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At Work

From stockyard to boardroom, Chicago is a city at work, and that has been the theme of the ongoing photo essay we commissioned from photographer Clayton Hauck. Join us as we visit some of Chicago’s most interesting workplaces and the people who work there.

Mike Freeman

58, crane operator for James McHugh Construction
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
August 2016  “I’ve been working the tower crane for more than 30 years. We use them to build high-rises. I hoist everything—lumber, iron, plumbing and electrical pipe, even a 20,000-pound bucket of concrete. Here I’m a little over 200 feet up, working on the Sinclair apartments at LaSalle and Division. It’ll eventually be 40 stories, so we’ll ‘jump’ the crane several times, adding extensions to make it taller. It can get stressful when a storm rolls in—all of a sudden, it’s too windy to want to climb down. The crane is engineered to sway with the wind, so some guys get motion sickness. One time, I was working over 1,200 feet up on Trump Tower, above the clouds. I was in bright blue skies all day. Only when I climbed down did I realize there had been a snowstorm.” —Interview by Matt Pollock

Darryl Wilson

51, scoreboard operator at Wrigley Field
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
July 2016  “Along with Fenway, we’re the last major-league park posting scores from around the league by hand. This scoreboard was essentially born with Wrigley, so it will have to die with Wrigley. The board is split into three floors. I man the second floor. I’m also in charge of reading all the scores off a website and hollering them to the guys on other floors. That’s why I’m called the Chairman of the Board. We update the pitchers, too, posting their uniform numbers. One time we were playing Cincinnati, and people in the bleachers were yelling at me, ‘Why do you have yesterday’s starter coming in to relieve?’ I didn’t realize I was using the scorecard from the previous series—against Pittsburgh. Fridays are nice because the Cubs are the only team playing during the day. It’s the only time I get to watch the game.” —Interview by Nicole Schnitzler

Donny Meister

54, pressman at the Tribune’s Freedom Center
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
June 2016  “I started at the Tribune 34 years ago and worked my way up to the press. We’re the biggest single printing plant in North America. Between 10 presses, we turn out more than a million newspapers a day—not just the Tribune, but the Sun-Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times. I’m on the press by 5 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Here I’m adjusting the folder, the part of the press that folds the paper once it’s printed. That’s the Reader’s Friday Agenda insert coming down. It weighs on my mind that more and more presses are closing, ’cause there’s an art to printing. It takes a few years to be able to grab a paper and say, ‘Oh, this needs more blue’ or ‘This needs more yellow.’ I got pride in my job. It’s a good feeling to tell people you make the paper when you see it out there.” —Interview by Matt Pollack

Jimmy Heintzelman

46, assistant equipment manager for the Chicago Blackhawks
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
May 2015  “I’m one of three equipment managers for the Blackhawks. We tape sticks, sew up uniforms, do all the laundry, and sharpen skates. Here I’m filing Patrick Kane’s. He uses black steel blades, which have a much harder edge that helps him turn on a dime. The bigger guys, such as Dennis Rasmussen, like a dull blade for more glide. I customize a lot of sticks, too. Some players like them longer than others, so I’ll use a blowtorch to heat up an adhesive wood extension and pound it into the handle. The hardest part of the job was learning to sew. Guys like Andrew Shaw who play rough really tear up their jerseys. The hours can be hard—on game days, I work from 7 a.m. to midnight—but there’s nothing like seeing your name on that Cup.” —Interview by Matt Pollock; see more photos

Caroline Perzan

46, set decorator for Fox’s Empire
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
April 2015  “I do all the decorating on set that doesn’t involve architecture. That means rugs, lighting, drapery, furniture. From day one, we wanted to establish a look for Empire. [Cocreator] Lee Daniels is crazy about art—he’s a collector—and asked me to blend famous hip-hop painters like Kehinde Wiley with greats like Van Gogh. We have a saying on set when we need to ‘Empire up’ a room: We call it ‘zhuzhing’ it. That means adding gold, silver, fur, jewels, alligator, a funky sculpture—even a bong if it’s [the character] Hakeem. The whole show is about blending Old World antique beauty with new hip-hop glitz. I commissioned the artist Matthew Thomas to do the portrait of Lucious [played by Terrence Howard] I’m holding here. It hangs behind him in his study. The room felt like it needed some art, and he’s the kind of character who would have a portrait done. He’s King Lear.” —Interview by Matt Pollock

