An office in the sky
VAIL – Forget the mayor or the head of Vail Resorts. The highest-profile jobs in town belong to John Syfrett and Rebel Griffin.The two spend their days high above Vail Village as crane operators for the Vail Plaza Hotel and Club, a hotel-condo project under construction.Syfrett, 70, has seniority and gets the taller crane, which is 190 feet tall. Griffin’s crane is 160 feet tall.Their offices – called cabs – are small. They can only extend their elbows to their sides. And if their heaters break, it can get cold.The morning commute involved a hike up hundreds of stairs that takes about 15 minutes.
“You get so used to it, it’s like taking a morning stroll,” Syfrett said.All day long, workers call them on the radio to tell them what has to be picked up and put down somewhere else. The machines can lift up to 13,600 pounds.They have two levers and a pedal to maneuver the crane – hand-eye coordination is key, they said. Wind can really complicate things.And neither of the two feels even a twitch of a butterfly in their stomachs when they look down 190 feet, they said.
Syfrett and Griffin have the best view of Vail’s so-called “renaissance.” And everything else that’s going on in town. Griffin said he’s noticed the Fire Department stays very busy.”Sometimes you see things you shouldn’t see,” Griffin said. “I think I’ll shut my mouth on that.”Syfrett and Griffin, who work 10 to 15 hours a days and up to seven days a week, also saw a few spills on the mountain during the year.”There were some times I swore whoever fell wouldn’t get up,” Griffin said.Syfrett is originally from Columbus, Ga., and has worked as a crane operator for 40 years. He served in the Marines, then worked in Colorado for more than 30 years. He recently spent a few years in Florida before returning to Colorado for the Vail project.Griffin, who is based out of Thornton, grew up in Pascagoula, Miss., and flew helicopters in the Army Special Forces.Both have to be trained as operators, including learning how to climb the giant staircase. That requirement has changed in the 40 years that Syfrett has worked in cranes, some that are over 1,000 feet tall.”When I first started, all we needed was the guts to climb up that crane,” he said.
Now that the project is finishing up with its crane work, the two will look for work elsewhere. But only after a vacation.Syfrett, who will turn 71 next month, said he’ll work as long as he can.”Till I’m 100,” he said.Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado
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