The Mowen Family's Enduring Legacy in the Crane Industry
The crane industry is one of those special professions where sons and daughters often follow their parents and grandparents into the business. We all know the names of prominent families whose successive generations all have led crane-rental businesses or crane dealerships.
But there are also many not-so-well known families in which two, three, or even four generations have worked as operators, riggers, service technicians, or in crane manufacturing.
Once the industry gets into a person’s blood, they want to stay as long as they can, often for a lifetime. And when children see how much a parent loves being in the industry, it’s not surprising that they often want to join in the joy and satisfaction.One shining example is the Mowen family from south-central Pennsylvania.
From Humble Beginnings to Manager
Born near the end of World War II in a small town just north of the Pennsylvania–Maryland border, Frank Mowen grew up in a place and time when many young people left high school early and started working.
For a while he owned a Gulf gas station in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. The business brought in decent money, but it did not provide the benefits needed to support a growing family. He started looking for an opportunity that would provide a steady income, good benefits, and job security. He found all that – and more – at Grove Manufacturing, just a few miles away in Shady Grove.
Started in 1947, the company made hay wagons at first. To lift the steel needed to make the wagons, the Grove founders built a rudimentary crane.
The post-war building boom meant the country needed construction equipment even more than it needed farm wagons, so the company’s focus shifted to manufacturing all-terrain and truck cranes.
When Frank joined Grove in 1970, the company was one of the largest employers in Franklin County — if not the region. He started his Grove career working in the paint shop. Frank’s common sense and incredible work ethic earned him many promotions, including one to manager.
Management suited Frank well, since he understood people just as well as he knew machinery. He communicated easily with everyone from shop workers to engineers and senior executives. He also treated everyone with fairness and respect.
In 2002, another crane manufacturer, Manitowoc, bought Grove. Frank fit in just as well with his new Manitowoc colleagues as he always had with those from Grove. When Frank retired in 2003, after 33 years at the same company, he was manager of the research-and-development department.
Frank left quite a legacy, both at Grove and in the crane industry. When he died just two years after retiring, his funeral service was packed not just with family and close friends, but also with several professional acquaintances. Grove and Manitowoc employees from production to engineering and senior management came to pay their respects to the person who helped improve other people’s lives and had built some of the industry’s best mobile hydraulic cranes.
Joe Shull, past president and CEO of Grove Worldwide, still remembers Frank with admiration and fondness almost 20 years after Frank’s passing.
“Frank was a hard worker, and was dedicated and loyal to Grove,” Shull said. “He knew the ins and outs of the business. You don’t become the manager of R&D without having an understanding and knowledge of cranes, from the design phase to production and testing. He was also creative, mechanically inclined, and easy to work and communicate with. All those intangible assets were what set Frank apart.”
Transferring the Love of Cranes
As much as Frank loved everything to do with cranes, he loved his family even more. So, even though he didn’t intentionally aim to interest his sons in the industry, they inherited his love for it.
“I have many fond memories of dad. He had such a huge influence on my life,” said Frank’s son, Eric, who now works for WIKA Mobile Control. “He not only instilled life and family lessons from a father’s perspective, but also taught me how to be a valuable employee and team player from a business perspective. I cherish those conversations and have passed his lessons on to my children.”
Eric remembers learning a lot about cranes by growing up around them. “On the weekends, dad would take us to the plant so he could check on his workers. While he talked with them, we’d run around and crawl on equipment.”
He then added, “That was in the ’70s. You couldn’t do that now because of safety and liability, but back then…”
In addition to getting up close to real cranes, the children grew up around model cranes at home. They were in the den, on the shelves, and on display in Frank’s office. Those models weren’t toys. They were show pieces.
Manufacturers of construction equipment make scaled down versions of their products for customers and devoted collectors. Frank loved them, always adding more to his collection. After he passed, the models went to his children, who had already inherited his work ethic and enthusiasm for this industry.
Strong Ties Between Grove and PAT
The long and strong partnership between Grove and PAT began in the mid-1980s. PAT (now named WIKA Mobile Control) made load moment indicators (LMI) and had an employee who worked at Grove’s test track.
PAT‘s business grew so intertwined with Grove’s that PAT moved its company headquarters from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania in order to be closer to its key customer. In 1987, one of the people Frank Mowen worked with was PAT’s Rick Fisk.
Fisk was sending out feelers to see whether Grove workers knew anyone who would be interested in joining PAT. Frank knew that his middle child, Eric, was looking for a better job, so he mentioned the PAT opening. Eric applied, and Fisk quickly hired him.
As a new PAT employee, Eric started working in the basement of Grove’s test track. There, he built up DS350G LMI superstructures and boom kits for telescopic cranes, then ran them out to Grove’s production line.
In 2018, WIKA Group bought Hirsch-mann (formerly PAT America) and renamed it WIKA Mobile Control. Eric is currently in his 36th year with the company now known as WIKA Mobile Control.
Working on LMIs from the ground up gave Eric a wealth of experience and equipped him for his current position as head of aftermarket distribution sales and OEM key account manager for WIKA Mobile Control. Like his father, Eric is committed to both his biological family and his work family.
“I love the people I work with,” Eric said. “We are a tight-knit bunch, a family.”
The Second Generation
Eric isn’t Frank Mowen’s only son to work in the crane industry. Frank’s youngest son, Sean, started working at Grove the same year Eric began working for PAT.
“I knew I would end up working at Grove. It was a natural fit,” Sean said.
He got his dad’s mechanical ability and honed his skill by repairing motorcycles, ATVs, and cars he broke — first with Frank’s help, then later by himself. Sean’s first position at Grove was operating a manufacturing machine. He quickly earned a promotion to plate shop supervisor, then new-product assembly, then technician specializing in hydraulic and electrical issues. He now leads the field service team.
Sean fondly remembers having attended Grove’s employee events as a child. They included Hershey Park Days and the Fish Rodeo.
“It was great working with dad at Grove,” Sean said. “I got to have lunch with him just about every day for 16 years, and we even worked on some projects together. I learned so much from him, and it was clear that he was very much respected by his peers and others in the crane industry.”
The Third Generation
Just as Eric and Sean grew up hearing their father talk about cranes, so did Eric‘s son, Jesse. During college, Jesse began following in the footsteps of his father, uncle, and grandfather in the crane industry.
“My grandfather used to show me his model cranes, which sparked my first interest in them,” Jesse said. “My dad has been the biggest influence on my life, and he always felt Manitowoc was a great landing spot for me. He inspired me to go into engineering and computer aided drafting and design. As far back as I can remember, all I wanted to do was draw and be creative.”
Combining those passions with his fascination for cranes, Jesse dipped his toes into the industry at age 21, when he did his first college internship with Grove-Manitowoc. He learned about engineering drawings and change orders as an industrial technology major at Millersville University.
In his second internship, he tested crane functions from inside the operator’s cab. A few years after Jesse graduated from college, Manitowoc hired him as a manufacturing engineer in the tooling department, where he designed fixtures for building cranes.
Last year, he was promoted to a higher level manufacturing engineer. Even though Jesse’s career at Grove didn’t start until many years after his grandfather had retired, Jesse regularly encounters people who worked with Frank. And Jesse often gets to see his uncle Sean at work.
When the extended Mowen family gets together, cranes are sure to come up in conversation. But another topic has predominated since April 2023, when Jesse’s son (and Eric’s first grandchild) was born.
There’s no telling whether someone from the fourth generation of Mowens will join the crane industry and add to the family’s ever-growing 110 years of combined experience.
But one thing is for sure: Griffin will grow up seeing model cranes and hearing about the two companies that have had such a life-long effect on his family.