Golden Moments

17 November 2022


We take a nostalgic trip down memory lane with some of the people that have helped make Cranes Today an enduring brand.

Cranes Today started life in November 1972. It was formed by founder publisher Ian MacLaren in conjunction with its first editor Chris Wilson, under the name MW Publishers. The duo had previously worked together on Cranes magazine under the ownership of Morgan Grampian.

When Grampian wanted to close Cranes (or, worse, merge it with sister magazine Muck Shifter) outrage from the crane industry convinced MacLaren and Wilson there was a continued need for a magazine catering just for them. And so Cranes Today was born.

The first issue contained a thank-you to the magazine's supporters who had inspired them and stood by them while they put the new magazine together.

And that thank you continues today. Without your support we simply wouldn't be here celebrating our 50th.

To mark this 'golden anniversary' we've reached out to some past editors for their memories of working on the industry’s longest running title; we also have a special contribution from long-time reader Dirk Knoester, who visited the publication’s office in 1974 on a trip to London aged just 14!

LOYAL READER: DIRK KNOESTER – SENIOR ADVISOR MAMMOET

Looking back, my passion for cranes must have started around the age of 12. On holiday with my parents in Germany and France, I had the opportunity to visit the necessary crane rental companies and manufacturers, and that is how I came into contact with Cranes Today magazine.

In the summer of 1974 we went to London and of course the then 14-year-old I had to visit MW Publishers at 84 Edgware Way, Edgware, Middlesex. I was warmly welcomed by the then editorin- chief (unfortunately I can't remember his name…) and I was given the latest edition as a thank you. My crane magazine collection could begin!

Because I wasn't working in the industry (yet) and didn't want to miss a single issue anymore, I decided to take out a subscription from my savings; pricey but worth every penny in my opinion! The’70s, ’80s and ’90s, I've always loved them and thanks to Cranes Today I was able to keep a close eye on the developments.

England played an extremely important (crane) role at that time with names such as Coles, Jones, NCK-Rapier, Ruston-Bucyrus, Smith, Iron Fairy, Hydrocon and Cosmos as leading manufacturers. The list of large crane rental companies was, in my opinion, perhaps even more impressive. Sparrows, White, Scotts, Greenham, Grayston, Stanley Davies, Baldwins, etc.

But the articles in Cranes Today also crossed the (English) border and gave a good picture of global developments. In the 1980s there was even a partly bilingual (English and Dutch) version on the market. In my memory I have always kept in touch with the respective editors and Graham Brent came to see me in the 1990s. I am now also in contact with Stuart Anderson, who I believe belongs to the select group of people who really know what they are writing about! I literally read his book 'Telescopic Boom' to pieces and therefore ordered two more a few years ago, one of which was signed!

Cranes Today still means a lot to me, both in its current form and as a reference source back in the day. I can rely on the fact that I have had all the numbers in my possession since 1975, plus another six numbers from the year before. I was therefore very pleased with the news that a digital archive was coming, so that I might be able to see the contents of the missing issues again.

Many good memories will stay with me forever. In the early 1970s, the local crane company Blansjaar had a 75 tonne Krupp- Ardelt 75-GMT, at the time one of the largest telescopic cranes in the world! At the same time, the Grove TM-800 was on the market and thanks to a 1:50 scale model of NZG (on 6-axle CD undercarriage!) my model collection also started to take shape. To this day I still think that Grove is the most beautiful crane ever. A few years ago I was briefly tempted to buy a real one, scale 1:1. But where do you park such a thing and then the repairs and maintenance..?! So I went for my dream car instead.

From the age of 17 until a few years ago I wrote about cranes as a freelancer and contributed to various mostly Dutch specialised magazines. Even before I had completed my mechanical engineering studies, I was offered a job as project manager in the late 1980s at Van Seumeren Holland BV, a crane and heavy transport company that would grow into a global market leader.

