Repairing the Minneapolis City Hall Clock Tower

Posted at: 01/29/2013 3:52 PM
Updated at: 01/29/2013 5:56 PM
By: Katherine Johnson

It's a staple of the Minneapolis skyline: the clock tower at City Hall. For more than a month one of the bright red neon hands has been dark.

Inside the tower, hidden behind a secret locked door, is what feels like an endless amount of narrow stairs.

"360 to 370 steps I believe coming up here," said Kevin Holmes, one of the electricians taking on the tall task.

What Holmes and Tom Utterberg go through to fix the broken minute hand is pretty heroic.

"Hopefully you don't drop anything," laughed Holmes.

Measuring four inches wider than the Great Clock housing London's Big Ben, the faces of the clock at city hall were the largest in the world when the tower was built in the late 1800s.

"It's hard to take it all in until you get out there and do it," said Holmes.

As if heights and high voltage aren't already enough, freezing rain and fog makes the repair even more challenging.

"All the wires and everything are all iced up," he said while leaning out the 345 foot clock. "I don't think it's very safe to do it today."

But the team doesn't give up, quickly learning there's not enough power getting to the broken hand.

"I saw a little bit of smoke come off of one of the wires when we turned it on," said Holmes.

After getting creative with their tools and the clock's mechanics, the historic Minneapolis staple is back on line and Holmes and Utterberg are getting back on the ground.  But first, they have to climb back down all those stairs.

This was Holmes and Utterberg's first time ever repairing the clock and it might also be their last.  Nothing is final yet, but there are loose plans to replace the neon hands with new faces that would have a protective covering from the weather and be less expensive to maintain.