- Associated Press - Saturday, May 21, 2016

BAKER CITY, Ore. (AP) - Warren Hinrichs has logged more hours in the sky than most birds.

But he’s not a pilot.

You might deduce how Hinrichs earns his living by having a close look at the man before he dons his work clothes.

You notice the splotch of sparkling silver paint on his bill of his ballcap.

And two more on the left shoulder of his shirt, which, like the hat, has an American flag theme.

And finally you see, glistening behind the white whiskers of Hinrichs’ beard, a single dollop of paint in that same silvery shade.

Hinrichs is indeed a painter.

But the structures that he tackles with his paint-soaked roller are anything but ordinary.

Hinrichs paints flagpoles, the Baker City Herald reported (https://bit.ly/25aFa55).

Sometimes he paints radio antennas and sometimes water towers or bridges or statues or football goalposts.

But mainly it’s flagpoles.

Thirty-foot wooden poles in front of one-room schoolhouses in North Dakota and steel 60-footers at county courthouses in Washington and, well, all sorts of flagpoles and all sorts of buildings.

Hinrichs has been at this for 58 years, is the thing, so you can hardly expect him to remember every job, every pole, more than 5,000 of them.

Although when he extracts his scrapbook of newspaper clippings from the bed of his pickup truck and gets to reminiscing you get the impression that Hinrichs remembers pretty nearly all of the poles he’s climbed.

“I’ve painted in every state west of the Mississippi,” said Hinrichs, who’s 75 and barely a year removed from open heart surgery.

“Plus Wisconsin.”

On the morning of May 3 he was in Baker City, fixing to climb the 33-foot pole beside Baker City Hall and slather on a fresh coat of silver.

And gold for the ball at the pole’s tip.

(That’s the paint scheme, he said, for about 95 percent of flagpoles. He gets an occasional request for white, and just last week he had to visit a couple of paint stores to find the anodized brown paint that adorns the flagpole at the courthouse in Twin Falls, Idaho.)

As with most of his jobs, Hinrichs, who lives in Spokane, Washington, has been to the top of the Baker City Hall flagpole before.

Three years, he said, is the typical interval between paint jobs.

The silver paint on the City Hall flagpole seems unblemished despite the passage of time since Hinrichs was last here.

There’s a trick to that, Hinrichs said, and it’s one he shared with Dennis Bachman, who works for the city’s public works department.

The key, Hinrichs said, is to wrap the rope around the flagpole. That keeps the rope from flapping about in the wind and wearing away the paint.

“People say I’m trying to talk myself out of a job,” Hinrichs said.

But that’s never been an issue.

Not for him and not for his father, William, who painted flagpoles for 51 years and who introduced his son to the business back when Dwight Eisenhower was president.

William Hinrichs died in 1987 at age 74, in part from injuries he suffered 14 years earlier while painting a water tower in Yelm, Washington.

What happened, Warren said, is that his dad accidentally backed into a power line and was shocked. Warren’s still not sure how his dad survived.

“I got goosebumps just now telling you about it,” Hinrichs said.

He figures he himself must have a guardian angel.

Anyway something seemed to be protecting him during what was likely his most frightening moment in a career that, what with him being far off the ground for hours a day, hardly had a shortage of such episodes.

This happened in 1979 while Hinrichs was painting a 50-foot flagpole near Seattle.

A drizzle was falling - hardly uncommon for western Washington - but he figured he could finish the job.

Then came a crash.

Hinrichs flails his arms to demonstrate what happened when lightning struck the pole.

“It was like a baseball bat had knocked my arm off the pole,” he said.

He decided the job could wait.

Besides which, the rain was sluicing down.

“I’m coming down like a lumberjack coming off a spar tree,” Hinrichs said. “Wondering, God, why am I alive?”

He engages in an interview with the aplomb of somebody who’s talked to dozens of reporters over the past six decades.

His favorite question, or at any rate the most amusing, is “Have you ever fallen?”

Hinrichs always answers the same way.

“You only fall once.”

Only one reporter, as best he remembers, ever followed that response with, “well, have you ever fallen?”

Well that he hasn’t, considering Hinrichs’ job has put him as far as 613 feet above the ground.

That was atop a TV antenna in Seattle.

The only thing that fell there was a 100-pound bag of sand (the job entailed sandblasting the tower before painting it). It made, Hinrichs said, quite an impressive sound, and dust cloud, when it hit the parking lot below.


Information from: Baker City Herald, https://www.bakercityherald.com/

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