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AR Demolition put 102-year-old steam engine back to work

AR Demolition

Company turns back time to use vintage traction engine for winching duties at Croft Quarry

SPECIALIST contractors AR Demolition have deployed an old 1918 J&H McLaren steam traction engine to pull out sections of a decommissioned conveyor belt from the bottom of Croft Quarry, in Leicestershire.

Historical owners of the engine, named Avis, included the founder of the Courage Brewery and the late Sir William McAlpine, the son of Sir Robert McAlpine who established the family’s construction firm in the 1860s. Today, Avis is owned by local enthusiast Robert Holt from Hinkley, whose son Richard is a fabricator at AR Demolition.  


The unusual winching method at Croft Quarry was thought up by AR Demolition’s managing director, Richard Dolman, after being contracted to complete decommissioning works by Aggregate Industries.

‘We looked into winch hire, but it was prohibitively expensive,’ commented Mr Dolman. ‘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 occurred to me that a steam engine 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 100m of conveyor belt housing – undertaken before the coronavirus lockdown – was done in sections over several hours, with the traction engine anchored at the top of the ramp.

The belt and housing were cut through with hot cutting torches to create sections – each weighing several tonnes – before being winched up the ramp and deconstructed using the specialist contractor’s high-tech demolition rigs.

Richard Holt, who operated the steam engine, said: ‘Quarries are actually a great setting to use this type of technology due to space restrictions, and if 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 have developed a strong reputation for holding and utilizing the latest and most advanced plant and equipment across their fleet, as part of the company’s ongoing investment programme. Despite the drive to introduce new techniques and standards into the industry, 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 explained. ‘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 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. 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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