Up On The Roof

The Davenport Hotel had a parapet around the whole hotel roof, about 18 inches high, with a concrete cap on it.  Around the perimeter, pipes stuck up out of the cap.  The pipes were about 4 inches across and six foot high.  On top of each pipe was a light fixture, looking over the parapet about 8 stories to the sidewalk below.

The lights had been out for years and the decision was made to get them lit.  The fixtures had originally been wired in conduit coming up through the pipe in the parapet with lead coated cable inside the pipe.  After a number of years the lead had adhered to the pipe and it was impossible to remove.

We ran conduit across the roof to each pole.  In each pole we would drill a hole, tap a ½” thread, and run a wire through the conduit, through the hole, and then to the light fixture on the top of the tall pipe.

We would strap ourselves to the pipe, stand on the parapet, and rewire each fixture.  While we were drilling the pipe and tapping it we had a rope fastened from the drill to the center of the building roof.  We didn’t want to lose the drill and have it fall to the street below on someone’s head!  We must have worked a week on the project, as there were at least a dozen fixtures.

When we finished the job the other guys and I stood there admiring our work.  There were three more poles sticking up between that building and another building next to us.  The roof on the adjoining building was about 3 stories lower than the roof of the Davenport.

As we were standing there I reached over and bumped a pole with the palm of my hand.  (I wondered why they didn’t want these three fixtures lit.)  The pole broke off at the concrete edge.

We managed to catch the pole before it went over the edge, and laid it down inside the parapet.  We all got quiet.  I felt rather sick.  How we had been hanging off those poles for a week, wiring them!  We picked up our tools and left the job rather quickly.  None of us wanted to go back and disconnect all those poles because they might have been a danger.

Even now, after many years, I still feel a little bit of a shudder.