The origins of STG
Whilst STG was founded in 1994, the origins can be traced back almost 50 years to a single telephone call, in December 1972 – when Tony Faulkner of Markyate Plant phoned Michael Cave to ask if he knew anyone who could deliver a Caterpillar D8 to Linz in Austria.
Not quite knowing what a Caterpillar D8 looked like, despite the fact that he knew it was overweight and oversize, thinking it would be easy, Michael jumped at the chance. Needless to say, it turned out to be not quite so simple. The truck chosen met very few of the European regulations, with the paperwork, in a multitude of languages, proving to be a nightmare.
Unfortunately we don’t have a photograph of the original D8 but this one was taken about four years later. Seen loading in Beirut docks, as part of a much larger consignment, this D8 will shortly be leaving for Bagdad.
In those days, particularly in the Middle East, low loaders were basic in the extreme – in many cases no more than ex WW2 tank transporters. Needless to say, over the years, things gradually got better!
Just to add to the fun, in those days, ferries capable of accommodating abnormal loads were few and far between, always assuming the Link Span was up to the job.
Despite this first trip taking three weeks, having learnt some very valuable lessons, when Tony called two months later to say he had a second machine, Michael was ready – this journey there and back being completed in just under a week.
Almost 50 years ago, not only were ferries few and far between but also they were never intended for oversize cargo. Just reversing on to the ferry required great skill and sometimes took longer than the captain would have liked – frustrating any prospect of his keeping to schedule.
Here seen “perched” on the stern deck, if the sea was extremely rough, unless the driver had checked that his windows were shut tight, the cab soon started to fill with sea water!
In a matter of months, it soon became apparent that there was a demand for moving oversize cargo to/from Europe, predominately in the construction equipment market – within a short space of time, both new and used machines from all the major manufacturers featured – including Coles, Demag, Poclain, JLG, Komatsu, Hanomag, Hymac, Hydrocon, Benati, Heathfield, Fiat-Allis, Terex, Hydromac, Ruston-Bucryus, Soilmec etc.
Whilst, in the early days, most machines could be moved by road – it soon became apparent that some machines were just too big – other routes and methods had to be researched.
In this instance, a Demag excavator has just arrived in Rotterdam by barge and is in the process of being transhipped to a waiting trailer, using a floating crane.
In the early days, just one of the many skills acquired by the team – each one to prove invaluable over the coming years.
For many years, until they sold out to Case of America in 1977, Poclain were one on Europe’s leading manufacturers of hydraulic excavators – with their largest machine, the 1000CK, coming in at a healthy 170tons.
Although the team were responsible for moving what is probably the one and only 1000CK in the UK, for an open cast site in Scotland, here seen loading in the factory at Le Plessis Belleville, is one of their smaller models.
Terex manufacture some of the largest dump trucks in the world. These three were part manufactured in the USA, before being shipped to the Terex plant in Scotland for final assembly.
This is where the real problems started – how to get them from Scotland to the end user, just outside Leeds. The first stage was relatively simple – charter a Roll On/Roll Off ferry from Grangemouth to Immingham.
This is where the fun started! Being too large for even the biggest trailers at the time, driving under their own power was the only option. Suffice to say that this was an interesting experience – with the dump trucks taking up both sides of the road and driving over the top of keep left signs!
When Rumania suffered a major earthquake in 1977, all the major countries responded, with mobile cranes from the UK being just part of the package.
Time was of the essence, with “self-drive” being the most cost effective – hence the view of this Hydrocon crane towards the end of its journey. As with many things in Rumania at the time, road conditions “left a little to be desired” – thankfully matters have improved in more recent times!
Although the photograph shows one of the larger models from the R-B stable, perhaps one of the most challenging projects involved the shipment of 38RBs to Iraq, via the Lebanon.
Just as the consignment arrived in Beirut, civil war broke out, with the warden at the British Embassy ordering all UK citizens to leave. For the next few weeks, whenever a ceasefire was announced, the team returned – sometimes to the sound of distant gunfire!
Over time, distances increased – the Eastern Bloc became the order of the day, rapidly followed by the Middle East, including Bagdad, Tehran and beyond.
The Caterpillar 637 Motor Scraper is a beast. Weighing over 55tons, with front & rear engines generating in excess of 900hp, the task was to deliver a consignment of eight from the UK to SCCC in Bagdad.
