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Allan Charteris

Crane Operator

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While going from clothing design to crane driving may seem an unlikely career path, there are more crossover skills than you might expect, says crane operator and former fashion and costume designer Allan Charteris.

“Designing’s very much like craning – you’re working with materials to make them fit. So really, a crane operator is someone who organises a site and makes everything fit, that’s the main guts of what it is.”

Allan was between jobs when a friend suggested he try crane work.  That was more than 20 years ago and although Allan sometimes wonders whether he made the right move, he says he has no regrets.

Allan started out as a crane rigger then moved on to operate track cranes, before finally making the move up to tower cranes. “Operating a tower crane and operating a track crane are totally different experiences, but the principles are the same. You have to know your angles; you have to know your weights. You have to know capabilities – of the crane, of the chains, of what you’re lifting, of strops [straps for securing loads], the whole shebang.

"You need to give the time to get to know your crane and know it well – all its little facets, all its little foibles. Every crane has its own foibles.”

Not everyone is cut out to be a crane driver, he adds. “There are two kinds of people in the world, those who can handle heights and those who can’t. Those who can’t shouldn’t even try.”

Allan says working in Wellington’s winds can be testing at times, but you eventually learn the wind patterns and when it is safe to work.

“There are only two predominant winds – the nor'wester and the southerly. They are both playing at each other at the moment. It’s a southerly coming down now. It’ll be strong but only for a little while, whereas the nor'westers are pretty constant. They’ll blow at 30 to 40 kilometres per hour but then they’ll gust into the 50s and 70s – that’s when we have to be careful. The crane crew decides if we’re going to shut down or not, and what we say goes."

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