Saturday, April 28, 2012

Changing Billboards Was My Life

From Jan '72 thru Jun '06 I worked in the construction department of an outdoor advertising company. When I started the name of the company was Rollins Outdoor Advertising. The company was purchased several times while I was there and the name changed to Reagan Outdoor, Revere, Universal, Eller and when I left, Clear Channel. My main function was to change billboards while earning a living.

In the days prior to my employment, all the billboards were stationary. The faces were either painted or posted on location. On average, painters would take a week or more if weather didn't cooperate, to change a face. Posters could be changed faster than paint but still a day or so. 

By the time I arrived on the scene the industry created a billboard face that could be rotated throughout a media market. This allowed one sign face to travel throughout a market faster than repainting or reposting. The use of rotary faces also allowed them to be painted or posted indoors, eliminating the weather situation.

The majority of signs I changed were 14'(4.25m) x 48'(14.5m). Each sign face consisted of 12 - 4'(1.25m) x 14'(4.25m) sections. Each section was constructed of a 2"(50mm) x 2"(50mm) frame with a 5/16"(9.5mm) plywood surface. Each new panel weighed approximately 70lbs(31.75kg). As each panel accumulated coats of paint or paper, it grew in weight. On a rainy day when we were indoors repairing sections, we weighed one apparently heavy section. It weighed in at 120lbs(55.5kg).

To change a rotary, three men removed and replaced 12 panels per billboard structure. We usually changed ten faces per day. That meant we lifted 240 panels per day, for a total lifted weight of between16,800lbs(7.620kg) to 28,800lbs(13,063kg) per day. Not to mention the added difficulty wind presents to the strength thing.
View from the top of  the board looking down at the two platform men and the crane operator lifting a small crate. This board was posted not painted.  You can see peeling paper in the foreground. On the platform is "Bergy" his son, Scotty and running the crane is Sickie. Photograph from the mid-late 1970s.
The sections were raised to the platform by an extension crane in crates.  There was a small crate that had places for 6 sections and a large crate with places for 8 sections. Twelve sections made up one face. In order to change the face, first the crate with two empty slots would be placed on the platform opposite the first section to be removed. Two sections of the old face would be removed and slid into the two empty slots in the crate. Then the end section of the new face would be taken out of the crate and lifted onto the angle iron rails and slid to the end of the rails. Continuing with the third old face section the process would continue old/new, old/new until all the new sections were hung. In the middle of the process the crates would be changed, taking down the the part of the old face and bringing up the remainder of the new face. Once the new face was hung a batten board was nailed across the back of the sections to keep the face from blowing off the rails in high winds.

Stash on the platform at Kissling's Sauerkraut along I-95 with N. Phila. in the background. Photographed between 1972 and 1976. Stash died from injuries related a three story fall in 1977. He was 25 yrs old.
There wasn't much safety when I started.  As you can see there was only one horizontal rail. At least one worker fell between the platform and that rail.

The guard rails, in the photographs above, were installed after I began my employment in the early '70s. The guardrails were constructed of 2"(50mm) x 2"(50mm) x 1/4"(6mm) angle iron. Each platform was 48'(14.5m) long and the guardrail was the same. Add in the weight of 6 - 36"(.9m) uprights, two 1' splices and 14 - 1/2"(50mm) x 1-1/4"(32mm) bolts with nuts. It was heavy. It folded down so, at night, it wouldn't cast a shadow from the lights onto the face of the sign. Lifting the guard rail was a chore in itself.

It wasn't only the company name that changed, over the years. The industry went from heavy panels to relatively light one piece sheets of computer printed vinyl.  The heavy lifting was more or less eliminated but the pace increased.

After over 34 years I walked away from the industry. I had enough. Today and everyday my body feels the consequences of changing signs to earn a living. At least I walked away.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

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