blog post photo

***The live blog is now over. Read below to see the discussion during the show!***

Ready to scale the iconic bridges of the UK? We’re here with Sean Riley now blogging live until 10P et for the World’s Toughest Fixes premiere episode of “Extreme Bridges.”

He’s sharing his commentary on moments throughout the show, and is available to answer your questions.

passportpocket Asks:

Lead paint…. !!! Is that a common problem here in the United States too? I’ve never thought of that before… and the potential impact on our waters.

Riley Answers:

Yes. Lead based paint has been yesterdays go-to technology for durable paints all over the world. Many of our bridges, buildings and monuments are still coated in lead to this day. As long as it stays where it was painted it’s fairly safe (wash your hands, don’t eat off of it), but when it’s pulvorized in the stripping process it can’t be allowed to enter the environment. Lead paint is in the process of being phased out worldwide, but it will be a long time before it’s all gone.

lesleenatgeo Asks:

i saw you on a morning show the other day and the host asked you what fix you haven’t done that you’d like to do. you mentioned the gulf of mexico oil spill. do you think you’ll get to go to that area in the near future? have you ever been on an oil rig before?

Riley Answers:

I’m currently in the field shooting another episode. It’s unlikely I’ll make it down to the gulf, but like many of us, I’m following it closely. I have worked offshore before. In fact, in season one I worked on the dynamic positioning motors on a deepwater construction vessel very similar to the one that sank. That fix took place about 30 miles off of Louisana, right in the neighborhood of the current spill.

(9:52) Riley watching “Extreme Bridges”:

It seems innocent, but that grit blaster is a very serious tool.

digitaldino Asks:

some things must go wrong on these big fixes. did anything go wrong on this bridge given some of the technology was experimental?

Riley Answers:

The truth is no one knows. The truly experimental technologies at use here have never been tested before. The only way to find out if they will work or not is to carefully monitor these first applications going into the future. If they work, other bridges all over the world will adopt the same techniques.

NGC Moderator Asks:

You said you didn’t want to think about what would happen if you dropped it — is the blaster hard to control or heavy? Is there a specific smell associated with it?

Riley Answers:

Not much of a smell because while using it you’re encased in an airtight suit to avoid breathing pulverized lead. I was afraid of dropping it because of stories about people cutting their limbs off by dropping a grit blaster.

digitaldino Asks:

were you ever scared of heights as a kid?

Riley Answers:

I have a healthy respect for heights, but I’ve never really been afraid of them. Even as a kid I loved climbing to the top of anything I could find. I guess it’s just in the blood.

NGC Moderator Asks:

How mentally and physically exhausted are you after a day up high on the bridge?

Riley Answers:

Very, but it’s exhilarating too. The first few days of this type of work, people tend to go all out with the adrenalin. After a few years, you learn to pace yourself better, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

NGC Moderator Asks:

What extreme weather can still be endured while fixing a bridge and what can not?

Riley Answers:

Humans have proven they can bear just about anything if they have to, and Scotland dishes up some pretty nasty weather. Those guys will work through most, but if the ice gets too thick they come down, or if the wind gets really howling.

NGC Moderator Asks:

Does your cameraman, Eric in this case, who walks down to the drop spot on the cable bridge — does he have any special experience in rigging or anything that makes him more knowledgeable when following you into these situations?

Riley Answers:

Eric is a fantastic director of photography, and a brave and hearty soul. He came to this show without any experience in fall protection or working at height, and has gotten a crash course over the last two years. Don’t worry, I look out for him.

(9:35) Riley watching “Extreme Bridges”:

Corrosion is a serious problem with many aging suspension bridges around the world. I would love to do a whole show on this.

Kolchak Asks:

Wow! I’m getting vertigo just watching you climb all over that bridge! What if any precautions or special care was taken given the age of the firth bridge? Sounds like it had some historical significance — did that play into how team approached this fix?

Riley Answers:

Sure you can’t forget how long the bridge has been standing. Some areas have to be avoided because the corosion is just too bad. But that’s the point of the work going on there, to go to where the rust is, and get it fixed.

NGC Moderator Asks:

Why don’t they control the traffic more if it’s carrying more than it was designed to carry?

Riley Answers:

Lots of bridges end up carrying more or different loads than their designers anticipated, it’s a growing world that’s hard to keep up with. Would you volunteer to be late for work to lessen the load?

sndgyhi Asks:

You are my HERO! One very important question: How did being a banana slug help in your quest for perfection? :) Rock on brother! Robert—PFA

Riley Answers:

Thanks for the support! I did attend the University of California at Santa Cruz, what seems about a thousand years ago. It’s a good school, in a very beautiful setting. My quest for perfection was abandoned long ago. These days I’ll settle for not getting killed and a good night’s sleep. Go Slugs!

NGC Moderator Asks:

How did it feel wearing a “skirt” for the first time?

Riley Answers:

A kilt is a fine and noble garment, and in truth, this was not my first time wearing one.  Kilts are comfortable and practical, but not so much for rigging work, although I do have a utility kilt with cargo pockets and a hammer loop.

