History and other interesting information regarding the precision, hand-built Colortran Mini-Crab Dolly. The Mini-Crab Dolly was invented by television/film actor, William Sargent. Joining Mr. Sargent was actor/director, Robert Kelljan and together they teamed up as SarKell.
If you're the owner of a Mini-Crab Dolly, register your dolly today and become a member of the exclusive SarKell Society.
Please join us in wishing our dear friend, William Sargent, the consummate actor and the designer/inventor of the Colortran Mini-Crab Dolly, a very Happy and Healthy 89th Birthday! This year, William's birthday falls on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 28th. We are and will always be truly thankful for our dearest friend William!
As you may have read on this blog, William Sargent, the inventor of the Mini-Crab Dolly was also an accomplished actor and voice-over artist. The still photo above was from the hit TV series from the 1960s; Mission: Impossible. This was from an episode from season 2, titled 'The Survivors'. Click on the following link to see William's other TV and Film credits. William Sargent - IMDbhttps://www.imdb.com › name
WE LOVE YOU BILL!!!
~ Greg, Christine, Adam and Alexis
Over the years I've received many emails on how were able to generate income with our Colortran Mini-Crab Dolly. You may have seen some older posts of my son Adam and I using our Mini-Crab for MMA fights, etc.
I found the price list (below) that Adam and I used in the Cleveland, Ohio area. We also offered a Jib, using a Camera Turret Model 300 that we included in our grip package. Sure the equipment has changed, but whether your using a RED One or a digital SLR system, the creator of the project will still need smooth tracking shots, etc.
You can certainly tailor your price list to include the equipment you have and the type of grip service you wish to offer. Your market may be stronger than the Cleveland area. I hear Seattle, New York City, Chicago and Miami have a lot of ongoing independent projects.
Once you create your price list, be sure to send it to all the independent producers and ad agencies in your area. I'm hoping this may help to generate some work for you! Let me know of any other ideas we can share with our fellow Mini-Crab owners. Use your mouse and click on this price list to enlarge.
A studio still of William Sargent on an episode of the NBC TV Series, Mr. Novak, which ran in the early 1960's. Many people don't realize the inventor of the Colortran Mini Crab Dolly was also an accomplished actor!
We plan to add more acting pictures of William Sargent soon!
For those that may be looking for a Colortran Mini-Crab Dolly...one can be found on LA Craigslist.
I emailed the contact to find out more about the dolly. He mentioned that the dolly will need to be restored. It appears that both the steering and crab features work, however, he doesn't know if the hydraulic pedestal works.
Also, there are no serial numbers present. Typically, there are three sets of serial numbers that are stamped on the mini-crab. The first one is the most obvious, on the Colortran/Sarkell manufacturers tag, which is located on the back of the dolly. The second stamp is on top of the deck near where the steering column fits into the steering mechanism and finally the third stamp is located below the deck, on the bottom of the cylinder cavity where the hydraulic pedestal fits into.
However, this dolly is missing the tag (the pop rivets are there, but no tag) and does not have either the stamp on the top or bottom.
It's possible this may be an early manufactured dolly. It may be a great dolly to restore!
The ingeniously designed and versatile Colortran Mini-Crab Dolly. I'm sure we weren't the first to discover that underneath the trap-door of the platform where the CO2 bottle rests, is a nice area for storage. You can stowaway small things, i.e., keys, tools, cell-phone, wallet, etc.
Dear readers....this is a reposting of one of the first stories we posted about the Mini-Crab back in 2010. If you have a Mini-Crab or a story about using one...please send it to us at email@example.com
Manufacturing of the ingeniously designed Colortran Mini-Crab Dolly started sometime around 1967. The Colortran dollies were being produced up through 1975. A total of about 250 of these hand-built dollies were assembled at the Berkey-Colortran location on Chestnut Street in Burbank, California. This facility is now being used by another equipment outfit company, Chapman.
Based on Colortran's hefty $5825.00 price tag (see price list above), these dollies were made to order, not built and stockpiled. Back then it was actually cheaper to buy a brand new Cadillac Coupe DeVille ($5275.00) than a Colortran Mini-Crab Dolly.
The Colortran dolly was touted as being untippable and was known to accommodate the industry standard cameras of the time, Mitchell BNCR (130 lbs.) and the even beastlier, Panavison R-200 (160 lbs.). The Colortran is nearly as portable and versatile as a dolly could be. Before the advent of the Steadicam system, the Colortran was the answer to the big McAlister, Moviola Crab, Fearless and Fisher dollies, which were the standard on many film sets.
The Mini-Crab is a soft-riding, compact, nearly 300-pound platform that can steer effortlessly, crab 360 degrees and slip through a normal size doorway with ease. Even laden-down with two riders and a heavy camera, the Mini-Crab performs flawlessly. Other dollies particularly the larger crabs, i.e., Moviola, had a difficult time, if not impossible, maneuvering through tight spots such as doorways and corridors. Not the Mini-Crab!