With the surprising takeover of competitor Mammoet in 2000, it was decided to continue under that name. Despite this name change, I still enjoy working for this same company for more than 33 years. When I started I had 200 colleagues, now around 7000…

GRAHAM BRENT: 1979–1980 ED. ASST, CT 1981-1986 EDITOR, CT

“Editorial Assistant required for technical publishers. Interesting and varied work with prospects for occasional overseas travel.” Thus ran a four-sentence advertisement in the Daily Telegraph some time in May 1979. It had been forwarded to me by concerned parents eager to see their son gainfully employed in an occupation he had been pursuing in vain since moving to the nation’s capital the previous year. Little did I know that my application, encouraged by the fact that prior experience was “preferred” but “not essential”, would launch a six-year stint on the editorial team of Cranes Today, including five as Editor No. 3, that would evolve into my long sought after career in journalism.

The Journal for the Crane Industry, as the “Independent Magazine of the Crane Industry” was then rather austerely known, had been founded by Ian MacLaren, a Battle of Britain veteran, and editor Chris Wilson, both of whom had worked together on the Morgan Grampian publication Cranes. When Morgan Grampian decided to fold the magazine, Ian and Chris, seeing the continued potential in a publication dedicated to the UK crane industry, decided to go out on their own, and MW Publishers was born. Their first issue, in November 1972, came out just in time to capitalise on Britain’s foremost construction exhibition at the time, the Public Works Show.

It's reflective of the UK crane industry in the 1970s that the front cover of that first issue boasts a full page color photo of the latest offering from the British Hoist and Crane Company (BHC), the 12 ton Cairngorm, a 12 ton rough terrain crane in the Iron Fairy family. BHC (later Jones Cranes) was but one of perhaps a dozen mobile and overhead crane manufacturers established both before and in the aftermath of World War II as the nation struggled to recover and rebuild from the ravages of international conflict. Hard to believe now that there used to be a UK manufacturing industry at all, let alone one that thrived and could fully support its own crane publication!

Although we did eventually move to more spacious accommodations a little further up the road, at the time I joined, MW Publishers’ editorial office was in an attic, above an office, above a barber’s shop, on Edgware Rd. in north London. But it was cozy enough, with just enough room to house three desks pushed together with a fourth (mine) against the sloping ceiling/wall of the roof.

No internet, no email, no recording devices for interviews, no fax machine (that wouldn’t even become common for ten more years and then would use chemically-coated paper whose contents would fade in daylight).

But we did have mechanical typewriters, rotary phones and access to, via the printing firm we used nestled deep in the Cotswolds ...a hot metal printing press!

Pages were proofed on long paper galleys, and metal-cut illustrations mounted on wooden blocks for assembling on a full-size page frame for printing. And of course, the editorial was exclusively in black and white (each color had to have its own block and was therefore prohibitively expensive; even then, color registration was a nightmare). I think Caxton would have felt quite at home.

Despite our nearly exclusive UK focus, the “prospects of occasional overseas travel” referenced in that small ad. did materialise. Some months after I joined, then-editor Richard Miller (for whom, as mentor and friend, I am eternally grateful) generously handed me an invitation from Mannesmann, Demag’s UK distributor, to join a sales tour to the West German (as it then was) manufacturer’s Zweibruecken factory, and so I nervously packed my bags and joined Barry Barnes (Barry: thanks for the initiation!) and jumped on a Lufthansa flight with an illustrious group of UK crane owners to Frankfurt.

Recognising the importance of the US market, Ian himself underwrote the cost of our trip together in what would be my first visit to the United States, to the 1981 iteration of CONEXPO, held for the first (and only) time at the Astrodome in Houston, TX after it had outgrown its “Road Show” Chicago home and before it moved permanently to Las Vegas.

When, in 1984, Ian sold Cranes Today and its sister publication, Access Today, to United Trade Press (owned by the slightly mysterious entrepreneur, Brian Gilbert, who was partial to navigating the streets of London in his chauffeur-driven silver Rolls Royce), an enhanced editorial budget encouraged more frequent overseas trips, and even initiatives such as the short-lived but well-received Heavy Lifting Today international conference.

By any measure, 50 years is a highly respectable period for any institution to lay claim to. That Cranes Today has successfully navigated those five decades in spite of several changes in leadership is, if nothing else, a remarkable testament to the conviction of Ian MacLaren whose faith in the viability of a dedicated publication serving the crane industry never wavered.