The first leg, involving specialist low loaders through France and Italy to Venice proved to be a challenge in itself. Having been accomplished, all the machines were then loaded on one of the first inter-Med Ro-Ro vessels, operated by Adriatica, for shipment to Beirut.
That’s when the interesting part started – driving the units under their own power, using the forward engine alone, over the 1.000kms from Beirut to Bagdad. With a mix of UK & Lebanese drivers, sleeping at night, in the desert “under the stars”, was an experience in itself.
Seen taking a well-earned break, close to the Turkish border at Bazargan, these two trucks are loaded with Coles cranes destined for Tehran – just another 900kms to go!
In those days, journeys could best be described as a “leap of faith” – not only in the trucks and drivers, accomplished also thanks to the efforts of the many contributing partners on route.
In years to come, this pioneering work became invaluable as Russia and the former CIS countries started to feature.
However, in the late 70s/early 80s, construction equipment manufacturers went through a period of consolidation. Thankfully, the skills developed by the team were transferable to “anything and everything” that was oversize or problematic. The industries serviced and the range of cargo went up in leaps and bounds.
It should be remembered that, in the 1970s, as is still the case today, in many countries abnormal loads are not allowed on the motorway. Seen negotiating one of the tighter corners in France, this filtration unit is on its way to Foggia, in southern Italy. At the time, perhaps one of the longest journeys ever under escort, coming in at just over 2.000kms.
Single movements soon developed into complete factories, as industries sought out the lower cost bases of Eastern Europe.
As the decade progressed, the brewing and bottling industry started to feature strongly. Amongst many others, bottle washers were delivered into the Royal Brewery in Manchester, Guinness Dublin, Unigate Poole – not forgetting Coca-Cola in Sofia, Bulgaria.
The bottle washer in the photograph, shown entering the Coca-Cola plant in Belfast, started its journey from Mannheim by barge, before being transferred to a trailer in Rotterdam for the final stage.
Given that this took place at the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland, this added just one more dimension and challenge.
Or, to be more specific, the lifeboats on cruise liners. Safety has always been paramount at sea and, over a period of time, as the cruise liner industry expanded, the more traditional lifeboats were replaced by self-launching “capsules”.
Not only were these oversize but also included emergency flares, adding a hazardous element. For the team, this was an early introduction to the world of ammunition and nuclear, both of which were to feature in the coming years.
Refineries, both in the UK and Europe, have played a large part in the life of the team. This reactor is negotiating what was, strangely enough, the most difficult part of its long journey from Italy.
Initially, on the final stage into Milford Haven, there was no obvious route. Time & time again, routes were surveyed and rejected. Finally, much to the amusement of the local residents, a route was discovered through a local housing estate – always provided they were kind enough not to park their cars at critical junctions!
PS Remarkably, thanks to remote trailer steering, we didn’t have to remove any of the road signs!
Even Further Afield
Whilst Europe, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, the Middle East and North Africa had all come into the frame, destinations even further afield started to feature.
A case in point was Ghana. When Stothert & Pitt were faced with delivering an extrusion press to a customer in Ghana, it soon became apparent that there were no trailers in the country capable of taking the weight – this press coming in at just over 60 tons.
The solution was straightforward – ship out a complete rig – driver, truck and trailer – at one and the same time as the press itself. Having been loaded to a Ghana Black Star Line vessel in Rotterdam, with discharge taking place in Accra docks, the vehicle is seen under police supervision for those final, few miles.
Fast forward to 1990 and, after several changes of ownership, Michael and his team found themselves as part of a large conglomerate – not the ideal environment for making quick decisions and responding to customers’ demands.
Escorts come in all “shapes & sizes”. With very large loads, until a few years ago, it used to be police escorts – whether a car, several cars or, both in Italy or France, it was more likely to be police motorbikes. Nowadays, private pilot cars are the order of the day.
In Russia, in the very early days, escorts also provided security protection – as seen in the photo. In one instance, with very high value cargo, jeeps and conscripts were provided by the local military base – thankfully they had little else to do at the time!
Hence the reason, in 1994, to form STG – The Specialist Transport Group – a small team concentrating on what they do best – solving transport problems.
At this point, memories of 1972 came flooding back – have we done the right thing? We shouldn’t have worried – within days customers were phoning us, to the point where one customer phoned our agent in Warsaw, just in order to get hold of our new number +44 1234 213339.
Alternative Methods & Routes
As the years progressed, innovation became the watchword – alternative methods & routes were researched, tried and tested – on each and every occasion to the customers benefit.
