Wanted: An Aerial Lift Bridge operator

Is there a cooler sound in all of Minnesota than this one?

If all goes according to plan, I’ve got six months left to work in the news business.

Why? Because a colleague let me know today that this job — with a six-month probationary period — is open now.

In truth, my dream has already been dashed. Blogging, it turns out, is not on the list of required experience to be considered for the job. Go figure.

One (1) year of specialized electrical training, plus two (2) years of experience working with large electrically operated machinery; or three (3) years of experience working with complex mechanized equipment; or one (1) year of experience working with computer-controlled electrical equipment; or a combination of education, training, and experience in the above areas which is accepted as equivalent. Applicants must also have a Minnesota Maintenance Electrician license or equivalent.

It may not be the carefree job I think it is.

Writing in Lake Superior Magazine earlier this year, Ryan Beamer said there are a few things he didn’t care for in his eight years of working the Lift Bridge.

1) Swimmers off the Duluth Ship Canal. It looks calm and inviting there, but currents run at 5 miles per hour (or faster) below the surface. You can get sucked hundreds of yards into the Lake in no time. Yet every summer, I fearfully watch swimmers play there.

2) Bridge-gate runners. Nothing quite makes you catch your breath and shake your head as when a car passes everyone in line to swing around a closed gate, forcing on-coming bridge traffic to stop. We can and will block you on the other side. We will forward your license number and vehicle description to the police. You gain nothing, except to endanger yourself and others. Shame on you.

3) Bridge “hangers-on.” With unfortunate regularity, some people think it would be fun to hold onto the rising bridge. It’s not fun. The bridge moves one foot per second, leaving you too high to drop by the time you realize you should. I can’t fault teens – we’ve all been young and dumb. What chaps my khakis is when a parent lifts a toddler up to hang on. When the scared child does not let go, the parent must play tug of war with the bridge, their child as the rope. It’s terrifying.

4) Travelers who let a long “bridge-up” ruin their day (and mine). We get good at judging the distance and speed of approaching vessels and try to time the bridge to keep within safety protocols while minimizing lift time. Once we commit to rising, though, nothing stops a vessel from slowing to a crawl. I swear some vessels seem to stop completely, as if the captain was deciding whether to thread the ship through the canal needle.

We never ask ships to speed up. We don’t care how long it takes to get through safely. I’m well aware of you waiting, but I’d rather have you mad at me, safe in your car, than to have a multimillion dollar loss of a vessel or a possible loss of life. And flagging me with that “You’re No. 1” salute never caused me to ask a captain to hurry up.

But those must be more than outweighed by the perks on the job. And we can tell that because “blowing the whistle” was number four on the list.

Once a boy recovering from leukemia chose riding the bridge and blowing the whistle as his Make-a-Wish. It was a career highlight for me. He blew the twin Westinghouse Airbrake train whistles at his leisure. He laughed and laughed when he made schoolgirls jump as they walked underneath the bridge. We actually blew “Shave and a Haircut.” Over the years, I contacted Elliot’s family. He was doing fine – worth a whistle toot or two.

The job pays between $43,000 and $51,000 a year.

Here’s the job listing.

(h/t: Eric Ringham)