Crane Accidents

Crane Operator Has Best Seat at Ballpark Site


Found: Coolest office in San Francisco. Private penthouse location with spectacular 360-degree views of bay, skyline and occasional nude sunbather. Work station comes equipped with state-of-art video game joysticks. Private rest room — working knowledge of pulleys and ropes required.

Sound good? Then why isn’t there a waiting list to move in? Well, there is a catch. You have to be willing to sit atop a swaying 200-foot steel tower and operate a crane. Not everyone can handle the job description.

“It’s a height thing,” says Rob Terheyden, who is working the tower crane at the new Pac Bell ballpark site. “A lot of people are scared of heights.”

No kidding. And Terheyden works way, way up there. He’s so high he says, “When the Blue Angels come, you can almost read the expression on their faces.” He’s so high that he often spots nude sun worshipers on downtown roofs. He’s so high that he laughs when visitors ask him where his seat belt is.

“Over there with my hard hat,” he says, grinning.

It takes a minute before you get the joke. If this baby goes down, a seat belt or a hard hat will provide about as much protection as his cab’s coffee maker.

Terheyden is no daredevil. He casually strolls the catwalks on the “jibs,” the arms that extend in front and behind the cab, without bothering to touch the safety railings. That’s part of the job, setting the rigging and servicing the crane.

But if you are looking for someone to

climb on the roof to set up your TV dish, Terheyden is not the guy.

“Ladders,” he says, “I don’t care for.”

Nor winds that gust above 27 mph, nor a “pick” (lift) that isn’t rigged the way he likes it. When lightning flashed recently, Terheyden unapologetically closed up shop and raced down the 200-foot steel ladder. He once saw a worker knocked to his knees by a thunderbolt and says he will never forget it.

“I know how to say `No’ real well,” Terheyden says. “I’m the guy who sends everybody home with all their fingers and toes. I look out for my children down there.”

With the steady breezes off the bay, Terheyden’s job is a little like flying a kite from the other end of the string. Using two joysticks — the right one to bring the hook up and down and the left to rotate the crane and move the trolley up and back the jib — Terheyden gently feathers 20-foot panels into place and deftly drops hundreds of pounds of scrap lumber in a debris box.

“It is,” he says, “like the ultimate video game.”

There is the obvious problem. Terheyden climbs the tower at about 6:30 a.m., and doesn’t leave until as many as 10 hours later. What does he do when nature calls?

Well, he may climb down, but it is more likely that he will use another method involving a rope and a pail. Put it this way. Site superintendent Brad Klung says the cry of “Here comes the bucket!” can clear out any spot on the site in an instant.

The only other drawback to the job is that, except for scratchy radio calls, there aren’t many chances for Terheyden to talk to anyone.

“Yep,” he says, “it’s lonely at the top.”

Besides giving your heart a jolt, the view from the top of the tower crane provides perspective to the Pac Bell Park site. If you walk by the project this week, you will see what looks like an industrial anthill, a labyrinth of bent steel bars, concrete walls and wooden panels.

It is only when you can look down from above that the outline of the ballpark starts to take shape. The work has finally moved beyond pounding pilings into the ground, and has begun to create the foundation for the seats behind home plate and down the third base line.

With the change, however, there is concern. Unseasonable rains don’t help. A “slab pour” was postponed twice recently because of the wet weather. The project is not behind schedule — yet. But every time it rains, the clenched jaws get a little tighter.

The project has moved to the next level. Pounding concrete pilings into the earth is a task that can be done in a drizzle, as long as the ground doesn’t get too muddy for the workers. But the underpinnings for the grandstands demand more precise tolerances.

A group of ironworkers has joined the construction team, and they will be on the site for the next few months. Right now, their job is to wire together the complicated cages of reinforced steel bars (known as “re-bar”) that will be filled with cement.

The result is a honeycomb of concrete-walled boxes, each with a skeleton of re-bar to give it strength. Each box is set atop a row of pilings, and is attached to the buried concrete columns by a large rod driven into a hole in the top of the piling. If there is an earthquake, the idea is that the ballpark would be held from “uplift” by the bars attached to the pilings.

But the rain slows everything down. The re-bar frames are tricky to navigate in the first place, and once the steel rods get wet and slippery, they are a real menace. The ironworkers have been called off the site recently because of dangerous conditions.

In addition, the “slabs” are the surfaces that will actually be visible when the ballpark is finished. They need to be as smooth as possible, which means no raindrops digging pits in the wet cement.

However, now that the slab pours are beginning, amateur ballpark photographers should take note. Once the slabs go on, the concrete boxes you can see now will be buried forever. If you want a picture of the foundation of Pac Bell Park, now is the time to take it.

When some of the workers arrived at the site last month, there was a change. Rich Hanson, one of the site superintendents, was gone. His office in one of the construction trailers was completely cleared out, and Hanson was nowhere to be seen.

Frankly, the departure was not a complete surprise. Hanson and some of the higher-ups had some issues from some previous jobs, and as Hanson admitted, a little sheepishly, they “wouldn’t let it go, and I wouldn’t let it go.”

There is no question that Hanson was planning on seeing the ballpark to Opening Day. He was the catcher at the groundbreaking ceremony, when Barry Bonds knocked a ceremonial ball into the bay, and he was the guy who set home plate in place at the site. When he signed on for this project, he expected to be working for the full 30 months.

But this happens on the big jobs, where you sign on for the whole voyage but sometimes don’t finish the trip. The big ship sails on, even if a few members of the crew end up overboard. Hanson wasn’t the first to leave unexpectedly, and he won’t be the last.

Hanson and his wife, Charlene, have moved back to San Diego, where they have a house. Like many in this tough, competitive line of work, this isn’t the first time they’ve pulled up stakes.

“In this business,” Hanson says, “you gotta be mobile.”

This is the fourth in a monthly series on the building of Pac Bell Park. During the next two years we will follow the construction and the controversies and introduce you to the people who are creating the San Francisco Giants’ new ballpark.



  • Cost so far: $31.4 million of estimated $262 million has been spent.
  • Pilings driven: 1,305 out of 2,100.
  • Cubic yards of cement poured: 2,464.
  • Height of current tower crane: 200 feet.
  • Height of second tower crane to be errected next month: 250 feet.
  • Workers on site: 95.
  • Workers to date: 200 of eventual 2,500 estimated.

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