Sanford, Fla., was the site of the fifth and final Regional Rodeo Qualifier for the National Crane Operator Rodeo Championship. Though there were a few gallon-sized hats and leather boots at the event, sported by the staff of event host Crane Institute of America, the real cowboys in this rodeo were none other than crane operators. All were competing for ther place in the national event, to be held Oct. 27-28 in Davenport, Fla.
As in previous events, conducted this fall by Crane Institute Certification and organized by MCM Events in Syracuse, N.Y., Phoenix, Ariz., Houston, Texas, and Wilmington, Ill., these cowboys—some of the finest crane operators in the area— took on three challenges. They first had to place a headache ball in a barrel, without moving it out of its designated space, knocking it over, or hitting the ground with the hook. In the slalom, task No. 2, the operators were to lift a barrel full of water, following a designated path, again without disturbing any barrels or lifting the chain off the ground. Lastly, they were asked to lift concrete-filled PVC pipe to a standing position, without swinging it out of its designated area or moving the cones that marked the enclosure, then lay it down again in the opposite direction.
Each task was worth 100 points, and five to 20 points were added to each competitor’s score for each violation, such as moving an obstacle on the course or going over the allotted time of five minutes for each task. The lower the score, the better. Top finishers of each regional event will be flown to Orlando, Fla., for the final competition. In addition to the national title, the winner of the National Championship showdown will earn $1,000 cash, a one-of-a-kind hand-tooled belt buckle, a one-of-a-kind leather bomber jacket, a die-cast crane model, and VIP treatment at the next ConExpo trade show.
The competitors used one of two cranes in the Sanford, Fla., event: a Link Belt RTC8065 or a Link Belt HTC8675.
Crane operator Millard Bowen of Bryson Crane Service in Daytona Beach, Fla., was the first to take on the challenges, setting the bar for his fellow competitors with a perfect score of 300, completing the tasks in 8:51.0. Bowen held the lead for the majority of the day until the lucky thirteenth competitor, Mark Adcock of Crane Rental Corp. in Orlando, took the controls.
“I was real nervous. That was hard to overcome, but the guys doing the time were real nice; they made me feel at ease, so that helped,” Adcock commented. He sailed through all three tasks, turning in not only a perfect score but also doing it more than three minutes faster than the rodeo’s previous leader at 5:46.3, but he didn’t have the lead for long. This rodeo saved the best for last in its fourteenth and final participant. Smooth operator James Anderson, also of Crane Rental Corp., completed the course 23 seconds faster, at 5:22.8.
Ironically, Anderson didn’t even know he was competing in the event until two weeks beforehand. His wife, Danielle, signed him up for the Rodeo. James said he learned he was signed up to compete when he received a confirmation email on his phone. Anderson said he was excited and confident in his skills before he took his turn at the controls. “I’m just really humble about it,” he said of his first-place finish.
Without his wife Danielle’s nudge, Anderson might not have even competed in the rodeo. “I always thought he was an awesome crane operator, but I didn’t have anything to compare it to, so now I got to see,” she said.
All participants received prizes, including a signed mobile crane handbook and rigging handbook from CIA. The top two qualifiers also received a CIC cowboy hardhat, a CIC t-shirt, a LinkBelt RT crane model and a Grove YB crane model, a certificate for a CIC written or practical exam of their choice, plus an all-expenses-paid opportunity to compete in the National Crane Operator Rodeo Championship.
The rodeos are providing a boon to the entire industry in terms of exposure, according to Florida Crane Owners Council (FCOC) managing director John Wessel. “It’s a competition for crane operators, and there’s more focus and emphasis now on certifying crane operators,” he said. “The rodeo doesn’t do that, but the operators have an opportunity to demonstrate their skills.”
FCOC secretary Janet Conner of D.C. Crane said events like these are especially important with new OSHA regulations for crane operators. “Since OSHA rules have changed, come November 2014, all operators in the country have to be certified,” Conner said. “And CIC provides an OSHA-accredited form of certification.”
For Jim Headley, CIA president, the event was an opportunity to get more exposure for its own CIC-accredited program. “Crane Institute [has] been around for 25 years, and our programs are just superb,” he said. “We write and publish our own books, which are sold throughout the world. We have the best programs available, and people do real well on the certification, the written exam, after going through these programs.”
Like the four other qualifying events across the nation, the Sanford rodeo donated proceeds to charity. CIA awarded a $1,000 check to The Salvation Army, which was accepted by Maj. Tim Roberts. “This will really help us,” Roberts said of the donation. He added that the funds would be used for children at Christmas. “We really appreciate this gesture to help us out, as we try to help others in our community.”
The rodeo was attended not only by the operators, but their families as well. Cody Cook of Ft. Gibson, Okla., represented his family’s business, Cook Crane. He said he was in the area to attend a rigger and signal person training program and decided to compete. He had plans to take his family to Walt Disney World as well.
Even non-industry folks, like Terresa Hibbert of Sanford, who happened to see signs for the rodeo, were attracted to event. “It’s interesting. It takes a lot of skill,” said Hibbert, as she watched a competitor take his turn at completing the first task. “You don’t realize the skill that it takes to hold that ball in line and move it across. It’s really neat.”
Rodeo judges agreed that all the operators who participated showed incredible skill.
Bill Scholfield, a judge and examiner for the national certification, said all the participants demonstrated control of the load, as well as superb maneuvering. “They’re not knocking things over, they’re not taking an exceptional amount of time. Their scores are exceptional,” he said. He added that this competition separates the real crane operators from the amateurs. “A precision crane operator will perform multiple functions simultaneously, where the amateur is going to do one thing at a time because they don’t feel comfortable.”
FCOC Chair Bill Hershner, from Kelly Tractor Co., said the rodeo gives companies something they can brag about. “I’ve never been on a job yet where the crane owners say I’ve got the best crane operator in the world,” Hershner said. “Well, this gives them an opportunity to say that.”