Crane

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This 7tonne Coles mobile crane was borrowed of Dave Weekes, Addington Recovery for several jobs, until he decided we were using it more than he was, and he sold it to me. One of the first jobs we used it for was loading 40' lengths of pipe into a ragtop 40' container in Astran's yard, to be shipped out to the Middle East.

By now, ragstone quarrying had finished at ARC Stangate Quarry, and landfill operations had commenced. London waste was collected by these high bodied 8 wheel Leyland tippers, and delivered to the quarry in Borough Green. There was then a change of operation to tipping twistlock frames, and removable containers. We had a lot of work lifting these bodies off to await scrapping, and lifting on the new frames.

Whilst returning from one of these lifting trips, my man ran out of diesel, and rolled to a halt on the single track internal haul road. He phoned me, but before I could arrive to get him going, one of Pat Gallagher's 8 wheelers had arrived to tip muck, and being in a tearing hurry, offered to tow Dennis out of the way. Dennis warned him that without the engine running, he had no brakes or steering, so just pull him to the top of the hill and gently over the top. In the excitement, this information failed to impinge on the driver's consciousness, and with great gusto, and pedal to the metal, he shot backwards up the hill , over the top, and stopped. He then had a Wily Coyote moment of shock horror as he looked to the front and saw the crane jib come straight through his window.

I had heard of Pat Gallagher's legendary fiery temper, and was mildly concerned when I heard he was on his way. I saw him speak to his driver and it is the only time in my life I have actually seen someone hopping with rage. He then came over and spoke quite civilly to me, we exchanged insurance details, and parted cordially. It was only the other day that I met that actual driver again, and he told me that Pat had heard exactly the same stories about me, and when he saw me he said to his driver "Jaysus, he's a big bugger". Just shows how important it is to know the man, and not the legend.

As well as the Garbo bodies, we also got the odd job taking mixers off, so the chassis cabs could be sold. ARC Premix were a bit sensitive about the possibility of one of their old mixers being used in competition.

The crane also came in useful for some of our own trans-ship jobs

The crane really proved its worth in making tri-stacks. Since the demise of Britains industry, the UK became a net importer, and the sparsity of return loads to Europe made it more economical to stack these trailers and ship them back as one, rather than lose money in the ultra competitive export market.

What made this operation a bit tricky is that a 40' foot flat is just a tad heavy for the crane when lifted at the distance out required to put it on another tralier, so the trick was to jib right back, lift as high as needed, back the other trailer under, and then jib out quickly before you dropped it.

We got into trouble with the ministry, because we fitted all the trailer handbrakes the wrong way round, so they could be applied by someone laying underneath, rather than hanging in midair, and the wheeltappers didn't like getting underneath to see if they worked. You had to put the handbrake on afterwards, because the taut cable interfered with one of the lifting points

Our crane went out in a blaze of glory in the aftermath of the '87 hurricane. We had spent three days with two guys with chainsaws clearing the A25 between Borough Green and Sevenoaks, using the crane and the 4-wheel drive forklift.

This picture is taken just at the top of the hill outside Seal. We were lifting entire trees, right on the crane's limit, and swinging them sideways into the field on the right. The trick was, as the tree was too heavy for the crane when it was jibbed out to the side, that as you swung it round, you also started dropping it, relieving some of the weight.

All went well until our leaky old crane ran low on hydraulic fluid, and it fail-safe locked with the tree in the air, and the jib out to the side. Very slowly, majestically almost, the crane and I toppled sideways. I went out through the drivers door window like a rat out of a drain, which was just as well, because if you look very carefully in the "after" picture, you can see the trunk of the previous tree sticking into the cab roof just where my head had been moments before.

Another lad we knew had been pulling trees off the road with a home made "A" frame crane on the back of an ex-army Bedford RL, and he heard of our problem, turned up, put a snatch block around one of the few remaining upright trees, and used his winch to get our crane back on its wheels. We checked and topped up all the oils, turned the key. She roared into life, and we carried on where we left off. It survived until the journey home when the bigends finally gave up the ghost.

It seems incredible now, but that crane only had a plain MOT, third party insurance and car tax, the only part of it that was certificated was the main lift rope that I had had to buy new, but it did its job, and no-one complained. Its two major failings were extremely iffy brakes at anything over about 15 miles per hour, and a floating back axle that needed to be nudged straight against a kerb before we went on the road, or it crabbed like mad.

On one memorable occasion we had been asked to drop a boat into the Medway at Wateringbury, and with John in the van in front with the beacons going I set off via Seven Mile Lane. He dropped down Mereworth Hill and turned left into the village as we had planned, but in the crane, despite dropping into 2nd gear before starting the descent, I gained so much speed that I couldn't stop in time for the crossroads and had to carry on to the roundabout and come back. It wasn't great shakes as a road vehicle, but boy could it lift !

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