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Solid Teamwork: Recovering One Big Fracking Crane

By George L. Nitti

One hot summer’s day, B & B Wrecker Service of Pecos and Big Sky Towing of Odessa came together at the town of Monahans (population ~ 6,953), right off of route number 20, to perform a recovery operation on a crane that had overturned there. Cranes being an indispensable component of the oil and gas economy in Western Texas, it was very important to get this one back up and running. Cranes are difficult to secure access to and often utilized by one company for weeks at a time. 26-year-old Travis Turner, a supervisor and lead operator from Big Sky informed: “The fracking business is what keeps everybody busy. We’re booming.”

Moving a high-capacity crane from place to place can be very challenging. This particular mobile hydraulic crane by Terex was enroute back to the yard in Odessa when, according to the driver, the last 3 axles on the dolly locked up. “He said it shoved him off the road and flipped the crane,” said Travis. Luckily, the driver walked away from the accident uninjured, but the crane was stuck in a tricky position.

B & B Wrecker was dispatched to the scene, led by company supervisor, 38-year-old Harvey Carrera. Since they would need help to get this particular job done, he called his friend Travis at Big Sky Towing. “We had just done a challenging crane job together last month,” Harvey said, when asked about his choice in partner, “I knew that once I called him, we would knock it out.”

Together, the two towing company’s equipment included Big Sky’s 2020 Kenworth T880 Tandem Tandem Vulcan 103 XP 50-ton wrecker, and a 2005 Kenworth 1150 Century Rotator, a 1999 Peterbilt 5130 Century/30 ton, and 1996 Peterbilt 9055 Century with a 2011 bed from B&B.

After arrival, the priority was to carefully turn the flipped crane right side up. After casting out winch lines from each of the four units in order grab the crane securely, Travis, with his Vulcan, initiated a reverse roll. He said, “I picked it straight up and rolled it away from me. You get the most mechanical leverage that way.”

The 35-ton next to the Vulcan was used as a catch truck while the other two units on the other side of the crane pulled towards themselves.  “That way it doesn’t flop over,” commented Harvey. “It must be a controlled environment the whole time because if something was to yank our boom and damage it, that would suck. Plus, you want to salvage the crane as well. You don’t want to cause any more damage than what’s already happened. You have to tow it back.”

After getting the crane oriented correctly, getting it back onto the road proved to be an even greater challenge. Travis said, “Once we flipped it, the crane was stuck in the sand, wedged between a sand dune and a concrete road barrier.”

Having very little room to maneuver, the two tow companies were obliged to turn the crane 90 degrees to get it back on the road and tow it away. Positioning the Vulcan in front of the crane, Travis executed a lift and pull while B & B used their rotator to orient the back of the crane.  “It fought us every step of the way,” said Travis. “Especially the front end. I had to drag it through the dirt. It was probably the hardest winch I’ve done.”

To make the process easier, the team had applied dish soap, purchased from a nearby Dollar Store, to the road. This would help the crane’s tires slide more easily and prevent damage to the light weighted dollies which had lost some of their upper supports in the crash.

Harvey said, “We didn’t want to lose the dolly. If that happened, we would have to trailer things in and do a bunch of stuff. We tried to save the customer as much money as possible without getting more equipment involved.”

After a lot of difficult and precision maneuvering, the crane was ready for transport to a nearby yard in Monahans.  As the Pitman arms of the crane were compromised, the front end of the crane had to be lifted throughout the tow. “We used my wrecker because it can out tow any other tow truck,” said Travis. “I have it set up with the tandem tandem twin steer.”

The crane company for whom this tow was performed had not paid either company for their efforts. After several weeks of nonpayment, B & B Wrecker made a deal to forgive the payment in exchange for ownership of the crane. “We bought it out from them in order to settle the bill. They have agreed to sign the papers over to us. We will auction it off ourselves.” Ultimately, B&B was able to turn a $14,000 bill into $150,000 for the company at auction.

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