Randy Dodd operates a Crane at the historic Jacksonville Elementary School building Thursday. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

A Big Lift

One day Randy Dodd may find himself lifting a 220,000-pound boxcar at a derailment, the next day hoisting a several-hundred-pound hot tub into a home site on steep terrain.

"You are never in the same place twice," says the 34-year-old crane operator. "You never do the same thing twice."

On every job, Dodd must consider a variety of conditions before he begins a lift. He uses his own experience and intuition, a computer system in the control cab and charts to help him judge what can and cannot be done.

Dodd has been operating cranes since he was 18. He works for Cook Crane Co., a firm he's been with for the last nine years. Next year he will take over the company from owner Rick Cook, who is retiring.

Cook's biggest crane, which Dodd usually operates, weighs 167,500 pounds. Its arm can reach 250 feet high. The Oregon Department of Transportation issues permits for each trip it takes.

Dodd is on call 24 hours a day should a firm or agency like the Medford Fire Department need him in an emergency. Travel outside the Rogue Valley rarely exceeds three days.

On site, Dodd and his two-man crew often must lay out planks for the crane so it won't sink into the ground if it needs to move through a field. Highway drives and determining how much weight the ground can bear underneath a crane's support outriggers are the job's two biggest challenges, Dodd says.

"The ground is always unknown; you can't depend on it," says Dodd. Dirt and seemingly hard asphalt and cement surfaces can give way, causing a crane to settle or topple. Metal sheets ranging from five-by-five-feet to 10-by-10-feet are put under the outriggers to help spread the load.

Dodd says he's put one crane on its nose during his career. No one was hurt.

Dodd does all the scheduling of the company's other five operators. "I wouldn't put anyone on a job I wouldn't do," Dodd says. There have been times he's rejected a job because of safety concerns.

"I'm not afraid to say, 'Nope, I can't do that,'" he says.

About half of his work is on construction projects, says Dodd. He's placed beams for the new south Medford interchange and hoisted steel for the Rogue Valley Medical Center's latest addition. Other work includes tree removal, swimming pool placement, cell phone tower installation and train derailments.

"It's pretty much the same hand/eye coordination as working with other heavy equipment, but cranes involve a lot more skill and processing," says Dodd. A computer in the cab helps him determine how much counterweight he needs to put on a crane's base to offset the weight of a lift. There's a definite adrenalin rush sitting in the control seat, he says.

Crews on the ground communicate with Dodd using hand signals. There's an internationally recognized set of signals that Dodd feels are more reliable than communication via radio.

Dodd learns about the latest equipment and techniques during a construction convention that's held every three years in Las Vegas during March.

"All the new technology and new rigging, it actually makes you better," says Dodd. "You see that you can do this or that."

Dodd credits much of his skill to learning from Jack and Billy Batzer. His dad worked for Batzer Inc. The pair put Dodd on equipment early, starting with a Bobcat when he was 11. He learned other heavy equipment, too. At 18, it was time for another challenge.

Dodd recalls Jack Batzer saying, "You did a good job of running the other equipment, so you might as well try this." When he graduated from high school, Dodd knew what he was going to do.

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