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‘Tis the season for Christmas crane wars along the Seattle skyline

High above the welders and framers, the crane stands as the identity of the job site, and at Christmas time, it's not about who has the biggest crane or the tallest crane. It's about who has the best decorations. (KIRO Radio Photo/Chris Sullivan)

There’s always that one guy in the neighborhood, maybe it’s you, that has to out-do everybody else with his Christmas lights. You probably call him “Clark Griswold” behind his back.

But this Christmas competition isn’t just for homes or neighborhoods. The companies running those giant construction cranes take their decorations seriously, too.

High above the welders and framers, the crane stands as the identity of the job site, and at Christmastime, it’s not about who has the biggest crane or the tallest crane. It’s about who has the best decorations.

“With the Christmas lights, those are our swords,” said John Schimke, superintendent for GLY construction. His two cranes above South Lake Union feature blue-lit supports and red-lit arms. Each have giant green Christmas trees on top. Schimke said they’ve been planning the decorations for months.

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“This year, we added a little extra flavor with the snowman, the 12th Man and the wreath, and there was some planning involved,” he said. “That stuff needs to be fabricated and put together in a safe and appropriate fashion.”

A few blocks away, James Buehler, the superintendent of JTM Construction, began his preparations in July. He wanted the Seahawks logo in lights, but a copyright got in the way. He decided to put nearly 4,000 lights into a giant 12th Man display.

“We throw some ideas out there and some of them stick,” Buehler said. “Obviously, the 12th Man, everybody got really excited about it on the job and wanted to be part of it.”

Buehler said he does keep an eye on what the other job sites are doing.

“Seattle’s a small town,” he said. “We all have friends at other companies that have cranes up. There’s a little competition, of course. You want to have the brightest and best crane out there.”

He believes his Seahawk blue and green crane is the best. So I asked Schimke for his reaction.

“Timing is everything,” Schimke said. “Ours was up first. Ours was up complete, and I’ve noticed as theirs has come up after ours, it resembles closely to what we had up originally.”

Reading between the lines, I believe that means Buehler should have put his lights up first, and Schimke thinks his cranes are better.

You can judge for yourself.

If you’re afraid of heights, stringing these lights is probably not a good career choice either.

To get the lights out to the ends of the arms, workers have to climb out about 300 feet while several hundred feet above the ground.

About the Author

Stephanie Klein

Stephanie joined the team in February 2008. She has built the site into a two-time National Edward R. Murrow Award winner (Best Radio Website 2010, 2012). Email Stephanie at


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