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Groundhogs and catheads: A lexicon

Check the unofficial tower dog lexicon for a short list of terms used in the industry.  Terminology varies from region to region.


Any one of the 9-10,000 workers across America who earn their living on cell phone and broadcast towers, more formally known as tower hands, tower techs,  top hands, communications specialists, etc.

MONOPOLE:  A free standing tower made up of sections, whether sleeved together or bolted together at flanges. They rarely rise taller than 240'.

SELF-SUPPORT TOWER: A pyramid of steel (similar to the Eiffel Tower) consisting of three to four legs joined by cross-bracing. The tallest self-support tower in the US is the 1200 foot red monster in downtown Kansas City.

GUYED-WIRE TOWER:  A straight shot to the sky, consisting of identical steel sections bolted together and anchored to the earth by steel cables at three or more anchor points. These are the giants. The tallest guyed-wire tower in the world is the 2,063 footer in Blanchard, North Dakota. (That's 850 feet TALLER than the Empire State Building!)

MONO-PINE: A monopole tower disguised to look like a pine tree.

MONO-PALM: A monopole disguised to look like a palm tree.

A BEAST:  Any tower that exceeds the usual degree of difficulty.   Example: "I have to climb THAT beast today?"

HEADACHE!: What Tower Dogs yell when tools, equipment or hardware is accidentally dropped from a tower to alert those on the ground. If  sufficient cover is not close by, standard procedure is to stand fully erect with your arms at your side and hope for the best.

LOAD-LINE: The means, by rope or cable, by which equipment and material is raised.

TAG-LINE: A separate line, usually rope, secured to the load to assist in guiding it up the tower and past existing obstructions. A TAG MAN works the line, often compensating for the power of the wind.

TAKING THE MAIN, RIDING THE MAIN:  Securing one's self  to the load line and being raised by a cathead or winch to your work station. This is now illegal except for special instances requiring special equipment,  safety plans, and clearance.

CATHEAD: An electric winch through which the load line is fed to hoist equipment and material up the tower. This is mounted either to the tower itself or to the rear of a truck with the appropriate hitch/receptor. This term is an old "seaman's" term, referring to the scream the winch makes when pulling up the load.

MARKET:  Any city or part of the country where many  projects are going on at once.  A Tower Dog can find himself "in market" for a few weeks or  as long as several years.

FLOATER: A worker, not assigned to one crew, who replaces men who go on "break" about every six weeks. Though most Tower Dogs will take advantage of their company-paid-for six week break, many have stayed out for years at a time.  There are a pair of brothers who have been on the road for roughly ten years.

TRAVERSING: The act of moving across the open steel from one position to another.

THE TWO-SECOND HEART ATTACK: What happens when a Tower Dog's belt, or a piece of steel, slips but an inch. At elevation, that inch feels like a mile.

GETTING THE DOG: New hires in the world of the Tower Dog will be flown into market-but if you foul up,  you "get the dog," a long bus-ride home.

WHOOPING:  Radios can be notoriously undependable. WHOOPING is a way to communicate. One WHOOP usually means UP or YES. Two WOOPS usually means DOWN or NO.

COPY THAT: Radio-speak for "I understand," or "I agree,"  that has worked its way into the everyday talk of the Tower Dog. Example: "Let's eat Chinese food tonight."  "Copy that."

COME BACK: Radio-Speak for "Say that again."  Also now used in everyday conversation.

CUT WINDOW: The crucial time period when cellular operations are shut down so upgrades and maintenance can be performed. During this time  calls are dropped and the carrier (phone company) is losing thousands of dollars. Making the CUT WINDOW is high-stress and high-pressure.

PLAYING: A generic term for any system that is up and running.

DIXIE-FRIED, CLAMBAKED, COOKED:  Microwave dishes can cook a man like microwave ovens cook hot dogs. If a worker spends too much time in front of a "playing" microwave dish, it may cause him physical harm.

IN YOUR KITCHEN:  When the work at hand is easily accessible, it's right "in your kitchen."

GROUNDHOG: A Tower Dog who works primarily on the ground.

HANGING OFF: A positioning maneuver where the Tower Dog must hang freely below the steel to get to his work station. A very scary and uncomfortable way to work.

PATHING: Lining up microwave dishes so that they may "talk to each other." A delicate procedure, pathing can sometimes require the half-turn of a stainless steel bolt in order to align the dish with another that is 22 miles away.

MAN BASKET:  A conveyance by which Tower Dogs are hoisted to the work station by a crane or winch.

BELT UP: Put on your belt and get up the tower.

CONTROLLED DESCENT: Often, Tower Dogs find the only way to get their work station is the controlled descent. Though similar to rappelling, it is specifically different in many ways. . A worker may have to descend 10' or 1000'. Most Tower Dogs enjoy doing this.