What Goes Up, Comes Down

Removing cupolas requires nerves of steel and acrobatic agility


| April 2006



Last summer, Richard Mayers removed one wooden and two steel cupolas from the roof of a barn north of Little Falls, Minn. His crew of seven brought the steel ones down in under an hour. The wood cupola, though, was another story.

"They're monstrous to work with," he says. "We strung over 600 feet of rope to secure it for lowering it to the ground. Two hundred feet of rope went out to the road, where a car would pull or feed more rope. A rope went through the hayloft, then looped around and through the cupola. And we criss-crossed chains over the top of the roof for greater stability."

Most of a cupola's weight is on top, so unless it is properly secured by rope as it is loosened from the barn roof, it will flip. The heaviest side drops first. If it starts to tumble, the rope isn't lined up right with the cupola.

In last summer's job, Richard worked with an experienced crew. "One guy stayed on the main floor of the barn. Another, the 'watcher,' fed rope, a foot at a time, as needed," he says. "My niece stood outside where she could look through the window: Her right arm signaled 'feed' and her left arm 'take.' People on the other end pulled. The guy standing farthest away was the only person who could see what was going on. We're a team, like command control."

On a straight-roof barn or horseshoe-roof barn, the cupola is removed from the back. On an L-shaped barn, cupolas are taken down in the "valley" where the two ends meet. Plans sometimes go awry. "When the wooden cupola dropped into that valley last summer, it got trapped and wouldn't slide between the little notches of the corrugated tin," Richard recalls. "So two guys on top of the barn crawled over and eased the cupola (which weighed 500 pounds) over the ridges. By then they were at more than a 45 degree angle to the roof. To get back up the slant, they grabbed the rope, crawled on top through the hole on the roof, then climbed down ladders to get to the main floor of the barn."

All's well that ends well. "We backed the trailer under, and gave rope one last time. Down it tumbled, six inches above my trailer. Everybody thought I was a genius, "Richard says with a laugh. "It took two hours to get things ready and another four hours on the roof. But we got it down."