In its day, another portable “crab” contender, the Elemack, challenged the Colortran. In my humble opinion, the Elemack lacked the versatility the Colortran offered. During my filmmaking days, I personally used an earlier version of the Elemack, called the “Spyder”. After a few weeks of working with the Elemack, which incidentally, was paired up with a "lighter" (80 pound) Panaflex camera, we were ready to ditch-it for a shopping cart!
As the dolly-grip for the above project, I remember operating the Elemack during several tracking shots when the ride became choppy.
Eventually, the DP, being totally exasperated with the ride, turned his head much in the same demonic fashion as 'Regan' did in 'The Exorcist' and questioned me about the crappy push. None of us could figure out the reason of the rough ride. The choppiness came and went and occurred mostly on slow pushes.
After unbuckling the camera, we tipped the dolly over and did a complete check of each of the tires, wheels and lastly the wheel-bearings to make sure they were functioning properly. After more than an hour of trying to pin-point the problem, we gave up! We kept on shooting with a half-working Elemack until Victor Duncan sent over a sweet, battery-powered Fisher Dolly.
Other issues we had with the Elemack included the mechanism to disengage the opening/closing of the legs, which would never work right. This even after constant servicing through Victor Duncan of Detroit. Not to mention, using the manual foot-pump to jack-up the column was to say, tedious. On occasion, we would even find a puddle of hydraulic fluid underneath the Elemack, which I understand is common for this breed. Personally, it became a pain since it was I who was always wiping up after it!
The fact is, with the Elemack, you can't even lay a director's finder, lens or more importantly a cup of coffee down like you could on-top of the rubberized platform of the Colortran. After my experience with the Elemack, I'm convinced the Colortran Mini-Crab Dolly WAS and STILL IS the best designed 'vintage' portable crab dolly out there, especially given it's compact size. This made possible by its genius designer, William Sargent. Not only is the Colortran Mini-Crab American made, the build quality of that era is first-rate.
In short, if you're ever faced with renting or more importantly purchasing a crab-dolly, my advice would be...STAY AWAY from the Elemack brand. Especially, the Cricket and Spyder models.
If you're not lucky enough to find a Colortran Mini-Crab, I would suggest checking into a pre-owned Chapman. Yes, the Chapman's are pricey...but they will give you many years of trouble-free service. As mentioned earlier, the Chapman's are built at the same factory the Colortran's were assembled. In fact, I was told that many of the lathes and other machines that were once used to manufacture parts for the Colortran Mini-Crab's are still being used today to produce the Chapman's. Lastly, if you can't get your hands on a Chapman, I would then recommend a Fisher Dolly.
Now, back to the Colortran...if you were to flip the Mini-Crab dolly over and remove it's lower panel, you would see a maze of sophisticated engineering much akin to looking inside a fine Swiss watch. Hand-milled gears, forged steering controls, hydraulics, etc.
The Colortran dolly was built around an extremely heavy one-piece aluminum casting. It’s speculated that many of these dollies have found their way to the scrap-heap before their true identity became known. Stripped down, the empty shell of a Colortran Mini-Crab tips the scales with more than 175 pounds of solid, pure, high-grade extrusion aluminum. It’s conceivable; many of these dollies were unknowingly scrapped for the price of aluminum, which may be one of the reasons why very few are known to exist.
Recently, my son Adam and I had the good fortune of acquiring a Colortran dolly with special provenance. This Mini-Crab bears the serial number of 157, which by indications found, was once owned by filmmaker and Academy Award winner, David L. Wolper.
Mr. Wolper is recognized as a prolific television/feature film producer who is credited for producing the “Roots” and “North and South” TV mini-series, among many others. Mr. Wolper also produced many films for the big screen including 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory', (1971), 'This is Elvis', (1981), and 'L.A. Confidential', (1997).
It’s doubtful that #157 was used in filming any of these productions; more likely it was used in Mr. Wolper’s earlier television career. This was when his production company produced and filmed documentaries similar to the ones seen on the Biography channel.
Before we adopted #157, the dolly eventually ended up on the east coast. First at a PBS station in Maryland, a Verizon TV studio, then to a state law enforcement TV studio. It was lastly owned by an independent producer.
Presently, we're in the planning stages of producing a film on how difficult it is for people with disabilities to find jobs (competitive employment). This is an area of which I have some experience with and proud to say is my beloved full-time occupation. What better way to film people who use wheelchairs or may have difficulty walking, than to have a camera mounted onto a quiet moving dolly.
My son and I also offer a dolly-grip service to local filmmakers in the Cleveland area which will hopefully help fund the documentary. I'm looking to put my past experience as a dolly-grip to good use. This time around, the cameras have shrunk down to a mere fraction of the heavy 16 or 35mm steel beasts that once rode atop #157. We also offer a lightweight 13’ jib that can be attached to the dolly to "fly" cameras when needed.
Our Colortran is still solid as a rock and with the (8) original studio tires, maintains extremely smooth control much when it did, I'm sure, some 40 years ago. Again, thanks to a very clever designer!
