Gary Hite of Hite Crane Part 1

The Hite of Ingenuity
    Gary Hite is somebody who loves the challenge of moving anything from elephants to 300,000-pound concrete bridge girders. Whenever the railroads have a derailment in our area they call Gary. When G.E. Medical needs a C.A.T. Scan or M.R.I. machine delivered through a window several stories up on the side of a local hospital his company handles every detail of the installation.       

       But while Hite Crane and Rigging’s company motto is “We take pride in doing the difficult,” moving his company headquarters after 40 years from Havana and Broadway to Sprague and TShirley in Greenacres  was not a challenge he wanted to undertake. You might say that the cities of Spokane and Spokane Valley got together and railroaded him out of his location so that a railroad overpass could be built at Havana south of Trent.

“This thing has been hanging over my head for 7 years,” Gary said recently during an interview at his soon-to-be-open new location.  “Moving was the last thing on my mind. I’ll be 65 years old next week, I was not looking for a 15-year program.”

The whole ordeal started years ago when the city of Spokane kindly offered to pay $126,000 for  6,000 square feet of his 110,000-square- foot property.  The trouble was that they wanted all his frontage along Havana and that was his only access to a public road from his yard.  “They were going to wipe out my business for $126,000.”
“The odd thing is that I was not in the Spokane city limits,” he said, explaining that the center of Havana is the boundary between Spokane and Spokane Valley.  It turns out that Spokane Valley turned Gary over to Spokane. “The City of Spokane Valley agreed to give me to the City of Spokane, ” he said.

“They did not change the boundaries but they gave the City of Spokane the right to sue me, which they did for eminent domain.” Eventually with the help of a good and expensive attorney, Gary convinced Spokane to buy all of his property, but victory in that battle just meant he had to begin battling with the City of Spokane Valley to get them to allow him to build at a suitable location.

“I picked 8 different locations along the corridor and I went in and talked to them at planning and permitting and they said don’t even bother submitting because we are not going to give you a permit”

he said. Finally he found an existing building in Greenacres that had been used by Tidyman’s and was grandfathered in as a non-conforming structure but he needed a little more room and so he purchased the rundown car wash next door at the same time contingent upon being allowed to use both parcels for his business.  Since the second parcel was not grandfathered as non-conforming, the Valley planning department balked again and his business was compared to a pig farm and even a porn shop.

This all seems so ironic when you consider how important Gary Hite has been to the building of our community and how deep his roots are here.  His uncle, Birch McCartney, had a heavy construction company that was located just down the road where Macklin Welding is now.  He developed one of the first guardrail post punching machines and installed hundreds of miles of guardrails along the highways.

Gary’s father was part owner of Crane Service in Spokane and Gary was taught by his dad’s employees to run a crane when he was 12. When he graduated from the University of Washington with an engineering degree in 1969, Gary tried to buy a crane in Seattle and start his own business but could not come up the financing.  When he discussed it with his dad, who had gotten out of Crane Service, they decided to buy three used cranes  and go into business together.

“Things were going good back then, 1969 was a good time,” he said. Hite Crane and Rigging was heavily involved in the demolition work required to clear the way for Expo 74 and with the construction of the World’s Fair. They expanded quickly to take on the workload but once Expo opened, work became scarce.

“After Expo was really quiet, it was a tough time. Dad decided he didn’t want to do it anymore,” he said. “We had an auction and sold off two-thirds of what we had and that gave Dad a way of cashing out and retiring. I took over the payments and went on from there. ”

Gary did fine on his own. He’s kind of a Macgyveron steroids. Hite Crane not only does the crane work on bridges, they can actually build the entire bridge. His company of 30 employees includes crews of highly skilled iron workers, machinists, pile drivers, carpenters, mechanics and of course crane operators.  They pretty much can handle anything that’s thrown at them.

For example, when the Valley was building the zoo several years ago, Gary got the contract to build the pre-cast structure that would house the elephant. “Part of the contract was to move the elephant from the fairgrounds and so we built a big crate and got a vet to tranquillize him so we could lead him in,” he said. “Then we picked it up onto our lowboy trailer and drove him out to the zoo.”

“It’s been a lot of fun and we’ve seen a lot of things most people don’t see,” he said, mentioning the work they’ve done with the submarines at BayView, all the dams in Eastern Washington, and several millitary projects including the missile silos. We read about issues like the sewage treatment plant and the building of bridges on Harvard or even the Tacoma Narrows. Hite Crane and Rigging is there doing the work. It has been a career of over 40 years that has not only provided countless jobs but also several entire careers.

And it was far too big of an investment to let   bureaucracy derail. “This thing was so agonizing and frustrating that I was afraid I was going to give up,” he said. “But that is really not in my nature. I tried to find the positives and I decided that if I have to move then we’ll clean house and stream-line and we’ll make it a better operation.”

“Now I’m tickled and proud of what we’ve done,” he said, adding that the move has cost countless hours of his attention and around $2 million. On Friday, November 5th, the 7-year ordeal will come to a close as they move into their new headquarters and hold an Open House celebration.

If you attend or whenever you drive by, notice the concrete sculpture and the bronze-plated letters that spell “HITE” out front. The sculpture is an unused piece of the Harold Balazs modern art statue that stands behind the Opera House. Hite Crane was assembling it for Expo 74 when the artist decided not to go as high as planned, and so Gary put a section of it out front of his old headquarters. The letters were installed above them more than 35 years ago. Before that they were a part of the Burlington Northern sign at the railway station on Havermale Island that Gary and his men tore down. We are lucky that Gary Hite persevered so that he could preserve those pieces of our local heritage at his new headquarters and carry on his work in his unique and non-conforming style.



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