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New home for knackered old 54RB

Digger Blogger | 13:59, Wed March 23 2016

I have a report here from the Construction Plant-hire Association and its support for the Vintage Excavator Trust, which I am very happy to share.

It concerns the rescue of this rather well-worn 54RB excavator.

To help mark its own 75th anniversary, the Construction Plant-hire Association (CPA) has made a donation to the Vintage Excavator Trust (VET) to help cover the cost of the transportation of this 1957 Ruston Bucyrus excavator from the now closed Snibston Discovery Museum near Coalville in Leicestershire to the VET’s home at Threlkeld Quarry in the Lake District.

The 54RB was originally built for the Eastwell Iron Ore Company, which was a subsidiary of the Staveley Iron & Coal Co. Ltd.

The machine was eventually acquired by Peter Bennie Ltd who used it for a number of years in dragline configuration at one of its facilities in Leicestershire.  In 1995, when Bennie no longer had a use for the machine, it was donated to the Snibston Discovery Museum in Coalville.

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 and so a new home had to be found for the 65-ton machine. Having a track record of preserving and restoring old rope excavators – as well as the space to operate them – the Vintage Excavator Trust expressed an interest in taking on the machine and in December 2015 an agreement was reached with Leicester County Council for the machine to be transferred to Threlkeld Quarry, near Keswick, in the Lake District, for restoration to working order. The 54RB would join a collection of more than 80 excavators in various states of repair at the VET.

With no power unit, it was 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 the offer of a donation towards transportation costs.

It was also in January that a team from the VET started to prepare the excavator by splitting the drive chains and removing the A-frame and roof-mounted exhaust to allow it to pass under motorway bridges. For safety reasons the jib had already been removed by museum staff.

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In late February, VET volunteers – with the assistance of Graham Lee from the Stotfold Barn Railway, his two Mack recovery vehicles and operators, together with members of the Chasewater Valley Railway – winched the RB out of its resting place and into position for loading up. After 20 years standing idle it was a bit reluctant to move but with a lot of persuading, and hard work from the joint volunteer group, it eventually obliged.

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

George Chambers from the VET says: “Following a journey of over 200 miles on 24th February 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 manoeuvring of the 28-metre-long tractor unit and trailer was required but with the help of a steerable five-axle bogie, this was accomplished skilfully and without incident.”

George adds: “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. Whilst not committed to a programme for the restoration, it is hoped to have the mighty 54RB ‘hitting the dirt’ sometime in 2017.”

George concluded, “Thanks to all who have already generously given their time voluntarily to the project and to the Construction Plant-hire Association and other corporate organisations which have supported it financially.”

CPA director Kevin Minton says: “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, whether they wish to become actively involved or simply have an interest in old excavators. It is £20 per year and for that you are able to attend the AGM, receive the Navvy Driver newsletter – and get free entry for the trust’s Open Days.  The next open day is planned for 21st and 22nd May. For membership details, email



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