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Wednesday, Jan 15 2014 06:00 AM

RST Cranes is 2014 'Large Business of the Year'

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Standing in front of one their large cranes, Rick and Sonya Torres, of RST Cranes, were voted 2014 "Large Business of the Year" by the Greater Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce and the Tehachapi News. Tehachapi News file photo

Rick and Sonya Torres, of RST Cranes, with their two-year-old granddaughter Kamryn Villalvazo. Photo by Deborah Hand-Cutler

If you want anything heavy picked up, just call Rick and Sonya Torres at RST Cranes. “We lift anything,” is pretty much their motto, according to Sonya, and that is what they have been doing for the past ten years. Along with lifting everything from boulders to train containers and airplanes, they have also raised their business from just the two of them to 15 employees, and earned recognition as the Large Business of the year for 2014.

Their selection by the Greater Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce and the Tehachapi News is for much more than their business acumen. “For us,” said Rick, “it’s the things that we can do for the community that are far more important and give us the most enjoyment.” The most obvious gift to the community is the 20 by 30-foot flags they proudly fly from their huge cranes during Mountain Festival, at the Rodeo Grounds on Fourth of July, at VFW events, the opening of youth football and soccer, and many other occasions around Tehachapi.
Less obvious are their donated crane services. They helped Tehachapi Valley Recreation and Parks District (TVRPD) at Brite Lake and at Meadow Brooke Park, where they moved the bathrooms.  RST Cranes has also contributed to the Salvation Army and Relay for Life.  They have sponsored teams for AYSO Soccer and Tehachapi Youth Football, and provided basket balls and jerseys for Parks and Rec programs.  

The Large business of the Year award is given to a company with 10 or more employees. Rick and Sonya have grown their business from their home office to a vibrant company of 15 employees working out of the historic green house at the corner of Dennison and Tehachapi Blvd. Over the last 10 years, they have increased their fleet from one truck and a 75-ton crane to seven cranes that can lift from 33 to 330 tons.

There is much more to working with cranes than merely picking things up. It takes math – lots of math. A 330-ton crane can lift that weight if the object is right next to it.  If the object is further away, the weight the crane can lift decreases according to a mathematical equation.  The crane operator has to make the proper calculations.

The company presently employs six crane operators besides Rick. Along with a working knowledge of the math needed for the work, the qualifications to be an operator include wind farm experience, a Class A or B driver’s license, a crane operator’s license from having gone through a special training course, and being drug free. Naturally, with this kind of business, safety is a foremost concern. It’s a major part of the “culture” of the business, says Rick. They use every safety measure, including the proper protective gear. While most of their operators are men, they have had a woman and do not discriminate. Employees of RST receive good pay and benefits.

Rick got his own experience operating cranes while working for the wind farms. He grew up in Quartz Hill, near Lancaster, but moved up to Tehachapi when his father needed him nearby. Rick spent two years with Zond Wind Energy, and ten working for Sea West. Rick spent the next five years with Solveson, a company that was operating cranes in Tehachapi. When the company left town, he and Sonya decided to take the big leap and start their own crane business.

It was scary at first, said Sonya. “People don’t realize it’s not easy to own your own company, especially with a husband and wife together all the time. But with our belief in God – that’s how we’ve made it through.”

Sonya said they are grateful for the help given to them by Jack and Jenny Dressel, owners of Dressel Enterprises. The Stallion Springs couple used to own Naft cement on Tehachapi Blvd., and offered Sonya and Rick a place to park their equipment —to start with, a boom truck and a 75-ton crane.

Rick met Sonya when he was playing softball. A few years later they married and had four children – three girls and a boy. The three oldest are graduates of Tehachapi High School, and the youngest attends Carden School.

Sonya is the daughter of Shirley Stephens who once owned Tehachapi Flower Shop. She graduated from Tehachapi High School in 1991, and from AV college a few years later. Sonya gained her business experience while working for her mother.  At RST (which, of course, stands for Rick and Sonya Torres), Sonya takes care of the finances while Rick is in charge of the operations. “I’m the CFO and Rick is the CEO,” she said. RST is truly a family business, with their son, a brother-in-law, a neice and a son-in-law all involved in the company. Their two small grandchildren often come to visit.

Rick pins their success on the ability to think outside the box. He gives the work on the recent train derailment west of Tehachapi as an example. He said that other companies called in said it couldn’t be done because there was no room to get a crane onto the other side of the tracks in order to pick up the containers that had fallen.

RST found a way to solve the problem. They simply picked up a small crane and a flatbed truck with their large crane and lifted them each across the tracks. The smaller crane was then able to get the necessary leverage to lift the containers and put them on the flatbed truck. The truck had enough room to drive the containers down the hill to another waiting truck from the company hired to haul them off. The whole operation took three days because they had to stop work from time to time to allow trains to pass.

RST has picked up a wide variety of things over the last ten years. Besides work for the wind farms, lifting blades and trusses, they have picked up numerous boulders for builders, the helicopter that went down in the West Ranch fire, and rocks for the Buddhist Temple in Sand Canyon. They have moved the caboose next to Kohnens Bakery, moved the nuns’ house for the Norbertine Sisters, and carried out numerous operations for the military bases at China Lake and Edwards.

“We’re available 24/7, whenever someone calls us,” said Sonya, “except we can’t work in high winds.” She said they had one job that went from 4 a.m. to 8:30 that night. The cost of using a crane runs from about $175 for a small one to over $500 per hour.  

What would they like to see in the future? Rick is quick to say, “I’d like to see our crane holding a flag painted on the wall!” Mural project committee, please take note.

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