CPA helps The Vintage Excavator Trust rescue a 1957 54RB excavator

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The UK’s CPA (Construction Plant-hire Association) is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and in recognition of its history has made a donation to The Vintage Excavator Trust (VET). The donation went toward the cost of the transportation of a 1957 Ruston Bucyrus excavator from the now closed Snibston Discovery Museum in Leicestershire ion the Midlands to the VET’s home at Threlkeld Quarry in the heart of the Lake District in the north.

The 54RB was originally built in 1957 for the Eastwell Iron Ore Company, and was eventually acquired by Peter Bennie who, for a number of years, used it in dragline configuration at one of its facilities in Leicestershire. When Bennie no longer had a use for the machine it was donated to the Snibston Discovery Museum in Coalville in 1995.

The engine in the 54RB was a non-runner, having sustained considerable damage when a con-rod broke though the crank case – as a result the 54RB remained as a static exhibit during its time at Snibston. In 2014 the Snibston Discovery Museum closed its doors for good, meaning a new home had to be found for the excavator – no mean task considering it weighed 65 tons.

Having a successful track record of preserving and restoring old rope excavators – and the space to operate them – The Vintage Excavator Trust expressed an interest in acquiring the machine for restoration to working order. The 54RB would join a collection of over 80 excavators, in various states of repair at the VET.

With no power unit, it was going to be a challenge both financially and logistically to move the 54RB from its display area at Snibston so that it could be positioned on level ground for loading purposes. In January the CPA got wind of this project and made contact with the VET to see what the association could do to help, and made the offer of a donation toward transportation costs.

In January, a team from the VET also began to prepare the excavator by splitting the drive chains and removing the ‘A’ frame and roof-mounted exhaust to allow it to pass safely under motorway bridges. For safety reasons the jib had already been removed by museum staff.

In late February, VET volunteers, along with the assistance of Graham Lee from the Stotfold Barn Railway, his two Mack recovery vehicles and operators, and members of the Chasewater Valley Railway, winched the 65 tons of static machinery out of its resting place and into position for loading up after standing idle for 20 years.

Due to its sheer size and immobility (overall length 25ft, width across tracks 12ft 6in, width over outside of cab 14ft 6in, height 14ft) transportation using a beam trailer was necessary and the services of Paul Thorpe Haulage were engaged to make the move – the company also made a generous donation toward the restoration costs of the excavator.

George Chambers from the VET said, “Following a journey of over 200 miles on February 24, the machine arrived at a snow-covered Threlkeld Quarry. Due to the restricted nature of the access into the quarry, which requires negotiating a very tight hairpin bend, considerable maneuvering of the 28m-long tractor unit and trailer was required but with the help of a steerable five-axle bogie, this was accomplished skillfully and without incident!

“The VET fortunately has a replacement for the damaged V6 Paxman engine in the 54RB and work has already commenced to remove the old, damaged unit and fit the replacement. Once powered up, our restoration team will be able to make an assessment of any other work which will be required to make the excavator fully operational again, although initial, cursory, visual inspections are encouraging. While not committed to a programme for the restoration, it is hoped to have the mighty 54RB ‘hitting the dirt’ sometime in 2017.”

CPA Director, Kevin Minton said, “We were delighted to be able to assist the VET in moving the 54RB and we are looking forward to monitoring its progress. The machine is part of our construction plant heritage and its restoration back to a working machine is a worthy project. We wish them every success!”

The Vintage Excavator Trust is always pleased to welcome new members. The next open day is planned for May 21 and 22, 2016. For membership details email threlkeldquarrymuseum@btconnect.com

March 24, 2016

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Tom is editor of ivtinternational.com and iVT magazine. During his 20 year career in journalism Tom has worked for a diverse range of titles including Men's Health and Cosmopolitan. He also edits iVT's UKi Media & Events stablemate Traffic Technology International.

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