The final stop of the 2013 season of host city regional qualifiers for the Crane & Rigging Hot Line & CIC Crane Operator Skills Competition took place last Friday in Corpus Christi, Texas. This being the first year as a host city, local sponsors, Laguna Crane Services, LLC and B-C Equipment Sales, Inc., were excited to have 18 crane operators register to compete.
“We are hoping one of our local guys will take it all the way at the National Championship this year and show the rest of the country what we've got going on here,” boasted Jerry Lopez, owner and founder of Laguna Crane Services. With the exception of one contestant who flew in from Tulsa, Okla., all the competitors were from South Texas. The top two operators of the qualifier will advance to the finals and earn a free trip to the National Championship, which is to be held this March at the ConExpo 2014 in Las Vegas, Nev.
Due to dangerous weather conditions that rolled in during the event, four participants were unable to compete, so the leaderboard stood with the 14 operators who completed all the skills tests. At the top of the board was James “Woody” Woodrum, a 35-year industry veteran. Woodrum was proud of this accomplishment, explaining this was the first time he had ever competed. After many years as a crane operator, he is now a trainer with Laguna Crane Services, helping others to hone their craft. “This is a great profession,” he said, “it is amazing to see the finished product and what can be accomplished at different job sites.”
In the No. 2 spot was Jose Villanueva with Bay LTD. He has been operating cranes for nearly a decade. He started out working in the oil fields but has been with Bay LTD for about 9 years. Villanueva also thinks crane operating is a great industry to be in. “I like the idea that I helped to build so many different things,” he shared. “This type of work gives you the chance to work on lots of different kinds of projects.”
The operator challenge course was designed by Crane Institute Certification, which set the contest standards and had a practical examiner on site for the competition. Skill tests included placing the crane’s headache ball into barrels without moving the barrels, maneuvering a test weight drum through an obstacle course, and raising a 10-foot pipe from the ground to a vertical position then placing it between a set of cones. The timed tests were monitored for load control, depth perception, and accuracy by judges.
Sponsors' Spotlight On Safety
Local skills competition sponsors were glad to support the event as a means to bring attention to the necessity of qualified training to elevate safety in the crane industry. Sponsor Bill Lathrop Jr., who is in his in his 28th year of business as the owner of B-C Equipment Sales, said, “This can be a great profession, truly offering a person fun and adventure. Still all of us in this industry are interested in making sure it is safe…training is very important.”
Sponsor Jerry Lopez of Laguna Crane Services echoed this point of view. “At the end of the day, we are looking for safety. This profession is not for the fly-by-night type. It takes a person who is committed to learning the necessary skills and putting in the time and effort to build up their experience. You have to be proud of what you do.” He added, “If you are a good operator, you don't have to look for work, they [the jobs] will come look for you.”
For a trade that is best known for helping to build communities, it may be surprising to learn that the crane industry is one that continually seeks opportunities to give back. This philanthropic streak was more than a little apparent at the Corpus Christi qualifier, which featured a 30-ton pink Link-Belt crane used by operators for their skills tests. The crane dons the signature breast cancer awareness ribbons and memorializes women who lost their battle with cancer. The pink crane also has a twin sister; both are owned by B-C Equipment Sales. These pillars of pink strength not only bring breast cancer awareness but to date, by giving 10 percent of the monthly rental fees of the two cranes, B-C has been able to donate more than $25,000 to breast cancer research.
With the success of the breast cancer awareness cranes, B-C recently added another piece of equipment to their cancer fighting fleet. The Gold Digger is a 21-ton excavator that’s mission is digging for cures to childhood cancers. Again with this unit, 10 percent of the monthly rental goes towards assisting families experiencing financial stress and to help fund research and bring awareness to the realities of childhood cancer.
There's Been a Change In the Weather
The start of the first-ever Corpus Christi regional qualifying event kicked off at a rapid pace, with two crane challenge courses set up and testing competitors simultaneously. B-C Equipment Sales supplied the two Link-Belt rough-terrain cranes used in the competition—one 50-ton crane and standout pink 30-ton crane. Laguna Crane Services set up the challenge course per the national event specifications and evaluated operators' precision and accuracy based on the scores of three timed skill tests.
Yet even with the great turn out, the mighty cranes, and precise skill testing, Mother Nature had other ideas on how the day was to go.
By 9:35 a.m. 13 contestants had completed the challenge courses and that is when the cloudy Texas sky turned dark, wind gusts picked up, and the temperature turned on dime from a muggy 65 degrees to a bone chilling 42 degrees. Then it really got ugly. Rain, thunder, and lightning joined the party.
Event organizers put a hold on the competition for several hours to see if the weather would pass over. “We can handle the cold and the rain,” explained sponsor Jerry Lopez, “but operating a crane in high winds and lightning is not a safe.”
After lunch, the nasty weather had cleared up enough for the competition to resume for a short time. One contestant was able to finish the course, but due to the return of lightening, another contestant was forced to stop just short of completing the skills test. After waiting another half hour and consulting weather radar, organizers were forced to end the competition in view of continued dangerous conditions.
Operators still interested in competing will have the opportunity participate at the qualifier to be held March 4, 2014, in Las Vegas, just prior to the National Championship at the ConExpo 2014 in Las Vegas, Nev.