January 8, 2012
Piedmont Fiberglass, Inc. was featured in an article in the Hickory Daily Record
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By: | Hickory Daily Record
Published: January 08, 2012
Jeff Rafferty was on the phone at Mountain View Baptist Church when a summer storm turned violent and wrenched the steeple off the roof.
He’s the associate pastor. “I heard something like a cannon” when the cupola and spire were ripped from the base and hurled onto the parking lot. A co-worker came running down the hall in the administrative wing off the sanctuary and said the steeple was gone.
That was June 9, seven months ago. Last Thursday, a new steeple was erected with God’s glory and nature’s wrath in mind.
The new steeple is made of fiberglass and steel and will withstand 125-mph winds, according to the manufacturer, Piedmont Fiberglass Inc. of Taylorsville.
“It’s custom-made, all made by hand,” said Douglas Caudle, Piedmont president. “This one took 10 weeks to fabricate.”
Caudle was at the church on River Road, south of Hickory, for the first part of the tedious installation process.
The steeple came in four parts — the base, a two-tier cupola, and the spire. Creating steeples is not new for the company that’s been in business since 1972.
“Our record is a 72-foot steeple that we made in six sections,” Caudle said.
Still, the top of Mountain View Baptist’s steeple rises 93 feet from the ground. Altogether, the four parts weigh 6,000 pounds.
“That’s way too big to put up in one piece,” said Steve Hymel, field manager for Moss-Marlow Building Co., the outfit that repaired the church and put up the steeple. “There are lots of bolts and attachments,” Hymel said, that turn the pieces into a rigid structure.
Moss-Marlow is no stranger to big jobs. It’s one of Hickory’s oldest continuing businesses, founded in 1909. Moss-Marlow did the necessary repairs on the church after the storm, handled the repainting and other tasks to keep the building presentable until the new steeple arrived.
And there was the parking lot. The old steeple left two huge dents in the pavement when it came crashing down.
“There really wasn’t that much damage,” Rafferty said. “It was a miracle. We had to cover the area on the roof to keep out the rain. Our sound equipment is in the sanctuary below the steeple. We didn’t want water leaking in.”
The old base was left atop the church and sealed off. The first order of business Thursday was to remove the base and get the roof ready to receive the new, heavier steeple.
“We had to redo the truss system to carry the load because the new steeple is stronger than the old one,” said David Deal, estimator for Moss-Marlow.
The old steeple was fiberglass and wood, much lighter than the steel-reinforced replacement.
The parts couldn’t be carried up a ladder or elevated with an ordinary lift used by the crew members who removed debris left over from the preparation work.
“We hired Crane and Rigging to put it up,” Deal said. “We’ve worked with them before, and they’re great.”
Crane and Rigging Corp. is a Hickory company that specializes in lifting heavy objects high into the air and setting them down gently. The giant mast with its thick steel cable hoisted the sections with ease – after Hymel and Deal attached straps just right.
The tapping, rapping and connecting inside the base were audible even at street level. But the actual melding of the sections is done out of sight.
“We access the inside of the steeple from inside the church,” Hymel said. There are no exterior nuts and bolts to mar the appearance of the shiny steeple.
“There are 20 threaded 18-foot steel rods running from the trusses to the base. They must be secured before we can continue,” Hymel said. The rods are three-fourths of an inch in diameter. And there are cross-members that must be just right so the base will be absolutely secure and the roof tough enough.
The men inside can’t be seen. As other sections are moved into place, they use ladders to access the couplings that will integrate the pieces.
Up go the other sections, once the base is finished after several long hours of work. Then it’s time to raise the spire, topped with a gleaming cross. The straps have to be wrapped around the spire, so it tilts when it’s lifted. No problem, the man manipulating the crane is an expert.
Now the heavy lifting
Steve Tuttle has been a crane operator for 40 years. He’s described by fellow workers as consistently one of the best crane operators in the country, and they say he has the awards to prove it.
But Tuttle doesn’t talk much. He concentrates on the job. His fingers flick the controls with the delicate touch of a surgeon. There are no sudden, flamboyant moves from him.
He’s raised 30 steeples in his career. A spire is a feather compared to some of the loads he’s handled.
“We’ve lifted machinery that weighed 80,000 and 90,000 pounds before,” he said while waiting for the signal to lower the sections for lock-down.
The spire rests on the cupola on one edge at first. When Tuttle nudges the cable on down, it settles into its niche perfectly.
Hymel converses with his crew by cell phone. The crew communicates with Tuttle with hand gestures.
Now, he has to get the strap off the cable hook. Tuttle eases the big ball and hook away from the steeple and closer to the roof. Then flips the hook and the strap falls harmlessly on the shingles.
Two crewmen are then raised to the steeple in a steel cage to unwind the strap and bring it down. The heavy cage has to be almost touching the steeple so the workers can loosen the strap. No problem for Tuttle. He’s so gentle on the controls that the men can reach out, grab the steeple, and adjust the cage by hand.
It’s all over. The connections have been made and the ground cable from the lightning rod in the cross has been attached.
Hymel and Deal breathe audible sighs of relief. Tuttle’s expression hasn’t changed at all.
Mountain View Baptist has a brand-new $44,000 steeple in plenty of time for Sunday services.
“I think there’s a lot of excitement in the church about it being done,” Rafferty said. “It’s important to the church. The steeple is a symbol of the church — symbolic of the love of Christ that shines in this community.”
It took a lot of work by a lot of people to put the crown on the church, but everybody is happy.
Said Rafferty, “It’s uplifting.”