In His Job, He's At The Top

April 15, 1994|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Sun Staff Writer

Dutch Shultis charges $75 per hour to change a light bulb. Then again, he climbs nearly 50 stories above the ground to do it.

Yesterday morning, the self-described "industrial aerialist" slipped a rope around his waist and shimmied to the top of a 150-foot flagpole that crowns the 37-story 6 St. Paul Centre as awe-struck bystanders gaped from their cars.

From the street, Mr. Shultis appeared to be a speck on Maryland's tallest flagpole, which was the highest peak the 48-year-old steeplejack has ever climbed.

"The view was wonderful. Past that, it's a job," he said. "Once you're acclimated to that kind of thing, you get a thrill out of it without being scared silly."

His perilous career began 14 years ago on a dare from a friend. Since then, Mr. Shultis, who lives in Annapolis, has climbed poles, steeples, radio towers and even the dome of Maryland's State House.

Mr. Shultis, owner of Spa Creek Sky Hook Co., said his climbing roots go back to the day he learned to climb from his father, a West Coast dam builder. He later learned how to tie sturdy knots as a merchant marine.

During yesterday's climb, the sky was a brilliant blue and there was little wind to sway the thin pole, which has a seven-foot sway, said Steve Noonan, building manager for the state office building.

For four hours, Mr. Shultis was suspended from the pole, which is two feet wide at the base and four inches wide at the tip. He changed four light bulbs -- used to warn aircraft -- and replaced pulleys and ropes that fly U.S. and Maryland flags, Mr. Noonan said.

The job is a spring rite of maintenance for the building.

Mr. Shultis, who used a half-inch-thick Dacron rope, a sturdy mountain climber's knot and a waist harness, said his task requires strength and steadiness. He also brings along a portable chair to "rest and acclimate" on the job.

He said he rarely looks down.

"I wrap a rope around the pole and go," he said. "I'm more safe up there than if I were driving on a highway. I use state-of-the-art safety equipment -- even a hurricane can't blow me off."

Mr. Shultis, a bachelor, drives a hearse and said he has no need for life insurance. He stressed that he does not consider himself a daredevil.

He said he has fallen three times -- once from a 25-foot steeple onto a slate roof.

"Twice I should have killed myself, and I walked away with not even a scratch. Once I fell out of a tree and I limped for six weeks."

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