RICHARD HOWES: 2005: ASST. ED., CRANES TODAY. 2006: EDITOR, HOIST. 2007: CO-FOUNDED OVERHEAD CRANE & HOIST (OCH). 2009: GROUP EDITOR, CRANES TODAY, HOIST, AND OCH.

My journey is like many others in this industry in that, when I reported to the then editor, Ian Vallely, for my first day on the Cranes Today editorial desk, I didn’t expect to stay there very long. That was over 17 years ago, and I’m still earning a living covering cranes, hoists and, importantly, all the products in between.

I remember those early days well. I’d left the newspaper industry to spend a year in Australia and didn’t want to return to the grind — and impoverishment — of regional press. I had worked on a sports desk and rejected an offer of a sub-editor’s role at a competing newspaper upon my return to the UK. I was beginning to wish I hadn’t, when a call from an agent at recruitment company, Phee Farrer Jones (PFJ), now Aspire, led to an interview at this magazine. I had the core skills, liked what Ian said, and took the job. This’ll tide me over until something faster-paced presents itself, I thought. Cranes Today, gone tomorrow.

A bloke from the sales team, altogether more gregarious than me, saw it similarly. He was passing through too, as was apparent during our first conversation at the coffee machine. I was writing a piece that concluded, ‘that a time when mobile cranes are operated entirely by remote control could be closer than you think’. ‘Head up displays, while more commonly associated with fighter jet cockpits than crane cabs, could become commonplace,’ I wrote in the following issue.

I recall being surprised just how passionate everyone was about their wares and services. There was scope for a young, keen writer too. In sport, the teams I covered won, lost, or drew. Cranes could do so much more.

The travel was (nearly) always fun. My first trip was to Milan, then Paris, and next Bologna. That was within the first few months of joining. After a while, these jaunts started to serve as moments by which to mark time. I interviewed for the editorship of sister title, Hoist, around the staging of my first Intermat, which took place in Paris in the spring of 2006, and eventually took group editorship of the lifting magazines early in 2009. We had founded another industrial crane magazine for the North American market in the meantime. It was a thrilling ride and everyone in the team bought a ticket.

UPS AND DOWNS

Like the industry, all this travel didn’t come without its ups and downs. During the ’09 Intermat, we had to dive into a side-street launderette near Gare du Nord when a demonstration turned ugly. It was that or get taken out by a charging mob sending wheelie-bins (poubelles à roulettes) flying.

I was only a few hours east of there, in Verdun, the following spring when a member of the sales team and I broke down en route to Munich having been forced to drive to Bauma from London, as the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland grounded flights. It turns out we (the sales guy) put petrol in a diesel car or vice versa. Either way, the vehicle shuddered to a halt on an unlit road in rural France. Nice one, Alex.

I was exhausted by the time we eventually arrived at Messe München. I was especially excited to make it because the show represented the unveiling of the magazine’s redesign that I’d spent months overseeing. I thought it was a good idea to keep it a secret, given the commercial draw of advertising in a Bauma edition, regardless, but at least one advertiser disagreed, somewhat vociferously. With most of the team still grounded in the UK, I had to explain my thinking behind the move, bleary-eyed.

It was on another business trip, this time a Liebherr-Werk Ehingen press junket, that I was looking up at a hulking crawler crane, dwarfed even by its tracks, when it struck me how obsessed the industry was with size. And true enough the metrics were, and continue to be, mind boggling. But what about the components without which it wouldn’t all be possible? I’m glad I wrote an editorial along those lines, just as much as I regret a prior one when I transitioned back to Cranes Today from Hoist, in which I wrote something like, ‘…I’ve been covering lifting of a slightly less glamorous kind…’ How wrong I was.. and one contact gave me both barrels (didn’t you, Paul?!).

I think I’ve made up for it since. Mark Bridger (as it turned out the guy at the coffee machine was called) and I went on to have many other chats beyond that first one, less over non-alcoholic drinks. In fact, with Cranes Today, we travelled the world together.

