My love affair with lattice boom cranes started in 1948 when I was four years old. They were all over the place and I was there to watch!
I have been able to dig up information on just about all the different manufcaturers except Unit.
Yes, i googled the name and came up with some info, but -
Why were they so scarce?
Their design was way ahead of it's time, all the machinery was enclosed in an oil tight main casting, even the swing gears.
They used really smooth plate type clutches.
All their gears were forged and all their shafts were splined and ran on anti friction bearings.
I have some of the company's catalogs that I got at the dealer's in the 1960's.
I can't find a single listing for one on the used market, even though I can find many 1960's Lorains, Link Belts and P&H's.
I haven't seen but a few of them in my entire life.
Why is this??
Did the Operating Engineer's Union shun them because they didn't need an oiler and wiper?
If anyone has any experience or ideas I'd appreciate hearing from you.
Gawd! I can't believe that a machine made right up into the mid sixties is now a rare, hard to find An Teek!
Maybe they were too fancy.
My first ever paid job was in a steelworks. On Day 1 I had to help a fitter (millwright) change the track wheels on an overhead crane.
The wheels had a simple bronze bush and ran on a plain cylindrical axle about 6” diameter. The axle was fixed to the crane by a small plate with two bolts, the plate engaging in a groove machined in the end of the shaft.
On the ground, I sneered at the unsophisticated design.
However I soon saw the wisdom of simplicity when working on the jacked-up crane, in the heat, 50 ft up on a narrow crane rail.
A short story about the Model Toy.
I have my second Unit crane sitting here in the office just a few feet away. My firts one got crunched. In reality, the boom is too delicate for the crane to be played with in the dirt pile.
There are a lot of half-baked antique dealers in Bekrkely Springs. One of them had this model and wanted an Horrendous price for it.
I must admit it is very nice with all the original decals, etc.
As it happened I had a large Lionel train transformer that I was sick of looking at and the dealer and I arranged an even trade.
You may have a point about the machine being too fancy. I would think that a contractor would want a machine that he didn't have to pay constant attention to.
It seems that way into the 1980's that the "friction rigs" didn't evolve much from their first internal combustion engine models. Gears and roller chains right out in the open, independent boom hoist and power load lowering as an extra cost option and a generally messy machinery layout.
It seems as though the traditional manufacturers invited the hydraulic machines to Eat Their Lunch!
Koehring, Thew Shovel (Lorain), Lima and American Hoist & Derrick and a bunch of the others must have all gotten personalized thank you notes from Mr. J.L.Grove.
All is not as it seems in the machinery building industry, that is why I want to have at least an idea of why Unit is no longer with us.
"Tonight on Unexplained Mysteries...The disappearance of an entire crane maker!"
Even more rare than a Unit crane is a Coles crane! A buddy has a really decrepit 8 ton Coles lattice boom crane but the one really neat thing about this design, even beating the design of the Unit, is that every movement of the crane is controlled by DC motors. A flathead V8 drove a DC generator, and motors drove the boom up and down, slew, travel, hoist up and down, and air compressor. Its a really neat design and closer in operation to an overhead crane than a traditional boom crane. Instead of levers and pedals in the cab there are several drum controllers.
I challenge anyone to find ONE example of a Coles electric crane in the States. From what I understand they were built somewhere in Europe, so Asquith may know something about them.
With a rectifier and transformer setup plus extension cord, one could just plug this baby in to any 220 volt outlet and go play all day.
The hydraulic excavator has pretty much taken the place of boom rigs for hole digging with the exception of deep holes beyond the reach of excavators. Same for bulldozers in foundation work. Excavators are easier to run, faster and more versatile than cranes, and are not subject to the same undercarriage wear as dozers used in digging operations. I deal with a contractor who has both a Cat excavator and 60's vintage Link-Belt crane with clam shell bucket, one of a dwindling number on Long Island. The Link-Belt still gets fired up for deep cesspools and the like and to see its owner run it, both hands and both feet moving in a great rythm, is a wonderful sight. There will probably always be a need for lattice boom cranes, but their world
BTW, I still have my Dopke Unit crane along with an Adams grader and Barber Green loader, Christmas presents form my folks when I was a kid in the '50's.
