Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What it's like - very short videos of tower cranes.

Even though right now I represent workers in a Union, my profession is tower crane operator. When I say that, people either don't know what that is, or they ask two questions right off the bat. First, how do you get up there? Second, how do you go to the washroom up there?

For people who don't know what they are, I can explain by saying that if you look at the Toronto skyline there are about two hundred of them putting up high rise buildings on the horizon.

For those who do know, well, the first question is real easy. There are ladders. Each section is on average twenty feet tall, and some cranes are up higher than others. Each section has to be climbed every morning, and descended each night. For someone who sits in a tin box the rest of the day, it's actually a great way to get more than fifteen minutes of cardio. The second is easy as well. Number One, if I can go by my kids metaphor, is done into a sealable jug (antifreeze bottles work well as they have handles for tying up and lowering to the garbage). Number Two is usually accomplished before climbing by a combination of timing and Tim Hortons coffee on the way to work.
This first video shows what it's like to be nearly three quarters the way up. (I made videos to play for Jenn at home, so many are addressed to 'my love'.)

That out of the way, usually the next question is "What is it 'actually' like?"

Well, lets start with mechanicals. The whole crane is regularly inspected, and you can walk each section. Some 'parts', like the jib (boom) sections on some cranes, require having a harness and lanyard, others can be walked within catwalks. They are meant to flex and accept strain, so when things are picked up and landed, they move. A lot.

There are motors that make the cables move for lifting. These make quite a bit of noise that you can hear in most of the videos. There is a cab where the operator controls the crane. These can be as comfortable or as difficult as the different makes of car out there. Since some cranes are over forty years old, I've seen everything from cushy truckers chairs to actual Ikea desk chairs in them.

My father was one of the first half dozen operators in Toronto when they first started erecting tower cranes, and started out with the controls on a box hung from his neck. Not recommended.

This next video was to be sent to Jenn while she was in Belleville. I was cut off during a break in order to do some work, though, but it is great for showing the view.

In this next one, I was also working on the two Menkes towers beside Sherway Gardens.Warning I drop an 'f'bomb in it in case kids are listening. The operator in this, Nick, was relatively new at the time also, and taught me a lot. He had apprenticed under Frank, who had apprenticed under my brother Larry. Just to show you how small the operating community is in Toronto, I apprenticed under Larry, and then Nick, and my next job after this, under Frank.

Of course, that doesn't show what it's like to actually operate. This one is a good one of pulling panels out from under a deck at the Peterborough Regional Health Centre, in Peterborough Ontario. It's my Dad operating, and the foreman Mario on the overhang directing him.

Then, finally, people ask how they are taken down and put up. I also did that a few times on several different types, but because I was working so hard, I didn't take much video. In general, they are put together by bolts or pins, and each section is lifted into or out of place by mobile cranes. High rise buildings are different. The cranes get jacked up a couple of floors at a time every few weeks until they become too high to reach with mobile cranes. To take them down off high rise buildings usually a small derrick (tripod crane) is brought up through the elevator, and it's used to erect a bigger derrick. The large derrick then takes down the tower crane piece by piece, and then the big derrick is taken down by the small derrick, then the small derrick is taken back through the elevator.

I have two short clips of taking down a Pecco 2000 in Peterborough while I was still an apprentice, and here they are: In the first, the jib section is being taken away.

In this one, the counter jib.

Well, hope you liked the little tour! If you're looking for more, my brother, father and I were in the episode of 'Things That Move' in 2006, which was about tower cranes.

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  1. I love this one- but you should have told them about the dangers...like when you almost ended up being sucked into the thingamabob....

  2. Yes, maybe a post someday about all the times I've nearly died on different jobs ... there's a few stories like that...