Tallest Thing in the World


North Dakota

June 2008

it nearly stretches into space

I get a kick out of the most…  anything in particular…  in the world.  Like some folks, extremes hold an appeal for me.  I read the Guinness Book of World Records with glee.  Imagine my delight when I see that, not too far off our route to Devils Tower in Wyoming is the World’s Tallest Structure!

From Fargo, North Dakota, we drive north on Interstate 29.  Around exit 100, State Highway 200, we can see off to the left two very tall things, one obviously taller than the other.  Broadcast towers both, sticking straight up.  Our directions are simple:  Just off North Dakota Highway 18 in Blanchard, it’s the tallest thing in the world, you can’t miss it!  Go to it, and you are there.

Watching the tower at a distance as we drive back and forth on ND-18, pass it going south, then north, then south again, looking for road access.  I feel like a pacing tiger.  Finally, I turn onto a rutted dirt road and drive a few miles through the patchwork farm land, directly line-of-sight toward the tower.  A quick left past a farm house and we are at the base of this extraordinary structure, staring upward, trying to take it in.  I comment that with nothing around for comparison on this flat North Dakota plain, it is impossible to get a sense of just how tall this tower really is.  Yet it is a thrill to be standing next to and touching the tallest human-built thing in the world.

If you have ever visited a broadcast tower — and why would you do that? — you know that there is a blockhouse type building at the base of the tower.  Within these buildings are broadcast equipment, spare parts, a desk and usually a few clipboards with outdated paperwork lying around.  You will find a bulletin board on an interior wall, sometimes pinned with dirty pictures but more likely with boring printed columns of numbers.  On the outside of this building are these words, written in stencil…

TOWER REG NO. 1038731     2060’

Wait a minute.  The map, and all the other resources I checked before this trip, said that the tallest structure in the world measures at 2063 feet.  I assume that someone has committed a clerical error.

I take many photographs from all angles, marvel at the heft of the concrete and steel guy anchors, our mouths hanging open in awe as we let our heads fall back.  The tallest thing in the world!

When we’re done gawking and exclaiming, we begin to drive away.  Before we get very far, a young woman — let’s call her Ms Schneider — Schneider is the name on the mailbox — strolls out to meet us (not her real name — her name has been changed to protect etc.)  We exchange pleasantries for a few minutes including my question, “What’s it like to have the world’s tallest structure in your backyard?  I’ll bet you meet a lot of quirky people.”

She replies by saying something she has said very many times before, to all the quirky people.  “This isn’t it.  That tower over there is the tallest one.”  She points to the mast that we’ve already driven past.  “This one is three feet shorter.”

Well if that doesn’t solve the mystery.

I’m not exactly sure what I’m thinking or feeling at the moment.  We just ooh-ed and ahh-ed for the past half hour, quite excited by being in the presence of the tallest thing on Earth…  and it isn’t.  I begin to wonder what other peak experiences I’ve had, which weren’t.  Does this diminish the peak-osity?  Does it mean that my excitement was false, whatever that means…  Certainly misplaced.

I ask Ms Schneider, ironically, “What’s it like to have the world’s second tallest structure in your backyard?”

Our dilemma is easy to remedy.  We drive the dirt roads through the grid of farm land, once again following line of sight, to arrive at the world’s tallest structure.  Again.  How many times do you get to celebrate the same supreme accomplishment twice!

This time for real.  The sign on the blockhouse confirms what we hoped to see…





2063’ TOWER

It is quiet here, only the whistling of the wind playing on the guy wires like immense violin strings, the shsshing of the hay ruffling in the wind and the occasional chirping and trilling of a bird, sometimes flying sideways.  This is a properly reverent wind for the world’s tallest thing.

On the way back home days later, we drive through the outskirts of Chicago.  In the distance is the Sears Tower (renamed the Willis Tower,) an immense building, roughly 1450 feet and seven inches tall.  There is an antenna on top which takes it up to 1729 feet.  Ha!  This building has nothing on my KVLY antenna!

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