I have a Koehring 304 and info is very plentifull on them either. I have the engine appart on mine trying to get it running, two valves struck on a 3-71 Detroit. You may find some help on the Historic Construction Equipment Association website http://www.hcea.net/ this is what these guys do like use except MUCH BIGGER and HEAVIER toys!!
Rick asked about the origin of Coles cranes. Well, they were made in Britain, and Coles were Europe’s biggest mobile crane makers at one time. You’d see their yellow machines everywhere.
They moved into hydraulic cranes with telescopic booms, and were taken over by Groves in the 1980s. Suffice to say they disappeared.
As for the cranes themselves, you still see a few around, but mobile cranes were built with weight in mind, and I suppose ‘rust' would have appeared as the cause of death in many cases.
Many children of my generation would have owned a small Coles crane like one of these:-
The crane body was hinged for easy access to the works, so you could untangle the string. There were springs that pressed against flats formed on the winding spindles, so that the load would not plummet uncontrollably from the crane, high on the kitchen table, to the floor. Ah, memories.
The smaller four wheel version is what he has. Its quite a neat piece of equipment.
For lift crane work in an urban environment the key word is set up.
The Hydros can be rolling into the lot and ready to lift only a matter of minutes later.
On a consturction site the rough terrain hydros can get around so quickly that they can replace at least two crawler mount jobs.
However. The lattice boom cranes are very much alive and well in the larger capacities. Just look where they are setting the steel for highway bridges.
The hydraulic excavator had a long and difficult row to hoe before it got to be the universally accepted machine that it is today.
The early ones just wouldn't dig.
Most of them were cobbled up using ordinary hydraulics and the system couldn't get the power from the engine to the bucket.
Many booms and sticks got torn up before the companies found out how to design them.
Poclain used their own hydraulics and they operated at 4,700 PSI with peak pressures at 6,000 PSI. They were "digging S.O.B.'s" as I have heard many contractors say.
In the late 70's a friend mentioned a patent lawyer whose biggest client was Komatsu. Komatsu and the other Japanese machinery makers were redesigning excavator hydraulics as fast as they could draw them. All high pressure, all pilot valve operated, some very sophisticated circuits.
In the USA, electric operation was confined to the medium and larger front shovels used in mining. The electrics give too much trouble on a truck mount rig.
As far as cable rigs go, the biggest problem isn't the machine it is finding and retaining operators. Way early on, my dad told me that the contractors in N.Y. State would keep their shovel man busy all winter long doing work around the shop while the other guys followed the excavation work south. No contractor wanted to be looking for a crane man or a shovel man when the buds were coming out on the trees.
Talk nowadays has it that contractors can't find guys who can show up on a job and pass the pee test. Comforting thought, huh?
Looking at a book ‘Excavators’ by Peter Grimshaw, I was amazed to find that the first proper steam excavator, complete with ‘crowding’ and partial slewing, was built by William S Otis as early as 1837. Incredible.
Interesting that hydraulic cranes have been around almost as long (1840s).
I remember seeing some Unit cranes out here on the left coast back in the sixties and seventies. Do not recall seeing any lately, but also have not paid much attention.
The comment about finding crane operators rings true. My Dad was a logger and at one time had a Lima truck mounted crane with grapple and then a Northwest track crane. The biggest problem was finding operators who were willing to work in the woods. Most wanted to work construction. The Northwest was a good machine, but eventually he sold it and went to Cat 966 loaders, as anyone with moderate skills could run them.
I believe Unit Crane was absorbed by Bucyrus-Erie along with a load of smaller shovel and crane makers (Osgood, Bay City, Quickway, Bantam and similar firms).
My own experience with a Unit crane was brief. A friend of mine owns a marina on the Hudson River. He bought two Unit cranes for very little money. Neither was used hard and both were in relatively good shape. One had a flathead 6 gasoline engine in it for power and the other had, I believe, a 3-53 Detroit Diesel engine. My friend had this yearly job of putting in floating docks and driving timber pilings to hold them. He had a homemade lashup with a drop hammer, on a home-made raft.
