For Gary Neff, opening Neff Crane Service in Culpeper, VA, required risking the roof over his head. Ten years ago, Neff, a former iron worker, grew “fed up” with the politics involved in working for other people, so he mortgaged his house in order to purchase a 1972 Grove TM180 crane.
Since then, Neff Crane Service has grown to 10 employees and offers a daily rental service. Handling a variety of jobs — from moving modular homes to setting trusses and cell towers — Neff’s crews cover Virginia and sometimes the neighboring states. “Whatever can be picked up, we pick up,” said Neff.
After Hurricane Isabel pummeled the East Coast, from North Carolina to New Jersey, Neff’s crews were heavily involved in tree removal. Recently, they also relocated four generators at Mt. Pony, a 140,000-sq.-ft. Cold War-era facility in Culpeper that in the past was used to store money in the event of a nuclear attack. “They’re now creating a book and movie archive,” noted Neff.
His staff uses a number of cranes on jobs including a JLG TM180, a Drott, a Grove TMS300, two Grove TM650s and a Grove TM9120, which traveled a great distance before reaching Neff’s Virginia location.
In 2001, Neff was in search of a new crane. “I went to J.W. Burress in Warrenton, VA, after shopping around for a 130-ton Krupp unsuccessfully, and told them what I was looking for,” he said.
Ron Meadows, J.W. Burress salesman, informed Neff of a 1995 Grove TM9120 that was sitting idle in Russia. Although Neff was initially skeptical, he told the dealership he would fly to Russia to take a look at the crane.
“ … That was supposed to be the Friday after Sept. 11. On Sept. 11, I called J.W. Burress between the first and second plane crashing into the towers to cancel. They didn’t know what was going on; I told them what was going on in the news,” said Neff. “Luckily, I didn’t have to go to Russia.”
Neff had originally specified to the dealership a certain amount of money for which he would purchase the crane. “They took [the offer] and I told them I would reject or accept the crane when it arrived in Baltimore. They took the deal,” he said.
On the Sunday morning when it arrived, Neff took the crane. “It went from Baltimore to Russia and back to Baltimore and only had 3,000 miles on it,” he noted. “They [in Russia] couldn’t get the parts. The crane was only on a single job.”
“[J.W. Burress] has helped me out quite a bit,” said Neff. “I’ve now bought two cranes through them and they’re my parts distributor. Parts are shipped right to our house — and they arrive promptly.”
Over the past 10 years, Neff has witnessed major changes in the crane service industry. “Insurance has skyrocketed,” said Neff, mentioning that premiums have doubled over the past two years. “I want my employees to have enough money to live.”
Neff Crane Service is as busy now as it can possibly be, said Neff, noting that holding on to employees has been a major challenge. Becoming a competent crane operator can take up to four years, a period of time in which there is usually a heavy employee turnaround.
Neff’s son, Jason, is an important member of the Neff Crane Service crew. “He will probably become president of the company when it’s time for me to retire,” noted Neff.
Other key employees of Neff’s are David Lodge, who has been with the company for eight years, and Tim Craig, Neff’s most “competent” operator who is on his “second tour.” “He’s a very good crane operator; he can do just about anything,” said Neff.
For more information, call 540/937-6066.