The View From Above

Gee, that was … easy.

Well, maybe easy’s the wrong word. You can’t really call lifting the heaviest thing that’s ever been lifted at Burning Man “easy.”

Bruiser, the man in charge of the operation, said it was “uneventful.” And of course that’s a very happy thing.

A big crowd gathered outside the Man Base periphery Thursday morning, as a 240-ton crane would put a roof onto the pagoda that will house the Man in the Temple of the Golden Spike at Burning Man 2017.

To these untrained eyes, there didn’t seem to be any moments of terror, moments that would put the outcome in doubt. Again, Bruiser summed it up: “Proper planning prevents piss-poor performance. … Plan the work, work the plan.” We were waiting for more pearls of collected wisdom, but as he slumped on a bench and surveyed his work, he said, “That’s all I got.”

It was more than enough.

Bruiser, Mary Poppins, Andres, Sheepshank and the other key players made it all seem like a breeze. Pick up an estimated 60,000-pound roof and place it gently atop eight columns waiting to receive it. Piece of cake.

But there was tension – and excitement – in the air before the lift began.

Mary Poppins and Bruiser go over the details.

As in some years past, a heavy-duty crane was brought to the playa for the lift, this one a 240-ton monster that seemed to dwarf the HEaT’s gear. The rigging arrived just in time, after an overnight delivery from the Bay Area. (The rigging alone costs about $100 a strand, and there were eight strands for this bad boy.)

Setting up the rigging took hours. Man Base workers scrambled to finish the last of the cladding on what had come to be called the “saucer,” because there was an undeniable similarity between the roof of the pagoda and the flying saucer Man Base from 2013.

But the minute the roof landed, the overall impression of the structure changed; to these eyes, the saucer similarities ceased to exist, and something quite new, and quite different, emerged. Simple, strong, graceful, and appropriately big. And you WILL be able to see the Man as he sits inside his temple.

Bruiser and Mary Poppins gathered the various crews around them to go over details before the lift began. There was a pool about how much the roof would weigh, and the winner, of course, was Bruiser, who guessed 47,000 pounds. All of the calculations for the lift had been based on a weight estimate of 60,000 pounds, which would have been about 80 percent of the crane’s capacity. But when the roof was put on the hook for a test lift, the crane’s scale read 47,500.

Later, after all the supports had been removed in preparation for the actual lift, the weight dropped to 45,500 pounds, so there was plenty of wiggle room.

Tag line teams checked the rotation.

At the pre-lift huddle, Bruiser told the folks holding the tag lines to stay safe. “Don’t get under the load, and don’t go where the load can potentially go; stay off to the sides.” There were three tag lines, and each tag line had a three-person squad to tend it.

“The objective is not to guard it; all you guys are going to do is follow the load and keep it oriented correctly. … And I want the end of the tag lines picked up by someone who holds them, but not wrapped around your hand. If the crane were to go up and that’s wrapped around your wrist, it would pop it off like a cherry tomato.”

Ok, got it.

Bruiser would go up in a boom lift to watch as the load was centered over the columns, before any of the other boom lifts would put people in position to attach the roof to the columns. “We just want to go nice and slow today; this should be a very boring thing. If it gets exciting, we’re doing it wrong.

“If anyone sees something that’s unsafe, call it out. But don’t do it like … don’t get crazy about it, calmly do it, ok?”

Ok, got it.

“I’m going to be on channel 15 (for communications), and I want radio silence unless it’s something important. You guys can all listen in, but if you need to communicate, please go to a different channel.”

Ok, got it.

Moving in.

And then the lift began. One moment the roof was on the ground, and the next it was a foot in the air. There was no puff of smoke or sound of a struggling engine from the crane. The roof went up easily, smoothly, slowly.

The crane eased the roof up and over, then boomed out over the pagoda. The tag line crews on the ground kept the saucer from spinning, and the whole structure moved silently into place.

Just. Like. That.

There was a little shimming to be done before the alignment was completed, but before you knew it, Bruiser gave the signal for the teams in the boom lifts to start attaching the roof to the columns. Later, high-flying welder Metal Heather would seal up the rear plate connections.

And then it was all over but the rest of the work. The crowd dispersed, some of the Man Crew went to lunch, and Black Rock City had its centerpiece.

There was only one way to sum it all up, and that came from Man Base designer Andrew Johnstone: “It was as smooth as a gravy sandwich.”

After the hubbub around the roof lift was done, Matt Stephenson of the Man Krewe took us up above Black Rock City in his Super Decathlon, an aerobatic tandem two-seater that’s probably a little more plane than is necessary for me, but is perfect for a flyboy like Matt.

His pal Liza was there too, and she said she first thought that the plane looked like something out of a cartoon, because of its brilliant red and orange paint job. She also said that she was praying “to all the gods old and new” before she went up the first time, and that’s how we were feeling too, so we were glad to hear things went well for her.

Matt has the only plane that’s here so far, but the runway is already coned off. Everything will come together next week, and then hundreds or thousands of participants will make their way to the playa by air.

Matt getting ready to soar.

But for now, though, it was just me, Matt and Liza, in the late afternoon sun and a perfectly smooth runway. Matt and I climbed in, and up we wen

We’ve been out here a fair number of times, for fairly significant periods of time, and this was the first time we’ve ever been in a plane over Black Rock City.

Now we are completely and totally hooked on the views from above.

Here are some more pics:

We joined a crew on a boom lift, so we took a group pic after the lift.

Tag line teams checked the rotation.

A big crowd gathered outside the fence.

Guess the weight and win a prize.

The Center Cafe is coming along nicely.

The Temple so far.









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.

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