On Higher Ground: A Day in the Life of a Crane Operator

by Sarah McClanahan

Afraid of heights? Not if you’re James Wallace or Randall Stappenbeck, tower crane operators for Lexington Medical Center’s clinical expansion. Lexington Medical Center is undergoing the largest hospital expansion in South Carolina history. And James and Randall are playing significant roles.

James Wallace atop one of the tower cranes used for LMC’s clinical expansion.


James has been a crane operator for 38 years, and Randall has worked as a crane operator for more than 40 years. Both men started working in construction on the ground, but they chose to pursue crane operations because conditions in the cab of the crane were better than those on the ground. When they began their careers, they were trained by a seasoned operator. Today, operators must be formally trained and pass a certification test.

James and Randall work 10- to 12-hour shifts, five to six days a week.

“Almost everything on the jobsite right now requires the assistance of the tower cranes, so being dependable and dedicated is critical to our success on a daily basis. A lot of people and their livelihoods depend on me,” said Randall.

Most of James and Randall’s days are filled with making “picks,” moving materials from one place to another. Currently, contractors are building shear walls and erecting structural steel for the hospital’s new tower, so James and Randall spend their days supporting those operations.

“With my view of the project site, I also can watch and alert people to safety hazards. Daily crane inspections and maintenance are part of my responsibilities as well,” said James.

Randall Stappenbeck starts the 15- to 20-minute climb to the top of a tower crane.

The tower cranes at LMC are 253 feet tall and 292 feet tall. It takes James and Randall 15 to 20 minutes to climb up to the top, and they only come down once a day – at the end of their shifts. They even have a restroom in the crane. If James and Randall have any down time, they get out of the cab to stretch their legs. And they do inspections and service the cranes outside of the cab. 

Some might think operating a crane is a lonely job, but James and Randall never get much alone time. They communicate with everyone on the ground using two-way radios, and the radio is always buzzing with activity.

Most importantly, both men find their work rewarding.

“There’s the view – you can see for a long way. And it’s always challenging because each day is a little different. Different job tasks require different levels of skill,” said Randall.

For James, it’s about the end result. “Being able to look back at the end of a job and see all the hard work put into it gives you a sense of accomplishment,” he said.

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