Nate Johnson

44, co-owner of Johnson Studios Ice Sculptures near Midway Airport
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
March 2015  “I was working as a chef in 1989 when my boss needed an ice sculpture for a wedding he was catering. I found a block in Plymouth, Michigan, drove it to Indiana, and carved it with a bow saw and chisel. In ’99, I went full-time. On any given day, we might do a bride and groom, a SpongeBob for a kid’s party, and an adult-themed sculpture. But if it’s a job that’s tens of thousands of dollars, we could work on it for months. For a Nike commission of six athletes—here, I’m working on the Chicago Sky’s Elena Delle Donne—we used more than 100 blocks. People usually want a specific image, so I use a projector to blow it up, then trace it onto paper and tape that over the ice. I’ll usually attack the block with a chainsaw first, then switch to an angle or die grinder for the details. Finally, I’ll use a blowtorch to take out my tool marks.” —Interview by Matt Pollock

Gregg Benkovich

52, wardrobe assistant at the Joffrey Ballet
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
February 2016  “I order all the shoes for the company members. Nine times out of 10, they need to be custom-made. Dancers want their feet to look narrow, lovely, and arched—a natural extension of their leg. I work with them to make sure they get that. It’s a very collaborative process. I put in an order for a couple of trial shoes, then it’s a process of elimination. Sometimes the dancers want the box—the tip of the pointe shoe—to be wider, or they’re concerned about the strength of the shank, a hard piece of cardboard or plastic that runs from the toe through the arch. It can take about a year to get everything right. I also paint shoes for certain ballets. The Rite of Spring calls for 100 hand-painted slippers. That’s always a big project for me, but I get a lot of satisfaction knowing I played a part in what I see on the stage.” —Interview by Tomy Obaro

Larry Gardner

59, painter with the City of Chicago’s graffiti removal program
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
January 2016  “If you have graffiti on your property, I’m your guy. We have three ways of responding: painting, blasting with baking soda, or power washing. I’m a painter—one of 11. I have two colors: brown or white. If neither matches, we might ask the property owner what color they’d like. I usually get between 35 and 70 calls a day. The gang graffiti is dissipating; it’s mostly taggers now. In the photo, I’m working on some letters from a tagger in Logan Square. I was a housepainter when I applied for this job 23 years ago. Not long after I started, I was painting over garages when these kids tagged my van. It was a running joke in the department for a while. One time, someone tagged ‘Will You Marry Me?’ on a wall. I got the call in the morning, but I left it there for a couple of hours before I took it down. I think graffiti can be art—just not on someone’s private property.” —Interview by Tomi Obaro

Sylvia Quesada

29, visual manager at Macy’s in the Loop
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
December 2015  “I oversee the design of the store’s window displays. We have 30 in total. Six are animated holiday ones that this year are part of one central theme, Santa’s Journey to the Stars. The window I’m working on is called The Ice Giants. I’m applying snow made out of cotton, plaster, and glitter. The sets are built by an outside company in this huge warehouse in Brooklyn. They don’t come attached, so we build them in our workshop and then bring them down in chunks. They take about a week to set up. The concepts for the holiday windows come out of New York headquarters, but we add our own touches; we have windows with the Chicago skyline and a little boy’s room with Cubs and White Sox icons. For the windows that we conceive ourselves, I have a huge brainstorm meeting with my team, and we look through Pinterest and Google for pictures that inspire us. The toughest project I’ve done was a Wrigley Field theme two years ago when I decided to make a huge baseball out of real baseballs. It took about 500 that I hung up by hand.” —Interview by Tomi Obaro

Ann Lindsey

49, head of conservation at the University of Chicago Library in Hyde Park
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
November 2015  “I’m the caretaker for our rare books collection. We get books that could be constructed out of leather or papyrus, metal or velvet; they could come anywhere from Iceland to Japan. Here, I’m working on a manuscript that was started in the 15th century and probably completed in the 16th century. It’s called the John Adam Service Book. New Testament scholars study it. Normally if we come across something rare, we try to do as little as possible, but this book was rebound in the late 19th century, and it was done very poorly. We made the decision to disbind the entire thing, clean it up, and rebind it. I’m resewing the pages using undyed linen thread. The wooden object next to me is called a knocking-down stick. Yes, it’s really called that. Conservators are bad with names. During the resewing of a book, the pages get fluffy, so we rub the knocking-down stick across the spine to compact the pages. We don’t get 15th-century or 16th-century books very often. Most books take between 10 and 25 hours. This one took about 100 hours.” —Interview by Tomi Obaro

