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Demolition firm puts vintage steam engine back to work

15 May A 102-year-old steam engine has made an unlikely appearance to save the day for winching duties at a Leicestershire quarry.

Avis the steam engine rides to the rescue at Croft Quarry
Avis the steam engine rides to the rescue at Croft Quarry

AR Demolition deployed the old 1918 J&H McLaren engine to pull out sections of a decommissioned conveyor belt from the bottom of Croft Quarry.

Historical owners of the engine, named Avis, include the founder of the Courage Brewery and Sir William McAlpine, the son of Sir Robert who established his family’s construction firm in the 1860s.

Today Avis is owned by local enthusiast Robert Holt, from Hinckley in Leicestershire, whose son Richard is a fabricator at AR Demolition and operated the engine during its recent outing.

The unusual winching method was thought up by AR Demolition’s managing director, Richard Dolman. His company had been contracted to complete decommissioning demolition by site owners Aggregate Industries.

“We looked into winch hire,” he said, “but it was prohibitively expensive. And because of the nature of the site there was insufficient space to drag the pieces up the ramp from the bottom of the quarry using a long rope and demolition rig.

“I knew that Robert and Rich had Avis and it just occurred to me that she would be the perfect solution. It was a great opportunity for us to see what she could do and, as it turned out, she made it look easy.”

The removal of approximately 100 metres of conveyor belt housing – undertaken on 21st March just a week before the coronavirus lockdown began – was done in sections over several hours, with the traction engine anchored at the top of the ramp.

The belt and housing was cut through with hot cutting torches to create sections – each weighing several tonnes – before being winched up the ramp and deconstructed using AR Demolition’s demolition rigs.

Richard Holt, who operated the engine, said: “Once she’s warmed up properly, she gets in this sweet spot where she’s a joy to work with.

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“My dad and I, as well as Richard Dolman and AR Demolition’s co-owner Andrew Thompson, are passionate about old machinery like this. It’s beautifully constructed and if you maintain it properly there’s no reason why it can’t work as well as the day that it was made.

“Quarries are actually a great setting to use this type of technology, due to space restrictions, and it you’re working with competent people who are properly trained then it can all work really well.

“She’s quite slow on the road so it takes a while to get her home again, but it was definitely worth it for a job well done.”

AR Demolition, based in Carlton near Market Bosworth, usually uses more modern machinery, such as its Kiesel high-reach demolition excavators. But Mr Dolman said that he was open to looking backwards for new ideas too.

“Thinking outside the box doesn’t just mean adopting new innovative technologies,” he said. “There are times when using a combination of the cutting-edge and the traditional can be just as effective.

“It’s a matter of picking the right machine for the job, not having a vested interest in choosing one or the other. Ultimately, what our clients want – and what makes business sense – is for work to be done as efficiently and, crucially, as safely as possible.

“So it’s been a delight to work with the Holt family and Avis on this job. Admittedly, it’s been fun too. But I definitely won’t rule out using her again, either at Croft Quarry or at any other site where the methods are appropriate.”

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