Need a lift? This crew’s got you covered

Chaos, who runs the heavy machinery yard, made a stunning announcement on the second day of the building of Black Rock City.

“We’re all set and ready to go,” he said. “Just tell us what you need.”

Heavy Machinery has one of the biggest setups out here, and the fact it was all squared away within a day of everyone getting here was nothing short of amazing. Sure, there are still fine details being worked out, and the camp will continue to take shape over the course of the build, but the fact that they were in place and rarin’ to go by the second day is an incredible achievement.

This is Chaos’s first year of running the whole show. Last year, he was connected to three radios at a time when he was the main dispatcher. He knew where every piece of equipment was, and where it was going, and what time it needed to be there. You get the feeling he still knows all that stuff, but he’s not the radio voice of the operation anymore.

And it’s quite an operation. There are trucks and lifts and towers all lined up in the yard. How many? Glad you asked:

— four reach forks
— six boom lifts
— four skid steers
— two ride-on trenchers
— one walk-behind trencher
— nine scissor lifts
— one backhoe
— three hysters (big fork lifts)
— forty light towers

The Heavy Machinery camp has  shipping containers that have been remodeled so that crew members can live in them. “It’s a safety issue,” Aristotle was saying. “If an operator has heat stroke, they’re going to kill someone.” So the containers have air conditioning, and they’re quiet, and you can get some sleep there.

There are 33 people in the Heavy Equipment squad overall, and they’re all kept hopping. There are camps to build, art to lift, trenches to dig … all the things necessary to get the city off the ground.

But it’s not only an equipment yard, it’s also a theme camp, right there where the Esplanade meets Ring Road. There will be flame-poofers out front for  the event, and during the build, the lounge entertains visitors just about every night. There’s a well-stocked bar, and because this is a gift economy, your money is no good there.

Stinky Pirate has been around Heavy Equipment since … well, since before there was a Heavy Equipment department. He came out to his first Burn in 1996 (I paid $65 for the only ticket I ever bought,” he says.)

He had left the playa that year and was getting ready to ship out on a sailing gig  when he got a call from Will Roger, one of the founders of Burning Man and one of the people most responsible for setting up the organization the way it runs today.

“He asked what I was doing and said they needed help cleaning up,” Stinky says, so he went back out and stayed for weeks. The next year, he came out as a part of the DPW crew and set up the Center Cafe.

The year 2000 was the first year  that Ron Garrison’s big, beautiful tent went up, and Stinky’s experience as a rigger was very relevant to the project. “In a lot of ways it’s a giant sail,” Stinky says. That first year, they had to adjust the tension on the inner and outer rings every day, reacting to what the wind was doing. “We’d go where (the posts) were screaming the loudest,” he says.

Stinky Pirate

Now, Heavy Equipment is functioning at incredibly high efficiency, and that’s a reflection on Chaos. He hit the ground with a plan, put it in place, and now it’s a matter of carrying it out. And he does it with a calm, businesslike professionalism that can defuse situations, rather than inflame them.

In a lot of ways, Heavy Machinery is setting the pace for how fast Black Rock City is being built. Although there’s a lot of equipment, is has to be used right to get the most out of it. And for two weeks now, it seems as though there hasn’t been a call the Heavy Machinery folks couldn’t answer. Just the opposite really: It’s more like they’re saying “Let us know when you’re ready to do something, because we’re ready to roll.”

Chaos is running the show for the first time this year


Heavy Equipment at the Temple site, lifting a wall into place.


A Hyster on the move


Two lifts were needed to unload a chandelier for the Temple from the flatbed truck that brought it out to the playa.


Heavy Machinery digs the trenches, and then the Shade crew builds the structure.


Carrying a tower that allows the internet to reach the playa.


Aristotle is the voice of Heavy Equipment these days; he's the main dispatcher.


The desert is a good place to practice on the equipment, because the landscape is almost perfectly flat.


You need it, they've got it.


There's been a lot of action at the Temple so far, and there's a lot more to come.


Big lifts in the big desert.


Detailed lists are kept of who needs what and where.


Aristotle on the radio.


The Heavy Machinery yard is right on the Esplanade, so it's a crew and a theme camp, all in one.


The dispatch crew works in an elevated booth that looks out over the desert.


A lot of the Heavy Equipment operators live in modified shipping containers. It's cool and dark in there, and you can sleep.


Trenchers and lifts in the equipment yard.


Heavy Machinery also has towers to bring light where it's needed.


Gary, one of the crane operators. If there's a big lift going on, he's likely to be there.



About the author: John Curley

John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since. I was a newspaper person in a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients. I've also taught a little bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on the San Mateo coast, just south of San Francisco in California.

10 Comments on “Need a lift? This crew’s got you covered

  • Rich Royer says:

    Hi to John: (did not spot an email address. Please forward as appropriate.)

    Just a quick note to say thanks for the wonderful photography and stories. I’m old and far away, but enjoy both the spirit and the technology of Burning Man. Perhaps the 6000 mile round trip will fit in this old man’s bucket list. For now, watching on the Internet, and reading all possible.

    Again, Thanks!


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  • Joanna Sunshine says:

    Yea! Job well done Heavy Machinery Crew! I’m so jealous of all of you guys who are out in the desert right now, but you’re doing a great job and we’ll all be there soon. Thanks for building our home!

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  • Lisa Hasko says:

    What a great bit of PR, Heavy Machinery! The photos are beautiful and I like learning more about the intricacies of your jobs. More reports from the field please. Thanks for all you do ;)

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  • affinity says:

    I don’t know most of the Heavy Equipment Crew very well., but YAY for Chaos for taking this on and I know Aristotle always makes me laugh and Gary is one of the nicest men on the planet. So as usual John, thanks for your lovely work. See you soon!

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  • dh says:

    I wish these machines would be nearby when my Octopus Kite was caught by the Bliss Dance sculpture on Treasure Island =)

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  • shannon page says:

    Thank you Stinky Pirate and Chaos and all the other people present at Black Rock at this time preparing the site for our arrival. We are all so excited to join you next week. I am in awe of the pictures of the big equipment and logistics this event entails.
    Thank you for letting us all see what it takes to prepare for Burning Man 2011!

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  • oh kay says:

    these photos are so great – I’ve always been curious to the back stage prep…it’s like when you’re giving birth and you just want to give up at one point – then you touch the crown of your baby’s head and that gives you the much needed energy to continue to BIRTH THAT BABY!! and this is what your photos have done…we are ready for our Playa re-birth!!

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  • Jill "mustang" Simon says:

    Thanks to the New and improved HEaT group = heavy equipment and transportation !! And a big Kiss goes to Chicken Bone !! I miss you …. see you a in a few days !!

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  • kerry so very says:

    A big shout out for the big guns of Heavy Machinery out there on the move! 50,000 of your closest friends appreciate your dedication, skills, and expertise to make BRC come to life. I’m flying in from New York City and can’t wait for another fire/music/dance trance in the most magical of desert oases. Much Love!!!

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