as you proceeded upwards? Have you ever reached the brink of exhaustion, but continued to go out of pure desire to get the job done? This was a new experience for all of us and none of us knew if and when we were going to hit the wall and be unable to complete the task. The first 5-10 floors did not seem to be too bad, but as we proceeded upward, fatigue started to set in permeating our whole bodies and the ability to push forward kept diminishing with each step forward. It was necessary to stop and rest after each floor as we proceeded up the stairwell to the higher floors.
As we approached the 40th floor, we were far too exhausted to be able to hold our breath in anticipation of the insurmountable obstacle so we prayed instead that we would not find one and that we would eventually reach the roof. Closer and closer we came to the top of the building as the anticipation built up along with the complete exhaustion. Our hearts were pounding in our chests and muscle cramps were in abundance. Finally, we reached the roof, laid down the antenna and collapsed. Every bone in our bodies were screaming for oxygen, burning from lactic acid and our brains were completely in a fog, but we got the antenna up to the roof. There we lay on the roof for what seemed to be forever, attempting to determine if we were still alive, if we had made it to purgatory or possibly if we deserved to make it to heaven. We did not know, nor did we care enough to find out. We were completely numb, beyond a catatonic state where nothing mattered. We waited for our bodies to recover to the point where we could feel all the pain and exhaustion which took 15 minutes. It took an additional 15 minutes before we could muster the energy to stand up and walk off the pain and the cramps.
Now that we had the antennas on the roof of the building, we had to mount the antennas, run the cables, install the connectors and clamps; then bring the cables into the radio room. This took the rest of the day because all of us were in a complete state of physical exhaustion. We attached the antennas to the radio system and we were now on the air.
The day was over and we all went home or to our hotel rooms and collapsed in our beds never to see or taste dinner as it was far too much effort to get out of bed, ride the elevator to the restaurant, eat dinner and return to our room. If we had been snoring, we would have moved the furniture several feet. When we awoke in the morning, each of us had found a series of muscles that we did not remember having in our bodies. Each movement of those muscles was a constant reminder of the work the day before.
They say that “No good deed shall go unpunished!”