KVLY-TV
March 2, 2015 12:29 PM   Subscribe

If I asked you where the tallest structure in the Western hemisphere was located, would you say North Dakota?

The KVLY-TV mast located in Blanchard, North Dakota - just North of Fargo - and it stretches 2,063 feet into the sky. It is the fourth-tallest man-made structure in the world, but it was the tallest between 1991 and 2010, when the Burj Khalifa skyscraper was completed in Dubai. It was built in 1963 and took 33 days to complete the tower with an 11-person crew and cost a half a million dollars.

To fix the tower, one can take a 20-minute elevator ride to the base of the antenna, which reminds me of this previously on Metafilter. From the fact sheet provided to visitors (although they try to discourage casual visitors, you can book an appointment to see the tower, but not to ride to the top): "If a worker on the antenna dropped his or her wrench, it would be traveling at a speed of 250 miles per hour when it hit the ground."
posted by sockermom (58 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
20-minute elevator ride

Nope nope nope nope noooooooooe pe.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:34 PM on March 2, 2015 [13 favorites]


Yeah but can you get married while hanging off the side?
posted by Poldo at 12:40 PM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


And here is how you change the light bulb at the top of the tower
posted by growabrain at 12:41 PM on March 2, 2015 [12 favorites]


Oh my gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawd. Can you imagine how much that thing must swing back and forth in the wind?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:42 PM on March 2, 2015


Probably not very much, with all the guy-wires connected to it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:44 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


That’s right — five miles away from the KVLY tower, there’s a second TV tower that reaches 2,060 feet. That tower, KXJB, which broadcast a competing station, has fallen down and been rebuilt twice — first in 1968 when a helicopter got caught in the guy wires, killing four, and again in 1997 after what Jenson called a “freak ice storm.”

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH
posted by the phlegmatic king at 12:45 PM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


I forgot to include the specific factoid in the post (I think it's in the fact sheet link) but in 70mph winds the light on the top moves 10 feet. Yikes!
posted by sockermom at 12:46 PM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah but can you get married while hanging off the side?

Oh my god what. I've actually stood on the Ledge at Sears Tower for the 2 seconds necessary to take a picture, but that is just... no. No no no no no
posted by kmz at 12:47 PM on March 2, 2015


AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH
posted by the phlegmatic king


Anti-eponywhatsit
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 12:48 PM on March 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the usual disclaimer is "free-standing" which disqualifies huge towers stabilized by guy-wires.

CN Tower, Toronto, Western Hemisphere, blah blah blah.
posted by GuyZero at 12:50 PM on March 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


"The fatality rate in this industry is extraordinarily high - tower workers are more than 10 times as likely to be killed on the job as construction workers," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels.
They should be allowed to carry guns.
posted by mazola at 12:51 PM on March 2, 2015 [21 favorites]


The page behind the fact sheet link is wonderfully, gloriously obsessive: "one of the more exciting Thursdays of our long and questionably sane tower-hunting existence."
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:52 PM on March 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


CN Tower, Toronto, Western Hemisphere, blah blah blah.

It's inexplicably called the "sky tree" in the article.
posted by indubitable at 12:55 PM on March 2, 2015


Yeah, the omission of the CN Tower kind of grated, but for an American audience I can see the rationale behind what they did include: the buildings/towers actually taller than it ,and shorter ones that everyone has heard of.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:03 PM on March 2, 2015


you learn such things when you become a trivia host
posted by asfuller at 1:05 PM on March 2, 2015


It hasn't always been called the KVLY tower -- the callsign was originally KTHI because the tower was so "high". They even had a mascot -- Katy High*, a 6-foot-1-inch beauty queen from Wisconsin.

* self-link
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:06 PM on March 2, 2015 [8 favorites]


There's a long line of these guys that run by one of my former workplaces. One day, while driving to work, I noticed a helicopter hovering dead still right at the tip of one of the highest arms. As I got closer, I realized that there was man, sitting outside the copter on one of the skids doing god-knows-what to the tower. Maybe changing a light bulb? That was too crazy for me.

But, at least he had the copter. That dude climbing the tower just to change a bulb? nopenopenopenope.

Why don't they use LEDs or something?
posted by Thorzdad at 1:08 PM on March 2, 2015


Here's the video referenced in the previously. (Broken on original previously).
posted by slipthought at 1:10 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH
posted by the phlegmatic king at 9:45 on March 3


Gross. Go to the bathroom, close the door, turn on the fan, turn on the faucets, and then while the toilet is flushing, do that.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:13 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


How do you build something like that?

I wonder if they build it laying on the ground, and then lever it up into place with winches on the guy wires?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:13 PM on March 2, 2015


If I asked you where the tallest structure in the Western hemisphere was located, would you say North Dakota?

