Launched at the ConExpo show in Las Vegas last month, Manitowoc’s largest-ever crane will come with up to 105m (340ft) main boom. It does away with a counterweight wagon. Instead, an innovative telescoping strut pushes back a hanging counterweight tray. This cuts down on the amount of ground preparation required. The first unit went to South Carolina-based rigging contractor Bulldog Erectors, which, like Crane Rental, did not previously specialise in very heavy lifts.

“I feel a little bit like a cowboy, but at the same time, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I am confident in the market and the product,” he told Cranes Today at the Specialised Carriers & Riggers Association annual conference in Bonita Springs, Florida.

“I am excited about it. It is a huge crane, and a huge investment. It is a total commitment on our part. It is so much bigger than anything else we own, it is in a whole different market. I never wanted to be the biggest in numbers, but I like being in niche markets.”

Ashlock is planning to use the crane for lifting reactor vessels in refineries and in nuclear plant construction, but he is not limiting the potential market. “I was told a long time ago by Dave Birkhauser, ‘Build it, and they will come.’ We bought the first 300 US ton Krupp hydraulic crane in the USA in 1992. I was more worried about that than I am about this. The crane is bigger than what people are used to, and it can do things in a different way.” David Birkhauser is Manitowoc senior vice president of sales, Americas.

“I am hoping to expand into other industries, where people didn’t know that there was a crane big enough. Untapped unknown markets, that’s what I am looking for,” Ashlock said.

He added that it was a ’50-50 bet’ that he would send the crane outside the USA. Crane Rental Corporation runs about 100 cranes and employs 100 people from its base in Orlando, Florida. The company’s only international job has been in the Bahamas. Seventy percent of the company’s work is in Florida. Favourite brands include Manitowoc, Grove and Link-Belt.

Ashlock signed the deal for the order, which included luffing attachment (maximum configuration 90m+102m), and a vessel-lifting offset fixed jib, with Manitowoc dealer H&E Equipment Services during the ConExpo show. Ashlock admitted that after he signed the deal, he did not tell anyone for a week. “I just wanted it to rest.”

Although the crane was officially launched to at ConExpo, Ashlock and other key customers had been told preliminary information as much as a year beforehand in factory presentations.

He expects to receive the crane in December 2010, about six months after first customer Bulldog Erectors. Ashlock said that he understands that Manitowoc will not make another 31000 for almost two years, because of concerns of oversaturating the market, and maxing out production capacity. He did say that he has already made a down payment on the crane, but added that financing was not a problem, even for such a major investment. “We have nothing if not good credit.” Manitowoc Finance, previously known as Manitowoc Crane Credit, is ‘coordinating financing arrangements’, the manufacturer said.

Ashlock said he bought the crane without even seeing a preliminary load chart. “It is a true leap of faith,” he said. But he added that this faith is built on experience with Krupp cranes, where he first met David Birkhauser. “I have a lot of faith in the Grove product, and in the management team at Manitowoc.”

Currently, Ashlock’s biggest cranes are two 600t (660 US ton)-capacity Manitowoc 18000s which he received only a few months ago.