Many skilled hands create the building across the street

A worker at the Bangor arena contruction site on Jan. 19, 2012. By John Clark Russ

Ever since construction began on the new Bangor arena on Main Street between Buck and Dutton streets last fall, I have been drawn to my office window to watch the activity going on there. What the construction workers do displays a skill and craft that borders on art. The new building is being created literally by hand, so I this week I digress from my usual topic about constructing things with fabric and yarn to write about what is being done with concrete and steel across the street.

In the beginning, when the building was merely an idea, architects came up with the concept for the structure, made drawings and blueprints, cyphered elevations and other things mathematical — an art in its own right. Engineers designed electrical, sewage, drainage, ventilation, heating and other systems. What was once an insubstantial concept is being transformed into a thing of three-dimensional substance right before my eyes.

Someone, or several someones, must keep in mind the “big picture” of what needs to be done, down to the last nail and final blob of concrete, to make the building happen.

The work strikes me as choreographed, a dance of wheels, lags, cables, hammers, welding tools, the comings and goings of men and equipment — timing is everything when it comes to figuring out when to dig the trenches for the concrete footings, when to begin placement of upright pieces of steel. It takes planning to determine where to place the piles of dug up dirt, where to put trucked-in materials to be handy when needed, where to put a roadway to accommodate the heavy trucks and equipment.

Especially fascinating is watching the crane operator work in a finely-tuned way to lift steel beams into place as the skeleton of the new building takes shape. Two men wearing bright green vests on the ground hook a cable dangling from the crane arm to the beams, often four at a time, one dangling below the other like a giant mobile created by the artist Alexander Calder. The crane’s gigantic arm swings in a slow, smooth sweep over the bones of the building where two men, also wearing green vests and hooked to lifelines, wait for the crane operator to ever-so-slowly lower the beams into place. Each beam has flanged ends with a row of holes that must line up with other holes so pins can be placed to hold the parts together. There is no room for error. It’s precision with a capital P. That this is accomplished so smoothly with such finesse is testimony of the skill of the crane operator and the men perched on high.

Last week I watched an excavator operator display his talented ability to run the machine. He dug a trench for the wooden forms where concrete would be poured for the footings of the building’s wall running along Buck Street. The operator angled the bucket in a delicate, precise way. He scored the frozen upper inches of soil, chipped it away and scooped it up. As he swung the bucket, a few clods dropped to the ground beside the trench. He dumped the soil in the pile and, on the swing back, he lowered the bucket so that its side lightly pushed the clods back into the trench before he resumed digging. Later that day, he scooped pea stone out of a dump truck and sprinkled it carefully, delicately, along the length of the trench so the material was evenly distributed. He lowered the bucket to tamp it ever so lightly into place. Someone once told me, jokingly, that a really good excavator operator can pick his teeth with his machine. Now I believe it.

The workers assembling the new arena show up for work every day. They work when it rains, when it snows, when the temperature drops into the single digits, when the wind blows and under floodlights after dark, earning the paychecks that support them and their families. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.

And they do it all by hand.


To commemorate the Singer brand’s 160th anniversary, Singer Sewing Company will launch the Singer 160 Limited Edition sewing machine on a home shopping network on Thursday, Jan. 26. The new machine has the latest technological features, such as a presser foot sensor and one-touch stitch selection, but its design and appearance, black trimmed with gold, pays homage to the past. The celebration will continue through August 2012. In August 2011, Singer, which invites those who sew to learn about their vintage or antique sewing machines, and share their stories about their Singer sewing machines and sewing. For more information, visit