There was a first -- and a last -- at the World Trade Center this week and it came in at about 100,000 pounds.
Maybe I should explain.
The new World Trade Center will be home to four office towers. Towers 1 and 4 are on their way up and anyone walking by the site can see the work. But the two other planned buildings are just taking shape 70 feet below the street in the bedrock of what’s called the East Bathtub.
Tower 2 will, when finished, rise to around 1,300 feet. And last Tuesday, on a snowy and bitterly cold day, the first of the buildings steel columns went into the ground.
“It’s a huge milestone”, Glenn Fidje, Silverstein Properties' Construction Executive for Tower 2, said.
Fidje oversees the various contractors, architects and engineers working on the building, and oversaw the iron workers install the towers' steel columns.
After arriving by truck, the columns, weighing about 100,000 pounds total, were lowered into the job site.
All around was activity.
Surveyors were doing last minute checks to ensure the steel is placed correctly. Horns were blaring constantly to signal that a crane was lifting. If a horn signaled nearby, workers clearing snow and ice from the concrete that the columns will sit on glanced up to make sure nothing was overhead. If the horn was faint they didn't appear to notice. With the ice and snow cleared away, a torch -- more like a flame thrower -- came out to dry the concrete so the surveyors could make final marks with chalk.
“There is a great deal of preparation [and] communication with everyone working in the area so that everybody knows what’s happening” Fidje said. “There are many many small items that have to be reviewed for something like this.”
The first column was lifted by a crane so that it was vertical and then the iron workers, about five or six, stepped in. They call a crew like this a “raising gang.” While one communicated to the crane operator over a radio, they slowly moved the eight-ton column into place.
"They're all teams," John Kelly, a vice president for Falcon Steel, said.
“These guys have known each other, they’ve worked together for a long time," he continued. "It's a tightly coordinated act. It’s like a dance almost, and these guys know all the moves. They're always looking two or three steps ahead and looking out for each other. It’s important that everybody goes home at night.”
With 15,000 pounds of steel hanging above them the iron workers pushed, pulled, spun and cajoled the column into place. The base of the column had holes for receiving bolts sticking up from the concrete.
Slowly the column was lowered, but getting several bolts aligned with the intended holes on the steel’s base was no simple task.
A puff of wind or some unseen shift in the universe spun the steel. While the iron workers seemed to be using all their strength they also had a light touch. You want to be able to move your hands quickly if the steel starts to swing the wrong way. The saying goes, “the steel always wins.”
A quick word over the radio and the crane lifted just a little and the workers spun the steel back into place. Then down it went, perfect fit. Nuts were spun down the bolts and tightened.
Then out came a tape measure.
It seems odd, dealing in tons of steel and fractions of an inch at the same time, but that precision is vital. Any mistake made in the foundation is magnified as the building rises into the sky. It’s a little like a bad tee shot in golf. Initially a ball struck just a few degrees off might look good, but over distance that error is magnified and you are in the woods.
"They have got to be exact. There is very little tolerance with respect to the alignment,” said Fidje.
With one done they moved to the next. Like men playing with a giant’s erector set they make steady progress and in just a few hours three columns are in place and Tower 2 began it’s vertical journey into the skyline of New York City.
A small step, but Fidje pointed out buildings like this one require “millions” of steps and they all need to be done correctly. More importantly, with these columns in place every planned building for the new WTC is moving up. It was the last time steel will go in for the first time.
"When they go into place as we hoped and planned that they would, it's really a great feeling," Kelly added.
To see the latest segment in the Rise of Freedom series tune into Fox Report with Shepard Smith, tonight, at 7pm ET. You can also catch up on all our segments by going to www.foxnews.com/freedom. To learn even more about the work and progress you can also visit these sites www.wtc.com, www.panynj.gov/wtcprogress and www.national911memorial.org.
Martin Hinton is Executive Producer for the Fox News Reporting Specials and Documentary Unit as well as Political Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @MartinFHinton.