March 1920 2014--"I had to give it everything I had," says Ken Bowyer of ALL Crane Rental of Florida, LLC, describing his experience in becoming the National Crane Rodeo Winner for 2014. The competition, which was held at ConExpo/CONAGG2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada, was a real nail-biter, Bowyer days.
"All in all, the whole test took about 15 minutes, with a five-minute warm-up," he reports. "The actual hands-on, crane driving portion probably took me about four minutes." Contestants drove a Liebherr1220-5.2 all-terrain crane.
There were three demanding challenges to meet in the driving portion: the barrel slalom, in which the driver had to pick up a 3,000-lb barrel from which hung a six-foot chain, drag the chain along the ground without lowering the barrel, and then maneuver it through empty 55-gallon drums. The second challenge required the placement of an 850-lb headache ball inside separate barrels in two locations without dumping or moving the barrel out of a very narrow range of acceptability.
"We were given just two inches of clearance of that one," Ken says. "The barrels themselves weighed only 30 lbs, so we were placing something very heavy into something very light. Even the slightest movement can disturb that barrel, so it was very, very tough.
The third challenge involved hooking a headache ball to a 10-ft-long, concrete-filled PVC pipe only six inches in diameter, then lifting it from a horizontal to a vertical position before lowering it into a barrel. The difficulty lay in moving a light object with a weighty headache ball. Afterward, drivers had to place the pipe between narrow lines of cones.
Finally, there were two "written" tests: the first, sponsored by Vertex, involved the computer-simulated unloading of a truck; the second, a 20-question general rigging test, was sponsored by Crosby Rigging. It was at that point that Bowyer pulled ahead. "In the end, I was 30 seconds faster than the next best competitor," Ken says.
Of course, countless members of the ALL Family of Companies were there to cheer him on.
"Close to 80 people from ALL were there," Ken notes. "My manager, Mitch McDonald; my wife; employees from all over the country--I even got to meet Michael Liptak, Sr. I felt so proud to represent the company and bring us this honor. I have always been made to feel like family at ALL, so it was great to have a chance to contribute to our 50th anniversary celebration. There was a lot of handshaking and claps on the back."
As promised, Ken received a special belt with an inscribed buckle stating his title as "CIC-Crane Hot Line Magazine National Crane Skills Champion 2014." A check for $2,000 was also awarded as was a miniature Liebherr LR 1100. A special monogrammed jacket was created for Ken, and a plaque listing his accomplisment will be engraved and sent to ALL.
The rodeo's objective is to emphasize the need for safe crane operation, which can only be achieved through training and experience. Further, it seeks to raise the stature and visibility of crane operation as a profession. Operators gain recognition for achieving the skills required to be successful and provide positive publicity for the crane and rigging industry.
"The public hears about it when we make mistakes," Ken says, "but they don'st realize how rarely that happens. We spend weeks every year on continuing education at ALL. It's hard to imagine all the requirements needed. The rodeo demonstrates the high caliber of skill operators must acquire in order to do the job right."
The rodeo, or Crane Operator Skills Championship, is a partnership between CIC and Maximuim Capacity Media, publisher of Crane & Rigging Hot Line magazine. Other sponsors supporting the event are Liebherr, Houston International Insurance Group, Slingmax, The Crospby Group, Hirschmann, DICA Outrigger Pads, and InfoChip.
So, did his favorite Stetson bring his luck? "I wore it before the competition, but not inside the cab," Ken says. "I didn't want anything impeding my vision, even if it did bring me luck. I'm very passionate about this industry. Crane operators have a lot of responsibility and professionalism. The rodeo competition is just one way of drawing attention to a growing field."