Bobby Schmitt

31, technical director at Statesville Haunted Prison in Crest Hill
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
October 2015  “We start designing new haunted house rooms in the winter. Then, when the weather is warm enough, we head over to the farm to start building. We have over 30 rooms, and we change about 25 percent of them every year. In the photo, I’m in our Blood Room, hanging silicone body parts onto a moving conveyor belt. We get our body parts from vendors at a haunted house convention in St. Louis. We added a little bit of foam to look like entrails. It takes about 40 to 50 minutes to make it through the whole house, and we consider it a compliment when people can’t finish. I started out as an actor here in high school—I played a flying skeleton and a Grim Reaper. Before I knew it, I was in the build crew full-time. What I love most about my job is the randomness. One day you’re putting up a couple of walls like a carpenter, the next day you’re hanging fake dead bodies in a freezer.” —Interview by Tomi Obaro

Joseph Jalove

48, rescue diver, Chicago Fire Department
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
September 2015  “We go out for animal rescues, boat fires, boats in distress, jumpers, swimmers in distress, drowning victims. We do drills every day and we train like it’s real life. We use a water rescue mannequin that weighs as much as a human and sinks in the water. We’re responsible for 37 miles on the lakefront, the Chicago River, and all the ponds and pools in Chicago. Summer is our busiest season, but winter is more challenging because of the weather conditions. I had to retrieve a body once from under 12 inches of surface ice in February. There was zero visibility. Another time, we were on the lakefront training and somebody came up to us and said, ‘I think there’s somebody in the water over here.’ We went maybe a hundred feet up the lakefront, and there he was. We were able to bring him up. He was unconscious, and we revived him right on the shoreline. It was his lucky day.” —Interview by Tomi Obaro

Veronica Shaughnessy

27, director of agriculture at FarmedHere in Bedford Park
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
August 2015  “I work at a vertical indoor aquaponics organic farm, which means we’re a closed- loop system—fish provide fertilizer, and the plants provide clean water for the fish. We literally stack the plant beds on top of each other to maximize space. We mainly grow microgreens, baby greens, and basil and sell them to local grocery stores. We use LED lights because they give off red and blue wavelengths, which help plants grow. In the photo, I’m scouting the basil to make sure we don’t have any unwanted pests or pathogens. I look for any discoloration in the leaves and the presence of spider mites, which tend to live in indoor farms. Some days I’m testing the pH levels of the plants. Some days I’m cleaning out a fish tank in a HAZMAT suit. Traditional farming often uses synthetic soil and fertilizer, and the creation of those consumes a lot of energy, so I love knowing that I’m producing plants that don’t harm the environment. Growing plants has always been therapeutic to me, from when I was a little kid.” —Interview by Tomi Obaro

Jennifer Langan

43, senior veterinarian at Brookfield Zoo
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
July 2015  “I split my time between seeing animals for checkups and teaching veterinary students at the University of Illinois. Zoological medicine is a jack-of-all-trades speciality because we’re trained to take care of animals that aren’t covered by other specialities, such as rhinos, elephants, and dolphins. Here, I’m using a portable ultrasound machine on our sea lion Zuma. Zuma is an older animal at 23, so we keep close tabs on him. We can image his kidneys, liver, and bladder to make sure he’s healthy and there are no signs of cancer. The marine mammals are my favorites because they are cooperative. We’ll show up when there’s a training session—that’s when they get their meals—so they can slowly acclimate to a new face. There’s a lot of trust that’s built over time.”—Interview by Tomi Obaro

Mike Longo

55, roller coaster mechanic at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
June 2015  “I supervise all the maintenance on eight rides in the park. We do inspections every morning to make sure they’re safe for guests and sometimes help with assembly. Here, I’m checking for loose bolts on Goliath [the world’s steepest wooden coaster, opened in 2014]. It takes about two and a half hours to inspect Goliath with two people doing it. I was in the military for seven years doing maintenance on tanks, but whether I’m approaching a roller coaster or a military tank, I’m running through a checklist of items to see what would be the cause of any error. You’ve got to have good attention to detail. And you can’t be afraid of heights.” —Interview by Tomi Obaro

