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The last Ruston Bucyrus hydraulic excavator

Digger Blogger | 10:10, Wed January 22 2014

Digger Blog reader Richard Frogley has been following this blog for quite a few years now and wanted to share with us his tales of his family's Ruston Bucyrus 220RH excavator.

 

Some points are a little vague as he was only 10 or 12 years old at the time, but Richard believes that his grandfather bought the very last hydraulic excavator to come out of the old Ruston Bucyrus factory in Lincoln. (RB continued producing cranes there until around the turn of the 21st Century.) Richard's grandfather, Frederick Oliver Watts, ran a small quarrying & haulage company in Gt Leighs in Essex.

On the day some of these Polaroid pictures were taken, Watts & Son had proudly taken delivery of their new 22-tonne monster. It was unloaded in the old sugar beet factory at Felsted, Essex, where his grandfather managed & sold the washed topsoil that was a by-product of the beet factory.

Now his grandfather is no longer with us to defend himself on this next blunder...  but instead of tracking the new machine around the site track road, to where it would begin its working life, for some unknown reason he decided to take a shortcut across one of the soil settling ponds.

The soil was washed off the beet and stored in these massive ponds to let the water slowly drain away, then spread the soil on meadows to dry out for sale to construction contractors.

The pond his grandfather decided to take a short cut over looked nice and dry.. but unfortunately it only had a thin crust on top and was still fairly wet underneath. The brand new machine very quickly disappeared!

Richard is unsure as too how long it took them, but the boys had to set about rescuing the machine, digging a path to it from the other side of the pond with loading shovels and the CAT 955 & 977 track loaders that used to work the site in those days as well.

Richard explains: “I am not sure what they used in the end to recover it but I understand they ended up dragging it out with another machine."

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Fast forward about six or eight years and the trusty Ruston was still going strong and being used every day along with a Volvo L80, Caterpillar D6 LGP a very old Aveling Barford dumper. "I have very fond memories of dad teaching me how to 'not wreck' his pride & joy, sitting in the cab with him cautiously allowing me to dig away at the cliff face or excavate some as raised sand," Richard recalls.

Although the machine was very smooth compared to the likes of the JCB Powerslides operated before, this machine it had its quirks, including 'left hand drive'.

Richard says: "It was very modern of the time with joystick controls on the arm rests of the operators seat (just like today's machines) but all the operating actions were back to front to other excavators. (Dad used to swear like hell if he ever got into a hire machine, he has even been known to switch the hydraulics around on the back of the joysticks so they worked the same as his Rustons!).

"I never really got the hang of it like dad did. He was like a dancer operating that machine, smooth as silk, but I had my moments I guess. He wouldn’t have entrusted me to run the place whilst he was on holiday if I hadn’t."

He continues: "Sadly from my point of view (I dreamed of running it like him one day) dad eventually shut the pit (Stebbing Pits) after several battles with the local council about planning permission. These are last four pictures of the machine still going strong in the late 1990s shortly before packing up.

"She looks a little battered but still very strong. He had to do a lot of work in the pit to keep her going, changed main cylinders regularly (that was fun!), occasionally a dipper ram and I think we had to replace the main hydraulic block, which I remember nearly gave dad a heart attack when he got the bill, but it was a great machine.”

For the last 18 years Richard has worked in the heavy haulage industry and said he has only ever come across one similar machine, a smaller version of the 220RH.

"I think it’s quite a rare beast. I’d be very interested if anyone has seen one… or indeed knows if this one is still working."

This old 6x4 tipper lays awaiting restoration, at another of his brothers farms, in Suffolk.

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