By: Mark Abrams
Four years after moving into our new office building in Paramount, we finally managed to get the permit to construct the tower. We purposely did not include the request for the tower when we originally acquired the property due to the fact that we expected the City to create significant delays in the granting of our permits for the remodeling and construction if the request included a radio tower. As it turned out, we were right about the concern and it took about 4 years for the City to finally grant our tower permit after multiple hearings and filing a lawsuit against the City for violating its own rules simply because they do not like radio towers.
Now that we had the permit, it was time to build the tower. We hired Jim Gianni of Gianni & Associates who was the contractor that built our new tower site at Mt. Lukens. His company had done a magnificent job constructing the building under the adverse conditions of being at the top of a mountain. Therefore, in comparison to constructing a building and tower at Mt Lukens, constructing the foundation for a smaller tower at our office building seemed like a trivial project that would be easy to accomplish.
We gave Jim the plans for the tower foundation which required a drill rig to drill a round hole approximately 6 feet in diameter and 9 feet deep on the side of our existing building. The hole was sufficiently large enough in diameter to place the entire tower into the hole and fill it with concrete. However, the design of the foundation called for setting anchor bolts into the concrete base which extended to about 3 feet above ground. This created a huge foundation which represented about 12 feet which provided for a good safety margin. Typically, with free standing towers, you want to have about 10% of the tower in the ground. Since the basic tower was 70 feet tall, that would mean 7 feet in the ground, but we were going 9 feet deep with another 3 feet above ground for a total of 12 feet. This provided for a very strong foundation which was required due to the soil lacking density and cohesion.
The location on our property that was to have the tower installed was inaccessible from the street by heavy machinery. In order to perform the construction, we needed to access the location from the rear of our next door neighbor’s property. We had to remove the fence to perform the construction and reinstall the fence after the job was finished, so the fence was removed in the area of construction. Also, the concrete in the area needed to be saw-cut to expose the dirt for the drill rig. Then the drill rig was brought in and they proceeded to drill the hole. This created a large amount of material that had to be removed from the site, so a dump truck was brought in to haul away the excess dirt.
The drilling was completed in one day which opened up the timetable for installing the concrete forms. A rebar cage was built off site and transported to our office to be lifted into the foundation hole to provide for reinforcing of the concrete foundation. Then an anchor bolt form was brought in to properly space the anchor bolts that would hold the tower base in place. The anchor bolts were properly secured into the concrete rebar cage with additional rebar and tie wires to secure the anchor bolts in place for the proper positioning of the tower within the foundation. Once this was completed, it was time to install some ground rods for the tower and pour the concrete. The concrete pour was scheduled out two days so that we would have the concrete specialists present for the finishing work on the concrete and to have the special inspector who would test the concrete to verify that it had the proper mix and structural strength. We would also need to have an uninterrupted supply of concrete. It would take two trucks of concrete and we did not want to have any significant delay between the two concrete truck loads which would compromise the structural strength of the foundation if we did not make it one continuous pour. The concrete masons used a vibrator in the concrete to minimize the possibility of having a void in the concrete which would compromise the structural strength. Once the hole was filled, the masons prepared the finishing touches on the slab by smoothing the surfaces and rounding the edges. Once the concrete pour was finished, we needed to wait for 30 days for the concrete to fully cure to the proper structural strength.
During the 30 day waiting period, there was time to finish the concrete work around the foundation, finish the grounding and restore the fence between our property and the neighboring property. Then we received delivery of the tower pieces into our parking lot. We proceeded to sort out all the tower parts and start assembly of the tower. The plan was to build the entire tower minus the bottom section (section #2 @ 20-40’, section #3 at 40-60’ and section #4 @ 60-70’) laying down in the parking lot so that we could have a crane lift up the tower and place it on top of the bottom section (section #1 @ 0-20’) of the tower which was assembled piece by piece onto the tower foundation. However, that portion of the project needed to wait until the concrete had fully cured.