Fast-forward to 2014 and we founded a PR company with a client base in an industry we didn’t want to leave. We called it Bridger Howes. And to this day we mostly promote components.

In the same week I started at Cranes Today, in July 2005, I also met my life partner, Laura, and shortly afterwards my stepdaughter, Talia, who was only 18 months old at the time.

What an uplifting journey it’s been. And what an honour to have played a small part in 50 years of this magazine.

WILL NORTH: DEPUTY EDITOR, CRANES TODAY, 2006-2010. GROUP EDITOR., CRANES TODAY, HOIST, DOCKSIDE LIFT & MOVE, 2010-2020

I started work at Cranes Today in what seems now a very old-fashioned way, and purely by chance: through a print ad in the media section of The Guardian. The coincidence was that the name of the editor in the postage stamp-sized ad, William Dalyrmple, was that of a travel writer and historian I admired.

For a moment, I wondered if this celebrated historian of roads and explorer of archives also had a 'paying the mortgage' gig as a trade magazine editor. Unlikely, I decided, but still I sent off my CV.

The actual William Dalrymple, crane magazine editor, turned out to be a charmingly earnest, slightly geeky, American. He was a good mentor, as was Richard Howes, who succeeded him as group editor. He, and the magazine's then head of sales, the gregarious and entrepreneurial Mark Bridger, helped me understand the crane Industry, and trade publishing.

These latter two built a strong reputation for Hoist and OCH, the US-based factory crane magazine they launched. Today, they have a well-regarded PR firm, Bridger Howes.

FIRST CLASS

Those first years were good for the crane industry and led to some professionally exciting and well provisioned press trips: I'll always have mixed feelings about the tower crane manufacturer who ruined economy class travel for me with a glimpse of the luxury world of business class, five star, press trips. It was worth it, though, for the chance to see up close how an internal climbing cage works.

Climbing up the ladder to the working floor of that Dubai skyscraper, my limbs locked in neurotic spasm. Writing on cranes is, in some ways, a curious choice for someone with a tendency to vertigo. I always expect a collapse.

The collapse came two years into my time with the magazine. The big three crane manufacturers of the era, Terex, Liebherr, and Manitowoc, were reporting multi billion dollar annual sales.

One- or two-year-old secondhand mobiles were selling for substantial premiums over new cranes, if their immediate availability allowed buyers to start earning in the overheated construction market of the time.

The financial collapse of 2008 brought down companies across the industry. Tower cranes were hit particularly hard. In China, local and foreign experts had watched annual truck crane sales go from 10,000 to 15,000, and were making substantial bets on this tripling in a year. They instead collapsed, and for months, if not years, Chinese manufacturers' yards were filled with unsold cranes.

Shortly before I joined the magazine, James Lomma had made a major contribution to New Yorkers' response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Seven years later, his company was in the news again, when two of his big diesel luffers collapsed, causing multiple fatalities.

I reported on the aftermath of those accidents, and New York City's response, for the next few years. I firmly believe that while Lomma's business had made some decisions with tragic consequences, they were decisions any crane owner could have made, based on the information they had and the commercial challenges they faced. The local attorney general disagreed, but Lomma successfully fought against criminal charges.

The wider state crane board's activities also gave me a chance to report on institutional racism, and mafia infiltration of labour organisations. Reporting on these stories certainly increased my understanding of the background to TV series like The Sopranos, the second season of The Wire, and the Ozzie crime drama, Underbelly.

TOWER CRANE REGISTRATION

One result of the NYC accidents, and of other crane failures in the UK, was a call for registration of tower cranes, both here and in cities in the US. Reporting on that, I had the chance to speak to the mother of a man killed when a crane collapsed on him, as he worked on his car.

She was an impressive woman, tirelessly fighting for better industry regulation, despite the grief and trauma she had experienced. But the solution she fought for — a register of tower cranes — was a bad one.

A UK tower crane register lasted for a couple of years, before the government here realised that this was a waste of money, and essentially misunderstood the modularity of these cranes.

Other regulatory changes in the wake of the NYC collapses have had more lasting impacts. The local department of buildings began to look at the — absolutely ridiculous — idea of putting age limits on cranes.

