Why Some Trolleys and Sack Trucks Fall to Bits

Sack Truck, Trolleys and Bogies – Made in Britain?

The sack truck, bogie and trolley we know today is an import from the Far East, made from low grade under specified steels and materials, they are not of industrial quality but are still used as such. Sadly imported trolleys, sack trucks and barrows have put millions of UK workers on the dole. Now people want the industrial standard products and few are left with the core skills or knowledge to produce them.  At one time this equipment would last anything up to 10 to 12 years, today 10 to 12 weeks is a long time.  Now five million jobs later against a raft of skills so scarce they make television programs about them, Great Britain has deteriorated into Little Britain, suffocated and stifled by an internet selling unqualified mountains of unregulated tat, that provides nothing for our apprentices or future metal workers. Our steel industry is a mere shadow of its former self.

You can still buy quality but only if you know where to look but it is a dying trade.  I wonder how we got here? I was in Yorkshire a while ago and reminded myself with a trip round our industrial past how it used to be in years gone by. Properly built equipment is 50% cheaper and lasts 28 times longer that cheap imports. Imported sack trucks, trolleys, bogies and barrows are the most expensive items you can buy. We seem to know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. How could we have let it all go?

Mill Life

In between factory surveys, I try to get some exercise on my bicycle and for the Bank Holiday weekend where better, than to visit our industrial past in the heart of Yorkshire’s mill country.  We arrived at Oxenhope in time for the midday train and stepped into a bygone era, only saved 40 years ago by the Friends of the Keighley and Worth Valley Railways who have restored the line, now famous for its stage set of the Railway Children.  We also visited Saltaire.  In keeping with a number of mill sites this was a small town built to accommodate the staff and workers of the Saltaire Mill.  These amazing structures survive largely due to the goodwill of their benefactors and their historical importance of an era long since gone.

I can remember in the 70′s these mills working and men handling quarter ton botany bales, taking its name from the wool in the bale which in the early days of Saltaire linked to a wool sorting operation, must have been a living hell of disease, not least of all from Anthrax spores housed in the wool.  Quite apart from the workers living practically in their own excrement, disease and danger was the inspiration for improved factory conditions and the reason for total business communities like Saltaire coming into existence.

The subject of television programs

The canals and railways are particularly important to my family as we have our engineering routes inextricably buried deep into the industrial revolution.  The harnessing of steam power and the means of fuelling it revolutionised from the Worsley Bridgewater Canal Mines transformed our abilities to manufacture the base materials we needed to feed and clothe ourselves.  A simple supper with a bottle of wine, all the cutlery and plates and cooking facilities from scratch would require trillions of pounds to put on any table today from a standing start, even the clothes you wear represent breathtaking sums of investment.  At the time of the Industrial Revolution not only could you not have afforded to buy them, you would have had to wait over a hundred years to take delivery of them.  The revolution in clothing alone is partly responsible for our ability to conquer the Arctic and the mountain tops of the Himalayas.   In other words the success of generations of time and money invested into the infrastructure we have today is still very delicately balanced and reliant on quality and trust like never before.  One hung Parliament and a volcano is all you need to upset the delicate balance!

One of the wheels on a steam locomotive bogie could be measured in tonnes.  You can feel the ground move under its weight.  Fully laden I would estimate this steam locomotive would have weighed in at a hefty 60 to 70 tonnes which means bridge building is a serious pastime.  Add to this dynamic loadings and you have got yourself an engineer’s mathematical paradise.

They don’t make ‘em like that these days

The old railway station sack barrow and the humble bogie was made with great love and precision, wrought iron and the blacksmith’s hammer have fashioned its distinctive shape.  The powerful solid inch diameter axle on to which is mounted its cast iron wheels, all fitted to a beech or oak framework, denotes these sack barrows as the workhorses of their time.  The angle at which they sit is precisely balanced to enable it to effortlessly rotate its load (in excess of 500 kgs sometimes) in perfect balance on to the very precise fit of the bearings on to the axle.  It is with some horror that I see £12.00 sack barrows from China with a life expectancy of 9 months mounted to half inch axles of inferior steel to which wheels are offered because the word ‘fitted’ is totally inappropriate, they don’t.  The clearances between these and the precision with which I was trained is the difference between the entrance to Dartford Tunnel through which a bus could easily pass.  Equipment I manufactured in the 70′s is still in use today, including wooden sack barrows and traditional carts which we still supply on precision axles and fit for many industrial applications.  This makes our Chinese ‘cheapies’ nearly three times more expensive because you would have to buy 28 of them for the same life span and even then they do not take half the weight the suppliers think they can, that is because the entire weight should be taken on one wheel with a 50% safety factor.  This rule has simply been forgotten but it is lovely to look at the build quality of these old handling systems and the metal in the train wheels which work faultlessly thousands and thousands of times.

So as we left Haworth Station I reflected on a bygone era whose foundations are still providing the corner stones of our modern economy. The same railway lines prepared and started over a hundred years ago are still functioning with the same bridges, the principles of the bogie and steering arrangements on tracks are still very much in use today as are the foundries and methods that created many of them, although the foundry businesses that created them have long since gone.  However bogie wheels on tracks and the metals used are still very much in evidence in our crane systems and material handling equipment so my little trip out to the industrial past of Yorkshire meant a lot to me taking in the canals, railways and mills which are still there thankfully to be enjoyed.  All we have to do is to keep them in good order of which the Rochdale Canal is a fine example of restoration with one of the deepest locks, if not the deepest lock, in the country – a far cry from the days when it used to catch fire due to the high levels of pollution.

As I said farewell to Oxenhope at the end of the line, I reflected on the Railway Children’s final scene containing the famous line ‘Daddy, My Daddy’ uttered by Bobbie played by Jenny Agutter to Michael Kitchen who plays Daddy.  However it is the face of Richard Attenborough who played the old, influential gentleman that really sticks in my mind and when I think of places like Saltaire and the real improvements that we have seen over the years and throughout our nation since those dark years of the industrial revolution.  It is this sort of person and character who has influenced the real changes in our lives.