My friend wanted to get a better rig for driving and pulling the timber piles, so asked me to design a barge with one of the Unit Cranes on it. I had never designed any sort of floating vessel in my life and told my friend as much. His answer was: "Joey- you're an engineer. You can design anything... You'll figure it out...." I was thus introduced to the Unit Crane since I had to design the barge around it. The Unit Crane we used had the Detroit Diesel power in it and was a cute little crane. I got the dimensions of it, ran a rough calculation for center of gravity at different boom angles, and guessed at the weight of the "house". On that basis, I designed the barge. I kept asking my buddy to please go get a naval architect to at least review my design.
I had been aboard enough working vessels (older ore carriers up on the Great Lakes, and heavier tugs and barges) to have some idea as to how a hull ought to be designed. I designed the hull with three watertight bulkheads and a system for flooding/pumping out. I also designed the deck to take the load of the crane when it went to pull pilings. As luck would have it, the local shipyard had some unused heavy steel caisson sections from a bridge job. These were 1/2" skin plate with wideflange longitudinals. I revised my design. The barge wound up having spuds (legs to drop into the bottom and hold the barge on station), as well as a ballasting system to counterbalance the crane when it was picking loads and swinging.
The barge was built and launched (without ceremony) and the Unit Crane was walked onto it. Padeyes were welded to the deck and the Unit Crane was bound to the deck using steamboat ratchets. The travel clutches (for driving the tracks) were then disabled. The Unit Crane has been working every season for the past 18 years or so. I had spec'd a set of pile driving leads and dead weight hammer. It does just fine driving peeled poles for pilings and pulling them.
As was noted, the Unit Crane had enclosed gear drives for the hoist drums, swing, and travel. It was a neat little crane. By contrast, there was an old Northwestern crane at the same marina. It was driven by a first-generation Cummins Diesel. Looking at the hoisting gear on that crane was like looking at an old steam crane- open bull gears, grease cups all over the place. Simiarly, I had seen the insides of a Quickway (ex-US Government mobile crane) and a Bantam crane- all of similar capacity to the little Unit Crane. These other cranes all had open gearing.
As was noted, once hydraulic cranes came on the scene, they took over. A whole first generation of hydraulic cranes has came and went. Names like Galion, Pettibone, Austin-Western... Those first generation hydraulic ranes all looked pretty much alike. They were generally set up with four-wheel drive and four wheel steer for manuvering in tight spots. You could drive them over the road to the jobsite if need be. The older operating engineers call that first generation of telescoping boom hydraulic cranes "neck breakers". The cab is fixed on the carrier, under the boom. When I got out of school in 1972, those first generation hydraulic cranes were already on the scene and we did a lot of work with them. Now, they are pretty much out to pasture with the small lattice boom "friction" cranes. I was on a job recently enough where we had a contractor pull inw ith a barge and crane. The crane was an older 60 ton American with about 100 foot of stick on it. The operating engineer was 72 years of age. He and the ironworkers had been working jobs together for years. They had to do some work with mechanics from our powerplant. The ironworkers were rigging loads off the whipline (single cable, faster hoisting speed). The operating engineer was letting the loads down fast and then catching them and gently bringing them in with complete control. The young powerplant mechanics had a fit, hollering about it all being "unsafe". I took the young mechanics aside and told them: "People have been rigging loads off the whiplines for over 100 years. It's how you set light iron out in the field and make any money on a job. That old rig and the operator got complete control." The young mechanics were unconvinced, and one guy was hollering: "He's got no control letting the loads down- he's free-wheeling and got only a foot brake." I explained this was aboslutely normal design for a lattice boom friction crane and pointed out the brake was a massive band brake and had air assist on it.
I then threw them the real ringer- I told them I had rode the headache ball of whiplines on cranes like that old American many times, trusting my life to the operating engineer, his control of the crane, and the brakes. I told them how I used to come down off the iron, riding a headache ball with another guy, coming down fast and then decelerating and stopping neatly so we could set right off. The young mechanics had never seen this done and had never worked on a job with a lattice boom friction crane. They are all used to the newest generation of hydarulic cranes which have "PAT" system computers aboard- built in load chart that cuts things out if the operator gets outside the envelope. On the old lattice boom friction cranes, a lot of the old operator ran by the seat of their pants- if the a-- end of the crane got light, they knew it was time to let off a bit. I guess I must be getting older, having seen a generation of cranes come and go frm the jobsites.
