February 20, 2007
Tifton --- We sometimes see stationary tall cranes at construction sites with their booms hundreds of feet long, and a tiny cab where the operator sits. Ever wonder about the life of a crane operator who sits so high, and sees what a lot of people don't see?
"Beautiful every morning," says Bernard Nugent as he enters his small control center shortly before the sun rises.
"I'm always here before daylight," says Bernard who climbs to work long before construction workers appear. He warms up his crane, turning it completely around in both directions, running the cable trolley to the end of the long boom and lowers the hook as far as he can.
As sure as the sunrises every morning, you will find him in his chair, hands on the controls, looking at the start of his day.
"Time to go to work," says Bernard as he pushes an electronic control in his right hand forward.
He operates a construction crane, a perfect job-match made by higher ups.
"I'm kind of a private person anyway," says Bernard.
No worries about people bothering him. They would have to climb 105 steps to pay him a visit.
"I counted them," says Bernard.
The steps go almost straight up to his sky box of an office where it's, indeed, lonely at the top.
He carries with him what he needs for the day in an insulated cooler that holds sandwiches, snacks and bottled water.
What does Bernard do if he has to make a pit stop when he's 100 feet in the air? He takes plenty of bottled water and reuses the containers.
He didn't start at the top, but at the bottom, assembling steel beams that weigh thousands of pounds when something unforeseen happened that changed his life.
"Crane operator didn't show up one day," says Bernard.
And, as they say the rest is history.
"This is my first tower crane," says Bernard, but you wouldn't know it by watching him work.
"It didn't take him but about two days and he was a good as anybody we've seen," says Josh Guy, job superintendent for Jones Construction Company.
It takes a gentle hand to safely move anything the workers need to anywhere on the Tift Regional Medical Center's construction site.
He relies on the eyes of workers to guide him, directing him by two-way radio; A deft hand to move a nine- thousand pound beam to its final resting place.
The boom seems nervous, swaying back and forth at its end. Some of the lifting cables whip back and forth, even though Bernard doesn't seem to care.
"Never been afraid of heights," says Bernard.
The boom wiggles before coming to a stop, and Bernard accounts for its movement.
"He has total control of the load whether he picks it up or doesn't. "He can put it right where you want it. He's here everyday," says Josh.
Even though Bernard comes to work, he may not work. High winds and rain with lightening can stop him from working at his perfect job.