Yes.

/grew up in North Dakota
posted by Windigo at 1:17 PM on March 2, 2015 [8 favorites]


How do you build something like that?

Well first off, trust me, you're gonna want some buddies to help you. Whoo-eee.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:21 PM on March 2, 2015 [12 favorites]


I would want to throw a paper airplane.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 1:22 PM on March 2, 2015


How do you build something like that?

An old-fashioned Amish tower raising.
posted by Ratio at 1:28 PM on March 2, 2015 [9 favorites]


Starchitect? Is this really a thing?
posted by Splunge at 1:29 PM on March 2, 2015


Thorzdad wrote: ...man, sitting outside the copter on one of the skids doing god-knows-what to the tower....

He might have been doing this job.
posted by 1367 at 1:30 PM on March 2, 2015


High Power Line Worker
posted by kmz at 1:31 PM on March 2, 2015


How do you build something like that?

The Medium piece says: "Sections of the tower are fabricated offsite, and then lifted into place one by one." Which begs the question "lifted with what?" This YouTube has the answer: with a crane attached to the tower.

(Here's a radio ham doing it on a smaller scale, using a gin pole to raise sections.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 1:31 PM on March 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


Hmm, $3 million for a 2,000 feet tower. So for $1.2 billion I could build the most amazing version of The Lightning Field.

Very tempting.
posted by fallingbadgers at 1:33 PM on March 2, 2015


AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH

Hmmm. I'll take that as a no on this particular tourist attraction, then?

How do you build something like that?

I wonder if they build it laying on the ground, and then lever it up into place with winches on the guy wires?


I would gather from watching this smaller-scale radio tower being built that they would just keep adding pieces that are first assembled on the ground, stacked on top of the last one, and then they run and tighten the corresponding guy wires as it gets taller?

That would seem to make sense, you just keep adding more tower as you go.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:34 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


You'd think during the construction that people would just go mad with ambition and power. Like, "damn the specs! Build higher! I need a pedestal from which to spit in the face of God Himself, as I am the owner of KVLY-TV, Red River Valley's home for news, weather and sports!"
posted by Navelgazer at 1:35 PM on March 2, 2015 [15 favorites]


Climbing the tower would be tiring, but beyond that it would be fine. First off, the thing seems pretty stable. I think someone upthread mentioned that the tip moves about 10 feet in 70mph winds, which isn't very much at all (1/2% of its length). Go on a day that isn't so windy and it would be even less. The guy climbing is clearly harnessed and is clipping himself to it as he goes along. For sure, all the clipping and unclipping would be tiresome, but when the alternative is a 2000 foot fall, I think you'd stay motivated to keep doing it. Those clips and ropes aren't going to break so even if he were to get injured and fall, he'd just be hanging for a while until someone came to get him.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:36 PM on March 2, 2015


For sure, all the clipping and unclipping would be tiresome, but when the alternative is a 2000 foot fall, I think you'd stay motivated to keep doing it.

No argument there. Utter pants-shitting white-knuckled terror is indeed a tremendous motivator.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:39 PM on March 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


You'd think during the construction that people would just go mad with ambition and power. Like, "damn the specs! Build higher! I need a pedestal from which to spit in the face of God Himself, as I am the owner of KVLY-TV, Red River Valley's home for news, weather and sports!"
posted by Navelgazer at 4:35 PM on March 2 [+] [!]


How do you know he hasn't and no one bothered to actually measure it?

Apparently during the construction of the Sky Tree they kept the exact height a secret because some other tower was also being built and they didn't want the other tower to tack something on the top to be taller.

Also, the regular-size Sky Tree nanoblock set is impossible to make. Don't even bother.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:43 PM on March 2, 2015


...using a gin pole to raise sections.

From that link:

For the sake of this discussion, I only looked at the Rohn EF2545, Erection Fixture, which many amateurs are familiar with.

Tee hee.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:45 PM on March 2, 2015


They should be allowed to carry guns.

You mean so if they fall off they can just blow their brains out rather than endure all that monotonous falling and screaming and stopping to take a breath and then screaming some more? Sure, that makes sense.
posted by contraption at 1:53 PM on March 2, 2015 [6 favorites]


Why don't they use LEDs or something?

They do, now, but you have to change them out for LEDs, and it's not like a house socket, you have to change the base to switch to LEDs, and there are a lot of older towers out there.
posted by eriko at 2:08 PM on March 2, 2015


> And here is how you change the light bulb at the top of the tower

AAAAAAAAAAAAAGH nope NOPE nope holy shit NOPE. That made me want to scream out loud just a few seconds into it - before I closed it.

