Speak Your Piece: The Green Tree and the Wind Turbine
What's that green tree doing in the top of a wind turbine? Ironworkers bring "topping out" ceremony to rural Missouri.
Editor’s Note: Wind energy companies didn’t think Rock Port, Missouri, was breezy enough to generate much electricity. Eric Chamberlain thought that was wrong. So the funeral home operator borrowed some wind measuring equipment from the university and a short time later he had the proof he needed. The Wind Capital Group looked at the evidence Chamberlain collected — and started building turbines.
In early October, Mr. Chamberlain wrote about a “topping out” ceremony conducted by union ironworkers who built the turbines — a city tradition transferred from skyscrapers to rural wind turbines. It’s a great story of the growing connection between cities and small towns — and a fantastic reminder that one person like Eric Chamberlain can make a difference.
Photo: Eric Chamberlain
Friday afternoon, October 12, 2007, I watched as the final blade assembly of Cow Branch Wind Farm was hoisted 265 feet into the air to the top of the last remaining tower. During the lift a huge American flag was secured between two blades. Just below the flag was an evergreen tree, which still remains attached to the rotor hub.
Cars pulled to the side of the road, as dozens of drivers snapped photos. Passing trucks acknowledged the scene with a blast of an air horn. What we were witnessing is known in construction as a “topping out” ceremony.
Topping out is an ancient tradition, continued by today’s ironworkers. The event signifies the final piece being lifted into place, the completion of the heavy work, and the fact the ironworkers are always the first to reach the summit of any construction project. Topping out ceremonies include the flag, a tree, and worker’s signatures on the last piece lifted, all followed by a party.
The official publication of the ironworker’s union notes that use of a tree in the topping out ceremony “symbolizes the job went up without loss of life, and serves as a good luck charm for the project.” The proud display of our American flag simply speaks for itself.
The tower sections used at Cow Branch and Loess Hills weigh about 50 tons each, the 84 blades placed end-to-end would span over two miles, and the total weight of all pieces lifted would exceed 16 million pounds. To date 450 men and women, working well over 100,000 total hours have contributed to these two projects.
The men of the Wind Power Services Division of Barnhart Crane and Rigging of Memphis, Tennessee, are to be commended on a job well done. Although ya’all talk kinda funny, you work in 100+ degree heat, among slippery mud and cow piles, some of you tethered hundreds of feet up, and you still make it look very easy.
It was an honor to work with you, and to witness your “topping out.”