After more than four decades keeping Lea County connected, what some described as an icon of the Hobbs skyline is no more.
Crews were hard to miss as a massive crane was pulled into position in the parking lot of United Way of Lea County and the Kinetic by Windstream retail store last week.
Delayed briefly by weather, workers from Advance Tower Services of Albuquerque scaled the 300-foot radio tower while a crew from Marks Crane and Rigging of Odessa, Texas, ran their equipment high in the sky to bring the tower down.
Originally built in the early 1960s for General Telephone Co. of the Southwest, the tower used microwaves to connect Hobbs, Jal, Eunice and other remote areas of Lea County with a similar system based in Lubbock to the east, according to a Feb. 3, 1962, article in the Hobbs Daily News-Sun announcing its extension to its final 300 feet — almost 60 years to the day before being brought down — one piece at a time.
A new microwave telecommunications system was installed on the tower the following year, eliminating an outage-plagued wired system, according to a follow up article in the Oct. 13, 1963, edition of the News-Sun. Windstream assumed ownership of the tower in 2006, said Harold Stinnett, a network technician with the company. The last of the microwave system equipment was removed from the tower in December, he said.
“It’s going to be decommissioned and taken down,” Stinnett said.
Work was originally planned to begin on Wednesday last week, he said. But, after erecting the crane Tuesday, excessive wind speed forced the crews to partially collapse the equipment again over safety concerns.
“The wind was blowing stronger than they’re allowed to work at the height they were going to be,” Stinnett said.
But Friday dawned clear, cold, and sunny and, more importantly, calm. Workers could be seen making their way up the tower from around the downtown Hobbs business district and beyond.
Once in place, straps were attached to the four corners of the top section — weighing in at an estimated 6,500 pounds, one worker said — before the crew scrambled back to the bottom of the section to remove dozens of bolts that held it together for decades. Once freed, the crane pulled it clear of the remainder of the tower before lowering it slowly to the asphalt surface of North Shipp Street even as the high-flying crew maneuvered into position for the next section.
Workers said there was a consistent flow of traffic, with residents curious about the goings on at the tower. At least one person questioned workers, they said, about taking away an “iconic” feature of the Hobbs skyline.
Buried fiber optic cable now performs the same service — on a larger, more efficient scale — as the tower and its microwave communication system once did.
When the microwave system was upgraded in 1963 it could handle 68 communications circuits between Hobbs, Jal and Eunice, and was further expandable to as many as 360 circuits. Today’s fiber optic technology can carry thousands of communication circuits or more.
No replacement is planned for the tower, Stinnett said, with its estimated 60,000 pounds of metal eventually destined for the scrap heap. The skyline of Hobbs will never be the same.
“It’s just coming down and get it out of the skyline,” Stinnett said. “That tower hasn’t been used in probably 15 years.”