OPERATOR CORNER: This machine operator has his own YouTube channel and can boast a loyal fan base
by Carol Cassidy
About a million times a month, somebody, somewhere, clicks on a clip of ‘letsdig18’, the YouTube channel where they can watch Chris Guins moving the earth in the farms and fields around Raleigh, North Carolina, in the United States.
Guins (pronounced joo-ins) has collected more than 70 million clicks on the 1,500 video clips he has posted so far, showing him and his colleagues operating heavy construction machinery as part of the family business.
His grandfather started Guins’ Excavating Service more than 25 years ago, when the Internet was an infant and before YouTube existed. Today, grandson Guins works with his Uncle John, described on the company website as “an artist in the field of excavation”.
Guins grew up admiring big machines. When he was five or six years old, his grandfather would take him on his lap and let him try out the machine controls. By the time he was 10 years old, he was riding solo, and it was not long before he learned that this ‘play’ was work, and that he could get paid for doing it well.
LIVING THE DREAM
Guins describes his work as “the only thing I ever really wanted to do” and says he loves tearing things down – check out his video clip ‘Tearing Down a Shed’.
“It looks chaotic,” he says, adding: “But actually, demolition is a well-planned process, because you have to sort materials for proper disposal.” Guins’ Excavating Service specializes in grading and clearing land for homes and roads, and excavating ponds and lakes.
His camera work started as an afterthought. He used a still camera to take photos to document and showcase his work. One camera had a video option, and in 2007, Guins used it to shoot what he describes as a “pretty bad” video from inside the cab of his Volvo excavator.
YouTube was still relatively new at that time. The stuttering upload took more than three hours via dial-up connection, during which time he wandered off to bed, figuring the whole thing was a bust. He happened to find the clip online a few months later, and was shocked to see that almost 500 people had left positive comments.
Guins says he thinks some of his fans just wish they could have a chance to do the kind of work he loves to do.
“I’m always doing neat jobs that most people don’t get to do,” he says. “Every day is fun, every day is new. I don’t know what I would do without it. Working in a cubicle would drive me crazy.”
He laughingly admits he does work in a cubicle of sorts, spending nine or ten hours a day, five or six days a week in a machine cabin that measures about 1m x 1.2m. He says even when it’s muddy and cold, he sometimes has to remind himself to get out and stretch because he gets so absorbed in his work.
He claims his cab “is like a Cadillac” now, whereas 20 years ago, the cabs were “bare bones”. These days, Guins says, cabs are designed for operator comfort, with heated seats and a good radio. “I feel as if I’m on a road trip. I see so much stuff happen from up there.”
Guins gives his legion of fans a view from ‘up there’ by shooting some of his clips from inside the cab. The video provides a hands-on feel of working the machine controls. Apparently, viewers really love this perspective. More than 1,700 people gave a thumbs-up to his seven-minute clip ‘Life of an Excavator Operator’, featuring the Volvo 210 with portions shot from the cab. Views so far on that clip alone exceed 1.3 million.
‘Volvo Excavator 140 Wrestles Massive Boulder’, ‘Volvo 160BL Excavator Loading Big Stumps,’ ‘…Clearing Trees’, ‘…Climbing Out of the Pond’, ‘…Ditch Cleaning’. A wide variety of jobs and creative camera angles give the clip collection sophistication and range. For example, one clip is shot from deep in a pit while a 14-tonne Volvo excavator digs all around the camera.
The clips earn favorable comments in many languages, including Russian and German. No need to speak English to watch and appreciate these videos, which can be mesmerizing.
To keep both himself and his viewers happy, Guins recently invested in the latest video technology. He started using a high-tech drone camera to fly above his machines and film himself at work from a bird’s-eye view.
The drone camera has a ‘follow-me’ function that works off satellites and GPS, he explains. “You hold the controller and the camera follows you.”
The effect is cinematic. See for yourself by joining nearly 50,000 subscribers to Chris Guins’ YouTube channel, letsdig18.