Flagged entire post and comments as terrifying to the core
posted by MysticMCJ at 2:22 PM on March 2, 2015


AAAAAAAAAAAAAGH nope NOPE nope holy shit NOPE.

Pffft. The lightbulb changing guy is doing it pretty carefully.

This is scream-inducing. My gut is in knots.
posted by GuyZero at 2:31 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


When I was in Iraq, I lived in a room in the International Zone overlooking a big open field (just to the right of the Unknown Soldier monument). In the middle of that field was an antenna, probably about 120 feet high or so. One day, two rockets came screaming into the IZ and exploded in the field. As I looked out to see how close they'd come, I realized that they'd bracketed the antenna perfectly, about 100 feet on either side. And up on top of the antenna was a worker, presumably doing some repair or installation or whatever.

Not enough money in the world to make me take that fellow's job.
posted by Etrigan at 2:35 PM on March 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


Potomac Avenue: "20-minute elevator ride

Nope nope nope nope noooooooooe pe.
"

Seriously, the first words my befuddled acrophobic head could come up with was a strangled, "Fuck you, I quit." I don't think I could put my hands on the ladder.
posted by Sphinx at 3:00 PM on March 2, 2015


If I asked you where the tallest structure in the Western hemisphere was located, would you say North Dakota?

Yes, because I've been there! When I left ND for good, we road tripped and the only place my friend demanded to see in North Dakota was this tower. I have pictures, even.

It's also kind of hilarious trying to navigate to, by the way--I think we told Google Maps the approximate coordinates and then drove carefully past what it told us. There's more than one radio mast out there which makes it even more fun. I suggest summer if you're going.

So: drive down the I-29 to Fargo, stop before you get there, and exit onto a paved road that appears to lead nowhere. Turn off that road onto a dirt road, and then drive until you can go no further. Park wherever--it's not like anyone is out there to care. You're in a dirt patch next to some fields and a windbreak, seemingly the same as the rest of northeast North Dakota.

Look up. No, further. Keep looking. That skinny silver and red thing, way up there? Is what you're here to see. Because you're in the middle of some of the flattest country in the US and you can see the horizon from almost every angle, that mast doesn't look too big at all. Walk toward it. Once again no one's out here to care, so get as close as you'd like. There's a fence that'll stop you before too long, and you're probably on camera down in Fargo, but no one's stopping you now. Now look up. You can see the guy wires, the anchors, the concrete and steel.

But you've lost site of the skinny, tall tower. Squat down, look up. Way up in the distance, up in the white of the clouds hovering over that beautiful North Dakota blue sky, you can sort of see the top of this thing. That's it. You've done it. Congratulations.
posted by librarylis at 3:01 PM on March 2, 2015 [20 favorites]


But, at least he had the copter.

whaaaat? i don't have a death wish, i'd rather climb the tower, thanks.

incidentally, there's a certain lower limit to the altitude of helicopter operation, below which autorotation doesn't work if the engine fails. it's called the "death zone" or something like that. something to think about if you ever look up and see one inspecting a tower above you. oh, and the guy wire issue.
posted by indubitable at 3:04 PM on March 2, 2015


This post reminds me of the beautiful Emley Moor mast. Not that I need a lot of reminding of it, because like most of Yorkshire, I can see it from my back garden.

People think London's Shard is the tallest building in Britain - that's what they'll tell you if you take the £30 elevator ride to the top. But it's not - it's Emley Moor, sitting proud in the middle of a field in an otherwise unassuming part of Yorkshire. (The tallest guyed mast is 20m taller and sits at Belmont in flat Lincolnshire.)

The fact that they built such a unique structure is purely accidental. The original Emley Moor was a guyed mast like the one above in North Dakota. But in 1969, ice on the mast and guys caused the structure to collapse across the road and nearby fields. No-one was hurt, and the beautifully understated words of the engineer's logbook from the night are worth reading.

I've been to the top of it - a long ride, made to feel longer by the fact that you're in a cage elevator that feels like it was last oiled in 1980. Normally, visitors aren't allowed near, but if you know someone who works there and they're in a good mood you can very occasionally wangle a trip up. They were originally going to make it into a tourist attraction, but health and safety concerns put paid to that and it never opened - the top room which was going to be a viewing gallery and restaurant now houses little more than a few plastic chairs and some transmitting equipment for a local radio station. A ladder from the main viewing room lets engineers work on the antennas above. A couple of years ago, they replaced all the red warning lights with LEDs, which you can now see for miles and miles. The old lights still lie in the grass around the mast where the helicopter dropped them.

