Garry and I worked briefly for a small family run company operating out of a satellite town of Southampton. The site which was only a few yards away from the busy waterway leading to the city’s container port, had formerly been occupied by an old cinema and now had a row of new small brick semi-detached houses along its front, with their front doors opening out onto the narrow pavement, and a pair of slightly larger semis behind with barely enough room to swing a cat between them. There was no room on site for a forklift so most of the carting had to be done the hard way by ‘hand-balling’ the heavy material. I’m convinced to this day that the son of the company owner who supposedly ran the sites was a used car salesman, because he knew damned all about building houses nor how to work with other people.
Garry had secured the job of site agent and a few weeks later he rang me, knowing that I was once again out of work. Keith drove me down on the previous Sunday to find the place via the M27, so I could get the shortest route to and from the site, firmly burned into my brain.
The sub-contractors were the usual typical mix you find anywhere on any British building site, working to a fixed price with a modicum of care, but with no real interest in doing the job properly, usually frustrated by the poor design of the particular dwelling.
It was while I worked for that company that I met a soft spoken, easy going, gentle Irish giant of a man, I’ll call Paddy, who I got to know on another site run by the same company. Paddy loved machinery, especially if it was old. He did most of the ground work for the small company with his able-bodied team of workers. Paddy had possibly the oldest working JCB outside the J.C. Bamford Works Museum, if indeed they have one. If not, then they should get in touch with Paddy, I’m sure he’d do a deal.
He loved it, cursed it, kicked it, caressed it, and generally kept the tired old vehicle working, long after it should have gone to the great scrap yard in the sky. I think he spent more time ripping bits of skin from his powerful hands, arms, and his bald head, beneath the rusting covers of his ancient JCB, deep inside the black oil covered tangle of parts, as well as being perpetually covered in diesel and hydraulic fluid, than he did actually operating it.
He had a small mini digger in reasonable condition, and a compressor for his jack-hammer that only worked on alternate Thursdays, or when there was a full moon, but his pièce de résistance was his ancient JCB 360.
To say it was out of the ark would be an understatement. Paddy loved the giant yellow and brown, rusty, paint flaked, lumbering, snorting, monstrosity. He spent hours tinkering with it, repairing it and jerry-rigging parts for it normally out of bits of wire. He used it to clear a site, utilizing its many large rusting buckets that wobbled precariously on well-worn pins from the end of the giant extendable boom.
The bits he couldn’t get with the buckets were scraped by the ancient 360’s large toothless blade, into neat piles to be gobbled up later by the buckets, and dumped into the waiting trucks for disposal. The blade was secured to the chassis between the wide, worn-out clattering caterpillar tracks below the 360’s revolving work platform, where the cab with its broken glass panels, tired engine, and rusting giant boom sat precariously four feet above the ground.
It usually took him a while to get it started in the damp early mornings before the sun appeared over the tops of the trees, but eventually the old machine coughed a bit as it belched black smoke a couple of times, and then normally ran reasonable well for the rest of the day, consuming the entire south coast’s supply of diesel.
It had one glaring problem however, hydraulic pressure, or I should say the serious lack of it. The large extendable boom spent a lot of its time wanting to take a rest on the ground. Personally I think it was trying to tell Paddy something. Despite all, he always managed to roughly contour the new ground using both his hands, and feet, and I’m pretty sure he used his teeth on at least one occasion, to keep the beast working.
He had a rusty old Bamford dumper that given half a chance, on its own, could have polluted the entire northern hemisphere without any trouble at all in less than a day! Paddy’s dumper was a terror. It frightened the life out of everybody on site as it belched thick black clouds of soot and diesel fumes from its incredibly noisy tired old engine, through the black gaping hole where the exhaust had once been, while it lurched around the site sending everyone diving for cover and fresh air.
To start it or stop it required a complicated technical process of pulling pieces of wire in a certain order. Its brakes were practically none existent as I found out whenever I needed to shift it out of my way. The slightest small rock ripped the unprotected large rough metal steering wheel out of your hands so fast; it was a wonder that the lads who worked for Paddy weren’t at the very least amputees!
Paddy, do yourself a favour, give it up mate! Give your poor tired old beasties a break, it’s definitely time for them to retire and rust in peace!