Al Gilbertson, an employee of Vic’s Cranes & Heavy Haul Inc., is currently the sole operator for the largest crawler crane in Minnesota. As a 13-year member of Local 49, Gilbertson has had experience operating different types of cranes and has dedicated his 13-year career as a member of Local 49 to learning all he can about these machines. “I went through all of the Local 49 Training Center’s crane classes, and took all of those opportunities and capitalized on them,” Gilbertson said.
Right out of high school Gilbertson operated some smaller hydraulic cranes, but for most of his time prior to operating cranes he was a residential carpenter. “I did carpentry for a number of years but knew I wanted to get back into the crane industry and have a career with that,” he said.
Gilbertson re-entered the rental crane industry working for Mortenson to install wind turbines.
“I took the opportunity to chase wind turbines all around the country for seven years, and with putting them up they obviously use rather large (crane) rigs and that’s what got me into large crawler cranes,” Gilbertson explained. “So, just being on that side of it and working my way up from the smaller rigs into the larger rigs is how I got my crawler crane experience.”
After his time at Mortenson, Gilbertson heard of an opportunity at Vic’s Cranes, which was closer to home. “At that time I was getting kind of tired of traveling across the country putting up wind turbines, so it just happened to work out perfectly that they were looking for help and I was looking to stay home,” he said. “I came on board officially in 2013 and they’ve kept me busy ever since.”
Once Vic’s Cranes purchased what is now the largest crawler crane in Minnesota in the summer of 2015, the company immediately asked Gilbertson if he would be interested in operating it, which he gladly accepted.
Gilbertson also mentioned that he is a second-generation member of Local 49 – with a twist. “In 2006 I was working at a company that needed a forklift operator, so I had called the business agent that got me in Local 49 in 2004 and asked if that was the kind of job my dad could do with his kind of experience. So actually, my dad got in Local 49 after me, which the business agent told me was really rare,” he said with a laugh.
“At the time he was partially retired, but he was getting bored so he came out to help where I was working and is now happily retired again as of last year,” Gilbertson added.
Since being the sole operator of that crane Gilbertson has been on many unique jobs. At the end of May he was in Rochester installing a new boiler for Seneca Foods. “They had to set 90,000 pounds and 280 feet into the building. There were too many obstructions in the way to try and bring it in from the outside, so they got a hold of us to bring it in through the roof,” he explained.
According to Gilbertson, one of the heaviest sets that he’s done was a job in East Dubuque, Illinois setting an ammonia vessel that weighed three-quarters of a million pounds. Gilbertson said that a lot of the jobs that he’s called on to do are for instances where it’s an extremely heavy load that needs to go a far distance.
Gilbertson didn’t get to where he is today all on his own; he credits his fellow Local 49 members for helping him along the way.
“My experience with Local 49 has been great. The guys that I worked with when I first got into the crane industry were absolutely instrumental in getting me where I am today,” Gilbertson explained. “I was very fortunate to make friends with some very good operators who taught me the right things along the way – it’s because of them that I am where I am today.”
He added that during his time installing wind turbines around the country he knew that Local 49 operators were the best operators nationwide. “When you meet a 49er or call a 49er out to a job, they’re well versed and they understand their job – you don’t find that with a lot of the other locals.”