Saturday, July 31, was announced as the big day for the replacement of the First Tennessee sign on top of their building downtown. Why is this a big deal? Well, it’s been an eyesore since it fell, for one thing. It was blown down in December in a winter storm, which I was told carried winds of approximately 80 miles per hour. Recently, the ugliness remaining on top of the building had been covered with white panels in preparation for the installation.
It’s the center building with the small white box on top.
Also, its raising presented a number of logistically interesting challenges. The First Tennessee Building was the last statement of the soon-to-crumble empire of Jake Butcher, and is Knoxville’s tallest building at 27 stories. The panels comprising the four sides of the signage measured 16X16 and, more to the challenge, weighed 2600 pounds.
The helicopter was retained in Kentucky because there were none to be had in Tennessee that could do the job. Snyder signs provided the on-ground support and Michael Brady, Inc. Engineering “designed the install,” according to their representative with whom I shared a vantage of the operation.
He confessed to having butterflies with worry that it might not go well. I acknowledged that a cable could break as the helicopter lifted a sign. He indicated that was only one of many disasters he could envision, including a panel of the sign slamming into the side of the building or the workers at the top not securing it properly before releasing the sign from the helicopter cable and sending the sign plunging 27 floors to the ground. I paid more attention after our conversation.
Originally scheduled at 6:00, then moved to 7:00, the undertaking actually began closer to 7:30. The gathered crowd of onlookers on the ground stood at about six, counting myself, which surprised me. A few bank officials and media representatives watched from the top of the B,B&T bank nearby.
The engineer told me that, while scheduled to last until possibly 11:00 AM, he felt it would be over in thirty minutes. He proved to be very accurate. The helicopter arrived, hovered over the top of the building for a moment then plunged toward the vacant lot beside the bank where the signs waited.
Five workmen connected the cables and the helicopter rose to the top of the bank, smoothly placing the first panel in the hands of the workers on top of the building. According to the MBI representative, the crew would place a minimum of screws on each side of the panel (eight, I believe) and would add many others after the helicopter portion of the installation was complete.
The installation of the fist two panels went without a hitch and were a thing of beauty and skill to behold. The third was not so easy. A cable with which the gentlemen on top of the building would guide the panel into place came unattached. Also, for reasons I could not discern, the panel began twisting after it was about forty feet off the ground. The helicopter lowered it and the workers on the ground, dangerously, tried to grab it. Realizing they were close to being knocked down, if not killed, by the spinning sign, they backed away until the helicopter pilot could rest one end on the ground. They re-attached the cable and that panel and the next were raised without further problem.
After the installation was complete I watched an apparently excited and relieved engineer talking on his cell phone, whether to his superiors or to the men on the top of the building, who still had work to be done, I’m not certain. The workers were visible on top of the building for a while, but the signs sat contentedly, as if they planned to stay put for a long time. Let’s hope so.