NGC Moderator Asks:

What are the physical requirements to be fit enough to scale large structures? Do you follow a certain workout/exercise regimen?

Riley Answers:

My workout plan: get up early, work as hard as you can, try to get it right, fall down dog tired and get ready to do it again. That’s about it; I enjoy a lot of outdoor active hobbies and sports in my daily life, and I’ve been blessed with work that keeps me fit.

cbecker1 Asks:

what kind of helicopter was used in the toughest fixes episode that aired 5.6.10 and who manufactures it?

Riley Answers:

That wacky flying eggbeater is called a  K-MAX, and it’s a rare machine.  They aren’t made anymore, but you can still find lots of info about them online. In the hands of a skilled pilot, the K-MAX can pull off jobs almost no other helicopter can. Trivia tidbit for today… Helicopter pilots are generally not fond of the term “chopper”, that’s only in the movies.

NGC Moderator Asks:

Did the trains start to make you feel a little crazy?

Riley Answers:

The constant intrusion of the passing trains does get a bit monotonous after hours and hours on the bridge. But the one time you ignore the signals, might be the last thing you hear, so no one can afford to completely tune them out.

NGC Moderator Asks:

Did you ever feel like you were seriously about to die when up really high or have you at least been somewhat scared and can you share those feelings?

Riley Answers:

I have had a few “close calls” in my career, but for the most part working at height requires a calm and steady focus. Panic, is more deadly than the heights.

NGC Moderator Asks:

How long does it take to plan the scaffolding rig for a bridge?

Riley Answers:

Large scale scaffold projects like these unique setups can take months or even years to engineer.

NGC Moderator Asks:

With such massive bridges, how do you know when certain parts need to be fixed?

Riley Answers:

Corrosion is a natural process, it’s somewhat predictable but with mother nature there are always surprises. Careful and constant inspection is the only way to know what is going on below the surface.

Grizzer64 Asks:

My comment is about the show that recently aired where they put together an old ski lift. As someone who used to be involved with the ski industry, I was disappointed that they didn’t show the crew splicing together the haul rope at the end. That is like the icing on the cake. Why go to the trouble of showing every other step but not the most important part?

Riley Answers:

I’m right there with you. The splice is one of my favorite parts too.  It’s a critical part of the process, and a job only a handful of people in the U.S. can do. The gentleman who came to make the splice at sleeping giant was a pro, and a real character. He actually made the complex splice using his 14″ Bowie knife as his primary tool. One of the hardest parts of making WTF is trying to squeeze everything into the short amount of time we are given between commercials. Unfortunately, the splicing scene just didn’t fit. I was heartbroken about it too, because I think it’s such a cool job I wanted to show it to the world. The good news is that the splicing is in the DVD version which is 5 min longer, so if you can hold out for a while, you can check out the splice. Thanks for writing in. 

Comments

  1. Kolchak
    May 14, 2010, 1:20 am

    Wow! I’m getting vertigo just watching you climb all over that bridge! What if any precautions or special care was taken given the age of the firth bridge? Sounds like it had some historical significance — did that play into how team approached this fix?

  2. digitaldino
    May 14, 2010, 1:29 am

    were you ever scared of heights as a kid?

  3. digitaldino
    May 14, 2010, 1:33 am

    some things must go wrong on these big fixes. did anything go wrong on this bridge given some of the technology was experimental?

  4. casadelmar
    May 14, 2010, 1:42 am

    We’ve watched every episode of WTF’s 3 seasons and have loved every one of them. We tell everyone we know to watch these programs. Each season’s episodes are more amazing. Keep up the good work.

  5. lesleenatgeo
    May 14, 2010, 1:54 am

    i saw you on a morning show the other day and the host asked you what fix you haven’t done that you’d like to do. you mentioned the gulf of mexico oil spill. do you think you’ll get to go to that area in the near future? have you ever been on an oil rig before?

  6. passportpocket
    May 14, 2010, 1:55 am

    Hey Sean, love the show. It is truly amazing how high you all are at the first drop – and with the additional camera equipment, it looks truly terrifying. Are you ever afraid while on the job?

  7. passportpocket
    May 14, 2010, 1:56 am

    Lead paint…. !!!

    Is that a common problem here in the United States too? I’ve never thought of that before… and the potential impact on our waters.

  8. passportpocket
    May 14, 2010, 2:00 am

    Wow, more than 2,000 bridges in the US need a overhaul… that’s eye-opening. Great episode Sean, looking forward to next week.

  9. Turkish
    May 14, 2010, 6:10 pm

    I’m an iron-worker by trade and have a question because i think i missed it on the show. Why do the build the scaffolding from the top down?

  10. cmorgan
    August 15, 2011, 4:42 pm

    > I’m an iron-worker by trade and have a question because i
    > think i missed it on the show. Why do the build the
    > scaffolding from the top down?

    I don’t think the show mentioned it but in the situation in the episode it appears likely that it was due to the height. Rather than build up a large amount of scaffold from the ground they could build a much smaller amount by hanging it from the top and building downwards. The gap between the top area they are working on and the bottom can be left open.