Thirty-year Local 49 member, Chris Rieck, said he always knew, even as a kid, that he wanted to operate heavy equipment.
Rieck of Prior Lake, Minnesota, is currently working for Lunda Construction at the new St. Croix River Crossing Bridge project as a crane operator, but has decades of experience in the heavy equipment industry.
Rieck first began his career in vocational school focusing on heavy equipment, and gained employment right out school at Prior Aggregate in the gravel pits.
“At Prior Aggregate I concentrated on cranes and learned how to operate a drag line, but they also had me in a front end loader and a backhoe,” he said.
“It was a fun playground if that’s what you want to call it,” he laughed. “But I learned a lot, and it (Prior Aggregate) taught me well.”
After his time at Prior Aggregate, Rieck then spent some time at Truck Crane Service, and then moved onto working on the railroad for ten years as a locomotive engineer.
“I got to play with different types of equipment, locomotives and cranes,” Rieck said.
After spending ten years working for the railroad, Rieck went back to Truck Crane Service and began working on wind farms and wind towers operating various types of cranes. He also has experience working in refineries operating a large hydro.
Now working on the new St. Croix Bridge, it’s Rieck’s first bridge project. So far, he said, it’s been challenging, but he’s learning a lot.
“It’s been challenging because every pic I land is completely blind,” he said. “So, for example, every time I pick up a bundle of rebar to place on top of the bridge deck, I cannot see it.”
“Everything is done by radio communication, so I have a lot of trust in the person that’s giving the signals, and the person on the radio,” he added.
Rieck said to counteract the fact that he cannot see; he built his own remote wireless camera for his cab so he can see.
“I know they sell those kind of cameras, but they’re very expensive, so I built my own.”
“It was fun for me, helps me do my job, and my company loves it because it makes things safer,” Rieck said.
Rieck recalls that while working on the bridge, he also had the opportunity to operate a crane out on one of the floating barges.
“That was a very interesting experience because the barge will move, and you slowly have to compensate for that movement,” he said.
While work on the bridge will continue until the fall of 2017, Rieck comments that “the heavy lifting” part of the project is complete.
“The precast segments in the water are all set, and the segments that connect the bridge are all installed,” he said.
Rieck said that working on the St. Croix Bridge, and working for Lunda, has been a great experience.
“It’s strange to drive to the same place for two and a half years and work six days a week because I’m used to people renting out the crane, and you just go with the crane,” Rieck said.
“But since Lunda owns their own cranes you just stay there… Working for Lunda and everyone there has been great.”
Rieck has enjoyed being a member of Local 49, and takes advantage of the CCO certification class at the Local 49 Training Center for cranes.
“The Training Center is wonderful, and actually, a mechanic from Lunda has just been hired up there as an instructor,” Rieck said.
Rieck and his wife Ellen also had positive comments regarding the Operating Engineers Local 49 Health and Welfare Fund.
Ellen, who has worked in the health care industry for 15 years, said, “the insurance through Local 49 is the absolute best.”
“I have people within my own company say you’ll never have benefits as good as the 49ers,” she said. “We’ve always had this insurance, and it’s never failed us.”
Throughout his 30 years as a member of Local 49, Rieck has made many friendships, and considers it a family of engineers.
“I know they always have our back, and they stand up for us,” Rieck said.
Rieck also wanted to say a special thank you to his business agents.
“I just want to say thank you to Tim (Olson) and York (Magee), they have really helped me out a lot and I appreciate it,” he said.