When I started in the Transportation Construction business in 1992, crane operators were small-time gods. They were one of the few men who could sit at the controls of a machine all day, if they chose to, and not work like the other guys who could run other machines. Anyone could run a backhoe, an excavator was something that took some skill, but it was no big deal, really, but for someone to be able to get a job running a “dragline” as it’s called in construction, it took skill, and it took no small amount of guts.
A crane operator has a lot, and I mean a lot, riding on his skill. There are power lines, traffic, and unlike any other piece of machinery, at some point in the day, you’re likely to have a lot of weight swinging over every person’s head on the project. One mistake, one slip of a hand or foot, and something heavy begins a journey it really should not. Heavy objects hit other things, and people, very hard.
Operators in training are dangerous. On the job experience is the only way to learn, and being dangerous is the only way to figure out how not to be.
There was a time young men lined up to become crane operators because it paid well. But it was not easy and mistakes were never minor, and always public.
Now it’s 2020. The project I’m working on at the moment is dead in the water. We cannot drive piles. We can’t pour concrete. Our crane operator is out sick, and we’re idle.
There aren’t any. There aren’t any out there at any pay grade. They asked me if I could do it and it’s not something a man can lie about. But even if I could do it, I wouldn’t do it. I’m pushing sixty years old and I do not need the money or the responsibility.
The superintendent of the project told me he had been trying to hire a crane operator, and trying to train one, for over a year now. New guys bail out quickly because it’s dangerous and takes a long time to learn. Men straight out of high school think that sort of work is beneath them, and they want to have an inside job without dust and rain and mud and cold and sunburn and insects. College grads won’t get near the ground when they go to work.
“You could do it,” the foreman tells me, “you’re good with controls.”
It’s something to think about. It’s a job that carries a heavy responsibility, a lot of money, but it also eats a hole in the day when it comes to time. It can be tedious and it is always dangerous. Thirty years ago it might have been tempting. But I have my time in. I have nothing to prove anymore when it comes to this work.
Yesterday the guy they had filling in dropped a welder from fifteen feet when the line got caught on a pile. A half-ton piece of machinery crashed down without a sound and hit hard. It’s why I never get under a live load. None of this is safe, and all of it can be dangerous.
Take a lot of Care,