Lon Stam has seen a lot of changes in the crane industry since he followed his father’s footsteps into the industry in 1973. Between an increased focus on safety and technological advances in operator controls, the crane industry is a far cry from the dangerous business it was when Stam, a co-owner of Mountain Crane Service, started out.
One thing that hasn’t changed over the years, however, is the approach Stam’s company calls the “Mountain Crane law: on time, prepared, safety compliant.” Stam says this ensures Mountain Crane Service delivers quality work when customers demand it while operating safely.
“That’s one thing that really helps us when we try to focus on the quality of our work,” Stam says. “Our overall philosophy basically is we treat people the way we like to be treated. We invest a lot of time in making sure that our guys follow through, [and in] how we perform and how we deliver.”
With headquarters in Salt Lake City and satellite offices in Detroit and Green River, Wyo., Mountain Crane Service provides a variety of services throughout the Intermountain West region. Its capabilities include plant maintenance, steel erection, pre-cast tilt ups, wind farm construction and maintenance, transformers and bridge girders.
The company boasts a fleet of more than 70 pieces of equipment, including crawler cranes, conventional truck cranes, hydraulic all-terrain and truck cranes, rough terrain and industrial carry deck, man baskets, jacks and skates, and forklifts. In addition, its in-house estimating and engineering departments prepare drawings and lift plans to meet site requirements for any project.
Stam learned most of what he knows about cranes from his father, Richard Stam, who started in the crane industry in 1951 and taught him the ins and outs of operations. Back then, an operator had to rely on manual measurements, determining the geometry involved with an old-fashioned tape measure and the weight of the object that needed lifting.
“He could make those cranes sing and dance, and he could tear them apart and put them back together,” Stam recalls. “Whenever I would go out on a new crane or was doing something that I hadn’t done before, he’d call me over and say, ‘Look out for this and this and this.’”
Today’s operators benefit from myriad technologies that weren’t even dreamed of in his dad’s days, Stam admits, but there are still plenty of pitfalls that might befall a new operator; for example solid ground, difficult rigging scenarios and knowing your weights beforehand. Newer challenges include the differences in technology between crane types and computers. Those differences can be so large that experienced operators might need to ask advice on cranes they are unfamiliar with, which is why Mountain Crane Service believes in teamwork.
“Just having someone there was absolutely huge,” he says. “It always put me one step ahead, it seemed, because of all the stuff he spent years figuring out,” Stam says. “He’s 86 and still out there, and I can still call him and ask him because the general principles didn’t change even as computers have gotten so much more sophisticated. To have his knowledge and ability definitely made thing go better.”
Stam continues the tradition of passing on knowledge to employees who are new to the industry, despite having engineers on staff who draw plans to map out the operations. It’s an attitude that permeates the entire Mountain Crane Service organization.
“Any time you can give a guy a little hint on this or that to walk through it makes a huge difference in the quality of his work,” he says. “Teamwork here is huge. We make it an absolute point that our operators are constantly helping each other, or bringing junior operators along.”
Safety in Numbers
Operating a crane to properly deliver a project is one thing. Doing so safely is another, however. Mountain Crane Service maintains an unparalleled level of safety that has led to it winning numerous industry awards throughout its years of operation.
The company says each of its crane operators are CCO (Certification for Crane Operation) certified, which demonstrates their knowledge and proficiency. Mountain Crane Service also employs eight operators who have been recognized by the Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association (SC&RA) for having more than 10,000 hours of service with no accidents or incidents. According to the company, fewer than 100 operators throughout the United States qualify for that honor. Also, an independent third party inspects its equipment annually.
“There is a lot greater emphasis placed on safety,” Stam says. “We have several safety personnel that go out and show up on the job to evaluate how things are going. If guys have everything perfect, they might wind up with a $50 gift card. We stop in on job sites constantly to make sure everything is held up and reward people for the right behavior.”
The industry has taken notice of Mountain Crane Service’s dedication to safety, as well. In 2012, the company earned a safety excellence award from SC&RA for the fifth consecutive year, best of state for the third year in a row and its second platinum safety award from Associated General Contractors.
Stam expects Mountain Crane Service to grow alongside its repeat clients, many of which have invited the company to perform work beyond the Intermountain Region and throughout the United States. He credits the company’s sales force for bringing new business to Mountain Crane Service over the years.
“We try to go as fast and as hard as we can,” he says. “We have some salespeople that are just phenomenal and do a wonderful job. It’s our hope to continue to grow like we have, and we have grown awfully quickly.”