01 July 2014

Historicorps and the Ute Mountain Lookout Tower

Saturday, June 21, I changed the tube out on my front tire, checked all other vitals, and loaded my bike up for three weeks of motorbike riding, camping, visiting family, and historic restoration. The first stop would be Fraser, CO to spend the night with my friends Pete and Belinda. After a wonderful evening with friends and a great breakfast, we headed out for Utah.
Josh and I would be spending the first week of this adventure about 50 miles north of Vernal, UT (known as the "Best shopping area between Salt Lake City and Denver on highway 40!") in the Ashley National Forest, working with a not-for-profit historic restoration group based in Denver called Historicorps. Two years ago I worked with this group restoring the Baehrden Lodge in Jefferson County, and on the Tobasco Cabin outside Silverton, CO. I had a great time, learned a lot, and worked with some really wonderful and talented individuals. When my friend Ian Mcleod asked if we could join him on this project, we jumped at the chance, and I figured since I was already 300 miles further west, I would keep going to California.
I just managed to shove the most ridiculous sandals into my top case. Hey, I'm motorbiking and camping--I'm not a heathen....
Bikes all loaded up and ready to go. I carried nearly everything since I would be continuing on after the first week.
Sunday, June 24, we left Fraser around 11:45 and stopped in Vernal at about 5:00. We decided to get dinner there at a Mexican restaurant, and Ian joined us half an hour later. After we finished eating, we headed north through Flaming Gorgeto the Ashley National Forest Summit Springs Guard Station where base camp would be. We met the three other volunteers for the week--Randy, Nancy, and Ashley--and one crew chief--Stephanie.
As everyone wandered their own separate ways, Ian looked at me and sang, "B-double E-double R-U-N, Beer run!" We took off running towards the guard station full tilt, Ian in flip flops, and me in my motorcycle pants and boots. I'm pretty sure we ran like a mile. Maybe a mile and a half! I don't know! But we were winded, panting and laughing as we grabbed beers from the fridge. Now that I think about it, it felt like a full 5k.... We set up camp, drank beers, and spent the evening just hanging out.
Our camping spot at the Summit Springs Guard Station. I heard elk bugling one morning, but saw no moose....
Monday--Holy Crap it was cold when we woke up! I had slept in my heavy-weight base layers and wool socks in my -5 degree sleeping bag. I woke up comfortable, but as soon as I unzipped my bag I was freezing. That day I would wear my base layer under my jeans. We went into the guard station where breakfasts and dinners would be all week, and met the other two staff members--Chris and John. After breakfast, we headed up to the tower for our first day of work. Chris assigned tasks to everyone--Randy would help him on the staircase, Ian and Josh would work together fitting steel c-channel to existing beams, the other women painting, and at the end he looked at me and told me I'd be up on the roof with John, working on the lightning equipment.


On the roof.

Of the cab built 50' above the ground.

Working on lightning equipment.


I think it was a test....


A quick check of the clear blue sky told me this would be as good a time as ever. I hopped into the lift and up we went. The view was phenomenal, and I was pissed I didn't have a camera. Once we finished, the rest of the day would find me on the ground, trying to find things to fill my time, being assured the next day would have lots of projects, lots of work.


Back at base camp that night, we had dinner together and spent some time getting to know one another over beer, wine, and later into the evening, Colorado-made whiskey.

Tuesday, I was informed I would be on steel with "your men"--please keep that in mind, Josh and Ian, you are both My Men--and I drilled holes in steel and tore down and put back up scaffolding.
Surveying my work with the scaffold tower. Little did I know that coil of rope on the footer next to me would become my constant companion the next few days.

Wednesday was the big day. At the top of the tower below the cab, the original plans called for three 8x8" beams, but only two were ever used. In order to bring the tower up to code for public use, the engineers required that the third, which was to go in the middle, be put in. This meant putting an enormous, heavy beam--also to be reinforced with steel--into a space which had sagged over the almost 80 years the tower had been in existence. Oh yeah, and don't forget, this would be at 50' above the ground.

In a brilliant feat of planning, engineering, and with a bit of luck, we managed to squeeze an "8 inch post into a 6 inch hole." Ian manned the fork lift superbly, lifting the beam into position. Chris was on the man-lift--or as I like to call it, the lady-lift--guiding through the first holes, and in the end, using sheer brute strength to help muscle that thing where it needed to go. Next it would come to me and Josh on the first set of scaffolding. Josh and I got it through the next set of obstacles we needed to avoid, and John got it last, harnessed off of the second scaffold. Next was the enormous piece of steel c-channel to reinforce the beam. I feel certain that nothing short of a direct hit by a meteor will ever be able to take out that tower.

I wish I had video or pictures of that afternoon--it was remarkable! I was so proud of us as a team. At the end of the day, our project leader, Chris, very kindly recognized the work we had done, and Josh, Ian, and I in particular.

That night, we ate dinner outside, and most of us went to sleep before the sun had gone down.

Our crew chief, John, having a good time. That's a big part of the way Historicorps works.
Thursday morning, the men were up early. By the time I got out of the tent, Josh, Ian, Chris, and John were all sitting in the warm morning sun, quietly reading their books. I grabbed my iPad and went to join them. After some discussion as to whether or not I should be allowed to join them with my electronic media, I settled down and read as well. It was a nice start to a day which would prove to be physically exhausting.
We tore down and rebuilt both scaffolding towers that day. It started with a crew of about 6 people, but as we began to rebuild the first tower, we were down to three. I would wind up hauling every piece of guard rail, decking and cross bracing up as it was built, using a rope on a pulley with a carabiner to clip to things.
After that was done, I found myself on the end of another rope, this time hauling up the uncut stringer for the upper staircase. It was heavy, and my end had to go up 50'. By the end of the day, I was back to cutting holes in steel. Every part of my upper body was sore, and I was exhausted.
Everyone was tired. Josh and Ian chose a spot on the grass to lie down, drink their beers, and doze. Chris, Randy, Nancy, and I sat around the picnic table in camp chairs, feet up on the benches, with our beers and wine. The evening was nice. Quiet. Relaxing.
By the time dinner was ready, I may have fallen asleep with my face in my plate if John hadn't made the most delicious, handmade, veggie and grain burgers. We ate outside, but eventually went inside to sit around, chat, and have dessert. I would fall asleep quickly that night, but be awakened in the middle of the night...
It's hard to tell, but Ian is playing monkey-boy on the cross braces up under the cab.
...to rain. Then, there would be more rain. We should have pulled the tent down and packed everything before leaving for the work site that morning, but everything was wet. It had stopped raining by the time we were heading up, and we hoped the tents would be dry when we got back around lunchtime. Fridays are short days with Historicorps, and everyone would have lunch back at base camp, then head for home.
For the most part, things were dry when we got back. It started raining as I had everything on the bike and was checking my tire pressure. All of the gear I had on was wet as I hugged people and said goodbye, but it seemed to be okay. As with every Historicorps project, I met some great people, and made some new friends whose work I really respect. I have a feeling I'll be working with one or two of them again sometime.



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