Jacob Bachta, a freshman at Saint Louis University, admits his hobby is “pretty odd” and “very awkward.”
“I think it’s very strange,” Bachta said. “Most people that do it think it’s strange, too. But if you do what you enjoy…”
Bachta pauses, considering his words before continuing.
“Honestly, I take a lot of pride in being different."
Bachta is an elevator enthusiast. When he isn’t studying computer science or visiting his parents in Jefferson City, he wanders the city looking for interesting elevators and filming them for his friends in the Elevator YouTube Community.
Bachta and fellow enthusiast Andrew Reams filmed , including the vintage General freight elevator, which Bachta calls “one of the most memorable elevators.” With a hand-operated door and wooden gate, the elevator was unique from the electric, automatic ones people see everyday.
The Elevator YouTube Community only has a few hundred “members,” but Bachta’s video stream proves more people have an interest in watching elevator videos than even he expected.
Bachta’s YouTube channel has more than 1,270 subscribers, and two of his videos have had more than 10,000 views. Bachta’s videos are so popular that he now earns money by showing ads with his videos or renting them through the YouTube Partner Program.
“Most people that are in it will see it as something like a car enthusiast or train enthusiast,” Bachta said, referring to two popular hobbies. “(Elevators) are still transportation. They’re just something that people don’t pay any mind to.”
Bachta doesn’t film just any elevator. He’s looking for character, most commonly found in elevators from the ‘50s and ‘60s that still have the original buttons, motors, doors and fixtures.
“People see this old elevator and say, ‘Wow, it’s a piece of crap,’ but we see it just the other way,” he said. “The older the better—that’s the general rule. The character is the big thing. If you asked almost anyone else who does this, they’d probably say the same thing.”
Finding older elevators takes Bachta off the beaten path. In hotels, for example, he bypasses modernized lobby elevators for the rickety ones in the service corridors.
But searching for elevators can get elevator enthusiasts in trouble with security. In a post-9/11 world, anyone filming elevators in a hotel, public building, parking garage or shopping mall can be seen as a potential threat—especially by building owners or supervisors who’ve never heard of filming elevators as a hobby.
“We are no people to be afraid of,” said Bachta, who has been asked by security officers to leave a building where he was filming. “We’re not terrorists. We’re not trying to plot (against) the building. It’s very innocent.”
It’s hard for Bachta to say when his love for elevators began, but he pegs it sometime between the ages of 6 and 8, when his parents took him to a hotel in downtown Jefferson City just to ride the elevators.
“It’s kind of something I’ve liked ever since I can remember,” he said.
Bachta filmed his first elevator in July 2008. He was on vacation at the Country Club Hotel in Lake Ozark, MO, waiting for his parents so they could go to dinner.
As he waited, Bachta thought about the videos of elevators he’d stumbled upon on YouTube and been watching for the last six months. At the time, posting elevator videos was a pretty new phenomenon. The hobby started in 2007, and YouTube itself launched in 2005.
Bachta decided to do something about the videos that rarely left his thoughts. He pulled out his cell phone, hopped in the elevator, filmed what he now calls a “terrible video” and launched himself into this small-but-dedicated community.
Now, Bachta uses his Sony TX10 digital camera on long excursions to film as many as 30 or 40 elevators at a time, uploading the videos steadily over several months.
“There are very few people who even know the hobby exists,” said Bachta. “When I explain there is a little depth to the hobby, people generally warm up to it more than I generally would have expected. Most people just think it’s interesting.”