Jim- you have obviously never had to pay for a hydraulic crane, by the hour. With a 4 hour minimum call, if you are lucky. 8, if youre not.
The Hydros can be rolling into the lot and ready to lift only a matter of minutes later.
Its true, newer hydro cranes are a lot quicker to move, and set up.
But any crane work, especially with an experienced, conscientious operator, is pretty slow.
I hire cranes 3 or 4 times a year, to install big fabrications and sculptures I build, and I love watching a good operator work.
There are good younger operators, as well as the experienced old guys- in fact, out here on the west coast, you dont see very many older crane operators, because they are all union, and the union has a very sweet retirement deal. I had a discussion with an operator in San Jose Ca. last year, who was running a 50 ton hydrualic for me, mostly just for the reach, the actual loads we were picking were only about a ton each- and he was telling me that when he retires, his pension, which is administered by the union, not the company, was gonna be over 75 grand a year. And that it was only 55% or so of his current pay.
I cant remember how many years he had to work to get it, but it was under 30.
So most older guys, unless they own their own rigs and are self employed, retire pretty young if they belong to the union, and virtually every crane outfit in the west is union- they have to be, because many of the construction jobs that require a 200 ton crane are either prevailing wage, or public works. So the crane company has to be union, or would have to turn down most of the biggest and most profitable jobs.
I have had quite a few young (in their 30's) operators over the years who are quite the artist with a hydraulic crane- often times we are setting artwork on preset bolts, where the lift must be within a quarter of an inch, or the piece wont fit- and I have seen guys do this, with their boom up over the tops of 40ft trees, around the corner from the final location.
I work a lot with a local guy who has a Palfinger austrian made knuckle boom crane, mounted on a very hefty International 20 ft flatbed.
Now, compared to a real lattice boom crane, his lifting capacity isnt much- 10 or 20 tons, at optimum position. But that knuckleboom can do things that would put a contortionist to shame, with power extension, several knuckles, and of course the winch. He can reach around things, into buildings, or horizontally from the truck bed. Plus, he runs it remote control from a belt mounted control box- a couple of joysticks, and a few buttons. No hand signals, no shouting- he will walk around with you, while the load is in the air, calmly and quietly discussing exactly where you want it put.
It doesnt have the sheer impressive power of lifting a huge weight a hundred feet up, but it has a finesse that is pretty impressive in its own way.
I distinctly remember when I was a five year old twit sitting on our front lawn watching a cable rigged back hoe digging for the city sewers.
As I watched all the machinery going round and round, it suddenly occurred to me how the internal expanding shoe clutch and the external contracting brake worked to regulate the motions of the winding drums.
When I first say a car's brake I said that it was just like a crane clutch. Everybody looked at me funny.
Yeah, both of them work because they slip a lot. They don't want to grab and stop or start sudden.
Yes it all comes down to operators. They have to be quiet and diligent, aware of everything that is going on around them and not be of an excitable nature. Kind of like a pilot. Most of the "flight" goes on on the ground. Plans, checklists, inspections and plain old good sense.
Like an airplane, when a crane gets into trouble, most often the cause is what happened on the ground.
Of course I love the Unit cranes. They are made like machine tools. In the Monarch series 60 catalog there is a picture of an array of ball and roller bearings on a black background. In the Unit catalog there is an almost identical picture. I suspect the shots were provided by a bearing manufacturer.
Unit's pictures of shafts and gears are quite like the pictures of Monarch's shafts and gears.
The companys' catalogs may have been laid out by the same ad agency.
Either way, I have yet to this day to see a more sophisticated hoisting machinery layout.
A lot of the modern lattice boom cranes now have hydraulic hoisting machinery. I have seen a picture of a Hitachi 40 ton from 1976, The boom is painted green, does that make it a lattice salad? Poclain had an 18 tonner that I don't think they sold in the US. Now Link Belt has their HYLAB (HYdraulic Lattice Boom) series in 80 ton capacity and larger.
Getting Old Dept. I have heard operators grousing that the engine powered rigs were not as nice as the steam powered cranes. Now I hear that the hydro's don't have the feel of the old friction rigs.
