Lion Steve Painter announces the completion of the pavilion roof at Observation Point

Fill a daypack with a few provisions and drive the Norris Freeway out along the Clinch River. Go past the weir dam and pull off when you get to the Grist Mill and Lenoir Museum.  Rising into the wooded hill behind these buildings there’s a trail–Grist Mill Trail–that climbs for almost a mile.  If you’ll follow it, near the top it’ll turn sharply to the right and begin a short loop to Observation Point. There’s an old pavilion up there, built back in the early days of Norris by the CCC workers. When you unburden yourself of that daypack, let it rest on the picnic table and take a seat on the bench. When you catch your breath, look out over the woods and hills and river, and catch your breath once more.  Don’t lose track of all that might and majesty, but look up at the rafters overhead.  Consider how that roof got there, and if you have even slightest fear of heights, catch your breath again.

In the early spring of 2012, the Norris Watershed Board was concerned.  The shake roof that had sheltered the picnic table at Observation Point since the Knights of Columbus put it there in 1994 needed to be replaced.  There was a hole up there you could’ve dropped a cat through—a good-sized cat.  The Board set aside some money for materials, and, working through the City of Norris, sent out the word to local community service organizations for some help with the labor.  When the Norris Lions Club got the message, they decided to take on the project. Lion Steve Painter would speak to Norris city manager, Tim Hester.  Before long Hester agreed on a final plan to replace the roof portion of the structure, but it would need to be metal this time to reduce maintenance needs.

Roof begins in Painter's workshop

Roof begins in Painter’s workshop

On September 21st, Painter, with the aid of Lions Jim Harrell and Roy Langheld, picked up the lumber for the framework.  Soon Painter’s workshop rendered the first common and hip-jack rafters.  These were duplicated, and then plywood decking was cut and fitted.  As the work progressed, Painter e-mailed reports to Club members, and other Lions joined the work crew.  Jim Hayes worked on hip jack rafters. Wayne Morris brought in scaffolding.  Jim Harrell helped Painter cut sheathing for the west side. Then the two disassembled the west side construction to make room for the east side. Fascia boards, common rafters and more hip-jack rafters took form.  By the following Friday, Langheld and Painter had completed the east facet, and Langheld was cutting a decorative set of pieces for the king posts. Saturday Toby Brown and Bill Daniel joined Painter and Langheld to finish cutting the east roof decking.

Harrell and Painter began loading the City’s trailer on Monday, October 1st.  Throughout the week, Norris city workers made trips from Painter’s workshop to Observation Point and back, pulling the trailer loaded with scaffolding, rafters and decking. On Friday, Roy Langheld drove Painter and Harrell down to Cleveland to pick up the metal.

Painter & Daniel demolish old roof.

Painter & Daniel demolish old roof.

Saturday was a beautiful fall day for the demolition. Accompanied by their granddaughter, Jennifer and Jim Hayes brought sandwiches, chips, fruit and brownies. Powered by their support and a generator Dennis Curtin had brought up earlier, Harrell, Daniel and Painter set about tearing down the old roof with reciprocating saws.  “The shake shingles had decayed to the point that only moss was holding them together in many places, and in many places, the underlying decking was rotten,” reported Painter.

In the days that followed, the demolition continued.  The structure had to be stabilized with collar ties so the old rafters could be removed.  Then the lower headers came down.  Finally the pieces cut during the preceding weeks in Painter’s workshop were going up.  Friday, October 19th, Jim Gilson joined Painter to put up the remaining six common rafters on the main section of the roof.

But Saturday morning, Painter was going it alone.  All by himself, he managed to get the east side fascia board up, the end common rafter installed, and one hip rafter fitted.  Then he went home and sent out another report to his fellow club members.  “I will be back up there around 1:00 PM,” he wrote.  “I would appreciate some company.  I plan to work until 4 PM or until my batteries wear out.” By early afternoon, six Lions had received the distress call.  Bill and Susan Daniel, Nikki Kapolka, Dennis Curtin, Roy Langheld, and Jim Gilson arrived to help Painter muscle 4-by-8-foot sheets of ¾ inch treated plywood from the ground to the scaffolding and finally onto the roof.  As the pieces made it to the top, Kapolka, Gilson, Bill Daniel and Painter screwed in fasteners.  There was a moment of tension when Painter declared the roof not square, but fifteen minutes later, pieces were refit and reinstalled.  Another close call came when Susan Daniel frightened a tiny mother mouse hiding among the plywood sheets on the ground.  It scurried into the woods, one naked infant clinging to it for dear life, another wriggling behind on the plywood.  Susan rescued the abandoned pink baby by tucking it in some leaves far away from such dangers posed by the likes of Dennis Curtin and Roy Langheld.  Clearly, some Lions were working harder than others.

Vivian Morris works with new metal pieces.

Vivian Morris works with new metal pieces.

The next day Gilson, Harrell and Painter installed the remaining rafters on the east side.  More adjustments had to be made for the out-of-square roof and a too-low fascia board, but they found the right orientation and everything fit like a glove.   On Saturday Jim Mohrman joined Harrell, Gilson and Painter to work on the roof decking, the drip edge and the underlayment on the west side.

