The Rigger

Swinging quickly across the yard comes the Rigger, unobserved, perhaps, by the throng; overalled like the rest; but easily singled out when one looks below the surface appearances of the flowing stream of men. Chief among his brand-marks are his keen-eyed, rollicking, fearless alertness; his belt with its single steel tool; his ability to send to a fellow workman, far above or far below, signals, simple in themselves, — a twist of the wrist only, — that convey through the hammer-din and steam or mist, most intricate directions for the arrangement of tackles of the selection of loads; and his infinite capacity for fierce, tense work and equally wild play.

Often his overalls and jumper are in one piece, and almost always stained with red structural paint. At his waist, thrust in the leather belt, is the tool of his calling, pronged at one end, pointed at the other, fifteen inches or there-abouts from prong to point; the prong fits the steel nuts of the many tackles the Rigger uses, the point pries steel plates apart, and opens up obstinate kinks or knots in the tackles.

When called into an office before the bosses and the powers that be, he is just as alert and fearless, his job means nothing if he cannot have fair play; he may be a little quieter here but that is action thrown into thinking; he is taking in all that goes on in that office with the fearless, keen dignity of an eagle.

He is in demand all over the yard, and this makes his foreman as elusive as quicksilver when he has to be found in a hurry; for he slips from one job to another in three dimensions, gives orders, and swings off or up or down to the next.

What does he rig? Everything.

But his special joy seems to be the life overhead in the great steel structures of the craneways. There you may see him working like a tiger at some piece of construction work, with steel or wood or cable, hanging by one hand and a foot while he pulls, pushes, and pries with the others; or, in the scant time between spells of work, wrestling or sparring with a friend on a thin spider’s web of a girder, with a sheer drop to the steel, ice, concrete, and hurrying dots of humanity a hundred feet or more below.

And though he never seems to think what holds him up or what margin of strength it has, he never seems to fall.

Here are three of them, straining at a taut cable that bends down over the edge of the slender platform of a crane cab; they are guiding and fending off a heavy shaft that is being hoisted into place from ninety feet below. The platform vibrates wildly under the struggle; the whole cab structure sways violently; another rigger slides over some edge above and joins them; their weight is thrown now here, now there; the load shifts and the cable slides up and up, and works back and forth on the railing. Up into sight comes the shaft, the riggers redouble their efforts, pull it this way and that, and tug it into place.

Not one has a thought of danger, or would admit that it existed even; it was an ordinary job, and it was done quickly and with a wild fierce joy in the doing.

Even on the ground he must play hard, putting a plank across a railroad iron and joyfully challenging a fellow rigger to step up. Up he steps without delay. Then, poised on the end of the balanced stick, each tries to throw the other. It is quick work, and if you’re the loser you go down hard; but you won’t mind, you’ll just bounce up again — for you ’re a Rigger.