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A high-rise job

Lori and Cody Gronvold working on the Rugby Wind Farm

August 13, 2009
Matt Mullally

It's not often a mother and son are employed on a construction work site together.

Let alone one where the work is several hundred feet in the air on a wind tower project.

Yet that's where Lori Gronvold and her son, Cody, have been working for the past month. They are two of just a few local residents who have been employed on crews assembling, erecting and cleaning the 71 giant wind towers north of Rugby for Iberdrola.

Lori is part of a four-person cleaning crew working from top to bottom inside the tower, while Cody started on the ground connecting the tower to the base, but now is on the top-off crew, connecting the turbine blades to the nacelle some 300 feet in the air.

Although they don't see much of each other on the work site, the fact the two are working on such a unique project close to home is special, Lori said, "and it's something we will always remember."

Gronvold wasn't looking for a job, but the opportunity came up after visiting with a woman from the Towner area. "Actually, I was calling in regard to a horse trailer for sale, and she mentioned she worked on the project and said they were looking for help,' Lori said.

Fact Box

Black widows a concern

While working on any construction site has its safety concerns, there is one that many wouldn't think of, and it involves an eight-legged creature - black widow spiders.

They are seldom seen in the Northern Plains due to the harsh climate, but since the tower and nacelle pieces are constructed and transported from the deep South, the spiders make the trip as well, often hiding in dark, cool spaces.

Cody has seen a few of them and said workers are told to keep their gloves on to avoid being bitten. The spider's venom is quite potent and can cause severe pain, muscle cramps, elevated heart rates and chest pain. It's been reported that one worker on the site has been bitten.

The females are much larger than the male, and seem to be more aggressive.

"My friend, Collin, caught a female recently, and it was about the size of a half-dollar,' he said. Workers keep them in jars as a sort of a trophy catch, and to ensure they won't be causing any more problems.

She inquired about employment, and just a day or so later she was on the job site.

Lori has always had an interest in the mammoth structures. "They are just fascinating to see, especially up close,' she said.

It typically takes Lori and the others on the cleaning team eight hours to clean the interior of a tower. She had to take a climbing test to make sure she was up to the challenge of scaling the stairs and correctly fastening her safety harness.

The crews start at the top, taking with them canvas bags filled with cleaning supplies, brushes, vacuums, towels and paint, as well as their lunch.

Gronvold said Iberdrola is very particular about the condition of the towers and wants every inch of them to be in tip-top shape.

The most time-consuming part of the job is cleaning the nacelle, or hub, near the top, which takes about three hours. "There is so much to clean, so many nooks and crannies,' she said.

Eventually, the team descends the four levels below the nacelle, cleaning and painting areas that are scuffed up or scratched.

Lori mentioned to her supervisor she knew of a couple of young men who would be interested in working, including Cody and a friend of his from Fargo, they were eventually hired.

When Cody first began work he assisted in connecting the blades and securing the first section of the tower to the concrete base. Eventually, he moved his way up, literally, to bolting the middle sections of the tower and now is part of the top-off crew. They are tasked with positioning and bolting the blades at the top to the nacelle. He's helped erect six towers.

It's a job that puts him several hundred feet in the air, but working that high up doesn't bother him, Cody admits. The workers always climb up from the inside before being harnessed in and working outside.

If winds exceed 26 mph, work to fasten the blades to the hub is suspended. Cody said a night crew may soon start to erect the towers because wind speeds are typically lower.

He puts in long hours, sometimes as many as 12 hours a day, six days a week. It's demanding work, but the pay is excellent and is one of the reasons he's there.

Cody will be a senior at NDSU this fall and is a mechanical engineering major. "It's good experience to work on this type of project and see how it applies to engineering,' he said. "I knew virtually nothing about the construction of wind towers when I first started, but now I know the whole process."

And what about the view?

"It's incredible to be up that high,' he said. "You can see for miles."

It's one summer job he won't soon forget, and years from now when both Cody and Lori look eastward from their Barton farmstead they will take pride in knowing they played a part in the construction of a significant wind energy project in North Dakota.

 
 

 

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