Northeast Rodeo Rounds Up Winners to Compete in October's National Championship

empire crane
crane operator rodeo

When most people think of a rodeo, they probably think of horses, bulls, and cowpokes showing off their roping skills. On August 23, rodeo took on a whole new meaning for those in the crane and rigging industry as operators gathered to compete in the first Crane Operator Regional Qualifying Rodeo, held in Syracuse, N.Y.

 

Empire Crane, founded in 2002 by Paul and Luke Lonergan, served as the host for the regional event.  Empire spent months planning the event, but they weren’t in it alone.  They were joined by event partner Crane Institute of America Certification (CIC), crane sponsor Liebherr, rigging sponsor The Crosby Group, and award sponsor Manitowoc

 

Though there wasn’t a horse or bull in sight, there was certainly no shortage of skill on display as competitors completed three tasks designed to test their handling abilities.  After five minutes of warming up on the contestant’s choice of either a Terex T340-1 or BT70100, the show was on. 

 

Task No. 1 involved placing the crane’s headache ball into two numbered barrels without landing the ball or hitting any barrels.  In Task No. 2, the slalom, operators were asked to maneuver a 55-gallon drum full of water through a barrel-lined obstacle course and back to the start position without disturbing the barrels.  For Task No. 3, contestants were required to raise a ten-foot pipe from a prone position on the ground, lift the pipe, and return it to its original position between a set of cones, without dragging the pipe or knocking the cones down.

 

While each task was clocked, the time was used as a tie-breaker by the day’s three judges-- Henry Brozyna of Columbus McKinnon, Debbie Dickinson of CIC, and James Headley of Crane Institute of America.  The judges’ primary focus was on the operators’ load control, depth perception, and accuracy.  Brozyna, who volunteered to judge the event, was impressed with the skills of the rodeo participants.  “You can tell a lot of them have experience,” said Brozyna, who is also a certified examiner and instructor for CIC.  “There’s not that herky-jerky motion.”

 

Twenty-four competitors from across the northeast subjected themselves to the judges’ scrutiny at the Syracuse regional event.  Alan Girard, Milt Severance, and Dickie Houle of Valley Crane Service made the trip from Vernon, Vt., to participate.  The trio arrived bright and early, ready to rodeo.  Severance, who’s been in the business for 20 years, said they received a pamphlet in the mail advertising the competition and figured they’d give it a try.  The event also gave operators a chance to see new cranes on the market and talk to others in the industry.  “We don’t get this chance too often.  Usually we’re out working,” said Severance.  According to Girard, the trio cleared their schedules for the Empire gathering.  “When we found out about this, we just took jobs right off the calendar.”

 

For Ron Krupke of Paul’s Crane Service in Springfield, Mass., the rodeo was a good opportunity for some time off.  Krupke has been running a crane for 45 years and has been in the business for a total of 50 years.  “I’m just glad to get away for a couple of days,” said Krupke with a smile.  The rodeo wasn’t all work for the trio of judges either.  “It’s fun to come to these events,” said Headley. 

 

When Empire agreed to host the regional qualifier, fun was part of what they had in mind.  “We thought it would be pretty cool,” said Luke Lonergan of Empire Crane.  In addition to the rodeo, Lonergan and his brother Paul decided to use the day as a customer appreciation day, open house, and family day for their staff, complete with a catered BBQ lunch.  “Not only did they make this a customer event, they made it a community event and a family event, with a real spirit of generosity,” said Dickinson of Empire and the staff.  “These guys have done a stellar job.” 

 

Empire had some new equipment in stock to show off, but they also reached out to their manufacturers for participation, so rodeo attendees could walk around and check out the industry’s latest and greatest models from Terex, Grove, and Mantis.  “We appreciate the support from the local customers and manufacturers.  It was a good day,” said Lonergan. 

 

As the rodeo wrapped up, it turned out to be a really good day for the competitors who took the top two spots.  Coming in first was Gregg Eldridge, of Payne’s Cranes of Bainbridge, New York, with Sean Noonan of Advanced Crane Services of Ringwood, New Jersey, finishing a close second.  As a result of their winning skills, Eldridge, who’s been in the business for 29 years, and Noonan, who’s been in the business for 27 years, will be flown to Orlando, Florida to compete against top operators from other regions for cash and additional prizes in the 2012 Crane Operator Rodeo National Championship on October 27-28.   

 

The local SPCA ended up a winner as well.  The organization was chosen by Empire to receive a portion of the registration proceeds from the rodeo.  When all was said and done, the shelter ended up receiving a $250 donation. 

 

Events like the Syracuse regional qualifier, the upcoming regional events in Phoenix, Chicago, Houston, and Orlando, as well as the National Championship, provide positive publicity for the crane and rigging industry.  “We wanted to give the opportunity to the industry to show off their skills and to give some positive press to the knowledgeable and skilled crane operators,” said Dickinson.  “It’s good for the industry, being able to tell a good story of skilled people who go to work day after day, year after year, and be able to put the focus on them.” 

 

After a day full of sun, fun, and skill, there was one thing that the hosts, guests, competitors, and judges all seemed to agree on:  the first 2012 Crane Operator Rodeo Regional Qualifier was a success.  “It was a great round-up,” said Paul Lonergan.  “You can quote me on that.”