They wandered into my store one day and I thought I recognized them. After I greeted them, I realized these fellows are industrial crane operators. In South Western Minnesota crane operators are the big boys! This region is home to one of the largest wind generator fields in North America. It stretches from Fargo North Dakota to South Eastern Iowa.

Dustin Matzke, Jim Larson, Cory David and Jeremy Egger are some of the serious operators in this industry. They are in South Western Minnesota because there is some maintenance to be done on wind generators. They are replacing a blade on one of the wind generators, perhaps 262 feet up to the “hub center.” Jim Larson operates a 200-ton Liebherr crane from Austria. The Liebherr holds the “man lift.” Cory David does the heavy lifting of the 150-foot blade. They amplify the reach and strength of their machines by adding “jibs or super lifts.” This can increase their capacity by 40% and it can take 3 to 11 hours of building time to construct this engineering marvel. Cory David and his 600-ton “Demag” can reach to 357 feet. With a “super lift” he can reach to 400 feet.unnamed-2
This is not a profession that just falls into place. Crane operators log up to 8,000 hours in apprenticeship before they are set loose on their own… to put objects in the sky. The objects are big and the objects are heavy. Cory David once set a 280 thousand pound taconite crusher into its prescribed place in the Babbitt Iron Ore Mine. I ask Jim Larson what project stands out in his mind. He smiles and says “Target Field,” two years in the making.
I first saw a Liebherr crane in the old city of London. It was close to the Tower of London. The streets were narrow and circuitous. Few other cranes in the world could be hoisted into position (above ancient buildings) and put into an operable state of lifting capability. I’m a Liebherr fan. That’s when my fascination with cranes began.

Cranes inspire me. I travel throughout the Midwest and Western states for three to four months each year. I use industrial cranes on the skyline as my economic indicator. Denver, Milwaukee, Albuquerque, and Fargo – wherever I go, I count cranes. Sixteen from one vantage point in Denver alone!

It requires an entourage of seven semi-trucks (per crane) to have this crew show up on the scene… I am swept away! I’ve met famous musicians. I’ve seen a few movie stars. I’ve been honored to introduce famous people to very large crowds.  But these guys are my rock stars! Their day often consists of lifting gearboxes, generators (Nacelles), main shafts and blades.

Crane Operators
If there was ever a modern day cowboy, these are the gunslingers… and they own the sky!

Bill Keitel

(photo credits Cory David)

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