Finally, the 30 day waiting period was over and it was time to start the construction of the bottom section of the tower onto the foundation. Each of the 3 tower legs weighed a several hundred pounds which made it extremely difficult to be handled without a crane. One at a time, we managed to get each of the legs into place and secured to the tower anchor bolts. We then began the process of installing the tower braces that hold the 3 legs together into a single tower section. As we completed the tower braces, we were in awe looking at the bottom section of the tower. It had been 4 years since we started the project by applying for the permits and now the completion of the task was within our grasp. The anticipation on our part of having the tower completed had built up to the point that we were ready to explode with excitement. This was going to be our crowning achievement at our office. The tower would complete what started almost 5 years earlier when we first found the property.
Now that we had the bottom section of the tower installed on the tower foundation, we finished the rest of the tower lying down in the parking lot including attaching the cross-arms onto the tower. We thought that the whole process of bolting the upper portion of the tower to the lower section that we had already installed would be a easy task that would only take about an hour or two. It was time to order the crane to come over in the morning so that we could have all day to complete the tower installation in case something went wrong. But what could go wrong since we spent so much time planning every aspect of the job in great detail? The day arrived for the crane to show up and our crew was ready for the task. The crane positioned itself in the parking lot so that it could lift the tower over the top of the building and lower it onto the completed first section of the tower. The crane extended its outriggers to stabilize itself so that it could lift thousands of pounds of tower steel while extending out about 50 feet to reach the other side of the building. The crane operator then had to find the correct location for the tower and lower it onto the first section of the tower. The tower base was on the other side of the building, so the crane operator could not see the location he was aiming to reach. Fortunately, we knew where to get some two-way radios which we used to communicate from the tower base as we were being the crane operator’s eyes to help direct the crane operator to place the tower in the correct location.
It was an amazing sight to see the tower being lifted up into the sky as the crane began to lift the tower after rigging the tower with the lifting straps. The tower was floating in the sky as though a heavenly force was responsible for the tower defying gravity. The tower slowly moved up and when it was high enough, it began to travel towards the opposite side of the building. Once it reached the other side, the tower had to be moved over to the location of the tower foundation so that the tower could be set on top of bottom section. All seemed good as the work progressed.
As the tower was about to be brought into place, Loren and I climbed up the bottom section of the tower to get to where the bolts had to be installed to mate the two sections together. The crane lowered the tower an inch at a time, slowly approaching the tower base like the crane operator could see through the building. He exhibited his extreme skill in maneuvering the tower into place like it was magic that he had practiced over and over again for years until it was perfection. We were now about to succeed in the culmination of the 4 years of work that were required to get to this point. The anticipation on the part of Loren and I was extreme and the satisfaction of beating the City over the right to install the tower was surging through our veins.
The crane operator continued to inch the tower towards the tower base and finally arrived at destination. Each of the 3 tower legs had a flange plate with four 1” diameter holes, so it would take a total of 12 bolts to connect the two sections together. Twelve bolts to finally have the tower installed. We anticipated it taking only a minute or two for each bolt, so it should take us less than a half an hour from this point to be finished installing the tower. We started with the first of the three legs installing the leg bolts that would hold the bottom tower section to the rest of the tower. We easily placed those bolts into the holes in the leg flange plates that were used to mate the sections of tower together.
Unfortunately, that is when things started to go very wrong. We were trying to get the tower to mate up with the bottom section, but the top of the bottom section #1 did not seem to mate with the bottom of tower section #2 that had been lifted by the crane. The square flanges at the bottom of the tower legs didn’t seem to mate properly in all cases. We could mostly line up two legs, but then the 3rd leg flange seemed to be considerably twisted and we could not get the bolts into place. We tried multiple times and could not get the flanges to match. In desperation, we loosened all the bolts on the bottom section (0-20’ section #1) which was connected to the foundation. It seemed to help, but we were still unable to get all the bolts in place. Now we tried to loosen all the connecting bolts on the next section connected to the rest of the tower (20-40’ section #2) which also seemed to help a little. However, climbing up the tower more than we already had done seemed to be too risky because the tower was being held up by the crane and it was not properly attached to the lower section #1.