I suppose that operators will be talking fondly about the hydraulics when the anti-gravity rigs show up on the site.
Joe’s mention of floating cranes prompts me to ask if anyone has come across a crane maker with the wonderful name of Whiley Whirly? Probably American. Saw one working in London’s Docklands earlier this year.
I remember reading that on the tubular lattice jibs of the big draglines made by Ransomes & Rapier, all the tubes were pressurised with air. The air pressure was monitored to check for cracks developing. Is this common?
American Hoist and Derrick made shipyard cranes on gantries. In my catalog they are called American revolver cranes. In a later picture I saw an American crane on a gantry referred to as a Whirly.
It could be that the politically correct set was upset by any reference to "revolver" thinking that it would give our precious children the wrong ideas.
Just a twib bit. The old American Hoist building is all but gone. The area will be expensive condos on the river front in Bay City, MI. I work with a guy that worked there. Another teaches machineshop at Delta College. The old Bay City shovels building is just a shell, now. But, parts can still be had.(brett mfg, Turner, MI) The Jackson and Church co. bought the Bay City shovels buisness, moved it to AuGres, MI. They no longer build this equipment. Brett Machine of Turner, MI. can supplie a person with parts. Mark
"Whirly" got me to thinking. In about 1980 I worked on the expansion of the Permanente Cement Plant in the San Francisco Bay Area. Bigge Crane and Rigging had a very large crawler mounted tower crane working the pre-heat tower. I forget the height, probably 250 to 300 ft. I had never seen one of these and asked an operating engineer what it was: a Whirly.
The original Whirly crane was built by Clyde Ironworks for shipyard use. Subsequently, it became more of a generic type of crane. The "Wiley Whirly" most likely refers to Wiley Shipyards. The Wiley yard was located on the banks of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, almost into Maryland. As of 1978 or so, Wiley still ran steam powered whirlies in their own yard.
After awhile, most of the big crane makers began offering Whirly type cranes. I was on one job where we had a subcontractor come in with a big barge mounted crane. It was built during WWII by Dravo as a steam powered "whirly" type crane. Somewhere along the line, the thing was converted to diesel and hydraulics. That crane was doing dredging, trenching the bottom of the Hudson River for a submarine pipe-type cable crossing. Dredging was done using a 14 cubic yard clam bucket. I was in that crane a few times. You climbed ladders to get up to the operator's cab. It was way up there above the house of the crane with a bird'seye view of things. The crane had all kinds of hydraulics running the smaller winches, swing motors, brakes and similar. What made it wilder was the center pin of that crane was also a kind of hydraulic swivel to provide hydraulics to the deck winches and spud engines (to raise/lower the spuds). The crane was so big that it sat atop a kind of deck house. The deck house was built as part of the structural members carrying the crane turntable about 15 feet above the deck of the barge. In the deck house under that crane were a galley, berthing spaces for the crew, a workshop and some storage space.
On that same job, we had a Whirly made by Clyde Ironworks at a site upriver. It had been a land-based whirly, but had been mounted on a barge was well. It had also started out as a steam powered crane but was converted to diesel and diesel/hydraulics. I believe that Clyde Whirly was 220 ton capacity. We used that Clyde Whirly mainly for its reach. It handled a 16" hard suction hose and 16" pipe snout from a suction dredge pump. The suction dredge pump was used to suck the dredge spoil out of coal scows. The bigger whirly downriver was doing the dredging of a clay bottom. We would use jetting pumps to mix water into the clay in the coal scows and get the stuff pumpable to unlaod and transport it inland about 1/2 mile via temporary pipeline.
The dredge pump was driven by a 12 or 16 278A Cleveland Diesel out of a WWII submarine. The dredge pump could handle some cobbles alogn with the clay, but clogged about once a shift. We pumped the clay up into what had been a claypit used by a defunct brickworks. We let the clay settle out of the water, collected the water, clarified it and reused it for jetting/slurry making. It was an interesting job. I used to deadhead on tugs between Rhinecliff Landing and Roseton generating plant, about 20 odd miles of Hudson River. Some of the tugs were ex-WWII ship docking tugs, so I was deadheading on some classic old tugs. We had one crane barge show up with a diesel electric crane. Another adaptation on what had been a steam rig. It was a job where the old iron seemed to be in abundance.