Roman Udakov

38, model shop manager at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in the Loop
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
May 2015  “I build architectural models for our firm. Here I’m touching up one we presented to Mayor Emanuel in 2014 for the Chinatown library. It took about 80 hours to build. It’s made primarily of basswood, a soft wood that’s common for model making. Sometimes the designers want a wood palette; sometimes we use Plexiglas or plastic. The weirdest request I’ve ever gotten was when we were working on Trump Tower. Donald Trump wanted a chocolate model. I ended up making a mold, and Trump’s people cast it in chocolate. Seventy percent of firms don’t make models anymore. Architects today are heavily reliant on computerized 3D renderings. But when you see things on a monitor, it’s just not the same as when you have an object in front of you. You understand the surfaces a lot better.” —Interview by Tomi Obaro

Noe Avila

42, panning supervisor at Ferrara Candy Company in Forest Park
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
April 2015  “This is the polishing room, the last stage in the process of making Red Hots and our other hard candy, like Chewy Lemonheads and Friends [pictured here]. We put the candy in pans [the metal drum at right] and rotate the pieces for 10 to 15 minutes while adding liquid sugar to smooth them out, then carnauba wax and mineral oil to seal and confectioners’ glaze to add shine. We examine the candy by hand to make sure it’s dry enough; touch and feel are crucial to the job. Then we load the pieces into trays, which is what I’m doing here, and leave them out to dry for 24 hours. In all, it takes about five to seven days to make the candy.” —Interview by Tomi Obaro

Anna Goldman

32, assistant collections manager and preparator at the Field Museum
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
March 2015  “I prepare mammal specimens for the museum’s skeleton collections. I have a giant freezer with a bunch of dead animals, and once a week, I’ll pull specimens from there. We take the skin off, take the guts out, take a tissue sample. Then the bones go to the flesh-eating beetles. After that, I have a horde of 25 volunteers and interns who remove brain, larva, anything from the bone that the beetles left behind that may rot or smell or cause pests later. Then the bones are dried out, labeled, and stored. Here, I’m using dental tools on a wild buffalo skull to get at the little crevices where there’s tartar buildup or tissue. We do all this so scientists can compare these specimens to their 1880 or 1900 counterparts, track population changes, and discover new species. We have more than 27 million specimens in the museum. Sometimes we get donations from zoos. Badgers, deer, coyotes, wolves—I like the variety. You can skin 20 squirrels, but the 21st is still just as exciting.” —Interview by Tomi Obaro

Eric Ponce

34, senior brewer at Goose Island Beer Co. in Humboldt Park
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
February 2015  “I manage the barrel program—filling the casks, tasting the casks, blending the casks. We have our bourbon-aged section, which is roughly 3,500 barrels that used to hold bourbon but now hold beer, and we have our wine-barrel-aged section, also about 3,500 barrels. In the photo, I’m pulling samples so that I can taste the flavor compounds in the bourbon barrels. I use a glass instrument called a wine thief. We have a rating scale: juicy, acidic, and woody. If barrel 64, for example, has too many berry characteristics, then we’re going to blend it more. We do this at least every couple months. We wait for nine months to two years to remove the beer so that it soaks up the flavors of the wood.” —Interview by Tomi Obaro

Ian Schneller

51, founder and owner of Specimen Products in Humboldt Park
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
January 2015  “For 27 years I’ve made string instruments and tube amplifiers for musicians. Jack White has bought some of my amps. So has [indie-folk star] Andrew Bird. My guitars start at $2,000. It usually takes about a month to make one—maybe more for elaborate models. All are handmade. I machine the hardware from scratch. Rasping, a type of sanding [pictured], is the best way to get the guitar’s final shape that feels right to the hand. I will tailor the necks to the individual clients. Alex Kapranos [the lead guitarist in the rock band Franz Ferdinand], for example, prefers a soft V-shaped neck. Sometimes I use unusual materials. I used beetle wings for a pick once.” —Interview by Tomi Obaro

