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Crane operator has ‘best seat in the house’

Scott Badertscher sits in the cab of a crane June 15 above the streets of Lincoln, Neb. (AP Photos by Gwyneth Roberts/The Lincoln Journal-Star)

By Peter Salter
Lincoln Journal Star

Lincoln, Neb. (AP) — The man looking down on you, and you and you, calls it “weather vaning.”

If a thunderstorm rolls in, he powers down, releases the brakes and lets the wind buffet him — and his 215-foot crane — around the sky over downtown Lincoln.

“The winds will spin me in three different directions,” Scott Badertscher said from atop his 147-ton office. “It’s actually kind of fun.”

And it’s a safety measure: He’s not about to make a 10-minute descent down a steel ladder with lightning striking nearby.

But even on clear days, he doesn’t like to climb down — not until the end of his shift at the Catalyst Project, the $16 million high-rise going up on Q Street.

The shadow of Scott Badertscher's crane is visible over a construction site in Lincoln, Neb. If a thunderstorm rolls in, Badertscher powers down, releases the brakes and lets the wind buffet him -- and his 215-foot crane -- around the sky over downtown Lincoln.

Since February, the 48-year-old has spent solitary workdays in his air-conditioned cab far above Wendy’s. He begins his day at 6:30 a.m., climbing up from what used to be the front door of the StarShip theater.

He doesn’t come down until at least 3:30 p.m.

From his cushioned seat — and with his joysticks — he directs the pace of the project, lifting rebar and plywood, pouring concrete, getting a 10-story building off the ground.

“Some days, everyone’s fighting for the crane. That’s when you’ve got, like, a bunch of little school kids down there.”

On those busy days, the 27-year Sampson Construction employee might fly 120 loads, his rigger on the ground serving as his eyes, chanting into the radio: “Swing left, swing left, trolley out, up, up, up.”

The Tecumseh native won’t let the ground crew rush him. He has operated a crane for Sampson for 11 years. He won’t compromise safety.

“He’s well-rounded. He’s patient, he’s conscientious, he understands machinery,” said Dan Voukon, Sampson’s director of operations. “He knows the order a job gets put together. He’s safety-minded.”

And he’s OK with the solitude. “I like it that way. I work better by myself.”

He did have a visitor a couple of weeks ago. Badertscher arrived at work on a recent Saturday and found a cut in the chain link fence and ó on the platform outside his locked cab — an empty bottle of rum left by a late-night sightseer.

On slower days, when he’s waiting for the next load, he might pop “Animal House” into his DVD player. Or “The Dark Knight,” or the “Bourne” trilogy.

He has watched homeless people wake up after a night on a downtown roof.

He has memorized the garbage trucks and delivery drivers.

He will be in his cab until April or May, as the building rises up to meet him, watching the seasons change and the people scurrying around far below.

And he’s looking forward to football season, when he can spin his cab north toward Memorial Stadium to watch the Huskers on the big screen.

“It’s the best seat in the house.”

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