It's a wonderful landmark, not made any less beautiful and captivating by its functional nature as a TV and radio mast. I'd really miss it if it fell down! If you're from Yorkshire, then when you drive up the M1, past Barnsley, and see Emley Moor mast rising over the hilltops, you know you're home.
posted by winterhill at 3:39 PM on March 2, 2015 [9 favorites]


There's a long line of these guys that run by one of my former workplaces. One day, while driving to work, I noticed a helicopter hovering dead still right at the tip of one of the highest arms. As I got closer, I realized that there was man, sitting outside the copter on one of the skids doing god-knows-what to the tower. Maybe changing a light bulb? That was too crazy for me.

They do it that way because it's quicker, but also because it's possible to equalize the voltage potential using a special suit, then climb from the isolated helicopter directly onto the high voltage wires.
posted by T.D. Strange at 4:43 PM on March 2, 2015


And I should read the whole thread before reposting for the 3rd time.
posted by T.D. Strange at 4:47 PM on March 2, 2015


I worked for a company that rented space on a 1100' tower near Winnipeg. The tower had no elevator, just a pulley to raise and lower equipment. We were too small-time to have our own tower climbers, so we would hire a local company to climb up and do antenna work. To get to the top, a guy would literally climb straight up a ladder for two and a half hours. Once he dropped a wrench and it punched a neat little hole right through one of those old-school metal satellite dishes on the ground.

You'd have to wear a hard hat to go near the tower during the spring because a chunk of falling ice could easily kill you. Those towers are crazy things.
posted by pocams at 6:42 PM on March 2, 2015


equalize the voltage potential using a special suit, then climb from the isolated helicopter directly onto the high voltage wires.

Wow, that is the backdrop of a perfect short horror story. Imagine the helicopter crashed, and you're stuck hanging on a wire, knowing that you could easily climb to the tower ... but if you did, a million volts of electricity would instantly kill you....
posted by miyabo at 6:48 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've always been okay with heights, and my instant reaction when the light bulb clip hit 0:38 was "Oh god, it must feel like flying." Joyful. Breathtaking. I envy that guy.

[I understand that I may no longer be welcome in any of your homes -- nor, perhaps, on Metafilter at all -- if I don't cool it with this kind of talk.]
posted by argonauta at 7:14 PM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


The guy climbing is clearly harnessed and is clipping himself to it as he goes along. For sure, all the clipping and unclipping would be tiresome, but when the alternative is a 2000 foot fall, I think you'd stay motivated to keep doing it.

You'd think so! But we still see a sad number of deaths each year because not everyone working on towers is adhering to 100% tie-off. Which is holy-shit scary -- there is no excuse for failing to do that. At least there aren't any wireless tower deaths reported in the US so far this year. (But if you want to read about past ones, that site's a great place to do it.)
posted by asperity at 7:25 PM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Of course, I'd be the guy who'd climb all the way up there, and then drop the fucking light bulb.
posted by pjern at 7:35 PM on March 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


eriko: "Why don't they use LEDs or something?

They do, now, but you have to change them out for LEDs, and it's not like a house socket, you have to change the base to switch to LEDs, and there are a lot of older towers out there.
"

The cost to upgrade can be prohibitive as well. All of the LED systems I've installed required new controller systems and power/control cabling. When you add in that regulations require a beacon every time you hit an increment of 200', it can add up quick. It's telling how many 199', 599', and 999' towers you run into.
posted by calamari kid at 7:40 PM on March 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


pjern: "Of course, I'd be the guy who'd climb all the way up there, and then drop the fucking light bulb."

That's why you always take two.
posted by calamari kid at 7:41 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's kind of funny how 1000 feet seems infinitely more scary than 100 feet despite the fact that both will likely kill you.
posted by Ferreous at 9:31 PM on March 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


> It's kind of funny how 1000 feet seems infinitely more scary than 100 feet despite the fact that both will likely kill you.

You have 10 times as far to contemplate what is about to happen while you scream in utter terror and keep accelerating towards an infinitely large surface that continues to increase in perceived size, with the knowledge that you will hit that much harder and faster. It's the difference between 2.5 seconds and 7.5 second - which yeah, is only 5 seconds, but that's an eternity at the "imminent doom" timescale.

There's something about the vastness of the open space beneath you - I'm not sure what it is, exactly, but for me, the more open space beneath me, the more likely some mysterious force is to push me over an edge. Gravity imps fill all open spaces, maybe.
posted by MysticMCJ at 6:19 AM on March 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


It is almost scary how big the guy wires are (my picture). We drove a bit out of our way to see it on the way out to Washington a few years ago. I think we could see it from about 20 miles away.
posted by soelo at 8:28 AM on March 3, 2015


More NopeNopeNope
posted by growabrain at 8:44 AM on March 3, 2015


And here is how you change the light bulb at the top of the tower

"Oh crap. I forgot the bulb."
posted by zachlipton at 9:06 PM on March 4, 2015


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