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.

National Rescue workshop at Cambridge Coachworks Kingston. Bedford CF fitted with a Modified Mann Egerton Crane

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. 

There were some component manufactories like garage equipment supplier Harvey Frost Ltd of Great Portland Street, London. HF started selling cranes from around.1905 their products actually being made by Ernest Lake Ltd. Also worthy of a mention are Mann Egerton, who survived up to 1964, before becoming part of Westinghouse Brake & Signal Co.

The Legendary Harvey Frost Cat 21 'Pick-Up' Crane, mounted on the inevitable Land Rover

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.

Imported USA Wrecke with underlift

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!)


Motor Bike Breakdown and Recovery Service   


Industry Suppliers.

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 .

This started to change in the 1964, when Bill Jackson launched Dial-Holmes a combination of Dial-Mec (his plant hire company) and Holmes the name of the American crane company whose products he was importing. Ten years later this legendary company (with its just as legendry founder), become Wreckers International Ltd of Caxton Hill, Hertford and would eventually ‘turn the tables’ and start exporting recovery products to the USA.

Dial Holmes could supply everything from an American rotating beacon to a fully fitted, ready to work heavy wrecker. They were not the first, but they were the ones that turned it into an industry. What few customers realised at the time was that most of the English equipment was outsourced and built by contract engineering companies, leaving them free to concentrate on new designs.  Brimec (UK) Ltd of Bristol were building the first UK slidebacks, although initially they were for moving plant.  

Trailer suppliers like Weaver Manufacturing and Engineering of Bedford (Parent company was in Springfield Illinois), who had been around since the mid twenties, suddenly found they were selling Cranes, Dollies and trailers at unheard of levels and soon recognised the potential. B

Notable other equipment suppliers of the time were B Dixon-Bate Ltd (made cranes to go on fifth wheel couplings). Tracel Fabrications Ltd. (TFL). Logan Tiffin (who supplied Lights Tapes Signs and Clothing). Ryders International. (Warn winches). Braden Winch Co. Tennant Motor Services (Leeds) Ltd (distributor for Federal and Twin Sonic lights and for a while C F Holmes products).


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".

He adds "Until the first BRO came over in 1979, the only heavy underlift in the UK was a 20-tonne EKA unit built onto a Vovo F.88 operated by Dawson freight, Volvo dealers at Leighton Buzzard and of course with almost nothing but dozens of Holmes 750’s around, nobody had seen anything like them before - the start of a revolution in heavy recovery as Mr. Jackson very soon saw the potential and began to build his own range at Hertford".

During these growth years a number of new companies appeared, while many others expanded feed by the need for ready made kit. Notable names were

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)

Peter Cosby of Lincolnshire.
Sedelmayer (A German company with a base in Wirral selling the Move It range)

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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