David Hatch recalls his youthful days as a winch operator in grain elevator construction

We are pleased to introduce you this week to Rev. David Herbert Hatch. He leads a Lutheran congregation in Green Bay, Wisc. but cut his teeth in elevator construction during the 1970s when hydraulic jacking had replaced the mechanical means.

David Herbert Hatch is senior pastor at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Green Bay, Wisc. He worked slip-form construction on elevators throughout Iowa in the early to mid 1970s. 

In this post and the coming series, Dave supplements his recollections with original drawings. These are especially noteworthy because of his colorblindness.

He writes: If I could leave this for your imagination …

An extremely heavy concrete bucket free-falling to the ground at an unknown speed for about 150 feet until the brake man on the winch brings it to a timed stop in front of a concrete truck driver on the ground below.

What if my foot had slipped off the brake?

Likewise, imagine an entirely full concrete bucket, running up the side of a grain elevator at full throttle and I got distracted just before it came to the pulley on the gin pole at the top … what would happen to the guy in the hopper or those below?

This was so intense for me, I would sit up in the middle of the night, operating the winch in my sleep.

I wonder why there’s a ringing in my ears. Hours and hours of running an industrial engine, a few feet away from me, at super-high RPM.

My brother-in-law worked steel. There was a bunch of us, my friends, who would camp–or crash in motels around the state–and go from slip to slip.

The experience gave me a hunger to be a crane operator, which never happened.

About getting concrete to the deck during active slip-form pouring:

  • Looking at the photographs of current construction, I can see concrete pumps and tower cranes. My company, Todd & Sargent, tried a concrete pump once and it plugged up! Yikes!
  • During my days, we used a winch that was anchored into the earth. That was our normal way of getting the mud to the top, one slip operation after another.
  • The winch was perhaps 200 to 300 feet away in the base of the tanks. 
  • There were three pulleys involved. One at the base of the tank near where the concrete truck was and two up on the gin pole on the deck.

 The Concrete Hopper

  • Above the deck was the concrete hopper. 
  • Vertically next to the hopper was the gin pole. It had a handle so the bucket-dumper guy could swing the bucket in and out.
  • This hopper was directly above the concrete trucks below.
  • A guy stood on a platform next to the hopper. As soon as the bucket came up and stopped, and as fast as he could, he pulled the bucket in and dumped it into the hopper. 
  • A light concrete splash went flying everywhere, everytime. Safety glasses for sure. That concrete spit often dropped down into your gloves, burning your skin. 
  • And then, fast as he could, he threw and/or pushed the bucket out into open air to begin its freefall to earth for refilling. The winch operator controlled that.
  • Being hopper-guy was fun for many reasons: timing, repetitive actions, striving for efficiency and grace. Could it be graceful to pull in a bucket, dump it, and throw it to the wind as fast as you could? Yes! And you were working with some invisible guy on the ground you never saw or met: the winch operator. You were a team. You never communicated. It was like you were playing catch, back and forth as fast as you could, with bucket of mud. I kinda miss it!

David Hatch was born and raised in Ames, Iowa. Prior to college studies, Pastor Dave worked construction, and had hopes of serving in law enforcement until his partial color-blindness prevented that. He did not know what to do with his life. Through God’s Providence and a phone call from his sister, who was a kindergarten teacher in Milwaukee, he enrolled in a college where, unknown to him, many of his future classmates were studying to be pastors. He received his education at Concordia College in Milwaukee; Concordia Teacher’s College, River Forest, Ill.; and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind. His pastoral career began in 1982, following seminary, when he served as an admissions counselor at Concordia College in Bronxville, N.Y. and parish pastor at Love Lutheran Church outside of Albany, N.Y.

3 comments on “David Hatch recalls his youthful days as a winch operator in grain elevator construction

  1. Chandler Thomas says:

    Great stuff David! David and I were travel partners on many slips. We rode our motorcycles together all over the place. We graduated from HS together. I went many more places outside Iowa and did slips for several other companies in my time but traveling with David was a treat. For some fun, ask him about how he could use his voice to replicate a siren. In the perfect echo chamber of a grain silo, it was awesome.

  2. David Herbert Hatch (Text) says:

    I have been looking for “Chan” (Chandler) for decades!

    Thankyou for this blog!

  3. Teresa Toland says:

    What was more fun was when Dad’s crew hit the top as kids we got to ride that bucket to the top and freefall down. My dad worked for Johnson Company for many years and many elevators. lots of moving and schools. Very educational

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s