Release Date: August 12, 2010

Sacramento crane operator

The Sacramento Bee

Michael Reid starts each workday with a harrowing 15-minute ascent up a massive steel ladder. He makes the reverse climb at the end of the day.

In between, he's ensconced in what he calls "my treehouse in the sky", a glass cabin 246 feet above ground, where he operates one of two cranes recently installed for the Sutter Health expansion project in midtown Sacramento.

It's an eerie place for a visitor. Even the cabin floor is glass, allowing a much-too-vivid view of workers scurrying far, far below.

But it's no problem for Reid, a New York native who's been doing this sort of work for more than 30 years.

"Heights don't bother me," he says.

Neither does working all alone in a tiny box for upward of 10 hours a day.

He has a comfortable upholstered chair, a radio tuned to AM talk shows, a pair of binoculars to check out local sights and a book always at hand "to keep my sanity."

The isolation of the work used to bother him, Reid allows. Not anymore.

"You realize you're the heart and soul of the job," he says, entrusted with delivering bundles of rebar, concrete forms and 1,000-pound I-beams to construction workers while making sure "they go home with all their fingers and toes."

He says he takes that responsibility very seriously. He won't touch alcohol, for example, the night before a workday.

"I have to be sharp as an arrow," he says.

Even on slow days like these, when general contractor Boldt Construction is just starting what will be Sutter's eight-story women's and children's center.

"This job entails hours and hours of boredom," Reid says, "followed by moments of sheer panic."