PROVIDENCE — Ironworkers have a saying: show me where the first piece goes and the rest will tell a story.
Fifty feet in the air above Fountain Street, Kyle Coulombe, dusted in rust and as lean as a cable, shimmies up a naked steel column toward an 800-pound beam suspended above his head.
He’s already read what happens next in the story: the piece will help frame a front corner of the new Residence Inn Providence Hotel. But first, crane operator Steve Berube, whose skill is measured by each hoisted beam’s incremental movements, must inch this one close enough so Kyle can align a bolt hole at the end with one in the column and connect the two.
Then Kyle will step up on the beam and walk its length to secure the other end as the crane holds it steady.
Late next year, guests at the nine-story hotel will be checking into their rooms, watching TV, ordering late-night room service. They won’t see the steel skeleton behind the walls nor likely ever meet the men who “went first,” as ironworkers say, to build it.
For now, the “raising gang” of ironworkers is a summer stage show on Fountain Street — attention-grabbers in an aerial performance of bravery and century-old tradesmanship. Kyle plays a starring role. He’s the gang’s “lead connector.”
“That guy’s nuts,” says Steven Strychasz, who has a front-row seat each day across the street at his valet station at the Dean Hotel.
Having bolted the close end, Kyle now attaches his safety line to the top flange of the beam. It trails behind him as he ambles to the middle of the beam — hanging by a cable from the crane hook.
He slips around the cable, resets his safety line and walks to the end. The beam dips slightly from his weight.
“Crazy,” says the valet, gazing up. Kyle jams a tapered metal bar through one of the beam’s bolt holes and into a hole in the column to hold them together. Quickly he slides a half-pound bolt through another hole and spins on a nut from the other side. He hand-tightens one bolt, then another, before tightening both again with a spud wrench.
Then he’s back at the middle of the beam. Steve lowers the hook enough to create slack in the cable. Kyle slides the cable off to cut the crane loose. With a confident flair, he coils the cable like a lasso rope and stands alone in the sky.
Continue reading on providencejournal.com