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WoodmenLife Changing the Letters at the Top

With All the Letters Up, Focus Shifts to Electrical Work and Testing

The south side is looking good today — just like the east, north and west elevations — now that all the letters are up!

Workers with Omaha Neon have been a fixture on the top floors of WoodmenLife Tower since June, when the project to change the letters kicked off. On Thursday, they were cleaning and working on the electrical cables. Wiring for all the letters goes through 8 inches of stone to an individual control box, which feeds to a single point on the 29th floor.

Building managers have tested the lights on the west elevation to make sure all parts of each letter light properly. They’ll repeat the process for each letter before a big reveal on all sides later this month.

The letters themselves are Plexiglas and covered in a film with small holes that light pours through at night. That means each letter appears black during the day and white at night. The lights will be controlled by an automated time clock, though a manual override is possible. The on and off times can change, based on how dawn and dusk times shift with the seasons.

The old letters weren’t quite as high tech. They were metal with a ceramic coating, which proved difficult to repair if they were damaged. Numerous other buildings in Omaha have similar Plexiglas letters, and they’re quite durable. If there is damage when Nebraska weather gets wild, crews can make fixes right over the edge of the building. There’s no need to remove the entire letter and bring it down.

Check out the photo gallery of the project and keep an eye out for a WoodmenLife Facebook event to see all the new letters light at once.

Aug. 28 Update

And then there was one — one side left to finish, that is.

The Omaha Neon crews have finished installing the letters on the east, north and west sides. The electrical work to light the letters is done on two of those sides, and in progress on the third. If all goes as planned, all the letters will be up by Wednesday, Sept. 2. That will leave some electrical work to finish.

After all the work is wrapped up, a grand reveal is planned to light all the sides at the same time. It’s a fitting way to cap a project that took dozens of meetings to plan, required city approval, tapped the expertise of so many people, and spanned months. Stay tuned to the WoodmenLife Media Center for upcoming plans to celebrate.

Aug. 20 Update

Workers at WoodmenLife Tower hit an important milestone today – all the letters on the west elevation are up after two days of work. That’s much faster than an initial installation estimate.

On Friday, crews expect to start working on the wiring. Each letter has a vinyl overlay with perforations for LED light to shine through. This means the letters will appear all black during the day and all white at night.

Wires will run from the letters through the stone façade to electrical boxes inside the tower. The west side boxes will be on the 30th floor, but the location of other boxes could vary, based on a number of building factors. A timeline for the electrical work isn’t firm, though installers expect each side to go a bit more smoothly and quickly than the one before it.

The wiring for each letter comes in at base of the wall and will run up to the junction boxes (marked with tape) before it connects with the electrical system in the tower.

Contractors having been working 500 feet up at 1700 Farnam St. since June, taking down the 51-year-old “Woodmen” letters and prepping for new “WoodmenLife” ones. They’ve often had to come up with creative engineering solutions to overcome unanticipated challenges. They’ve also faced a couple of weather delays. Despite all that, the progress has been impressive. Check out the photo gallery and video gallery of the work.

Aug. 13 Update

Contractors at the top of WoodmenLife Tower are getting good at pivoting. We can say that for a lot of reasons.

The first one is literal. Crews had the tricky job this week of hauling the new “WoodmenLife” letters up 28 stories. Most of the ride was in a freight elevator, but even getting in there requires twists, turns and maybe a tilt or two. Nothing that’s 12 feet high and 7 to 8 feet wide is easy to maneuver. And after the elevator, the letters had to be hoisted through a hole in the roof. Major muscle was required.

The second pivot they made was due to the scaffolding. The new cables arrived and were installed, but the scaffolding was too “tight” to the wall. It would have been impossible to get the scaffolding up and around the new letters without touching or damaging them after they’re attached. The contractors are exploring work-arounds now and hope to have a resolution in the next few days.

The last pivot was with the installation schedule. Omaha Neon had planned to install letters one side at a time — east, south, west, and then north — until all four sides were done. Now, given other delays, crews will take a piece-meal approach with the hope of finishing yet this month. That means they may install a few letters at a time and then move to a different side. It will help installers adjust to the weather 500 feet above street level.

Please check the WoodmenLife Media Center often for project updates. And if you haven’t already, please scroll through the photo gallery and video gallery for the project.

Aug. 10 Update

Work at the top of WoodmenLife Tower is back in action after equipment arrived and a brief burst of wind Monday morning.

Omaha Neon was on site Monday to continue prep work now that new cables have arrived. Crews will finish installing them on the scaffolding and then be ready for a safety check point Tuesday or Wednesday. After they’re approved, letters and brackets can begin going up, possibly as soon as Wednesday afternoon.

Omaha Neon had another task on the Monday agenda, too — getting pieces of the letters up to the 28th floor, so they could be assembled outside. Installation will start on the east side, and then move to the south, west and north sides.

Keep checking back here for project updates.

Aug. 3 update

The effort to update the letter to WoodmenLife is on pause for a couple of days until new cables for the scaffolding arrive. While prepping for the installation of brackets and letters, crews discovered that the existing cables that raise and lower the scaffolding need to be replaced.

WoodmenLife is working to expedite the order and expects the cables to arrive midweek. They’ll take about a day to install, and then letter work can begin on the east side.

July 29 update

The initiative to update the letters atop the WoodmenLife Tower is entering the final stretch — the installation of brackets and letters that will now read WoodmenLife.

Omaha Neon Sign Co. crews are expected to start Monday, Aug. 3, on the east side, and then go to the south, west and north sides. Each side is expected to take about a week, so all the work could be done in August, depending on weather and any unexpected problems.

