Crane operator hangs above city in office with serious view
BY CARY ASPINWALL World Staff Writer
Monday, November 26, 2012
11/26/12 at 7:50 AM
Nick Palmer's daily commute ends with a 300-foot ladder hike, at the end of which he climbs in a tiny pod for 12 hours and dangles his lanky legs over downtown Tulsa.
For the past 12 months, Nick's office - a cab on top of the 330-foot tower crane hovering over downtown Tulsa - has been stormed and snowed on, struck by lightning and jostled by 70-mile-per-hour winds as it built the office tower at One Place.
From his perch in the tower crane he operates six days a week on site, Palmer has witnessed everything from a courthouse plaza shooting to teenage pranks and a daily cast of characters who hang around the downtown bus station.
"It beats pushing a broom or hanging drywall," he said. "There's never a dull moment."
Or a dull view: The spectacular views of Oklahoma's sunrises and sunsets are the best part, he said.
Last week marked the end of Palmer's duties at the One Place construction site. The crane was dismantled and it's on to the next job.
Palmer, 25, works for a subcontractor of Flintco Cos. Inc., the company building the tower at One Place. Cimarex Energy Co., a Denver-based company, has leased all of the tower except for the retail-based first floor and will likely start moving in as the project is completed in early 2013.
"You have to have an unhealthy lack of respect for heights to do what Nick does," Project Manager Don Summers said.
Tower cranes are used to build the bones of large-scale projects such as the 18-floor building adjacent to the BOK Center, Summers said.
The massive steel crane is secured to the ground with a 7-foot-thick block of concrete, anchored with piers that reach 40 feet down into the earth. After the crane came down, that base will become just another employee parking spot.
Across town, Manhattan Construction Co. is using similar tower cranes to build St. Francis Hospital's new trauma emergency center and patient tower.
When storms roll up quickly, it's often safer for the crane operator to stay in the cab because it's grounded - versus getting out and getting caught on the metal ladder in a thunderstorm. Fortunately, the only time this crane was struck by lightning was during a night thunderstorm when no workers were on site.
Oklahoma's winds can make workdays in the crane's cab interesting - and on the worst days, the winds that come sweeping down the plains halt progress. The crane at One Place stuck around about two weeks longer than planned due to wind delays, Summers said.
When Flincto was building the 19-story tower at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, the crane was not tied into the building and had quite a bit more sway on an average day, Summers said. Once, an electrician working up in it got a little sick from all the swaying.
How do you get someone down quickly if they fall ill or get panicked by the height?
"They usually have to climb down," Summers said. "There really is no easy way to get down. You can always strap somebody in a basket, but you really don't want to do that."
So, during 12-hour shifts up at 300 feet, what happens when you need to um ... go?
"He has containers, and there's some technology we use to deal if he does have to go. It's like what they do for astronauts," Summers said.
Crane operators tend to be easygoing, free spirits who move easily from job to job and don't mind solitude. Because of safety regulations, crane operators aren't allowed to listen to music or books on tape while trapped up in the tower, Summers said.
The ladder climb itself takes about 15-20 minutes each way. Nick is tall and skinny (on site, his nickname is "Nick the Stick") and he figures his daily climb keeps him fit.
For Palmer, one of the best aspects of this job has been location: The tower crane at One Place looms directly above Ti Amo's Italian restaurant on Cheyenne Avenue, a favorite eatery.
Palmer would call in his take-out order, lower the crane's hook with a special bucket attachment, and a Ti Amo's staffer would drop in his lunch, usually a grilled chicken panini.
"Bring it under the big, red crane and I will take care of the rest," he would tell the person taking his order.
Domino's also delivered to the site, he said.
Original Print Headline: An office hanging above the city
Cary Aspinwall 918-581-8477
Operator Nick Palmer stands in front of the crane he operates and the building he has helped put together at One Place Tower in downtown Tulsa earlier this month. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World
The bottom of the 330-foot-tall tower crane is anchored to the ground in the basement of One Place Tower in downtown Tulsa. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World
Nick Palmer operates the 330-foot tower crane used in building One Place Tower in downtown Tulsa. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World