This was picked up, to disastrous effect, in Australia, where regulators put in place a regime that demanded mobile cranes be virtually stripped down to parts at 10 years' old. Politicians around the world demonstrated in this era a complete misunderstanding of how cranes differ from other equipment: these are perfectly balanced machines, designed for decades of use if well maintained. They are ballerinas, not quarterbacks. An age limit destroys their commercial viability.

A more sensible demand of the regulators was the replacement of old diesel luffers with electric alternatives. This was sensible, but not for the reasons that seemed to motivate them. It had been meant as a second way to pointlessly scrap perfectly usable cranes. But it lead to major manufacturers developing electric 700tm machines, able to meet the demand of skyscraper developers around the world.

That move, I believe, has contributed to the broader electrification of the industry, by undermining the idea that only diesel can provide the fast and heavy lifting jobs like this require.

OPERATOR CERTIFICATION

Another good New York contact, in my reporting on the US industry, was Robert Weiss. He has been a tireless advocate for safety, and had played a major role in the development of crane operator certification in the US, as a member of C-DAC, the Crane and Derrick Advisory Committee, along with Doug Williams of Buckner, and Bill Smith, of insurers NBIS.

Much of the drive for the adoption of operator certification in the US came from another former Cranes Today operator, Graham Brent. He explains his work elsewhere in this issue. It's something I've regularly had him explain to me, always patiently and with a clear explanation of the challenges of putting a scheme like this into practice.

Closer to home, Søren Jansen was another patient and regular, interviewee. At ESTA, he did important work on both crane safety and operator certification.

Working alongside FEM members such as Klaus Meissner, Hans-Dieter Willim, and Martin Lottes, he helped produce and disseminate a series of best practice guidance that tackled many key risks facing the industry.

He also, along with Ton Klijn, who has done much to push the project forward, helped launch the European counterpart of NCCCO, ECOL. While the structure of regulation and certification is very different in the EU, the programme is an important way both to improve safety, and to make it easier for skilled operators to find work across the region.

In the UK, the CPA was a major resource for me, as a writer, and for the industry. Tim Watson's work with the organisation's (mobile) crane and tower crane interest groups allowed them to put out a series of technical notes and best practice guides that helped reduce risks on site.

Watson, who sadly passed away in 2020, was regularly called upon as an expert witness. He was a great explainer of the root causes of crane accidents, and a big help as I sought to explain them.

Colin Wood, who led the CPA for much of my time at Cranes Today, was another important advocate for the industry. He'd started his career as a crane operator, so had a clear understanding of the importance of safety. But much of his focus was on presenting arguments against hasty and ill-considered regulatory changes.

He was in many ways the ideal interviewee. In one of our first conversations, he told me something along the lines of "I'll talk, you use what you need," and then did so for the next hour, giving me enough material for a few issues of the magazine.

In the UK, and other countries, there has been considerable progress in developing apprenticeship and certification programmes that help create a career pathway through the industry.

That's certainly also the case in Australia. The country's crane association, CICA, developed into a truly national organisation, in part through the efforts of Charles Gillespie, during my early years on the magazine.

The organisation's CraneSafe maintenance assessment scheme, for example, is one that deserves to be emulated around the world.

My most recent work, here and in other publications, has often turned to electrification. I believe we will increasingly see emissions free lifting in all crane classes. But the industry will have to fight planners and electricity transmission firms to ensure power is available where it is needed.

In my time on the magazine, I learned that this is an industry where dedicated experts around the world eagerly share their knowledge and experience.

I hope that one result of this tendency will be standards and certification regimes that parallel each other closely around the world, helping crane operators and other lifting crew work, in safety, where their skills are most needed.

I hope Cranes Today will continue, as it has done under my successors Sotiris Kanaris and Christian Shelton, to advocate for effective and efficient standards, certification, and regulation, as the original international magazine of the crane industry.

The first edition of Cranes Today, Nov 1972
Dirk Knoester started reading Cranes Today in 1974
A young Graham Brent, eager to travel
Richard Howes is a director at Bridger Howes content and PR agency
Will North is now a freelance journalist, specialising in the lifting industry