Bye, Big Red: Port’s historic crane removed

“The march of progress leaves little room for sentiment,” said Bruce Koch, as he watched a contractor high above at work with a cutting torch.

Koch, the Port of Tacoma’s Electronics Technology Manager, was witnessing the unceremonious dismantling of an important piece of Port history. As dozens of long-time Port employees watched the sparks fall to the ground, “Big Red” – the Port’s first container crane – was being dismantled and hauled away as scrap metal.

“I was more than a little sentimental as we watched the workers cut her apart,” Koch said of the archaic German-built Peiner crane.

According to the Port’s 1970 Annual Report, this “giant container crane” was completed for operational testing in late 1970 and then launched the Port into the container business. “The crane, which was built at a cost of $1,200,000, was dubbed ‘Big Red’ by the trade and news media,” the Report stated. “The crane received international attention because of its size and unique capacities to handle not only container cargoes but also bulk and general cargoes.”

At just 242 feet (with the boom up), Big Red (later painted blue) could reach over just 14 containers. By comparison, new cranes at Pierce County Terminal have a 23-container reach. And unlike later models, the Peiner could pivot its spreader (lifting frame) to pick containers stowed sideways.

The Peiner and its neighbor, a Mitsui bucket crane of the same vintage, were dismantled to make way for the renovated and expanded Terminal 7 facility for Yang Ming Line. Scheduled to open in July 2005, the 54-acre facility will be called Olympic Container Terminal.

The Mitsui crane spent three decades retrieving alumina from the holds of ships with its massive 25-cubic yard clamshell bucket. The ore was delivered into an elaborate system designed to keep alumina dust out of the air as the material was moved by conveyor to the Port’s two alumina domes.

And like the two cranes, the domes are also no longer a part of the Port’s waterfront profile. The domes were demolished in early 2005 – also to free additional acreage room for the new Olympic Container Terminal.

Landmarks since they were built in 1966 and 1971, the two domes were designed to store bauxite alumina ore for use at the now-closed Tacoma Kaiser Aluminum Smelter. There was no need for the structures after Tacoma’s Kaiser Aluminum Smelter permanently closed in 2000. The Port of Tacoma purchased the 96-acre smelter site in 2003 for future use in maritime commerce.