Thomas Ellis has been a window washer for 45 years. His father owned a window cleaning business in Milwaukee called Don’s Window Cleaning where he started working at the age of 14.
"Back then, we’d just hang over the side of a building and wash the windows," says Ellis. "There’s a lot more to it these days. And it’s a lot safer."
Since 2002, Ellis has run operations at Al’s Window Cleaning, the company that routinely washes the windows of the U.S. Bank Center, which – with 42 floors and at 601 feet – is the tallest building in the state.
Ellis and his team clean the windows of the first two floors of the building – located at 777 E. Wisconsin Ave. – every other month. They wash all of the windows twice a year – in the summer and in the late fall. It takes three full weeks of work for two washers to clean all of the windows on all four sides of the building.
The washers are able to access the windows through a sky climber and a "stage," both of which are stored in a garage that’s on top of the building.
They don’t go out in rain or high winds. Occasionally, however, they get caught in bad weather halfway through a job which can get a little dicey. However, Ellis says he always keeps his cool.
But does he ever get vertigo?
"No, not me," he says. "Most people would have white knuckles. It’s not a job for everyone."
To ensure potential new washers aren’t acrophobic, they actually have to go out on a job at a tall building to see how they react. "Because once you're up there, you’re up there," says Ellis.
One of Ellis' best washers, however, got freaked out the first time, but asked Ellis to give him a second chance, which he did, and it never happened again.
Good window washers, according to Ellis, are not afraid of heights, but also have a strong work ethic because they are often not directly supervised.
"And you gotta be fast," he says. "You gotta squeegee the soap off right away or you’ll get streaks."
Ellis says he uses a variety of cleaning products on windows including Dawn dish soap and ammonia.
Can washers listen to music while working? "Not when you’re on the lift," he says. "Maybe if you’re working on the ground. But it’s not recommended."
Ellis says he has never witnessed anyone fall or get seriously injured during a job, but he knows it could happen and that employees need to be extremely mindful of what they're doing.
"It’s definitely a dangerous job," he says. "I’ve seen some bruises here or there, but luckily never any deaths."
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Molly Snyder
Published July 28, 2015
Exactly two years ago today, OnMilwaukee.com first reported that Alterra Coffee was changing its name to Colectivo. Do you still call it "Alterra" or has the "new" name stuck?
Published July 27, 2015
Last week, Fen - a 2-year-old pitbull - was most likely taken from his backyard in the Harambee neighborhood. His best friend and caregiver, Alana Wooldridge, would really like to get him back.
Published July 26, 2015
OnMilwaukee.com recently made the trek out to Panga and realized that it really wasn't much of a trek at all. Mike and Kristyn Eitel, who also own The Nomad and the BelAir chain, acquired the Oconomowoc-based Panga in early June.
Published July 25, 2015
Here's a review - and a video - of today's giant waterslide that stretched across four blocks in Downtown Milwaukee.
Published July 25, 2015
Bookworm gardens in Sheboygan is a magical place featuring creative, gorgeous gardens representing more than 65 children's books. It makes a great day trip for Milwaukeeans of all ages.
Published July 23, 2015
Some go to the Renaissance Faire for the turkey legs, but some go for the buffet of breasts.
Published July 23, 2015
Here are 10 things to do at the Faire. And no, "let your geek flag fly" did not make the list.
Published July 22, 2015
Earlier this month, Melissa Dorn Richards and Pamela Anderson transformed the top floor of the Marshall Building, 207 E. Buffalo St., and introduced Milwaukee to Material Studio + Gallery. The 6,900-square foot space formerly housed Plaid Tuba. Material will be open to the public on both Gallery Night and Day, July 24-25.
Published July 21, 2015
A few weeks ago, I posted a blog about how my Little Free Library had been emptied out, repeatedly. Two days later, I received a very generous email.
Published July 18, 2015
This past week, a mural with Gov. Scott Walker's face and the words "down with the bitches and the hoes" went up on the side of the building that houses South Shore Gallery & Framing, 2627 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.