The cranes being used to put up wind turbines north of Ida Grove weigh 1.4 million pounds.
“The crane’s tracks are six feet wide each,” said Roger Leinen. “With that much weight per square inch, it would sink right into the ground.”
Leinen is a 1978 graduate of Denison High School. He and his wife, Glenda, live in Newton.
He is a journeyman operator through International Union of Operating Engineers Local 234 and has worked jobs in many places around the country.
His primary job right now is to help place mats on the ground at the wind turbine worksite to spread out the weight of the cranes.
The mats are made of four 16-foot 12” by 12” beams that are bolted together.
He runs a Caterpillar 953 track loader with forks on it.
“We’ll pick up two of those and shuffle them around with four track loaders,” Leinen said.
The mats are placed in front of the crane as it moves. The mats it has already passed over are picked up and placed in front to be driven over again. They also build pads for where the crane sits when the tower is assembled.
“I go where the work is,” Leinen said.
He runs just about every piece of heavy equipment in use – except for cranes.
“With the union hall you have to be able to multitask with a lot of equipment to be gainfully employed,” he said.
A total of 82 new wind turbines will be constructed by the time the project is complete in September or October, Leinen said.
The turbine field is roughly centered on both sides of Highway 59 north of Ida Grove.
About 12 had been constructed at the beginning of this week.
“It took a bit to get organized,” he said.
Roads had to be built to the construction sites and a pipeline of pieces had to arrive.
“We usually get two or three a day done now,” Leinen said.
Each tower, without the blades, is 189 feet tall and comes in three sections.
In addition to placing mats for crane stability, Leinen is sometimes called on to help with the assembly of a wind turbine.
“They take all three blades up at once in the rotor,” he said.
The construction crew attaches ropes to two of the blades and to two of the loaders.
“They tie them to the mast on the front of your fork and they stabilize that as the blades go up in the air,” Leinen said. “The equipment stabilizes them so the wind doesn’t move them around too much.”
The third blade is tilted straight up and then the assembly of blades is attached to the generator housing at the top of the tower.
Each tower has a foundation of between 250 to 425 yards of concrete, depending on soil conditions.
“That’s a lot of concrete,” Leinen said.
A concrete batch plant was located near the site to support the construction.
About 300 people were employed on the project when the roads were under construction, he said.
Another crew will work on burying all the power lines underground.
Many of the turbine blades for the project are being made in Newton.
The generator and the blades have a lifetime of 15 to 20 years. The towers could last much longer.
Leinen said he is working 12 to 14 hour days at present.
He likes to keep busy year-round, but usually gets laid off in the winter, which he said is fine with him.
The work is challenging at times, but very rewarding.
“I love what I do,” he said.
Leinen recently worked on the construction of ice roads in Alaska. He said he’s considered taking on that job again, but may save it as a retirement gig.
The job pays “a pile of money” for six weeks of work.
“I kind of miss Alaska a little bit,” he said. “It’s nice to be back home, also. It gives a nice perspective of Iowa after being gone for nine years.”
Leinen plans to work until age 67 for full retirement - if his body holds together.
The equipment is rough on the body, he said.
Leinen said Glenda is his rock.
“It takes a special spouse to be alone all week and see that I have all I need for the upcoming week, paying bills and doing my laundry when I get home,” he said.
Leinen said Glenda keeps the home fires burning while he is away gathering wood.
The union provides good medical coverage and a healthy pension plan, he said.
Leinen recommends that anyone interested in becoming a heavy equipment operator contact the International Union of Operating Engineers union hall in Des Moines to join the apprentice program.
Leinen can be contacted at 730 High Ave. Newton, Iowa 50208.