While frigid winds blasted the Wyoming Capitol’s sandstone exterior, controversial bills brought heated debate inside. But Jed Lane kept the House and Senate a consistent 71 degrees Fahrenheit.
When the 67th Legislature convened for the 2023 general session in early January, Lane set the two chambers at 69 degrees, but bumped it up when he heard lawmakers felt cold.
“In the chambers there are no thermostats. They wanted to turn up the thermostat and they didn’t understand, I’m the thermostat,” he said, gesturing to the tablet he uses to control the temperature in hundreds of rooms spread across the Capitol complex.
With a couple taps and swipes, Lane can adjust the Capitol’s climate — not the politics, just the temperature — but his job hasn’t always been so easy.
This is Lane’s 39th year on the state’s maintenance staff. He worked on heating, ventilation and air conditioning for Wyoming National Guard facilities before starting at the Capitol in 1991.
“Originally … I was a boiler operator, because with those old steam boilers, we had to monitor them pretty much 24/7 through the winter,” Lane said.
Within a year of arriving Lane was promoted to technician, and he’s been in his role overseeing HVAC maintenance at the Capitol complex ever since.
He’s one of 23 staff including custodians, grounds keepers, electricians, plumbers, carpenters and a locksmith that keep multiple state government buildings running. “We even have a guy that does nothing but change lights,” Lane said.
For 24 years Lane maintained a finicky pneumatic system that used steam to warm the Capitol, until a $300 million renovation introduced a hot-water-based heating system and, for the first time, air conditioning.
There was a learning curve adjusting to a computerized system, but Lane said he welcomed the change.
“I’d rather have the hot water,” Lane said, because it provides a more even heat and it’s safer. “I was burned by steam a couple of times,” but now, “I might bump into a hot pipe, but that’s why I wear long sleeves.”
His smiling face hides beneath a baseball cap and eyeglasses. An oversized key ring, which Lane estimates holds over 20 keys, adorns his right hip. “And those keys are just for doors,” Lane said. “I have two more rings. One just with keys to open control panels.”
Making rounds to check on equipment is a big part of the job. Today he starts in the Capitol’s attic with the units that deliver fresh air to the House and Senate before heading to a basement utility room full of hot water pipes, providing WyoFile with an energetic explanation of how it all works along the way.
“I get a lot of steps,” Lane said, looking up just how many on his phone. “Wednesday was 11,000.”
Next stop is the central utility plant — a room bigger than a hockey rink — hidden under the lawn just north of the Capitol. “This is where I live everyday,” Lane said.
Five high-tech boilers and four chillers feed a system of pipes with hot and cold water that eventually reach coils in air ducts that keep the Capitol and three adjacent office buildings at just the right temperature. Lane is also responsible for keeping the underground garage — where lawmakers and statewide elected officials park — at around 50 degrees.
He pulls out the tablet — which he keeps tucked under his arm at all times — and calls up a schematic of the Capitol’s sprawling HVAC system. As he zooms in on a sensor showing an office that’s hotter than it should be, it’s like watching Scotty root out the cause of an alarm on the U.S.S. Enterprise. Lane determines, based on the location, that the sun hitting the digital thermostat is causing the anomaly, and adjusts things accordingly.
He’s like the living soul that makes this place go because it’s really complicated. SEN. CALE CASE
Lane oversees an impressive array of equipment (intricate details available here) and knows how to keep all of it running. He acquired the knowledge to do so on the job. Born and raised in Cheyenne, he graduated from East High School, but “never really got to go to college because I had to work,” Lane said. “But I’ve been to a lot of classes and training. I’ve been on the job for over 30 years. So I’m a journeyman HVAC.”
Lane shows off a workshop full of tools. “I can manufacture, repair and fix just about anything. I have a welder, drill press, grinders, saws,” Lane said.
In his spare time he restores vintage motorcycles. He still has the Honda 250 he bought in 1976 right before he graduated from high school. As a younger man he did flat-track racing, which involves high speed cornering on slippery dirt. He still rides but not competitively.
For the most part Lane said he can leave work at work, but an alarm indicating that one of the boilers was running too cool woke him up at 3:45 this morning.
“That’s part of being a maintenance man.”
Lane starts preparing for the Legislative session in December — changing over 90 air filters in the units that feed the House and Senate chambers.
Now with the session coming to a close, Lane looks ahead to his next project: two weeks of cleaning sediment out of the chillers. It’s a wet job that requires him to wear rubber boots and rain gear indoors.
Even when lawmakers aren’t here, there are hundreds of staffers to serve. Lane calls them his regulars.
He’s also responsible for a snowmelt system that keeps the sidewalks around the Capitol clear. He turns it on in September and off when he thinks winter is finally over. “It could be May,” Lane said laughing. “We never know.”
“He’s like the living soul that makes this place go, because it’s really complicated,” Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) said.
Case is familiar with Lane’s talents because they’ve both been hanging around the Capitol for the last three decades. Case was elected to the House in 1993 and moved over to the Senate in 1999. His desk in back corner of the chamber — where he still sits today — was next to one of the old pneumatic thermostats.
“Jed would come up every morning to check the thermostat because it took a lot of planning to keep the temperature even in the Capitol in those days,” Case said. “You had to kind of stoke everything up. You had to anticipate what was going to happen. And you know, people complained all the time about the temperature. It was a big undertaking.”
Lane checked the thermostat and chatted with Case every morning of the session until the Legislature moved off-site for the Capitol’s renovation. When lawmakers came back five years later that thermostat was gone, but the two remained friendly.
Case even had to call on Lane’s expertise this year for a loud vent in a committee room the senator found distracting.
“Jed, he got on it,” Case said.
“He got into the new computer that shows the whole entire system and he was able to look at the fan speeds at different times, and he found out that it was overspeeding,” Case said. “That is a guy that really cares, because he must have spent hours on that.”
Lane plans to retire when he hits 40 years with the state in May 2024, an eventuality that Case called a crisis. “We’ll have to pass a law that Jed Lane can’t retire,” he said with a chuckle.
“He’s a craftsman and a dedicated person, and I hope there’s another Jed out there.”
This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.