PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Local News

June 27, 2014

A man and his crane — ‘Big Arthur’ to get much-needed paint job

PORT ARTHUR — Lynn Griffin has the best views in the city.

Perched 55 feet in the air, Griffin can see all of Pleasure Island, Port Arthur’s booming refineries, downtown Beaumont and his hometown of Port Acres.

Usually, though, Griffin’s sights are set closer to his tower — to cargo ships and railroad cars entering the Port of Port Arthur.

Griffin is the port’s caretaker and crane operator of “Big Arthur.” Towering 135 feet in the air “laying down” and 150 feet “standing proud,” Big Arthur is the port’s mascot and icon.

“Big Arthur is 45 years old — he’s been here since the port opened in 1969,” Griffin said. “I started as an operator in 1984. I’m the only one — he’s my baby.”

As a child, Griffin’s dream was to become a crane operator so he could run Big Arthur. At 56 years old, this Port Acres boy knows Big Arthur better than anyone.

“We’re responsible for offloading and loading cargo — military equipment, wood pulp, lino board, steel products, coils — and we do all kinds of vessel repair,” Griffin said. “When I’m up in the cab, it can be anything from a 10- to 14-hour shift.

“Right before Hurricane Rita, we had a ship just outside the port trying to come in to unload, but it had to wait until the storm passed. By that time, another ship had come up behind it. It took us 17 days back-to-back to unload those two ships. It was a lot of work. We handle all sorts of cargo, but it’s always steady.”

Griffin and Big Arthur have been a duo for 30 years now, so Griffin knows all of Big Arthur’s tricks.

“He spins around a full 360 degrees,” Griffin said. “He travels all around the dock on rails. Some use cables, but Big Arthur doesn’t have those. He’s all diesel electric — easy to run, but it takes some getting used to.”

Griffin also knows what makes Big Arthur tick.

“I love telling people about his engine,” he said. “The main engine is bigger than a Volkswagen. How neat is that?”

Griffin will soon be charged with overseeing a massive project — the port has decided to hire a contractor to come in and paint Big Arthur. Griffin says the crane is in need of an updated look.

“I maintain the whole crane, but painting-wise, we’ve done the cab and the trucks — where the wheels are cased in — and I maintain the bottom,” he said. “We did paint the inside and outside of the machine house a few years back.

“We have a brand new catwalk — we just changed the catwalk in 2013 to all stainless steel — but the last time the strut, the boom and the jib were painted was before I came, so over 30 years ago. But they did a great job up there, because it has lasted until now.”

Griffin said he recently took several contracting teams all over Big Arthur to see if they could handle the job. Some of the spaces can get pretty tight and windy — so climbing Big Arthur is no easy task.

“I went up with three or four contractors to see if they could do it,” Griffin said. “I get to climb all over Big Arthur whenever I want to — mostly when needed. At my age, I don’t want to climb if I don’t have to climb.

“But it doesn’t matter to me who gets the job — Big Arthur just needs the paint.”

Painting is scheduled to begin within the next few months. Griffin said the project is estimated to take three weeks — provided the port can hold off using Big Arthur during that time. If he’s needed, painting could take longer.

But Big Arthur won’t be without Griffin for three weeks. Griffin said he will be right by Big Arthur’s side, making sure the contractors take good care of him.

“When the painters come, I’ll be with them. I’m the Port representative, and I don’t want them walking around unattended. He’s my baby.”

Email: chenderson@panews.com

Twitter: @crhenderson90

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