Equipment and Suppliers
After both world wars, a number of army surplus vehicles found their way on to garage forecourts (especially those designed for heavy vehicle recovery). However the majority of equipment in use was still home made, often just consisting of a ridged jib and a simple block and tackle.
It was a mater of great pride to most operators that they built the equipment themselves. This was not as strange as it seems today, because garage still used to fit exhaust and windscreens themselves. If you need new brakes more often than not, the garage would remove the lining from the shoe and rivet new linings on.
As a result of their
ingenuity many interesting designs where manufactured. These would then be
copied and improved on by the guy down the road. Engines would be 'beefed
up' a common trick being to put a V6 petrol engine in a V4 transit,
because by hanging on the longer diesel front panel, you could easily re
mount the radiator.
The Legendary Harvey Frost Cat 21 'Pick-Up' Crane, mounted on the inevitable Land Rover
In a nutshell, the modern high tech recovery industry we know today, with its large fleets, specialist suppliers and motoring organisations, just did not exist ‘back then’. From those early days a complete industry has grown up in the UK, to supply the needs of recovery men.
Super sophisticated rigs costing upwards of a quarter of a million pounds, are not unusual today. You can have equipment built to your specification, or select from a range of ready made designs. Some operates import equipment built overseas, in particular from American, as shown below.
Another recent trend is for recovery operators to use motorbikes. Not with a sidecar in the way the motoring organisations did years ago, but as fast city movers. Today's traffic congestion making them very useful for 'first contacts' situations.
If all that is needed is quick jump start, wheel change, or 'effect entry', then a motorbike will always be quicker and of course is much cheaper to operate. The motorbike shown below is operated by McAllister's Recovery around Hampshire and Surrey (I don't remember customers being that attractive in my day!)
As has been said before the Recovery Operator had nearly always built his recovery vehicles. The
cranes were often fabricated in the workshop, or removed from ex military
vehicles. The bodies were folded and
then welded up, before the whole thing was painted (usually in white) in
their own, or the local tame coachwork's, Spray Booth .
Then there was Cowan Transport Engineering of which Mike Cowan says
with a smile "They were a under-funded back-street comedians from Newport
Pagnell who became the first (and probably only) UK importers of the BRO
heavy underlifts from Sweden in the early 80’s. These were almost
identical to the EKA range later built in numbers on Fodens for the
British Army under licence. CTE imported a number of units from the big 30
tonners supplied to Cowan Motor Group and West Midlands Fire Service,
among others, to the 6- and 4-tonners and even the small 2-tonne spec
lifts. Some were assembled in Sweden on UK chassis shipped out there and
others came over in kit form and were assembled over here".
Boniface Engenering of Thetford
Crane Fruehauf of Kings Lynn.
D G McAllister of Aldershot (MFC Air Cushions and for a short while Mobi-Jack).
Edbro (London) Ltd.
Hazelwood Eng Co (Trailer Manufacture mainly to the AA and RAC)
Heyflake Systems Ltd of Newbury (transporter mainly for the AA).
Marquiss of Scotland (who produced the 'Fagin' transport once described by Ernest Smith as "Ten Thousand Rivets travelling in close formation down the M1". The flamboyant owner became one of the industries greatest characters, but later turned out to have had a dark secret)
TY-Rite Ltd of Basingstoke (Selling first webbing straps and in1980 the Easylift range of Speclifts from Denmark).
Willingham’s of Thorngumbald, who were the manufactures of Mora recovery equipment sold by CVE Limited of Farnham.
and of course Roger Dyson Recovery Systems.
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