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Contractor’s Companies Stay True Blue to Grove Cranes

Wed April 19, 2000 - Southeast Edition
Giles Lambertson

Bryant Marriner’s cranes range in size from a machine that can lift 157.5 metric tons (175 tons) to several that weigh only about one-half kilogram (1 lb.). He clearly loves them all, as anyone can tell who catches him at work and can squeeze out a few minutes of his time.

More about the tiny cranes later; all of his really big machines are Grove.

“Every crane I own is Grove,” Marriner said on a warm March morning between dispatching trucks and cranes to various job sites throughout central North Carolina. “Why? They have very good resale value, good product support, a good range of models from small cranes to large ones, and excellent reliability.”

He bought a Grove ATS 540 last year at ConExpo in Las Vegas, NV. The all-terrain piece of equipment features front and rear steering on six Michelin 17.5R25 XHC off-road tires, a Caterpillar engine with an Allison automatic transmission, and a main four-section, full-power boom that measures 35 meters (115 ft.).

“That’s a whole lot of boom for that 40-ton machine,” said Reid Holmes, who sells cranes to Marriner from the Raleigh office of J. W. Burress heavy equipment supplier. Holmes said normally the boom on that class of machine would be about 30 meters (90 ft.) in length.

Marriner’s confidence in Grove products is illustrated by the purchase of the ATS 540. It was shown at the exposition as a prototype. The company clung to it for several more shows before relinquishing it to Marriner two months after the Las Vegas event.

Buying the first of anything can be risky because bugs that are discovered in early models can be worked out further down the production line. But Marriner didn’t hesitate to grab the first of the Grove model.

“I’m not scared of Grove prototypes,” he said. With the experience Grove has gained from all its earlier models, Marriner is confident that anything the company produces will live up to its billing.

A few months before buying the ATS 540, Marriner purchased a pair of TTS 870B 63-metric-ton (70-ton) truck cranes powered by six-cylinder Cummins diesels. Their main booms are 42 meters (138 ft.) long and have two-piece jibs, or folding lattice swingaway extensions, that can reach up to 17 meters (56 ft.) farther. Counterweight packages are used to balance a machine during its extension.

The three crane’s maneuverability and capacity are what sold Marriner on them.

“You can get in and out of places with less trouble,” he explained. “You can get into places to do a job for a customer, and get in there with a 70-ton crane that typically would take a 100- to 150-ton crane to do the same thing, because you can get closer.”

In all, he operates 10 cranes, five of them configured for rougher terrain. The machine are used in two Marriner companies — Bryant Industrial Contractors Inc. and Action Crane Rental.

Bryant Industrial is a general contractor specializing in heavy hauling of equipment and lifting of the equipment into place Typical jobs are setting roof trusses, or lifting air handlers and cooling towers onto rooftops.

He has a fleet of 22 flatbed trailers. Ten Caterpillar-powered Kenworth tractor-trailer units pull the 1 4.5-meter (48 ft.) trailers. Marriner said his company hauls a lot of tall, wide, long and heavy loads.”

On this particular morning, six of the trucks are transporting air handler units to an expansion project at High Point Memorial Hospital. His largest crane, a 157.5-metric-ton (175 ton) KMK 5175, is somewhat nearer, at Duke University in Durham, where it is taking down a cooler tower from a rooftop.

Nearly all of Bryant Industrial’s jobs are in North Carolina, though satisfied customers in the state have asked him to perform tasks for them as far away as Texas and New York.

Marriner’s companies work from an office/shop located within a triangular area defined by Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. The area is characterized by light manufacturing facilities, research institutions and universities, and high-tech headquarters. It is, in short, a growth area, and construction companies are feeding off it.

“The Research Triangle area is diversified and we are having good times here,” he said. “Even in lean times, this area still has good times.”

The 45 employees in his two firms are kept busy because of the variety of projects available to him. “I’m not tied to new construction,” he explained while a flatbed was being loaded with air handler units. “There is new work, and re-work jobs, and heavy hauling, and general construction. If one part is weak, the other part is strong.”

All this company activity has not been interrupted by a workplace accident, which is always possible given the size of the machines and the swinging, lifting, lowering nature of their function. “I’ve not had any major, costly accidents. I’ve been lucky,” he said, adding emphatically by way of explanation: “I stay on top of my job.”

The 50-year-old Marriner was born on a North Carolina farm. At 18, he was working for Weyerhauser Corp. in Plymouth as a crane rigger.

He took time out to attend North Carolina State University (which explains the red-and-white color scheme in his Bryant Industrial logo; he is a loyal NC State Wolfpack fan) before moving on to several construction firms.

In 1983, he was a project superintendent with a large company, “working about 100 hours a week.” He realized the company was getting jobs even when they weren’t low bidder — when it was stipulated he would superintend the work. In other words, Marriner figured it was time to take that customer confidence and plug it into a company of his own, specializing in crane rigging.

So he did. Marriner’s first crane was a Grove. It was a second-hand TMS 250 27-metric-ton (30 ton) machine for which he paid $25,000. “I put another $23,000 in it,” he recalled. “The first year, it grossed $80,000.”

At the end of that successful first year, he bought a second crane and success continued. In 1990, he started an offshoot firm, Action Crane Rental. Today, the annual business volume of each company is in the $3 to $5 million range.

Instead of 100-hour weeks, Marriner now works four days a week in the summer, taking off Thursday afternoons for Lake Gaston with his wife, Candace. Retirement isn’t in the picture anytime soon for this hands-on owner.

You get a sense of the comfort level he has with his career when you enter his office. That office and an adjoining one are cluttered with model cranes of various manufacturers, some rubber-tired, some on tracks, some still in boxes, most of them gathering dust because their owner is busy running a business.

Another model unit in the front window by the building’s entranceway is of a tractor-trailer heavy-haul rig used in Utah that rides on 240 tires distributed among numerous axles. Across the foyer from where that model sits is a glass case with three miniature cranes reaching toward the ceiling.

“Growing up on a farm around machinery, machines always fascinated me,” he explained. “You know, boys don’t grow up; they just get bigger toys.”

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