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Dodging the Column (1952)


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Grangemouth, Scotland. A distillation column is raised and installed into place at a refinery, after a long road journey from Greenwich in London.

The trip began on a Sunday morning, to minimise traffic and draw crowds. The sheer size and weight of the column - 132 horizontal feet and 55 cylindrical tons - necessitates a crew of six and two Scammell tractors accompanying it for the full 500-mile distance. When leaving the factory, they have to temporarily move a bus stop sign to allow the column to turn the corner.

The column passed through central London, rounding Hyde Park Corner and driving along Park Lane past Marble Arch. After London, the speed might have increased to ten or twelve miles per hour, with a possible overall rate of 40 miles a day.

The column passed through Manchester and Preston, under bridges and over viaducts, before getting temporarily stuck. The tractors have to be adjusted manually and metal discs placed under its wheels to avoid cracking the pavement.

The crew was expecting difficulty in Shap, the highest incline of their journey, rising two thousand feet in three miles, but it passed uneventfully. However, in Hamilton things slowed down, and crowds gathered, wondering why the column wasn't transported via sea (no boat big enough) or in pieces (the engineering was too precise). Outside the town, the crew hung warning lanterns around the column and settled down for the night.

They reminisced about the incident just outside the Potteries in Staffordshire, where they were caught between a tree, a garden fence and the woods. After much digging and cutting - including the fence, whose owner was compensated - they manage to get it back into position and back on the road within two hours.

The column finally arrived in Grangemouth, four days ahead of schedule. The crew then heads immediately for Edinburgh, where they have another job waiting for them.