Jeremy Rowland reports on the incredible work involved in bringing a tired old Priestman Lion crane back to roaring life.
Andrew Beaulah bought his Priestman Lion crane (a Mk111 model) in November 2016 and, since then, I’ve been privileged to be able to help out where I can with its on-going restoration. This machine spent it’s working life operating in one of Hull’s last dry-docks; a gruelling environment in which to work, especially given the salty atmosphere. Consequently, the machine had suffered the ravages of time and sea air, and its outer panels certainly bore witness to that battle. However, Andrew was undeterred as he knew that, mechanically, the crane was in remarkably good condition, considering its age and history.
The work begins
There was some serious preparation required to get the crane moved to Andrew’s farm but, once it finally landed, the work to both restore and re-equip it could begin. The area of greatest concern – rather surprisingly – wasn’t the exterior bodywork, which had certainly suffered greatly over the years thanks to the sea air, but was the fact that the corrosion went so deep. Cutting off successive bits of rotten tinwork simply revealed more rust and decay. Some of the panels were repairable, but other parts were beyond, so new pieces had to be fabricated and welded into place.
From the Lion’s first appearance at the farm, to its debut at a working event in February 2019, I’ve been able to photograph much of the restoration work carried out during visits to work on my own machines. However, the plan for the Lion was much more than a simple restoration; Andrew’s hope was to obtain and install a back-actor boom and dipper and, fortunately, he knew of one that was for sale in Scandinavia.
The front-end equipment was purchased and brought back to the UK by Clive Gray who, at the same time, brought back his classic, Caterpillar 212 motor grader, which was also purchased over there. Now that it’s fitted, the front-end equipment makes this Lion probably the largest cable-operated back-actor in preservation in the UK at the moment.
Many new panels were fabricated for the Lion, including support panels that were part of the crane’s upper works. These weren’t just aesthetic body panels, but formed part of the Lion’s upper superstructure. Once the upper works had been repaired, the time came to lift the boom into place. New pins had been made to secure it, and manoeuvring it into place required the services of Andrew’s JCB tele-handler.
This back-actor set-up was one of the early attempts by cable machine manufacturers to cross-cable machines with hydraulics, by powering the crowd action using a hydraulic ram. Cable-operated back-actor machines rely on gravity to hold the spoil in the bucket, and this is emptied by extending the dipper arm. Adding hydraulics to the crowd was supposed to increase breakout force, and speed up the digging cycle.
At the present time, the Lion is limited to being solely a cable-operated machine, but the hydraulic crowd action may be restored at a later date. This will entail stripping and rebuilding the hydraulic ram, fitting a hydraulic reservoir, an engine-driven pump and, of course, a control valve in the cab plus a system relief valve.
The Priestman Lion did indeed roar into action at the February 2019 Working Event but, since then, clutch and engine issues have seen the machine temporarily put out of action. But this Lion will be set to roar again in the near future and I, like many others, am looking forward to seeing it in action once again. Many other people have helped Andrew with the hard work involved to make this restoration happen, including Tony Wilson, Tim Brown, John Herbert, Graham Curwood and not forgetting David and Christine Jewitt. Hopefully the photographs included here will help give everyone some idea of just a small part of the work that’s gone into this single restoration project.
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