I was first brought around cranes on jobsites by my late father- a construction inspector. In the 1950's, there were still steam cranes in use for driving piles. To the end of his life, my dad believed the only good way to drive pilings was with steam. He didn;t think air driven hammers, let alone diesel hammers or the new vibratory hammers could punch a piling down the way a doubleacting steam hammer could.
As a kid of 6 or so, I would be handed up to the fireman and left with him on the deck of the crane while the old man went off to check stuff on site. I learned about watching the water level, usign the injector and maintaining a coal fire. After awhile, the old man would come back and get me and I might wind up holding rod for him if he was running levels on pile caps or similar. This past June, thanks to John McCabe, I got to fire some on a 1929 Bucyrus Erie steam crane at the Gallupville Gasup. It had to be about 47 years since I had stepped foot on a steam crane on crawlers. After we got steam up, John McCabe did some digging with a clam bucket and walked the crane a little. It sure brought back memories for me ! The major difference was my old man wasn;t physically there to ask me if the water level was OK and ask me to blow down the gauge glass (something he used to like to do, making me feel important, I guess).
I recall another job, out in Connecticut, I was working with an older operating engineer who had worked on a number of steam cranes- many on barges. This guy was an older man in 1973. He told me about a few steam rigs which were so worn that the operating engineers would keep a bucket of coal cinders handy to throw onto the hoist brakes to get them to hold.
In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I heard the same trick from a guy who had run a steam railroad wrecking crane. He claimed the brake bands were worn down to the rivets, the brake drums scored, and as a result, the hoist brakes for main load and boom hoist woudln;t hold. He claimed he had his oiler throwing coal cinders onto the brakes. I had seen that particular railroad wrecking crane sitting on the boneyard track and it was a decrepit piece of iron, run into the ground. The guy was not misrepresenting its condition.
As for crane operators, they are a whole 'nother story. In the old days of steam cranes or diesel cranes with manual clutches and brakes, the crane operators were worn out by the time they hit their fifties. As a kid, I can remember going on jobs with the old man where they had "wellpoint dewatering" going on to keep excavations pumped dry. There'd be a couple of diesel driven wellpoint pumps running. The old man would say: "c'mon Joe, let's go visit the pump man. It's Red (or some nickname like that). Red used to be a great crane operator...." So, we would go off to the pump man's shanty and dad would introduce me to Red. Red would be a hobbled up, weatherbeaten older looking guy. He would be in his shanty with his coffee pot, standing watch on the wellpoint pumps. All the old pumpmen would tell me how they ran cranes and drove pilings and set plenty of iron years earlier. On the way home, dad would tell me that running a crane for years would leave the operators with bad backs and bad kidneys. The Operating engineers Union took care of the worn-out crane operators by sending them out as pump men.
If crane operators are going to be setting "red iron" (heavy structural steel) or tricky picks like concrete bridge deck beams or big trusses, the field of who can "make the pick" narrows down. The ironworkers will often ask for a specific operating engineer to run the crane on jobs with tricky picks. The management will usually ask the Operating engineer business agent to try to get an operting engineer ont he job that the ironworkes have worked with and trust. They want experience and a good hand on the controls sitting in that seat. I have seen a good operator on a lattice boom crane bring heavy picks down so that you'd swear they would not break an egg. I have also seen some operators who were so rough that the ironworkers got their shop steward and demanded the crane operator be changed out for someone else. They prevailed.
If it is a matter of running a hydraulic crane, there are probably plenty of operators around. Get into setting high steel and using a crane like a Manitowac Vicon with well over 100 feet of stick and a jib, and you begin to narrow down your choices as to who can run that crane. I have seen plenty of crane operators over fifty years of age and the one guy who is still getting sent out at age 72 running cranes on jobs where it is a lattice boom crane and iron being set. Of course, it is also a function of how much work is going on in a given area. If there is plenty of work around, the younger guys will be out running the newer hydraulic cranes and the older guys will be out running the lattice boom cranes. Regardless of how sophisticated cranes may get, there will still be a need for the lattice boom cranes to make the high or long-reach picks that the new "climber cranes" can't do.