There is a device used in assembly of towers called a drift pin. It is a long tapered pin that is placed in a vacant hole between two flange plates that would mate two tower sections together by applying leverage with the pin to force the top plate to move relative to the bottom plate. At the top of the pin, it is about 1.5” diameter and at the bottom of the pin it is about 3/8” with a rounded tip which was used to bring two flanges together. It seemed like one of the 3 tower legs was twisted which the other two tower legs seemed to mostly line up in place. We did not have a drift pin, but we had one of the guys in the shop take one of our large bolts and grind it to make a makeshift drift pin to assist us in getting the tower leg flanges lined up so that we could get all the bolts in place. (While this fiasco was unfolding, the crane and operator were patiently waiting at $150 per hour while we tried to solve the problem with which we were faced.) We proceeded to pull out all the bolts holding section #1 and section #2 together and then attached the one tower leg that seemed to be twisted the most out of place. We got all 4 leg bolts in place and then tried twisting the tower to get the other two legs to line up in place, but we needed more torque. Therefore, we took a piece of pipe and attached it horizontally to the bottom of section #2 which gave us a greater twisting force. I was pulling as hard as I could on the torque pipe while Loren was using the makeshift drift pin to force the holes to line up so that the leg attachments bolts could be inserted into the holes. This allowed us to get the other two legs mostly lined up in place. Loren managed to get two bolts in the 2nd leg flange and then I let go of the torque arm while the two of us went to work on the 3rd leg. Loren was attempting to insert the bolt while I was cranking as hard as I could on the drift pin when he managed to get the first bolt in place. Then we got the bolt on the opposite side of the flange in place with torque applied to the drift pin in one of the other holes. Now that we had the two opposite end bolts inserted, the last two bolts were relatively easy to install. We then used the drift pin to force the last tower flange to line up well enough so that we could insert the third bolt on the flange. With three of the flange bolts in place, we were finally insert the last flange bolt into the 2nd leg which now completed the task of getting all the flange bolts inserted. Now, all we had to do was to tighten all of the bolts in section #1 and section #2 and then install the PAL nuts which prevent the regular nuts from loosening and possibly falling out.
At this point in time, we could have had the crane disconnect from the tower, but we were concerned that it might be dangerous with so many of the tower bolts loose. So we had the crane continue to hold the tower loosely while we started the process of tightening all of the bolts on section #1 and then section #2. Once we were done, we climbed up the tower to release the strap that was holding up the tower from the crane. The crane was then free to retract the boom and prepare the crane for transport. One by one, the crane released all of its outriggers and retracted them. The crane boom was secured and the crane operator prepared to leave with a fat check for their patience and skill. The work with the crane was finished, but our job was not done. There was still plenty of work to be done on the tower which is more in line with the typical work that we do in the ordinary course of business. We rarely install towers, but we regularly will install antennas, cables and other hardware on towers. The tower had the cross-arms installed on the tower, but lacked the cable tray, antennas, cables and other hardware which we needed to install. The job of getting the tower installed was exhausting with the work that we had done, so we decided that we were finished with the tower for the day since the anticipated 30 minutes of work turned into 3 hours and 30 minutes of work. Tomorrow was another day in which we could start the next phase of work on the tower.
We had already installed the cable entry plate for the tower and had used it to bring some temporary antenna cables into the office from the roof of the building. However, now we had planned at least 20 different antennas including 2 microwave dish antennas to be installed on the tower along with the cable ladder and the cables. This work would wait for another day when we could start fresh in the morning. The job had been successful in spite of the challenges that we faced that seemed like it was going to cause us to fail this day. Tomorrow is another day and a day that will be as successful as today because we never give up once we have set our mind to accomplishing a task. The tower will be finished and stand as a monument to our refusal to quit in the face of adversity.
As a final note, the City of Paramount who fought us to prevent us from building our tower over 25 years ago has come to MRA and rented tower space from us on our Paramount tower to facilitate their data system which consists of 4 microwave links that tie various City of Paramount facilities together using our tower as a central hub because it is the only way that the City could tie all those locations together. I am told that the best way to get back at someone for being wronged by them is to take their money.
Payback can be a bitch . . . . . . . .