Historic LA Coliseum thermometer repaired
LOS ANGELES (AP) — For a decade or more, rain or shine, it was always a balmy 70 degrees at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
But when University of Southern California football fans take to the stands this season, they'll finally know the real score, because the stadium's perennially broken giant thermometer has been repaired.
A team of USC mechanical engineering students designed, created and installed a new mechanism in less than three months last year. They finished the repair manual last month and are working on creating spare parts.
"It's one of the most stressful and one of the most awesome things I've done," team member David Cape, 22, said Tuesday.
The thermometer, a clocklike dial on a wall near the stadium's distinctive peristyle arches, was installed in 1955. Cape said at some point it must have broken down and the original mechanism was removed but nobody seems to know when.
It has been broken for at least a decade, but it may have stopped operating decades earlier, Cape said. His team was never able to discover a date.
The shaft of the pointer needle was tied so that it pointed straight up to the numeral 70 — and there it remained no matter what the weather.
Cape, a member of USC's drumline for the past four years, performed under it every Trojan football home game.
"It became a running joke, like 'It's always sunny and 70 in Los Angeles.'"
But things were stormy for the stadium, a protected historical landmark. There were money problems and complaints of poor maintenance and management. Last year, former general manager Patrick Lynch and five others were indicted on corruption charges. Lynch pleaded guilty last year to conflict of interest.
The controlling Coliseum Commission proposed leasing the Coliseum to USC, effectively giving the school control of day-to-day operations. However, negotiations have stalled.
Cape said the problems may have prompted the thermometer project.
"One of the big things people were saying was 'You couldn't even make a working thermometer,'" Cape said.
A commissioner suggested making its repair a choice for a senior project last August, Cape said. Mechanical engineering class teams made proposals.
Armed with a budget of only $300, the winning team of Cape, Charlie Palmer, Ryan Magruder and Andrew Ezarik put together a prototype. Coliseum Commission and USC representatives then compared their $280 model to a professional design that would have cost an estimated $5,000 to $10,000, Cape said.
They chose the student design, although beefed up and supplied with a larger budget.
While still attending classes, the team designed a more robust system, with a backup battery. They coded software, had gears milled, made a motor housing, laser-cut acrylic for the electronics and put together sensor systems from off-the-shelf and industrial hardware.
The $1,200 system was in place and working for the final USC home game last November.
While Cape said the thermometer is accurate to plus or minus 3 degrees, the 70-forever reading won't entirely vanish.
When the electricity is switched off or goes down, the needle will automatically move back to 70 before the system shuts off.
Coliseum commissioners wanted it that way.
"They liked the idea of it always being 70 in the Coliseum," Cape said.