Every electrical project is fraught with danger and risk. However, not every project involves stringing cable over a gorge, suspending yourself from it in a basket, and stabilizing it so your employer can walk across it later without falling to his death.
For the members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local No. 1249 and O’Connell Electric Co., that is starting to look like the typical project. The two New York State outfits teamed up recently with famed tightrope walker Nik Wallenda for a successful, record-breaking walk across the Grand Canyon. It was their second collaboration in the last year. The team also strung the cable for Wallenda’s celebrated tightrope walk across Niagara Falls in June 2012.
Despite the obvious similarities, the two projects were very different. First of all, the climate and the topography of the Grand Canyon are nothing like Niagara Falls. Complicating matters further, one end of the Grand Canyon project was completely inaccessible by road. Wallenda would begin his walk in a place called Hell Hole Bend, on a mesa that is surrounded by sheer cliffs on all sides.
Cars and trucks couldn’t get to it, but helicopters could land on the mesa. On both sides of the gorge, 6-foot tall wooden paddle block pyramids were constructed to provide clearance from the ground and the edge of the cliff. Anchors, placed into the earth and reinforced by concrete, were also installed on both sides. Workers suspended in baskets from the cable installed counterbalance bars across the span. For more details, see Stephen Carr’s Estimating column on page 18.
Wallenda became the first person to walk across the Grand Canyon without a safety net or a tether when he traversed the cable in front of 13 million viewers broadcast live on the Discovery Channel on June 23, 2013.