Wake up at 4:30 a.m. Drink coffee. Say goodbye. Work. Breathe. Solve a problem. Work. Drink water. Work. Solve another problem. Breathe. Work. Drink more coffee. Sweat. Breathe. Work. Sweat. Solve another Problem. Work. Work. Work. Go home. Get a big hug from Andrew. Relax. Eat dinner. Go to bed at 9 p.m. Repeat.
How did you find yourself operating cranes?
My fiancé Andrew. There was a self-erecting crane outside our apartment that was building a large apartment complex. I would stare and watch it every day. I was obsessed. One day, Andrew said, “you don’t look at me the same way you look at that crane. You should really look into that. You’re going to work the rest of your life, you might as well do what you love.”
I said, “There’s no way I could do that, I’m a woman. Women don’t operate cranes.” He walked me down to the job site, found the crane operator and that was the start of figuring out the path I would take to become a crane operator. It goes without saying, he has supported and pushed me the whole way.
What were the next steps?
I started working for Louws Truss Inc. in January 2018 with the understanding that I might not last. I was told that if I worked hard and showed work ethic, I would be sent to school for my CDL (commercial driver’s license)... After 6 months of "grunt work" and driving small pick-ups and doing hand deliveries, Louws Truss sent me to get my CDL.
After getting my Class A license, I added my HAZMAT, Doubles-Triples, and Tankers. The next step was if I was successful at driving the big trucks and oversized loads, I would start training with our crane operators on job sites. After 6 months of driving a shuttle truck and training on our cranes, I was sent to Overton Safety Training in Seattle to get my NCCCO Crane Certificate. I’ve been driving CMV’s for two and a half years and operating cranes for two!
What did you want to be when you were growing up, or a little kid?
HAPPY. As a child you see your parents work for money to pay for things you want, to pay for the roof over your head, lights, food, etc., just to leave everyday to do it all over again. The idea of what you want to do as an adult to continue that cycle was always foreign to me. I went to college and hated it. I came across a quote that said, “instead of asking children what they want to be when they grow up, we should start asking them what problems they like solving.”
That stuck with me, and I believe it (to an extent) reveals everyone’s purpose. It’s your aim and attention. It’s the ability to problem solve. It’s why you care, why you do what you do, and why you persevere when the going gets tough. I work for something greater – I have purpose, and that purpose is operating cranes.
What do you have to sacrifice to be good at what you do?
At this point, I refuse to sacrifice anything. In the beginning, I sacrificed my body and my mind to fit in. As a woman in the construction industry, I learned that wearing a hard-hat is a hard hat to wear. You have to prove your skills, and then prove them again – regardless of your audience. That aspect will never go away. The potential sacrifice is always being an outcast. Construction is a relationship business. People (that is to say, men) form those relationships with people who are just like them (that is to say, other men). It can be a challenge when conversations are happening in places where females have yet to be let in. If you are sacrificing those uncomfortable moments, you are missing out on a brotherhood. My male counterparts don’t sacrifice anything to be good, nor should I. I show up on time. I work hard. I stay late, and go home when there is no more to do.
What are you great at, and what do you suck at?
Like I said before, there is a brotherhood in the construction industry. One of the most difficult challenges is getting a man who doesn’t welcome my presence on a job site to work with me as a team. I’ve experienced things like showing up on a job site, and the general contractor refuses to shake my hand, or better yet, looks me up and down and says, “Are you kidding me? They sent a girl to do this?”
I’m good at reading body language and making instant decisions in disarming the notion that I "DO NOT belong". Whether the problem is that I am a distraction, or that because I am a woman, I will make everyone work harder. You are either helping or you are getting in the way. I am great at asserting [that] a woman’s place is wherever the f* she wants.
However, I really suck at feeling like I belong. Interior monologues sabotage me. I succumb to the negativity, the doubts, worst-case thinking, and false narratives that come out of others' mouths, whether they are well-meaning or not. Staying positive, disregarding negativity, and continuing forward against opposition is again part of the job.
Who’s a role model who helped you in your journey to where you are?
John Bozarth. From the beginning of my employment at Louws Truss, he has been and continues to be my mentor. John has put as much time and effort into my success as if it was his own.
I’ve been asked a few times by contractors, “Was it your father or grandfather that taught you how to run a crane?” Naturally, I was offended the first time . . . My father was never around, and my grandfather didn’t run a crane. I aggressively said John’s full name as a response. The contractor responded, “Well, he did a good job. Had me fooled. I thought you’ve been around cranes your whole life.”
I can’t stress enough how important it is for men in this industry to see the same potential in women as they do in men. It is that mentality that makes the difference. My success is solely from the support of the men that have invested in me. I vividly remember the day I asked John what I could work on. He said, “Confidence.” I didn’t understand until later how important that statement was.
What scares you?
Not being afraid. The first thing I learned was to always be afraid when you are operating a crane. If you’re NOT afraid – you shouldn’t step on the crane station. Being complacent kills and that is enough to scare me.
What do you want people to know about being a woman in your field?
Being a female Crane Operator is what you make of it. You can be great and terrible in the same day, it all comes down to your attitude and work ethic.
What are you doing when you’re not working hard?
NOT working hard. Getting sleep, doing laundry, washing dishes, quasi-gardening, doing my nails, taking longer showers. The list goes on and on. I need balance and when I’m not working I am decompressing as much as I can. Outside of the work realm, [we] women are all living real lives. You pick your highest priorities, and get them done, and then move on to the next.
What are the top five things that are always in your pockets?
Pocket knife. Chapstick. Roof layout. Sometimes my phone. Sometimes a pen.
What does workwear designed for women mean to you?
Progress. Community. Support.
CJ’s pronouns are she/her.