August 3, 2008

When Huge Crane First Scaled Heights

Following the recent announcement that the Dockyard's colossal crane - the biggest in Western Europe evidently - is to be removed this autumn, John Woodrow of Weston Mill came in with these shots of the crane being erected, some 30 years ago.

John, who features in the shots and who worked on the job, is a local lad. He went to the Holy Redeemer School and was brought up by nuns. He says: "They were very strict and very religious - it was church every Sunday and Benediction every Wednesday - miss out or commit any other misdemeanour and it was the ruler on the back of your fingers."

Since leaving school John has had 53 contract jobs over the years, all of varying length. "The crane job took about two years to complete; there were problems with wind," says the man who was working as a chargehand steel erector. "There were no railings, no harnesses, no safety net. It used to rock a bit up top - you had to keep low."

Before working on the Dockyard crane John been with Blight and White - steel fabricators and constructors. He also worked with Stothert and Pitt (Bath) who supply cranes all over the world.

"I'd worked on the Frigate Complex earlier in the 70s and it was around 1978 we were nearing the end of the work on the crane. I can remember the Ark Royal coming in with its paying off pennant waving and coaches transporting the families of the men on board.

"In the back housing of the crane, where the counter weights are stacked, there's a list of all the guys who worked on the job. Plus some pay chits and odd money - alas, some of the lads have died."

After the crane job John went to Leith Docks in Edinburgh and started working on oil rig legs, retiring in 1993.

He says: "It was good money, hard work, but I'd manage to take two or three months off now and then between contracts."

(c) 2008 Plymouth Evening Herald, The. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.