News - Time Travel (Editorial from Classic Plant & Machinery)

Time Travel (Editorial from Classic Plant & Machinery)

A new working event held in Perthshire took Paul Tofield back to the early 1960s as he observed the operation of classic plant organised by Morris Leslie.

A new working event north of the border for classic plant enthusiasts is reason for great celebration. There is no doubt that rural Perthshire during autumn is a magical place. Recognised by wealthy Victorians as a desirable holiday destination, and made popular by the Royal Family following the visit of Queen Victoria to Blair Atholl in 1842, Perthshire still retains a beauty now harder to find in Britain.

Following the signs from the village of Balbeggie, on the north east side of the city of Perth, after what seemed like a couple of miles on rolled road planings, over the last crest of a small hill, the most amazing vista opened up of several machines stripping topsoil from a wide shallow valley. Only a couple of buildings were visible some distance from the working area.

The ground was bathed in a strong but soft sunlight idea for taking photographs, the selection of the machines and the ideal location with suitable weather through the weekend of September 22-23 combined to create great possibilities for timeless pictures of working 1960s plant.

The site was owned by Morris Leslie, managing director of the Morris Leslie Group. The group is a diverse collection of plant hire companies, auction businesses and property. The hire fleet boasts 5000 machines where nearly all are less than two years old. The machinery sales division has over 2000 machines on offer.

Familiar Friends

In recent years, Morris Leslie has been carefully building a collection of classic plant and machinery. While some recent acquisitions have come from well-known enthusiasts who ran open days with working machines, some of the Caterpillar tractors have been gathered from farms and dealers in England.

A number of machines will be familiar from the working days held in Cheshire by Tom Atherton, and in Essex by Fred Knight. What is most satisfying from an enthusiasts’ viewpoint is that these machines are still worked and shared with fellow classic plant collectors by their new owner.

Arriving half an hour after the official start of the event, the site was being stripped by a D9 and box and a D7 and box creating a stockpile to the north of the site, while on the opposite side of the works a couple of Caterpillar D6 dozers were pushing out top soil to form another pile.

Watching from the car park, the work looked well organised and purposeful. The topsoil stockpile must have been started the previous day while the machines were set up for the weekend’s work. For his first event, Morris Leslie had brought in Paul Badger, with experience running the Muckshifting at Sibbertoft, along with Steve Richards, whose varied machines appear at a number of well-established working events, to assist with the running of the weekend.

Earthmoving With A Purpose

The arable land in the gently sloping valley had a low area which held water in places where the barley crop had failed to establish. The objective of the weekend was to strip and stockpile the top soil, spread subsoil and broken stone from a pit a few hundred metres away and bring up the ground in the lower points of the valley before replacing the top soil.

A pair of mature Volvo 25 tonne articulated dump trucks brought in material to be spread by blade or towed scraper. A new Caterpillar 320F excavator from the Morris Leslie hire fleet was on hand to load the trucks.

The tipped material was spread by an international TD-18 bulldozer bought from the Tom Atherton collection, this was by far the oldest machine in action. This tractor had taken some coaxing into life. The engine starts on petrol under low compression before being turned to diesel on high compression, but on the Saturday, starting was not top of the International engine’s priorities. It would fire a few times on some of its six cylinders and then stop. Finally after some sympathy from another TD-18 owner and a fresh battery, the engine started and ran. The TD-18’s stablemate an International TD15C also from Tom Atherton, developed a few issues which required further investigation and was not run on the Saturday.

Jim Hair, a Caterpillar collector who runs his farming operation with New Holland wheeled tractors and classic Caterpillar machines, hauled his 955 Traxcavator to the event, but it was parked up once Jim got hold of a D6D dozer with powershift. All of Jim’s Caterpillars have manual transmissions for farm cultivation work, including his D6D machine.

Many of the machines were operated by a number of drivers during the day, although the D9G and Caterpillar 463G towed scraper converted to hydraulic control was driven by David Kerr. His company D Kerr and Son based at Castle Cary near Cumbernauld use several items of classic kit in their earthmoving business.

Unfortunately the D9 got bellied on an uneven pile of loose topsoil pushed out by dozers earlier in the morning, and needed a Case excavator to draw away some material in front of the D9 so it could climb out of the really soft stuff. Not to be beaten, the D9 came round again and took a full box of top soil this time.

Support Team

Not all the machines wanted to play straight away, this kept Alan Cross busy through Saturday morning, Alan, whose job is to look after the plant collection, is well known on the Old Girls of Plant Facebook page. None of the old girls from the collection got the better of him, and even the TD-18 was beat when plenty of volts from a new battery fired the thing into life ready for Eck Steel to track it over to the working area and push out material delivered by the Volvo ADTs. Andy Donaldson, one of the ADT drivers, works for the Group at Errol as a loader operator. The ADTs were loaded by John Dunn on the CAT 320F who is a member of the sales team charged with the disposal of the two year old machines released from the plant hire business. Other event supporters included P J Dunbar and Chick Kippen. Good teamwork allowed everything to fall into place creating a spectacular show, a most satisfying achievement for both the organisers and the spectators.

Spectators Benefit

At one end of the working area a couple of converted 20 foot containers with one side removed acted as viewing boxes, which were handy to dodge a couple of minor showers. Much of the machinery passed close to these boxes. The boxes were placed each side of a catering van which offered a wide selection of top quality food.

It was clear the whole weekend had been carefully thought through and organised effectively, it was an ideal site, with some fine machines working in cuts long enough to fill a towed scraper without the need for a pusher tractor, although that could be a tempting opportunity for the future.

The site, the machines and the weather made for a perfect day. In addition it was perfect for time travel. As I watched the D7E loading a Birtley box, this kit and the terrain was a reminder for me of a couple of pictures my father took of D7s and boxes stripping material back in 1963 or 64 for the start of the Brentwood bypass on the A12. The bypass was opened in November 1965. It may have been September 2018, but for a few minutes I was back as a child in Essex watching Caterpillar tractors and towed scrapers at the zenith of road construction in Britain.

The weekend organised by Morris Leslie and his dedicated team will be very hard to beat, unless they decide to stage another next year.