On October 21st the rafters and decking were in place, and by October 27th the underlayment and some of the drip edge were, too.  During the next week, planning began on how they would mount the metal roofing.  Of course, none of them had ever installed metal roofing on a roof this complex before, but within a week the group had figured out that a circular saw was the most efficient way to cut the heavy gauge metal.  It was a noisy process; nonetheless, it was faster than cutting with hand-held cutters.  Various work groups spent the next three weekends putting up as much of the metal roof as possible before the weather changed. The roof’s steep slopes created difficult work.  For support, Painter used a harness tied to an eye bolt at each end of the structure as he installed first the panels, then the z-channel to brace the hip cap.  The harness held tight while he drilled and riveted the hip cap in place.

Painter & Gilson work on metal roof cap.

Painter & Gilson work on metal roof cap.

At 11:35 PM on November 11th, Painter sent an e-mail report to the rest of the Lions declaring a Herculean effort for the day. “Jim Gilson, Bill Daniel, Vivian and Wayne Morris, my wife (Loretta) and I worked and succeeded in getting the metal roof installed.  We have only the remaining hip and ridge cap and the supporting z-channel left to put up.”  He interrupted his report with a photographed roof-top view of the dam.  “Here is the dam view the rest of you missed.”  Then he continued, “Jim (Harrell) and I marked the remaining metal pieces yesterday. All the measurements were perfect, and the metal went up without too much fuss.  The ground crew cut the pieces and the roof crew installed them.  My wife is credited with keeping us all working, helping Vivian cut, tape and drill z-channel as we needed it, and taking some pictures.  At lunch Wayne and Vivian had to leave us but not before Wayne drove all over creation to pick up pizza for lunch at the site.  About 1:00 PM we ran out of screws.  Imagine that!  We also ran out of butyl tape for the z-channel and resorted to caulking each piece.  Bill Daniel went to Ace and found some screws that worked.  Jim and I cut the remaining metal roofing while he was gone.”  The last part of his message brought the work to a temporary halt.  “I will not be able to work on the project until I get back from vacation….”  Soon he and Loretta would be off to New Zealand, a much needed break but one that would keep him away from Observation Point for three weeks.

Gilson & Harrell celebrate a productive day.

Gilson & Harrell celebrate a productive day.

The fiery orange and golden leaves that gilded the Lions’ work through October were now gone, and a chill had set in on the high point looking out over Norris dam.  With their project leader on the other side of the world, the Lions found themselves busy with other seasonal work:  the Turkey Shoot, a Veterans Day ceremony, and the Greens Party.  Observation Point would rest until after the holidays.

The next project report came on January 6th.  “The weather was great for January,” Painter wrote. “However, we are at the point where the progress is slow and requires harness work up on the structure.”  Still, one more Saturday with a helper on the ground and another on the scaffolding would wind it up, he thought.

Spring arrived, however, before the roof at Observation Point would be finished.  April 6th offered a beautiful spring morning with new leaves of the forest beginning to unravel.  Lions Steve Painter, Dennis Curtin, Lee Graser, and Jim Hayes met at the site once more and spent seven long hours connecting the last six pieces of hip cap and the ridge cap.  The day ended with a countdown of the installation of rivets needed to finish the job.  Finally, the crew disassembled scaffolding and left the site.  The City of Norris was asked to remove the leftover metal on Monday.

Lion Roy Langheld creates decorative king post pieces.

Lion Roy Langheld creates decorative king post pieces.

At the April 18th Norris Lions Club meeting, Painter announced the roof complete.  Those fine post pieces that Roy Langheld designed and made for the king posts would be added soon, and a couple of plaques still needed to be hung, but this Lion-hearted effort was done.

One of the plaques Painter mentioned that night is a crude piece of wood salvaged from the demolition last September.  On it are scratched the names of those who had restored the roof almost two decades ago:  Cliff Stephens, Grady Griggs, Justice Miracle, Jerry Lambdin, Royce Beaty, Walley Broadwell, Jim Turner, Bill Stephan, Tracy Grissom, and Curtis Blanton.  When these men had finished their work in August, 1994, they hung the words of a prayer on one of the heavy cedar posts supporting the roof.  That prayer still seems fitting.

Observation Point's new roof

Observation Point’s new roof

Dear Lord,

We thank Thee for high places.

From here, we see spread before us Your works and man’s works, a larger world than we see day by day.  We are inspired to see these grander meanings of life which Thou hast offered as we thank Thee for the men and boys in the CCC who built the first shelter and those who have rebuilt it.

We dedicate this place for the use of all people.

We pray Thee to protect it and us from those who do not see and do not care.

May Thy Holy Spirit abide here forever.


The Norris Lions Club hopes you’ll follow that Grist Mill Trail to Observation Point soon – not only to take inspiration from this high place but also to take pleasure in the serenity of a beautifully renovated shelter.

Submitted by Norris Lions Susan Daniel and Steve Painter

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