"We deal with a lot of history." No, those aren't the words of the Architect of the Capitol's (AOC) Curator office. It's Ron Bailey, shop supervisor of the Library Buildings and Grounds Elevator Division, who runs some of the oldest elevator systems on Capitol Hill, the oldest of which date back to the 1930s.
I had the pleasure of meeting Ron and his team of elevator mechanics at 8 a.m. one morning as I was just arriving at work. His team, on the other hand, was already halfway through their shift – working all hours to ensure the elevators at the Library of Congress are fully operational.
Elevator room atop the Library of Congress Jefferson Building.
"We work in museum-like buildings, so we always have to have respect for where we are," Bailey told me. Respect is easy to have when you work in a place like the Library of Congress. As I tagged along with him and mechanic Frank Griffith onto the roof of the Thomas Jefferson Building to inspect the hoist motor for one of the Library's most used elevators, it was clear that their office is like nowhere else.
The view took my breath away as I paused on our way into the elevator room that sits atop the Jefferson – surely it must be one of the best in D.C., I thought. I could have looked at the view all day, but Bailey and Griffith didn't have time to waste, so we continued on to inspect the Jefferson Building's elevator systems to ensure everything was operating smoothly.
The elevators at the Library of Congress could be a museum exhibit of their own. The systems in place span 90 years worth of technology from antique hoist motors from the 1930s and old "clickity clack" slate board controllers (pictured above), to modern computer systems and massive circuit boards. And each of the elevator mechanics needs to understand the operations of all these machines. In fact, the AOC's elevator mechanics are truly no longer "mechanics." They now must be skilled with computers and possess mechanical and electrical knowledge.
Adapting to new technologies, while still being able to maintain antique systems is one of the unique skills that allows AOC elevator mechanics to keep the 280 elevators working across Capitol Hill to support Congress and the Supreme Court, without interruption, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Learn more about the AOC's elevator shops in the Spring 2013 issue of Foundations & Perspectives.
Lori Taylor serves as Senior Web Manager for the Architect of the Capitol.