We're hoping to put together a list of existing Colortran dollies and their owners. If you’re fortunate enough to own a Colortran Mini-Crab Dolly, please e-mail me the serial number of your unit. This is located on the manufacture tag on the back panel of the dolly, see photo of the tag on the September 10th posting.
Over the years, some of these Mini-Crab’s have lost their tags. Not to worry, the serial number of your dolly is also stamped on the top of the steering base. Also, let me know the serial number of your hydraulic lift, which is an entirely different number than the serial number of the dolly. The serial number of the hydraulic lift can be found on the base of the lift itself.
If you have any information, facts, details or user stories about the Colortran Mini-Crab, please let us know and with your permission, we will share it on this Blog. Eventually, Adam and I would like to form a group of Colortran Dolly owners called the SarKell Society. Among other things, this Society will list the owner's name, general location and the serial number of the member's dolly in a future posting.
Forming the SarKell Society should help us Colortran Dolly owners to preserve and increase the value of our beautifully crafted dollies. Ultimately, we can help one another with buying/selling a Colortran dolly, operational ideas, Colortran restoration, general maintenance, wheel alignment, service, parts and accessories.
Speaking of accessories, Adam and I are on the look-out for some items to better outfit our dolly. We're looking for the floorboards that would enlarge the Colortran platform. Also, if you have the operator's lift-seat that was designed to fit onto the hydraulic pedestal or the carrying case for the dolly itself, we would be most interested! Please let me know by e-mailing me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Let's keep in touch and enjoy using your Colortran Mini-Crab Dolly!
Greg and Adam Zaryk, former owners of #157
We have the perfect accessory for your Mini-Crab! It's the Camera Turret CT-300 Jib that's pictured above and throughout this blog. We used it extensively with Mini-Crab #157. It has the proper mounting adapter that would enable it to fit easily onto the Colortran Mini-Crab Dolly.
The CT-300 is made out of aircraft aluminum and still being made today.The Jib head automatically articulates with the vertical movement of the Jib.
This professional Jib package includes the following:
5' 3" center Jib Arm
3' extension Jib Arm
Cables for standard Jib length,
Cables for extension Jib length
Adapter to mount Jib onto your Mini-Crab Dolly or use with a heavy-duty tripod.
Don't mistaken this professional Jib with the flimsy ones you see out there now. In fact, I inspected a cheaper quality Jib and I was shocked at the back-and-forth play it had while moving it up and down.
You can attach your fluid head as the one shown is not available.
This is the real thing. It's rated for 30 lbs. It was made to support heavier rigs.
If interested or for more info, e-mail me directly at:
I find it interesting how heavy vintage dolly's really were. Here's a picture of the old standby, the Moviola Crab Dolly which weighed in at 530 pounds. Click on any image to enlarge.
The next dolly of yesteryear was the boxier McAllister which tipped the scales at a whopping 690 pounds! I have read somewhere that the origin of this dolly came from loading bombs/ordnance's into military aircraft.
Remember the Dolly-Trolley? Not exactly a crab dolly, but it was great for long tracking shots. No weight specs for this one, but it doesn't look to be too heavy. Pictured here is Gina Lollobrigida and her son taking a break between scenes.
My least favorite of all crab dollies..the Elemack. And by the look of this gentleman's expression, he feels the same way! Click on this image to enlarge.
In my opinion, these were (and still are) the most finicky dollies ever made! They needed constant servicing and always dripped H-fluid. I gripped on a film production in the late 70's and we rented an Elemack that turned into a complete nightmare. To me, the Elemack is just a huge 'tripod dolly' with no platform to work from. This pic is a perfect illustration of that. You see this gentleman has nowhere to put his feet down, they're dangling. Yes, most of the people that used this dolly placed their feet on the legs, but trust me, that gets old! The earlier models weighed in around 200 pounds. The later models came in closer to 250 lbs.
Then there is the smartly designed Colortran Mini Crab Dolly. The Mini Crab came in at only 293 pounds! It was nimble enough to maneuver through a standard doorway and as you can see, allowed for comfortable foot placement. Although William Sargent did not fully intend on designing the Mini Crab Dolly for the larger cameras, it easily accommodated the industry standard Mitchell BNCR and the beast.. the super heavy Panavision R200.
By the way...that's William Sargent, Mini Crab designer/inventor (and TV/film actor) sitting on the Mini Crab Dolly prototype at a trade show at the old Hudson Hotel in NYC. William was demonstrating the Mini Crab dolly. Note the faux doorway used to show the Mini Crab's maneuvering capabilities. They took more than 30 orders for the Mini Crab Dolly at this show.
Here's a couple of pictures of my son Adam on Mini Crab #157. At the time, Adam and I were hired out to run second camera at local MMA matches. We actually had a 10' boom that was attached to the hydraulic pedestal so that we could film above the cage wall.
Having a platform to stand on when needed was also really convenient. Adam sat on the operator's seat and stood on the platform when filming dictated. Hands down.. the Colortran Mini Crab Dolly is the best vintage crab dolly ever made! AND...IS STILL an extremely capable dolly being used today! Timeless (and don't forget portable) design! Thanks to it's genius designer/inventor, William Sargent!