Tower-building crew to be featured on 'Dirty Jobs' television program

2012-01-28T00:00:00Z Tower-building crew to be featured on 'Dirty Jobs' television programBy BRETT FRENCH french@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette
January 28, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Kevin Reski thought the "Dirty Jobs" staff from the Discovery Channel TV show had made a mistake when they called to ask him about filming an episode with his tower-building crew.

"This is no dirty job, it just sucks," he said he told them. "Living on the road sucks. Staying in hotels sucks. Eating restaurant food sucks. The other guys in the crew suck.

"They said sucky is good, we're down to sucky jobs."

The episode ends the show's 50-state tour and airs on Feb. 7. Dramatic aerial video clips from the show have already been posted on the "Dirty Jobs" website.

Filming the segment filled a niche the show had long targeted.

"We've been looking for that kind of operation for several years now," said Dave Barsky, co-executive producer of the show for Pilgrim Studios in Los Angeles. "We had one in Oklahoma a couple of years ago and got rained out."

The show found Reski's Billings-based company, Great Plains Towers, on the Internet and called last year. The episode was filmed in late April over two days as Reski's crew erected a 330-foot tower two miles northeast of Dickinson, N.D., on Radar Base Hill.

"It's such a great show," Barsky said. "We never know what we're going to get going in. Sometimes we only get 20 minutes, so we do three segments in our hour show. But (Reski's) operation is so involved and his people are so great that we took up the whole hour.

"It's such a unique job they do," he added. "Obviously, it's a very vertical job, and not many people can handle that."

Given the dramatic nature of the high-hanging job, and that only two cameramen could climb up the tower to film, Barsky employed a variety of different cameras to capture the segment.

Usually the show's host, Mike Rowe, has two to three cameramen just filming him. But on the narrow tower in Dickinson there was only room for two, so small cameras were attached to Rowe's and Reski's helmets. Two more cameras filmed from a hovering helicopter. Another camera on the ground was underneath the tower, while a different one captured the scene from farther away. Yet another cameraman filmed from an adjacent tower about 50 feet out. In addition, they used a time-lapse camera to condense the process of raising the tower.

"We probably had close to 70 hours of tape total," Barsky said.

Although the attention to his work and crew was flattering, Reski said he's "never taken so long to build a tower" in his life.

"Mike would put a bolt in a hole and have to take it out so they could shoot it from seven different angles," he joked.

Building communication towers is a family business for Reski. As a child, he remembers playing around communication towers with his brothers and sisters (there are eight) as his father, Ron, worked. When the world's largest tower -- a 2,000-footer near Fargo, N.D. -- went up, Reski joked that he was roaming the field below shooting his siblings and gophers with a BB gun.

"All of us kids were in diapers running around the tower sites," he said. "It was cheap labor for the first few decades."

In his first year in college, Reski was asked by his father to help out with the family business, with the idea that he would someday return to college. Thousands of towers later, Reski is now 57 and the owner of the business with offices in Billings, Bismarck and West Fargo employing about 40 workers. At some point, he noted, he was too entrenched to leave. But Reski said he wouldn't have it any other way, despite the fact that his siblings have college educations and "nice warm corporate jobs."

"I like working outside," he said. "And I don't mind going on the road."

He also likes to see what he calls his "little trophies" rising in the rearview mirror as he drives away from a newly erected tower.

His father started the business in the mid-1950s in Moorhead, Minn., after getting out of the Navy. Back then, the main work was putting up television antennas. Now the company services and erects towers -- mainly two-way communication towers used by governments and companies -- in a nine-state region of what Reski refers to as the "cold states" -- including Montana, the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wyoming.

Cold and hot weather, winds that can drop the temperature below zero or just make the tower sway queasily are some of the reasons Reski said the job sucks. There are also the 12- to 15-hour shifts when the long summer days keep workers toiling late. If these conditions aren't enough to discourage would-be tower workers, there's also the ever-present threat of falling, which Reski once did.

When he was 19 or 20, Reski said, he tumbled about 80 feet, bouncing off the structure on the way down before landing on his back and breaking a few ribs and "bleeding out of every hole in his body." Oddly, he found at the bottom that the whole disorienting way down, he had hung on to his wrench.

"You wouldn't wish this job on your worst enemy," Reski joked, which is maybe one of the attractions for the "Dirty Jobs" producers.

But the work does have one upside.

"Nobody wants to go on top of the tower to tell you how to do it."

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