WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. -- The old adage "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around, will it make a sound," may be a good metaphor for the recent removal of the largest crane assembly on the Arsenal. Towering some 53' high and 140' long, the gantry-yard crane has met its quiet demise just as other technological marvels of their time, such as the Erie Canal and belt-driven presses. But did anyone notice?

Purchased in 1980 for about $750,000, the crane was part of the $150 million Renovation of Armament Manufacturing or REARM program that began in 1979. This five-year modernization program was not only important to the Arsenal's long-term viability, but also to the nation's security.

Former U.S. Rep. Samuel S. Stratton said at the 1979 ceremony that launched the modernization program that brought the crane to Watervliet, "When it comes to asserting the strength and determination of this country, Watervliet is going to be in the lead not only in the Middle East, but also in NATO…and as we look at this project getting underway, you can sleep soundly tonight because Watervliet Arsenal is awake."

And so with great fanfare, work began to replace an Arsenal rail-yard crane that some believed to have been put into operation just after World War I.

"When we started pulling up the rails this month as part of the crane removal process, we found that the date printed on the rails was 1919," said Tom Sansone, who retired from the Arsenal in 1999 and who now works for Government Liquidation, the exclusive contractor for the sale of surplus and scrap assets of the U.S. Department of Defense.

"Trying to find a buyer for 250 tons of material is a challenge all by itself, but finding a buyer who must disassemble the crane and then cart away all of the material made this project even harder to find a buyer," Sansone said.

Sansone said the Arsenal first offered the crane to the Federal Government and to New York State. But after several months of effort, there was no interest. That is when the Arsenal turned to Sansone and Government Liquidation to find a buyer.

Sansone said that when the first buyer backed out of the contract, he had to repost the contract for solicitation.

"In a way, it worked out better for everyone involved because through the rebidding process a local Watervliet company called Metro Metal Recycling won the contract," Sansone said. "Any time we support the local community with work, it is a win-win event for all involved."

This contract was a huge, challenging job, said Charlie Van Hall, the owner of Metro Metal Recycling, the company that won the contract.

"Because we had to drop the crane between ongoing operations, we had to take extra efforts to drop the parts of the crane, some of which weighing nearly 110 tons, without doing any damage to the surrounding areas," Van Hall said. "If the crane was in an old factory or remote location, we simply would have used shears to cut the crane into pieces and then let the pieces fall."

What assisted the near flawless disassembly of the crane was the fact that the two local rigging companies that supported the crane removal, D.A. Collins Construction Co. and John M. Mullins Rigging & Hauling, had previously worked with Metro Metal on other challenging jobs, Van Hall said.

"Because of our vast experience of working with each other, we were able to execute this job safely within very tight tolerances," Van Hall said.

The crane is no longer required to support the production mission as all products are now shipped via truck transportation. After weeks of effort, the crane finally came down this month and at the time of this article; the last remaining pieces of the crane are being carted off.

Although the crane motors, copper and scrap metal have been sold, there may be new life to the Arsenal's gantry-yard crane.

According to Van Hall, he has kept two large beams for future sculpture work. And so, the crane may live on providing future generations a piece of the Arsenal's history.

Page last updated Wed November 28th, 2012 at 00:00