For six weeks now, different teams of workers have been on the roof of the 30-story tower, as well as dangling over the edge of it. It’s been a labor-intensive process to cut down the 51-year-old letters that were approximately 12 by 11 feet. They often had to break each letter apart just to fit it down the freight elevator. Cleaning crews then took over, power-washing away grime that had caked around the letters on the stone facade. That phase went faster and was more successful than expected, so we can now get to the fun part.

The new letters — which are 12.5 feet high and vary in width, mostly between 7 and 8 feet — will appear black during the day and white at night. They’ll be visible to Omaha-bound air travelers from more than 80 miles away thanks to a new LED system that shines light through tiny holes in the film on the letters.

Stick with this story on the WoodmenLife Media Center, and check out the photo gallery to see how the project has progressed.

July 21 Update

To say the cleaning vendor rose to the occasion, well, might be too much idiom for some, but its staff did just that at WoodmenLife Tower.

The crews working to update the letters on all four sides finished the first pass of power-washing the stone, and with only water and no chemicals, very little shadowing is left. This cleaning is part of the second phase of a project to change the letters to WoodmenLife. The old Woodmen letters had been in place for 51 years, and grime had accumulated around the letters 500 feet up, leaving outlines where the letters had been. The vendor still has some touch-up work to do this week, but overall, most are very happy with the results.

Rendering from Omaha Neon of letters on top of current stone.

Vendors could work to remove more shadowing with a chemical wash, but that has a number of drawbacks. For example, significant portions of the elevation would need to be covered and protected if harsher chemicals were used, and the exterior material is a sand-based composite and could deteriorate if there’s more treatment.

Given the drawbacks of more cleaning, and the quality of the overall results, a decision was made to move into the third phase, the installation of brackets and new letters.

View of the west side of the tower after power-washing with water.

Stick with this story on the WoodmenLife Media Center.

July 13 Update

Have you ever used a power washer 28 stories up? We haven’t either. But we’re glad the professionals hanging off of the WoodmenLife Tower know what they’re doing. A cleaning team with a local firm has made a lot of progress removing the shadowing left behind the letters on both the north and east elevations. About half of the south elevation has been washed as of Monday afternoon as well.

The Woodmen letters were up for 51 years, so discoloration was expected. It could take multiple passes to remove all shadowing, but the early work has been promising. All the coloring needs to be removed, since the new letters won’t be the same size or shape as the previous ones.

The past letters were approximately 12 by 11 feet, but the new ones are 12.5 feet high and vary in width, mostly between 7 and 8 feet.

After the first pass is done on all four sides, project leaders will determine if more work with a different cleaning solution is necessary. Crews will then patch the stone facade before installing brackets to hold the new letters. Work may wrap up in August, depending how much crews are delayed by high wind and other weather conditions.

July 6 Update

The last of the Woodmen letters are now off WoodmenLife Tower, and Phase 2 — cleaning — is set to begin.

Crews with Omaha Neon Sign Co. finished removing the last of the 28 letters on Monday, so all that remains on the stone facade are shadowy outlines of the letters.

We’ve captured the removal work with the help of time-lapse photography and aerial drone footage. Check out the bird’s eye views.

We also have the view from First National Bank Tower just a block or so away.

Workers had to slice and dice each letter into about six pieces so the scraps could be removed from the tower and hauled away.

To prepare for the new letters, crews with a different vendor will bring in power washers to clean the stone. They’ll use water first, and if that isn’t effective, add chemicals to remove the outlines and other markings left after 51 years atop the Omaha skyline. The timeline will depend on how challenging the clean up will be.

Keep checking the WoodmenLife Media Center for updates and great video of the progress.

June 29 Update

Our initiative to change the Tower letters to “WoodmenLife” is turning heads – or so we’ve heard and seen on social media. We’re nearly two weeks in, and only 10 of the original 28 letters are left. As of Tuesday morning, we’re down to:

  • WOO on the west
  • N on the north
  • WOD on the south
  • MEN on the east

The contractor, Omaha Neon, has taken down about three letters per day. Weather has impacted the pace of the project, since wind and the presence of lightning can limit their work 500 feet up. Based on what we know now, we’re on track to have all the letters gone by next week.

Work to clean and patch the precast stone behind the letters will begin once the letters have been removed.

Check back for more progress updates, and in the meantime, look at the photo gallery of the work.

June 22 Update

You already knew we’re excited about changing the letters at the top of WoodmenLife Tower, but for a brief while the tower expressed it better than we could. That’s right, the west side read “WOO.”

That means we’re getting closer to the next step in this project. After all the letters on the west side are down, Omaha Neon workers will spend about a week cleaning and patching the marble, since the 51-year-old letters have left their mark.

Keep an eye on the skyline when you visit downtown, and we’ll update you here as the project advances.

June 18 Update

Beginning Wednesday, June 17, about 500 feet up, workers were busy removing the first letter from the top of the Tower. The initiative to update the lettering at the top of the Tower from ‘Woodmen’ to ‘WoodmenLife’ will take about 10 weeks.

The first letter to go was ‘D’ on the Tower’s west side. Over the next 3 months, employees from Omaha Neon will take down the rest of the 27 letters that have been on the Tower for 51 years. The project has been years in the making and will forever change the Omaha skyline.

Please check back here often to follow the progress. In the coming weeks, you can access time lapse video of the work and drone footage of each part of the process. Workers will remove existing lettering in pieces, clean and patch the marble, install new brackets, electrical wiring and finally the new letters.

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