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It's a Long Way to the Top

It’s a long way to the top, but there’s lots of interesting things to see as you climb. Most of these steeples are over 100 years old. They exude the quality, care, and craftsmanship that seemed to be in large supply.

When you arrive at the soffit, you get to reach out and grab the thick copper gutter. Most likely you are already more than 40 feet from the ground. Few ladders have been this high. Leaves and debris rarely make their way up here. You see the damage from falling ice, having slammed into it year after year.

Roof tiles are always set steep. There is no climbing without your rope. These are asbestos tile; lightweight concrete with reinforcement filler. They could last 200 years. Regrettably, this roof is slated for replacement. They were once smooth and shiny white. Now they are weathered, porous, holding moisture long after it rains. Microorganisms like living here. They make it appear dark and dingy. Now someone else will replace it.

When you reach the top of the roof, there is another wall. It’s not like one you are used to. It is 4, sometimes 6 bricks thick. Even up here there is detail. Jut outs, dental, sometimes a tree that has found a crevice to live. Climbing is slower now. Brick is just passing by.

You finally reach the belfry. This is where the action is at. There is lots of detail, lots of angles. Not everything is the way it should be. There is work to be done. But sometimes it’s easier to start from the top, so you keep going.

There are vents. Birds love vents. Many places to live. Mesh wire once kept them out. Now you see rusted holes, feathers, a little more. It smells. You knew to bring a mask. They won’t be there long. Spikes and screen are on their way.

There are many levels to transverse. Several soffits exist. Angles keep changing. Crosses get in the way. You are almost to the top. It’s a good time to turn and look away, for the scenery behind you is really taking shape. Well above the trees, and even the roof, you can really see what’s out there. Houses tend to disappear under the trees. Buildings are in the distance. But wait, more steeples. It’s amazing how many. The tops are sticking out, the rest of their structure unseen.

With a little bit more to climb the sides are getting narrow. You were just on a massive structure. It’s now more like a pole.

It finally feels like you are at the top. But you never really get all the way. The heavy cross sits above you. Your ropes don’t go that high. This one is made of copper. There are bits of gold leaf still attached here and there. You reach out and grab it and the whole thing slides up and down. Fasteners once held it in place. They have been ripped through their socket. The wind can be brutal up here. Luckily there is a long pole inside keeping it from blowing away. It sits crooked. You are going to have to build a platform here to work on it, to get above your ropes. This is the best place to start; it’s at the top. Now the work begins.

St. Bonaventure steeple repair and Painting


Bryan Dulsky

Detroit Steeplejack


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