Melissa Alderton

61, Founder and owner, Propabilities
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
November 2014  “I started renting home-related items to people who work in advertising, photography, TV shows, and movies in 1986 after I was laid off from a photo studio. I rent regularly to the shows Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., and Sirens. They come in when they are setting up a new character’s home—sometimes it’s a kitchen, sometimes a bedroom, sometimes a living room, sometimes an office. I just supplied 45 feet of law books to Chicago P.D. I rented some jail toilets to Sirens. I bought them from that show Prison Break after it ended. I get my stuff from everywhere—house sales, estate sales, wholesale, retail. When movies stop shooting, sometimes they’ll dump their stuff here. Somebody gave me an airplane seat that was used in a United commercial.” —Interview by Tomi Obaro

Felipe Berumen

48, Window washer, Corporate Cleaning Services
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
November 2014  “I work with a partner on the John Hancock Center [pictured]. It takes us an hour to pull out the scaffold from the top and another hour to get the scaffold back up at the end of the day. It takes us 14 days to do the whole building. The most difficult part is actually the bottom windows, because they are deep in the walls and hard to reach. Also tricky are overhead windows, like at the Monadnock Building [53 W. Jackson Blvd.]. For those, we need to swing harder and use a suction pat. But if we swing too hard, we can break the window. The worst thing that’s happened to me was when a rope tore apart while I was cleaning Newberry Plaza and I fell five stories before I was caught by my security harness. I’m aware of the risks of my work, but I enjoy the view.” —Interview by Octavio Lopez

Kelly Hardin

39, Senior mechanical technician, Fermilab
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
November 2014  “We moved the Muon g-2 ring [a 50-foot-wide electromagnet that physicists at Fermilab, in Batavia, will use to study a subatomic particle called a muon] from the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. We disassembled the machines and detectors there and transported the g-2 ring cross-country on a truck. I’m in charge of reassembling the pieces, which is a yearlong process. It’s like a thousand-piece puzzle. One day I could be moving a 53,000-pound piece of steel with a crain and another doing vacuum testing. We have to be very careful because the coils inside the magnet that produce the current are very fragile. Here, I’m holding a cryogenic control valve. It’s a liquid nitrogen control that will help cool the magnet once it’s energized.” —Interview by Tomi Obaro

Laura Hilstrom

36, Senior aquarist, Shedd Aquarium
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
November 2014  “I work with the Wild Reef exhibit. That’s all Pacific saltwater tropical animals—everything from corals to our big sharks. I feed them, make their gravel beds, clean the windows, and monitor them. This exhibit represents the end of the reef as it goes into the open ocean, so it’s more dimly lit than the other tanks, meaning there’s less algae to clean. It’s 20 feet deep. I always go in with another diver as a safety precaution. We’re usually in for about an hour. I really like diving with our Napoleon wrasse fish. He liked the pink gloves I wore one day. He came over to watch me scrub the window, and when I went down, he would go down. It’s such a neat environment. You’re in their world, and because you’re not able to talk, all your other senses are heightened. It’s very calming.” —Interview by Tomi Obaro

Allison Langley

44, Associate conservator of paintings, Art Institute of Chicago
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
November 2014  “Restoring the early modern European paintings in our collection, making sure they look the way the artists intended, is almost like detective work. We examine the painting carefully with microscopes, and we use ultraviolet light, infrared light, and x-rays to make sure we fully understand how it was made. Then it’s a delicate process in which we clean the surface with small Q-Tips while not disturbing the original paint layers. I also dust the paintings in the galleries as needed with a badger-hair brush. It’s soft enough that it won’t scratch the surface and won’t shed bristles or leave a residue. The gallery in this photograph has three paintings I restored, including Picasso’s Mother and Child [at right]. While restoring it, I got to take x-ray images of a male figure that the painting originally included. Picasso literally cut it out by cutting off a strip along the left edge of the canvas and then painting over the rest of the figure.” —Interview by Tomi Obaro

Jeff Szynal

53, Senior manager of scoreboard operations and TV production, Chicago White Sox
 
Photo: Clayton Hauck
November 2014  “I direct the camera crew and our technicians—there’s 25 of us—during games at U.S. Cellular Field, from the scoreboard control room [pictured]. When there’s a home run hit by the White Sox, one of my technicians puts in a code that sets an electrical pulse underneath the stadium. There’s two pyrotechnicians who are behind the scoreboard with fireworks loaded and ready to go. We have to make sure that we do it at the right time though, so they wait for me to give them the instruction. There can be a few ‘Is it a home run or not?’ moments, so we always wait for the umpires to actually signal it. There’s some pressure in my job, but we do a lot of preparation and planning in the weeks before the game.” —Interview by Tomi Obaro
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