HARRELLS — While wearing hardhats, the Horrell family looked up towards the Newkirk Fire Tower as the sun beamed through the metal structure on a warm Friday morning.
From the bottom of the platform to the top, the height is 99 feet. It was built in 1936 and was a landmark in the community, up until Friday. The family is taking the tower to Western North Carolina.
Larry and Beth Horrell purchased the tower next to Fire Tower Road for $384 through a surplus and auction process from the State of North Carolina. The expense to take it down and move it was $2,000. A crane and a lift were rented for the labor. With help, they began dismantling it Monday with plans to finish before Saturday. Beth said they would always climb fire towers whenever they drove past one while traveling around the United States.
“We always loved fire towers,” Beth said.
The Horrells plan to take the pieces back home to McGrady, a community in Wilkes County. It will be reassembled on their 50 acre farm.
“We’ll use it for something fun, read or to look around,” Beth said. “I know it sounds a little odd, but we thought it would be something fun to have.”
“We thought we were a normal family, but we can’t make that claim anymore,” Larry stated with humor.
They several nights camping in Sampson County next to the tower with their children, Chuck Horrell, Barney Horrell and Emily Templeton. Their friends Robbie Oates, Frank McNutt, Robert Seevers helped too. Their friendship started through the N.C. Outward Bound School, an outdoor adventure program.
“All of our children are engineers so this is sort of a family project and something we can do as a family,” Beth said about taking down a tower for the first time.
Chuck sent his father a link to the auction for the tower, which took a lot of thought and preparation to take home. Some of the first steps was taking glass out of the home and removing wooden stairs.
“It’s fun to actually get here and just do it so you can stop thinking about it over and over again,” Chuck said. “We’re glad to get it done.”
After climbing to the top, there was a fold-down map case of the surrounding area, with magnets to mark fires. Chuck was impressed with the history along with his sister.
“We’ve enjoyed seeing the county here and getting a bird’s-eye view of all the forest around,” Templeton said. “We’re excited to have this tower here and we’re sorry that it’ll be missed. But we’re excited to give it a new home.”
In a jokingly matter, Templeton and chucked said their parents may also spend time searching for aliens from outer space.
“It will be a fun place for us to climb up and look around at the mountains near us,” she said.
Grant Jones, Sampson County Ranger for the North Carolina Forest Service, said the towers are more like icons nowadays. Jones has been with the service since 2003 and didn’t have to rely on a tower operator. Before technology such as GPS, satellites in the sky, and cell phones, an operator would climb to the top to look for smoke using an azimuth wheel to help pinpoint a specific direction with assistance of other tower spots.
“There’s no telling how many fires these operators in this tower have found,” Jones said looking back on the past.
During the process, several people stopped by and shared memories such as climbing up the stairs as teenagers.
“I’m pretty sure it’s sad to lose this landmark here in the community,” Beth said. “This is Fire Tower Road and the fire tower is going to be gone.”
Catherine Hoover, a resident and mail carrier from Harrells, expressed how the fire tower was an important part of local history, after her family along with Scronces moved to the area in the 1930s. She remembered her father, Harry Hoover, climbing up 21 times on one Sunday afternoon. He was 10 at the time. Whenever Hoover see the tower, she thinks about her father who passed away a few years ago.
“I hate to see it leave, but I’m glad it’s in good hands,” Hoover said.