Thursday, July 2, 2009

Up on the rooftop!

If, like me, you were a boy growing up in the ‘50s, then one of your favorite toys was probably an erector set. Invented by A.C. Gilbert in 1911, the really cool thing about erector sets was that they used real nuts, bolts and metal parts—just like actual construction work. The top of the line Erector Set, pictured here, included a crane that you could use to haul pieces up and down. It’s hard for most of us to remember now, but in the 1950s American life still has a more muscular tone (college was the exception, not the rule), and the men who built the tall buildings were at the top of the pecking order of blue collar jobs and the men who ran the big equipment were at the very top.

My career took me about as far from the big iron as possible. I was an English major as an undergraduate and then studied Comparative Literature and Law in graduate school, but on one Saturday in June all the feelings of the power and joy of men working and building things came flooding back when we put the outside air handler on top of CityWalk@Akard.

Look at the pictures. This piece of equipment weighs 17,200 lbs, almost nine tons. That’s bone crushing weight. There is no room for mistake. An error could cost millions of dollars, serious injuries, even cause a death.

Akard Street between San Jacinto and Patterson was closed for the operation (that’s fun in itself!). The enormous piece of machinery was lifted seventeen stories high and slipped sideways into place with only about six inches clearances on each side. Everyone on the job was holding their breath, waiting to see if the crane operators were really as good as they said they were—because the task looked impossible.

The skill of the crane operators was unbelievable. It was like watching astronauts or fighter pilots at work. You could see pride in the perfection of their work and joy in the power of their equipment. Slowly, handsomely the air handler rose seventeen stories, then moved sideways, out of sight over the building. Everyone is quiet for ten, fifteen minutes, and then the crane releases its load. The equipment is in place.

Immediately, less than an hour after starting to lift the equipment, the crane operators are preparing the crane to move again. You don’t let a million dollar crane sit idle a minute more than necessary.

I was happy just to have a privileged place to watch as the Owner’s Representative and feel the joy of building things.

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