Danville's only elevator operator: a job with ups and downs

Danville's only elevator operator: a job with ups and downs

The air in the Adams Building smells slightly musty as you walk through the double glass doors that face Vermilion Street.

It's cool inside and your footsteps echo quietly off of the pale marble walls and bounce up toward a high ceiling.

Twenty feet in front of you is an average brown door, but it's the elevator you are looking for. Yes, there it is, you think, next to a marble staircase leading up. For a moment, you aren't sure. The elevator door looks like an average brown door. You hesitate, then you spot the sign on the left:

"For service, press button."

So you do. It rings – like an old school bell.

You hear the creak of a chair below, a bang of a gate and a whir.

You wait, but just for a second.

The whirring dies down, the sound of metal clangs and the average brown door opens and there, in a cowboy hat, is Daniel Ray Coffey.

Daniel Ray Coffey – otherwise known as the only elevator operator in the city, controlling an elevator in a building that was built in 1905.

You step in as he holds back the gate. Inside is a small room. There's a framed embroidery unicorn on the wall, above a sign that spells out Coffey's first name in colored plastic letters and lists his hours of operation – 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Coffey closes the brown door and then the gate. He turns a lever to the right and the elevator jolts a little before moving swiftly up.

The numbers of the floors flash by – 2, 3, 4 – and within a minute you are at floor 5 – Dr. Mary Grilly's office.

The dentist has patients from all over, Coffey says. This floor keeps him busy because it's Grilly's clients Coffey hauls up from the first floor to the fifth.

"Sometimes the clients get here way before the doctor is in," Coffey said.

Most of the other floors are vacant. An attorney rents office space there and another tenant has a design studio there.

"It's usually one and five, one and five, one and five" Coffey explains. "Anytime anyone gets on, I know exactly where to take them."

The fifth floor is the top and you know it from a piece of tape that stretches across the backside of the fifth floor elevator door that you're able to see through the gate as soon as the elevator stops – "the last stop before going through the roof."

His cousins and uncles and even the judge that married him and his wife have ridden Coffey's elevator.

"There are quite a few people," he said. "Some dress up good and some don't, some smell and some don't."

Coffey shows you how the elevator moves by pushing the lever in a semi-circle to the left or to the right depending on if you want to go up or down. He shows you how he can tell where to stop on the floor without looking at the elevator floor to see if he's lined up perfectly.

It seems complicated and you're not sure if you could do it – holding down the lever and scouting the point where your cowboy hat, if you owned one, passes the floor's number to let you know the exact moment to let go of the lever.

"I didn't even have to look down," Coffey tells you as the elevator jumps up and down with each demonstration.

He takes you down to the basement, where he has his stuff.

In the basement hallway is a desk and a chair, a refrigerator and a small table. It's here every morning that Coffey shaves and brushes his teeth. He eats his lunch here. His refrigerator is stocked with pop and Lipton Tea. He also has a coffee maker and a microwave in an adjoining room. When he's not operating the elevator or doing small jobs around the building, he's playing on his computer or reading the books on his desk, including his Bible.

"It's more like being my own boss. When (my boss) leaves, I'm here. I take care of anything that needs to be taken care of," Coffey said.

He lives in Rossville but he's at the Adams Building by 10 minutes past 7 a.m. every workday to check each room to make sure nobody's in it before starting work.

Coffey is a pro. He's been operating the Adams Building elevator for 10 hours a day, four days a week, for seven years.

"I never missed a day until July," Coffey said, recounting a two-week illness. "My perfect record went down because of mother nature."

Ken Krause, the building's owner and Coffey's boss, said Coffey is faithful – volunteering to turn the two-shift job into one and working maintenance jobs around the building.

"How else can I do it," Krause said. "I don't want to do it. When I first got the building, the family ran the elevators. ... Now, when (Coffey) gets sick, it's a problem."

For Coffey, the job is more than turning a lever.

"I'm polite, nice and very courteous for people, and help them out. That's what the job is about and that's why I'm here," he said.

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Topics (1):Transportation
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