With the official announcement that the fabled Brush Towers are to be demolished and replaced, it’s time to finally share the tale of:
“The Elevator Kings”
by Werrinda Bassmonde
This is not a WIDB story, though I suppose it could be construed as a WIDB-infused story in that it involves doing things not of the prescribed/dictated way but in their own organic way, built upon independent thought, curiosity, and a desire to do something cool, fun, and unconventional. Regardless, it is an SIU story, a dorm story and more particularly, a Schneider Tower story…
My Freshman year I lived on the 17th floor – the top floor, for those that don’t recall – in Schneider Tower. I became fast friends with someone we’ll call “John”, who, like me, was a mischievous soul with a fun sneaky streak and a curiosity for how things work. We schemed up and executed ideas like unscrewing one of the two bulbs in each of the lighting fixtures on C-wing and coating the second bulbs with red marker, giving us our own “red-light district.” (We only did one bulb per fixture to save on floor charges). The sight of the red glow atop the column of white-lit C-wing lounges while walking/stumbling back from the strip was intoxicating. It was a beacon calling you home and it was really awesome.
Simulation of the “Red Light District”
We loved checking out the elevators and our curiosity was enhanced by the fact that by being on the top floor, the chances of running into anyone else when entering them were pretty low (i.e. no one intentionally rides up to 17 just to go back down).
Earlier during Spring Semester ’80 we had come across an unlocked access door on our floor that led to the 18th/19th floor areas of the tower. We’d gone up and explored, and we saw the machinations of the elevator system, including lots of relays (old-school electrical switches). We discussed ideas like how to make the system think that the 17th floor was the 1st, thereby having the cars hang out on our floor instead of the lobby when not in use, and we pondered whether we might be able to sometimes fix broken elevators ourselves to save on building charges. Sadly, pondering was as far as we got.
However, we located the access hatch to the “real” roof, so later that evening we brought up some orange whips and had a little party. We really were the highest in Carbondale!
Not long after, one early afternoon John asked me if I wanted to see something. I followed him to the elevators and he pushed the Down button. Again, the nice thing about living on 17 was that we were pretty much guaranteed an empty car once it showed up. This fortunate situation of assured privacy would contribute heavily to our ability to do what followed next.
We enter the empty car that had arrived, and before the doors are closed John is down on one knee and fiddling with something at the bottom of the side wall. This was the same wall that had the rather conspicuous gap in its railing, as opposed to the other walls. We’d barely started moving when the next instant the elevator jerks to a halt and the wall has opened like a door! John then straightened up and, while holding up a hex wrench, gave me a look of “is this fucking cool or what?”
Well yes, John, this is very fucking cool! He’d opened the “secret” maintenance door on the elevator! I looked out and down the shaft of the other car (remember how the towers had 2 banks of elevators? They each shared a double-wide shaft). On the back of the inside of the concrete- and cinder block-walled shaft were cables that held the counter-weights for the cars as well as another set of cables running down the middle that carried the adjacent car. I watched as the weights of the adjacent car went down as the car came up.
Meanwhile, unlike when you push the Emergency Stop button, there was no alarm sounding because our car was stopped! This was awesome stuff!
So we experimented. We found that we could control when the car moved by re-engaging the safety contact switch with a finger. We’d also noticed that there was a big steel beam between every floor that ran horizontally between the front and back of shafts. And we had another crazy idea…
Some of you may recall your scrawny pre-adolescent days of shimmying up trees like monkeys. What happened next could only be inspired by such actions.
By stopping the car right in between floors – specifically 16 & 17 – we could climb onto the beam and then onto the roof of the elevator!
And so we rode up and down on top of the elevator cars.
On top of each car was a small maintenance control panel. With it we could take over the elevator whenever we wanted, moving up and down, controlling whether the doors opened, whatever we wanted to do. And the best part was that getting off the roof of the car was easier than getting on: we would stop the car so the roof was even with the bottom of the outer doors of our floor, pop them open (the outer doors also had a contact switch to keep the car stopped, so we could un-stop the car at the controls) and walk right out.
This became handy for goofy pranks. There were many a late weekend night that we’d take a ride. We’d pick up folks in the lobby. We’d turn off the doors and drunk folks would miss their floors because they were busy with drunk talk with others returning from the strip that they wouldn’t notice that the car had stopped at their floor since the doors didn’t open. We would randomly stop the car and then return it to the lobby. Since we could hear what they were saying we could respond with our actions. I remember vividly one night after we returned some folks to the lobby hearing them tell others who were waiting “Don’t use that one – it’s broken!” We’d hear them tell the whole story. Then we’d move on. We also left some graffiti inside the shafts proclaiming our conquest.
Still, we wanted more. The controls on top had some, but not total control of the elevator car (for instance, going down via the panel was half-speed). We needed access to the main panel inside the car.
Toward the end of the semester workers were using the one car that had a back door for work during the day so they took manual control of the car using the (usually locked) control panel in the car. On May 1, 1980 at the end of the day they forgot to lock the door to that control panel. We found this out quick and proceeded to hijack the car. We accomplished this by bringing it up to 17, opening the side door, and then bringing up its neighboring car and walking thru its side door. Since it was quite common for one of the elevators in Schneider to be non-functioning, we knew that parking the car this way would not arouse suspicion.
Later that night we returned to the car and had a party. I made a goofy poster with a sign-in sheet:
We rode inside the elevator, parking ourselves at different floors and having a little party! Occasionally while parked we would eventually hear some folks outside waiting for an elevator. After a few moments of idle chatter would come “do you smell that?” or “do you hear that?” or “There are people in there! Listen!” And of course we’d start laughing, giving ourselves away, so we’d move up or down another few floors before continuing. And this continued for a few hours before we finally gave up the elevator for the night. The panel door was locked the next morning.
And that was pretty much the pinnacle of all of our elevator adventures. John didn’t return for the next year, and although I stayed on 17 for another year I don’t remember having any more elevator shenanigans with anyone. But for one glorious semester in the Spring of 1980, we really were The Elevator Kings.
P.S. When Schneider finally does come down our author has $50 for the person who can provide me one of the bricks from the elevator shaft that was written on, although authentication by him will be required.