JJ Curran Crane Celebrates 65 years of Lifting Detroit

Family Business, JJ C urran Crane, Stands the Test of Time in the Motor City

The city of Detroit has experienced many changes over the past 65 years. Throughout that span, the city saw 10 mayors take office, witnessed urban flight of population in the 50’s, race riots and a Tiger’s World Series in the 60’s, the opening of the riverfront Renaissance Center in the 70’s, the Chrysler bailout and another Tiger’s World Series in the 80’s, the closing of the famed Hudson’s department store and first Red Wing Stanley cup win in 42 years in the 90’s, the opening of Ford Field and hosting the Super Bowl in the 2000’s, and the infamous Detroit bankruptcy of 2013 – just to name a few milestones.

Throughout those ups and downs, a family crane business stood by to help lift the city and the region -- in more ways than one. Today, JJ Curran Crane is celebrating 65 years of business by doing what their founder set out to do on day one: Hire the right people, use the best equipment, offer fair prices and provide excellent customer service every day.

The Early Years

In 1950, John (JJ) Curran started Dearborn Excavating with a 1933 Link Belt Speeder Backhoe. With only two other employees, the small business did most of their work for Aurora Gasoline Company, now part of Marathon Oil. The steady work allowed for new equipment to be purchased and the company soon began to take all types of excavating work including basements, sewers and water mains. With continued growth and ongoing projects, by 1958 the company was handling million-dollar underground construction projects.

It was 1954 when JJ bought his first crane -- a Lorraine 30-ton mobile truck crane. At the time, it was one of the largest cranes of its type in Detroit. This was his first step toward forming a new business division called Downriver Crane Company. The fleet expanded to six mobile cranes and business was booming.

By 1959, JJ could see that his crane work was generating as much income as the excavating business, but many thought the company only did work in the downriver area so JJ decided to rename the crane business to JJ Curran Crane. From there, they began getting work throughout the Midwest and there was no looking back. By the 1970's, JJ Curran Crane operated a fleet of over 50 machines.

Innovative Equipment

Around the same time the company name changed, the Grove Company began producing 25-ton hydraulic truck cranes. They did not have the capacity of conventional cranes and had shorter booms, but because they could operate almost as soon as they arrived on the job site, they saved time and labor costs. JJ decided to take a gamble and convert most his fleet into hydraulic cranes. Soon the company was the region's leader in self-propelled and truck-mounted hydraulic equipment for all types of lifting operations. The excavating business became a division of the crane company.

Over the next two decades, JJ Curran continued to expand its fleet including the addition of a 140-ton Grove Hydraulic truck crane--which at the time was one of the largest anywhere in the world. Today, the JJ Curran Crane fleet ranges from 8 to 450 tons. One of their newest machines is the GMK 6400 450-ton all-terrain, which is the strongest six-axle crane in the world.

One of JJ's biggest contributions to the company was his keen eye for new and modern equipment. He often worked with crane manufacturers to help them design the machines of the future. JJ was always striving to have the right equipment for the job as well as the best staff. As his fleet grew, the next generation of Curran's were learning the business their father started.

A Family Affair

Family has always come first at JJ Curran Crane. Both JJ and wife Jacquelyn Curran's commitment to family and each other made it possible for the business to stand the test of time. The entire Curran family was often seen around the Detroit crane yard and over the years valued employees were seen as members of the Curran family too. Today, many second generation employees work for the crane company.

Oldest son Larry Curran joined the company as a full time employee in 1972. He worked in all divisions of the company to understand every aspect of the crane business. Coming up the ranks was younger brother Jeff Curran, who joined the business in 1981 and also worked all areas of the company. Today, Larry serves as President while Jeff is the Chief Financial Officer. Together the brothers have helped the business grow and stay true to the company motto their dad introduced in the late 60's: "It's Not Luck, It's Know How."

According to Larry Curran, "Our father was extremely proud of his Irish heritage and taught us all what it meant to be Irish. The shamrock icon and motto were important to him and they continue to be part of our brand today."

While the Curran brothers were working up the ranks, Curran women played an important role at the company, including Jacquelyn who served as Executive Vice President; Linda Curran, (Larry's wife) Administrative Assistant and active member of the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association Ladies Group; and Kelly Curran, (daughter to Larry and Linda) who served as Marketing Director for the company.

Technology Changes Business

If there was a lesson the Curran brothers learned from their dad, it was to look for opportunities to do a job easier and faster while always making safety a priority. Having been involved in the crane industry for over 30 years, Jeff learned firsthand about improving systems and practices within the equipment industry. In 1993 he launched Fleet Cost & Care to develop, sell and support vertical software systems for the construction and equipment rental industries.

"Much like my father looked to modernize our crane fleet back in the day, I wanted to create a new technology that could eliminate inefficiency while providing better financial and operational reporting without additional effort," said Jeff. "Now more than 22 years after starting Fleet Cost & Care, we run JJ Curran Crane more efficiently with our software and I am proud to say hundreds of construction and heavy equipment companies
around the world are using our products."

The Future

JJ Curran Crane has served more than just Detroit over the past 65 years, although they have a long history with Detroit-area steel mills and industrial facilities, their business footprint now expands the Midwest.

JJ would be proud to see the next generations of Currans eyeing the future. "We are looking forward to being part of this region's growth," said Larry. "We have been through the good years and the bad years in Detroit, and we consider it a privilege to continue what our dad started. We plan to play a big part in lifting this city toward a bright future."

From Michigan Contractor & Builder, May 2015

Publish Date: 
Tuesday, June 2, 2015