I had this idea to paint a movie screen on the back of the OKC Rocks silos for the Renegade Picture Show. The picture quality on the silos as it was, was a little muddled and I figured that with a fresh coat of white paint the image would be much more sharp and bright. With wheels turning I called up Freddy (owner of OKC Rocks) and asked permission to paint a large white rectangle screen. He was cool with it and even said that there was some paint left over that I was welcome to use – it was at the top of the silos in the building I call the head-house (because it is the head of the silos – not for the other reasons) aka pigeon palace or pigeon house.
I called up my good buddy Chris and asked if he’d like to help me paint the silos. He said he would rather play golf – which was understandable because it was a beautiful day – but somehow I managed to talk him into manual labor instead.
We arrived at the silos with a car full of painting tools, climbing equipment for hanging off the side of the silos, and two 25 foot ladders lashed to the roof rack.
First things first, we had to retrieve the paint from the top of the silos.
For as many times as I’ve climbed the 100 foot ladder to the top of the silos, I still get a little nervous (and a little pumped) each time I climb it. The ladder is just inside the second set of silos behind a locked steel door. It is anchored to the concrete wall and travels up through three portholes that I imagine are supposed to provide some sense of safety. The three portholes are spaced evenly approximately 33 feet apart and consist of a narrow rectangular opening in 8 inch thick concrete platform that you pass through as you climb up (or down) the ladder. There are two issues when climbing the ladder that make it all the more tricky. Number one, it is dark. Pitch black. And I don’t think I’ve ever used a headlamp. Don’t ask me why. Number two, the rectangular portholes are a little too narrow. Great if you happen to fall off the ladder and want to miss the hole but bad if you are climbing in pitch black and trying not to hit your head or scrape your back.
That’s just to give you some perspective – the climb up the ladder is really no problem. Though I did warn Chris that sometimes a pigeon will be hiding somewhere and fly out of nowhere nearly scaring the shit out of you.
Once on top of the silos we found four five-gallon buckets of paint. Going by the label on the tops of them they all appeared to be white paint. That was good news. The next step would be to lower them down.
The system rigged up for raising and lowering items is simple. There’s a large open shaft which drops 100 feet to the ground. There’s a 3 inch pulley anchored over the hole and a 9-10 mm static line which feels more like cable than rope. The usual procedure for lowering is simply to hook up whatever items you have to the rope and raise or lower them up or down the shaft.
Now, I’ve moved some pretty heavy items using this system and never had much trouble – sure, it’s a workout but nothing more.
I attached two paint buckets to the line; 10 gallons of paint. Then I had the good idea of hooking on a piece of webbing to attach the other two buckets. Chris agreed – doing it this way meant we could lower it all in one trip. The concept of weight had not entered my mind at this point. (In retrospect, it probably should have enetered Chirs’s mind since he is working on his PhD in physics but I’m not blaming. It’s just ironic.)
Chris took hold of the rope and wrapped it around his waist – hip belay style. He braced himself with his feet against a small wooden block attched to the concrete floor. When he was ready and I released the first two buckets of paint into the shaft – they hung from the rope.
I asked if he was ready for the second two buckets, when he said yes I released them into the shaft and onto the rope. The rope tugged and Chris lurched forward towards the hole. I reached up and grabbed the rope with both hands. Then I realized how heavy the load was. There was no turning back.
“Pull it up a little,” he said.
But I wasn’t thinking along those lines, I was thinking about lowering. Why would he want to pull up the rope? Then I glanced up at the pulley and saw his fingers being sucked into it. “Just a little,” he said calmly. He’d later tell me that he gets very calm when things like that happen. I pulled the rope with everything I had, it was just enough for him to free his fingers. Then the weight became greater – his fingers must have been blocking some of the weight. We were going to drop it.
I looked around quickly and saw the slings, biners and ropes we’d carried up. If I could only reach one of those I could set up a quick anchor point and get us out of this mess. But there was no letting go of the rope – not even for a second. One hand released meant someone would be pulled into the hole. If I let go, Chris would not have time to get the rope from around his waist and he would surely be pulled into the hole. On the other hand if he had let go, for as tightly as I was holding onto the rope I would be yanked forward instantly and into the hole. Then was the other scenario: four buckets of paint crashing down through the silo shaft making an incredible mess and crashing to the concrete floor where someone may be peaking in or standing beneath the shaft. I didn’t even want to consider that. No, we were committed, that was certain.
And so we started lowering inch by inch with the rope creeping through our hands and around Chris’s waist, digging into his skin. My foot was braced against something that was moving, a piece of wood and I scooted it over to a more secure spot. The load felt heavier with every foot as the rope added weight. It was hot and we we’re sweating profusely, maybe because of the heat, maybe because of adrenaline or fear. We watched the rope coiled on the floor slowly disappear as it curled up through the pulley and down into the shaft. With about twenty feet remaining it felt like we were holding a Volkswagon and it still seemed like we could drop it at any moment. But we hung in there. I couldn’t help but see the rope cutting into Chris’s side and imagining about how painful that must be – but surely if he hadn’t set it up like that we would not be able to hold the weight.
Finally, the buckets reached the ground and we released the rope and stood in disbelief. What the hell had we just done and how could we be so stupid? That’s what we were thinking but instead we were laughing nervously.
Chris pulled up the side of his t-shirt to reveal a blood-red rope burn encircling his waist. I knew it had to hurt but unfortunately rope burns hurt worse, later.
With that episode over we rigged our ropes from the top of the silos and climbed back down the ladder. The buckets of paint sat safely on the ground. We carried them to the back of the silos and popped each one open. There were two buckets of tan paint, a bucket of black and a half bucket of white. We carried three of those down for nothing.
Luckily, there was enough white paint to complete the screen. It took several hours of painting involving top-stepping on a 25 foot ladder and reaching the top edge using an extendable pole combined with painting while hanging from a line. It was a lot of work and I was glad to have the help.
The first show using the new screen is going to be this Saturday (May 5) – come on out and check out Chris’s permanent red belt.
**One gallon of fresh water = 8.34 lbs. And based on some online research I’m going to estimate that 1 gallon of paint = about 12 lbs. Given the amount of paint in each bucket I would estimate that the total load of the four buckets = 174 lbs.