Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Compared to other dollies...the ColorTran Mini-Crab is not only the most versatile...It's also the most compact and portable dolly out there!

See for yourself! Take a look at these other dollies for comparison! Paul Newman riding an earlier Italian-made Elemack Mark I (on tracks) hand-holding an Arri 35-2. Click on any image to enlarge.
Filmmaker, Andrew Costikyan being pushed on a three-wheeled Fisher dolly (on tracks).
Mr. Costikyan using his Costikyan Western Dolly fitted with a Mit and a Worral gear-head on top of a high-hat.

So you see, there's nothing as compact and versatile as the ColorTran Mini-Crab Dolly! The ColorTran Mini-Crab Dolly weighs only 293 pounds and measures in at just under 27 inches wide by 39 inches long.

Photo Credits: Richard L. Bare, The Film Director, IDG Books. Jon J. Conrad, The TV Commercial How it is Made, VN Reinhold Co.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

ColorTran Mini Crab Dolly Owner's...Register your dolly!

ColorTran Mini-Crab Dolly #157 in it's original factory "ColorTran Blue" paint finish. There were only about 250 of these hand-built dollies made. If your lucky enough to own one, please register your dolly by e-mailing me at: gregoryz@centurylink.net

(Click on any image to enlarge for greater detail, once you've enlarged it, click again for even more detail!)
Using my ColorTran Mini-Crab as a rolling camera crane/Jib base.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Heavy Cameras on the Colortran Mini-Crab Dolly!

The massive 160 pound Panavision R-200 (above) and the 130 pound Mitchell BNCR (pictured below on a location shoot) were often mounted on Colortran Mini-Crab Dollies. Although the Colortran dolly was not intended for "top-heavy" 35mm cameras, many Colortran's were paired-up with the big 35's. Virtually untippable! A true testament to a perfectly designed dolly by an incredibly genius inventor!
It's barely noticeable, but that's a Colortran Mini-Crab Dolly under a Mitchell BNCR/Worral gear-head combination. Click on this image to enlarge.

Friday, September 10, 2010

More tid-bits regarding the Mini-Crab Dolly

I first thought about repainting the dolly, but then decided to leave it in it's original ColorTran Blue finish. Click on any image to see closer!
The manufacturer's tag on the back panel of my ColorTran Mini-Crab Dolly.

During my research on the ColorTran Mini-Crab Dolly, I was surprised that I couldn't find much on the Internet about the extremely well-made dolly. But then again, the ColorTran dolly is now more than 40 years old!

As I began looking for information, I would run across Internet forums of people finding rusty old ColorTrans’ in garden sheds or some equipment house selling a beat-up, hand "re-painted" Colortran for big bucks. Quite frankly, there’s not much out there.

A fine gentleman by the name of Rudy Goldberg, recently shared his recollections about seeing the ColorTran dolly for the very first time. Mr. Goldberg, who gave his permission to share this account was referred to me by a longtime Hollywood equipment insider.

Mr. Goldberg remembers attending one of the special "coming out" parties thrown by Berkey-ColorTran's sales team during the mid-60’s. This mixer took place at Berkey-ColorTran in Burbank, at the very place where the ColorTran’s were being assembled. According to Mr. Goldberg, many high-level studio equipment managers and other V.I.P's were invited to see ColorTran's much talked about “compact” invention.

During this cocktail party, Mr. Goldberg recalls being ushered into a room and seeing an older Moviola Crab dolly standing side-by-side to a newly minted ColorTran dolly. Both dollies had (he believes) big Mitchell's strapped on (the Mit's were presumably provided by one of the camera houses) and grip people on-hand ready to give interested guests a test drive.

This get-together was to convince the equipment managers that it was time to change-out their older fleet of dollies to the more advanced “near portable” dolly made by ColorTran. Guests included cinematographers, equipment managers and other studio production people. Mr. Goldberg recalls conversing with fluid head manufacturer, Chad O'Connor, who was also there admiring the new ColorTran dolly.

I'm hoping this Blog will at the very least, inform and update others, who like me became interested in acquiring and using the ColorTran Mini-Crab Dolly. A couple of months ago, when I began looking for a ColorTran Mini-Crab, I Googled and found practically nothing of substance on the Internet. Now, if someone Google's ColorTran Mini-Crab Dolly, they will at least uncover this Blog and the general information it contains.

If you're an owner (or a wannabe owner!) of a ColorTran dolly, you will enjoy many years of service. Be it in any cine/digital application. Yes, the ColorTran is technically sophisticated and modern-looking enough to enter the world of RED, too! In any event, you will obtain the most flawless dolly/tracking shots money can buy! Suffice it to say, the ColorTran dolly was ingeniously designed, handsomely crafted and is an American-made classic in the truest sense!

So, if you can find one of these rare birds, that's reasonably priced, with working/rebuilt hydraulics and not too beat-up, BUY IT!
Believe me, you'll be happy you made the ColorTran Mini-Crab investment and even more happier using it!

My sincere thanks to our good friend, Mr. Rudy Goldberg of Beverly Hills, California for sharing his recollections of the Berkey-ColorTran cocktail party. If you have any stories about the ColorTran Mini-Crab Dolly that I can share, especially operating it on a film set, please let me know!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Colortran Mini-Crab Dolly

                 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.

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'...he 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: zarykfamily@twc.com

Let's keep in touch and enjoy using your Colortran Mini-Crab Dolly!
Greg and Adam Zaryk, owners of #157

Friday, September 3, 2010


Update: July 25, 2015: Dear Mini-Crab owners, if you haven't done so already, please send me your dolly's serial number, a picture of you and your dolly along with your name and location. I'm preparing to update the Sarkell Society list (posted below). Thank you!

Click on above membership list to enlarge.

If you're the owner of a Colortran Mini-Crab Dolly...register your dolly today by e-mailing your name, city/state, the dolly's serial number and your e-mail address to: