This man’s profession requires working outdoors, 500 feet above Detroit
Nearly 500 feet above bustling downtown Detroit streets, John Watson arrives weekday mornings at his office, which has no walls and only the sky for a ceiling.
Watson typically works at high-rises, like thousands of other people.
What makes the 60-year-old Canton man’s job unique is that he works outside skyscrapers (and, for the time being, on the under-construction Gordie Howe Bridge), not from the comfort of a safe, sterile office.
Watson is an elevator constructor – a profession that weeds out any job applicants who admit to even the slightest fear of heights.
“Working on elevators in new-construction structures, a lot of the time I’m in open steel,” said Watson. “When we were working on the Book Tower (in downtown Detroit), we were outside, 36 stories up, about 445 feet above the ground.
“I love my job. Working high off the ground is second nature to me now. I enjoy the views. When you’re that high up and you can watch the sunrise, well, it’s a peaceful kind of feeling.”
In September, Watson will mark his 38th year constructing elevators and escalators. In addition to the Book Tower and Gordie Howe Bridge, he played a role in the construction of Ford Field.
Watson said the evolution of high-rise construction safety equipment has been astounding.
“When I first started, we basically wore a safety belt with a couple straps around your legs,” Watson recounted. “If you happened to get hung up wearing just a safety belt around your waist, it hurt.
“The technology of the safety harnesses have come so far since then. I feel incredibly secure.”
Watson, who said he has had no dangerous close calls during his nearly four decades in a skywalking job, revealed people are fascinated when they find out what he does for a living.
“Most people think it’s pretty cool,” he said. “My family and friends enjoy the photos I take. I took one video being lifted up the side of a building in a man basket. Until it finds its center, there’s some spinning involved. When one of my buddies saw a video of this, he said it made him feel nauseous.”
All in a day’s work for Watson, whose job has priceless fringe benefits.
“When we were 36 floors up working on the Book Tower, I could see Lake St. Clair to the north and Lake Erie to the south,” he said. “Not many jobs can give you views like that.”