Passport ClubPassport Club Book a Room Book a Room Search Search

Already have a reservation? Manage Reservation

Meet the 'Crane Guys' who Protected Downtown Reno's Bridges

Mike Higdon | January 14, 2017
Reno Gazette Journal

While the floodwaters raged down the Truckee River Sunday and Monday, construction crews set up heavy machinery to pluck dangerous debris out of the water. Videos of these faceless workers snatching up logs midstream spread on social media. The nameless workers were called #CraneGuy, Bridge Ninjas and heroes of downtown Reno.

Without this first line of defense, logs can quickly pile up, causing the water to rise and putting extra strain on the aging bridges.

"It's like playing a video game," said Jim Duncan, one of the equipment operators. His buddies call him "Fuzz."

"It's like bobbing for apples," said Chad Olson, another equipment operator.

The three-man teams set up an excavator (not a crane), loader (like a bulldozer) and dump truck on multiple bridges, including Arlington Avenue, Sierra Street and Glendale Avenue. Fuzz, who got the nickname for sporting peach fuzz on his first day 13 years ago, said he had to grab debris before it hit the bridge. His partner Olson would then load the debris into a dump truck and the truck would take it away.

They worked for about 20 hours on three separate shifts.

"It's nerve-racking not hitting people, but also not hitting the bridge," Fuzz said.

He said the multi-ton excavator could tear apart the bridge if he hit a pillar. If the debris hit the bridge, the claw wouldn't have room to grab it without also grabbing power lines. So the only option is to grab things as they approach.

At one point during the flood, Steve Coltra plucked a metal picnic bench out of the water and Aaron Bird grabbed a storage shed.

While the bridge teams enjoy social media fame, other equipment operators and contractors around the city were activated to assist emergency crews with building barriers, placing fences, blocking roads and making sand berms. The Nevada Associated General Contractors Auxiliary was created after the 1997 flood to assist government agencies with emergencies.

Craig Madole, CEO of the Nevada Associated General Contractors, dispatched 70 companies, their employees and equipment to the areas most in need of help. He said it's easier for the agencies to ask for assistance from private companies rather than manage tons of expensive government equipment and people.

“(Contractors) were doing all this for the community while their own businesses were at risk for flood as well,” Madole said.

The downtown Reno bridge teams said they do it for the community, too. Some of them finally went home around 3:30 a.m. Monday.

All four said the task was no different than what they do every day at work. They frequently spend 8 to 12 hours in large construction equipment, focusing on digging holes and building things without breaking pipes or ripping up wires. They've been operating this equipment between 13 and 17 years with Q&D, but most of them started in the industry almost 20 years ago.

"I would do it all day long," Fuzz said. "It's fun. We all played with Tonka trunks as kids. It's a challenge every day."

Steve Coltra plays the X-Treme claw game at PeppermillBuy Photo
Steve Coltra plays the X-Treme claw game at Peppermill Reno arcade Jan. 10, 2017 (Photo: Mike Higdon/RGJ)

To test their abilities off the bridge, Peppermill Reno hosted a claw-game tournament between the four bridge workers Tuesday.

"The game will probably be harder than our machines," Bird said before playing.

Just for playing the game, the Peppermill donated $1,000 to the Red Cross, but to sweeten the deal, they donated $50 extra for each stuffed animal the guys could grab out of the arcade game.

Red Cross CEO Zanny Marsh said she appreciated the Peppermill thinking of them since their operating money comes largely from donations. The Red Cross set up temporary shelters during the flooding and helped provide food and services to people in Carson City today.

Olson said he's used to controlling the large machines with two joysticks and pedals, so the claw machine might not be very easy with its up, down, left, right buttons. But he still managed to pick up three oversized stuffed animals with one claw drop.

Together, they captured seven stuffed animals, for a total donation of $1,350 to the Red Cross.

After this, they will all return to work on projects they said most people will probably never hear about, but drive over or see every day. Fuzz, for example, helped demolish the old Virginia Street Bridge and will continue work on Truckee River Flood Project infrastructure.

"I seem to always be in the water somehow," he said.

Mike Higdon is the city life reporter at the RGJ and can be found on Instagram @MillennialMike and on Facebook at Mike Higdon, Reno Life.

Original Article