Beginnings: Billboard installing — a high-rise occupation

Monday, November 2, 2009 | 5:23 p.m. CST; updated 12:33 p.m. CST, Tuesday, November 3, 2009
A 14-year veteran billboard installer describes his work above Missouri highways and interstates.

COLUMBIA — Perched atop a giant billboard north of Columbia, Tim Luttrell and his team of three are putting the finishing touches on another face-lift. In just an hour, this 12-foot-by-30-foot billboard will be transformed to convey a completely new advertising message to cars whizzing by at 70 mph. For Luttrell and his crew of billboard installers, this isjust another day at the office — albeit it a very tall office.

For more than 14 years, Luttrell has been climbing billboards along Missouri’s highways and installing new faces on these monstrous signs for Lamar Outdoor Advertising. Monday, he was responsible for overseeing the installation of five new billboards around Boone County.  

From a folded-up piece of vinyl no bigger than a 3-foot-by-3-foot square, Luttrell can create advertisements as big as 672 square feet, the size of many one-bedroom apartments in the Columbia area. However, controlling such a large piece of material isn’t always an easy task.

“Of course, the windy conditions are the worst for us to be in,” Luttrell says. “ … It catches (the advertisement) and pushes it away from the sign and makes it a big parachute.”

In 14 years of installing billboards, Luttrell has worked in every imaginable weather condition, such as sleet and the humid Missouri heat. “We’ve worked in rain; we’ve worked in cold weather, elements, hot weather, all of it,” he says.  

Working at heights of more than 60 feet, Luttrell and his crew do not go unnoticed by passersby. “We get a lot of honks on the road all the time,” he says with a smile.  “We make friends with everyone.

"We don’t even know them, and they honk at us and wave.”

Dwarfed by the massive advertisements, Luttrell sometimes gets a kick out of the more humorous billboards. “Of course, your Hooters boards … everybody makes a big deal out of them,” he says, laughing. But, for the most part, Luttrell says he is usually too absorbed in his work to even notice the advertising message.

“Most of them, I couldn’t tell you what was on them when I left if I didn’t have the work order in front of me,” he says.

Luttrell may not remember the advertisements he installs each day, but he definitely looks at billboards in a different way than most people.

“Knowing what it takes to put (the billboard) up, you can criticize other billboard companies by how theirs look,” he says. “It’s kind of a pride thing.”

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