My mate was asking why I was hesitant about lifting a heavy box off the ground, and I replied, “You’ve just got to know your limits, if it’s too heavy, I’ll get hurt, and there ain’t no insurance covering me right now!” He asked why I was always cautious about lifting, and my mind went back to a summer’s day in 1963, in one of the many docks in Liverpool, I was just returning from a spot of leave, so the basic mistakes had been made before my taxi came onto the dockside. Our ship was due to load a whole heap of really heavy equipment, ready to be taken to Romania for some engineering manufacturing exhibition, and the main pieces had duly rolled up the quay side during the morning.
The heaviest piece was a huge gearbox weighting approximately twelve tons, and all preparations were being made to arrange the lift. We were fitted with what was called a Samson mast , and from the base of the mast a huge steel Jumbo derrick was pivoted, so as to be both lifted up and down, and swung from side to side. The lifting capacity of the electric winches was aided by a four-link pulley block system which, as you will remember from your schooldays, gives an eight-to-one advantage; so by placing a two-ton pressure on the cable, it was able to lift a theoretical sixteen tons off the ground. So there they were, all the slings were attached, all the derricks were manned, and the lift began. Unfortunately, the only man who knew all about the capacity of the winches was me, and I was still in the taxi, heading from Lime Street station out towards the ship.
So the lift commenced, but the lifting winch was still in high gear, which meant that there wasn’t a great deal of torque, or turning power, available from the motor, so with the extra strain on the supply, the main fuse blew, the brake slapped back on, and the load stopped about two feet off the jetty. The stand-by electrical officer, on duty of course, rewired the fuse, slapped it back into the holder, the signals were given once more, and the lift crept skywards, still above the jetty of course when the fuse blew once more, It blew three more times before the third mate had a spectacular brainwave, or so he thought. “Hang about,” he called, “Our Leccy,” meaning me, “Our Leccy always puts the main winch into double gear before lifting anything heavy!”
Now he was quite correct in this statement, but what everybody forgot was there was twelve tons still hanging off the derrick by a multiplicity of wire rope. So the stevedore foreman finds the proffered sledgehammer, stands on top of the winch, and gently taps the gear lever into neutral, before preparing to drop the winch into low gear. Again, remember what everyone had done of course was to forget about this huge weight suspended off the overhanging derrick, which itself had a diameter of about three feet, so you can imagine its’ weight alone, and everything was being held still now by the brake on the winch. So far so good! Unfortunately, the stevedore then uttered the immortal words, “Spin it a little, and I’ll mesh the gear into low!!” The winch controller was moved, and the current went towards the motor, but also of course lifted the brake off; the immense weight of the derrick plus the gearbox, which I later worked out as loading seventy two tons apparent weight onto the winch drum pulled the winch drum the wrong way, and the whole load slowly and majestically headed straight back down onto the low loader which had transported it on to the quay side, everyone hid, the rope was eventually stripped right off the winch drum which continued rotating for a good five minutes under the immense momentum of the derrick plus gearbox heading down, the main derrick hit the ship’s side and bent over, and that was when my taxi came around the corner!