Well, now, that’s a Man. A mighty tall man. The names are pouring in – Tin Man, Skinny Jeans Man, Clown Man. You can make up your own. But there’s no getting around one thing: this Man is huge. It took a huge crane to get the huge man assembled. It arrived from Reno on Tuesday morning, and by 8 am it was out at the Man Base, along with a hundred or so onlookers plus workers from various crews of an equal number. There were to be two big lifts – first the Man’s legs would be lifted to an upright position, then his torso would be placed on top of them. We’d only get one try, though – the cranes on site are too small for the job, and this was the only day that the big crane was available. If things didn’t go right, we’d still have a giant Man, but he’d be Reclining Man. Not quite the same. The day broke clear, but very windy. Wind is not a good thing when you are lifting very large objects into the sky. The crane operator, Leonard, was asked what he thought. “No problem,” he said. Cheers all around. Back in the heart of the city, Booya suggested closing down the heavily used 5:30 road, to keep the dust down. Brilliant.
Brandon, the lead rigger in Black Rock City, called together a team of Heavy Equipment and Man Base workers and assigned them to the four guide wires. Then he explained the process of transferring the load from the guide wires to the wires anchored to the ground. The plan was to stabilize the legs, then have Metal Shop Heather weld the base. Heather is the hot-shot welder in Black Rock City, always the person who is called when something special needs to be done. We only know a little bit about welding, but we know enough to know that she lays down a mighty fine bead. But anyone can do that with a little practice. Her skills transcend the ordinary. We’ve watched surreptitiously when she has finished some complex task, because she doesn’t like to be watched when she works. But when she finishes, she pulls away from the weld and tosses her torch back sharply, like she’s just jumped off her horse and finished tying her hog at the rodeo. She’ll also be the person who does the welding in the Man’s middle, and in his neck when the head is attached. Of course she’ll have to be wearing a harness, because she’ll be working way up in the air, but in her case that has presented special problems: One, it has to be a welder’s harness, because it has to be fireproof, and two, welders are often rather big guys, and she’s kinda tiny. It’s not easy to find a welder’s harness that could do the job for her, but eventually a suitably small rig was found.
Anyway, after the Man’s legs were upright and secure, then the crew would move to the torso, get it up in the air, guide the 20×20-foot spine into the legs, then buckle down the support wires again. “The limiting factor in how quickly this will go is how fast we can do this,” Brandon said to the people gathered around him, their multicolored hard-hats nodding in understanding and agreement. There was one task left before the lifting could begin: the Man needed a lube job. Bacon fat was rubbed all over the top of his femurs, to make it easier for the spine to slide in. And then the big leg lift began, and it was almost astonishingly easy how quickly the legs went up. In contrast to last Friday morning, when a smaller crane seemed to strain under the load, eventually hitting 92 percent of its capacity, this time there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation as the legs neared vertical. Although there were people manning the guide wires, most of the stabilizing work was being done by Pope Phabulous in his Hyster, which had also been attached to the legs. As the legs neared vertical, there was an unmistakable wobble back and forth as the weight shifted. “He was twerking!” Layna said. Then the Man stopped moving, and a cheer went up all around. Done! If nothing else, at least we’d have Leggy Man.
As the cables were being attached and tightened to the anchor buckles on the ground, Joe the Builder was underneath the giant legs, trying to make sure the Man was standing upright. He was using a six-foot level, which looked ridiculously tiny in context. A plumb bob would have been no good, because the wind was still blowing steadily. But no matter. “We use the tools we have,” Brandon said. Finally the cables were set, and Pope could climb out of his Hyster cab. “Want to feel my left foot?” he asked. “It’s still shaking.” The simplicity of the task, and the Man himself, for that matter, was both beautiful and terrifying. He’s held together with giant bolts and, as they have come to be known, Joe the Builder’s giant nuts. The legs are secured to the ground by four cables. Yes, those cables were made of thick metal strands, probably half an inch or so thick, but still: four stinking cables holding up two enormous legs weighing tens of thousands of pounds each. (more…)