A place to call their own


Cranes, earth movers, and pizza. Thirteen Hermiston High School students spent the morning of May 23 at Operating Engineers Local 701 training center in Canby. The 86-acre riverfront facility, which includes a new 10,000-square-foot training space, is the pride and joy of the union and the culmination of many years of planning and saving.

The Mark Holliday Operating Engineers Training Center is named for the former Local 701 business manager who purchased the property and left the local in a solid financial position.

Training director Lonnie Land — a tower crane operator and a member of Local 701 for more than two decades — says the union has come a long way from the days when it leased a training facility in Eugene. 

To expand its training program and have greater control over its training space, Local 701 bought the Canby property in 2012 for about $400,000. A U-shaped lot surrounding several homesteads that abut Macksburg Road, it was unimproved land with no electric or water hookups. It needed a lot of clean-up. 

But it had one indispensable feature: a federal mining permit. Because the property was once used as a surface mine for gravel, it could be turned to a new use — training heavy equipment operators to move earth. 

“I wanted to be able to dig holes wherever I wanted to dig holes,” Land said.

POSSIBLE FUTURE CRANE OPERATOR At Hermiston High School — the largest in Eastern Oregon — students can specialize in construction or a half dozen other career tracks. Thanks to close collaboration with Local 701, Hermiston High students like the one visiting the training center above have a leg up in being admitted as apprentices after they graduate, possibly as soon as next February, when the program next accepts new apprentices. | PHOTO BY AMANDA SPOO

That doesn’t mean they just tear things up. The center prides itself on being a good neighbor, Land said. The property includes more than 2,000 feet of frontage on the Molalla River. To protect the river, operating engineers keep the riparian zone undisturbed and maintain holding ponds elsewhere on the property to prevent runoff.  Land said the center requested audits from the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and got a clean bill of health.

The size and location of the property meant apprentices could practice on noisy heavy machinery without being a nuisance to neighboring landowners. But conditions for students were pretty primitive, Land said. A year ago, instructors were teaching classes in double wide trailers and even on a school bus. There were no phones, no Internet, no electricity, no plumbing. But five years of work was about to pay off. 

Last summer, construction wrapped up on a permanent building with bathrooms, office space, and state-of-the-art classrooms. Its centerpiece is a pole barn where apprentices can learn bull rigging, or hand rigging in areas a crane can’t access, using chain falls and trolley systems to move heavy industrial machinery into place for example. Next to that are three offices and three classrooms with 85-inch Clear Touch smart board monitors. And above those is a 2,500-square-foot mezzanine storage area. 

The new building has a septic system and a three-phase electric power system installed by union-signatory Craftsman Electric.  

Volunteer union labor helped keep the building’s construction cost to $1.3 million. Apprentice brick masons from Bricklayers Local 1 built cinder block welding booths. Ironworkers from Local 29 did the rebar. Cement masons from Local 555 — including Local 555’s president and training director — poured the concrete floor and left their union’s logo stamped in concrete by the entrance. And of course union operating engineers in Local 701 did the ground work, graded, drove columns 10 feet into the ground, set the trusses, and put up the columns using cranes.

“All the material handling was done by crane hands, and all of the grade work was done by our grades and excavation apprentices,” Land said. “And the layout (surveying) was done by our technical engineer apprentices.”

When it was done, the local welcomed international President Jim Callahan to a grand opening.

Construction union training centers are typically owned by training trusts overseen jointly by employers and unions. Local 701 has a training trust, but business manager Jim Anderson wanted the local, and by extension the members, to own their own facility. The land and property are owned outright by the union.

“It took Jim five years to save up the money to be able to pay cash for this building,” Land said. 

And there’s more to come. Plans are in the works to construct an indoor arena next year. Somewhat like an equestrian arena, it will be about 50 feet tall in the center, and 28 feet tall at the eaves. It will allow apprentices to practice operating and test on heavy equipment in a controlled environment no matter the season. The hope is to break ground in spring and have it ready by the fall of 2024.

Land says they plan to install a sort of museum piece between the pole barn and the arena, a 1966 Bucyrus Erie Series 2 that they will rebuild from the ground up. They’ll be able to look back while looking forward, and maybe some of the Hermiston High School visitors will be apprentices by then. 

The training program is growing. “When I started, they were only doing five to six months a year worth of training here, and now we’re 12 months a year full on and we’re booked solid,” Land said.

The training center is the union’s down payment on its future.

“The students coming in, we wanted them to know that we were invested in them. To be able to say, look, this is for you. We did this for you.”

FIELD OF DREAMS Training center director Lonnie Land says that by late next year, the grassy area beyond the newly constructed training center building will be the site of an indoor arena where apprentices can train on heavy equipment all year long and not be limited by the weather. | PHOTO BY DON McINTOSH


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