Here seen loading to vessel between blizzards in Sunderland docks, is the main section of a tunnelling machine – destined for Barcelona, Spain. In a matter of days, the unit will be hard at work constructing a new aqueduct, ensuring adequate water supplies for the city.
Over the years, the STG team have moved numerous tunnelling machines – the most challenging being to Fiumefreddo, near Taormina, Sicily. If we say that the main vehicle grossed at 138tons and there wasn’t an access road, you’ll understand what we mean.
Overhead Gantry Cranes are perhaps not the most exciting pieces of cargo in the world – however, these were destined for the nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield. Their role was to lift & relocate nuclear flasks, within the Wet Hall.
Designed and manufactured by Messrs Taim in Zaragoza, the photograph shows just one of the many components arriving by charter vessel at Workington – prior to the final road stage into the facility.
Strangely enough, many years previous, the team were responsible for transporting the flasks themselves, collected from the Italian steel works at Terni, near Rome.
Until it was usurped by the 224, the Antonov 124 was the world’s largest cargo plane. Seen here on the apron at Bologna airport, with it just starting to snow, the aircraft will shortly open its nose door, ready to receive its cargo – a complete bottling line for Coca-Cola in Shanghai. Having made one refuelling stop, just under twenty four hours later, the aircraft was discharging in Shanghai.
Perhaps one of the most interesting air freight projects the team were involved in required three consecutive 124 aircraft, from Manchester Ringway airport to northern Siberia, the deadline being mid-April – any later in the month and the runway started to thaw!
It goes without saying that oversize cargo travels very rarely by rail – in many ways, the restrictions of bridges and signalling are more onerous (than by road). However, there are always exceptions.
In this instance, the final destination was Almaty in Kazakhstan – the optimum solution being to charter a complete freight train, in order to transit Russia. Initially, the cargo was shipped to Tallinn in Estonia, where the transfer to rail wagons took place. It was then just a matter of plotting the trains progress, day and night, arriving in Almaty ten days later.
When, in March 1999, STG were asked to participate in the London Eye project, despite the depth and breadth of experience within the STG team, even we thought it might be step too far.
The London Eye
In preparing for this project, STG drew on their experience of moving aircraft components around Europe. Both primary & secondary routes were reconnoitred – ferries were surveyed – barges, for the final stage along the Thames, were selected and modified – tugs chartered – nothing could be left to chance – everything was double and treble checked.
The investment meant that everything, on “the day”, ran like clockwork, with all 32 capsules arriving safely, on time and to budget – everything ready in good time for the Millennium celebrations – taking place on the stroke of midnight, 31st December 1999.
There is little doubt that, when we first started, we had little idea of the range of products and industries we would be asked to get involved with – we have always believed that nothing is impossible, always presuming that it is economically feasible and the regulations allow it – nether being, necessarily, a foregone conclusion.
The years that follow are purely an illustration of the range of cargo handled by STG – from the commonplace to the rare & extremely sophisticated.
Samsun – Northern Turkey
Samsun, on the Black Sea, has one of the shortest runways in the world – unfortunately it is also “downhill all the way”. Therefore, when a Turkish Airlines BAE146 attempted to land in a snow storm, unfortunately the aircraft overshot the runway.
Thankfully no one was hurt and, even though the aircraft was badly damaged, BAE wanted it recovering to the UK. Needless to say, STG came to the rescue. With BAE engineers on hand, the wings, tail plane and fin were removed from the fuselage – with trailers from the UK standing by, in a matter of days, everything was on its way back home.
On every route, there is a “pinch point”. It may be the lowest or the weakest bridge on the route. Even if the route is several hundreds of kilometres long, the obstruction might be just at the entrance to the final destination. Thankfully, over the years, STG have built up an encyclopaedic knowledge of the best routes throughout Europe, not forgetting Russia, the Middle East etc.
Despite this, occasionally a detailed survey is the only solution. The photograph shows a main trunk road in Scotland (A class) – what the maps didn’t show was that the road narrowed over a very short distance and, to make matters worse, rocks on one side overhung the road.
As there wasn’t an alternative route, it was for the STG team to come up with a solution!
Having been responsible for collecting tram cars from Lisbon, for delivery to the Isle of Man, when an American entrepreneur wanted some trams shipping to California – for conversion into theme restaurants – STG was the obvious candidate.
There was just one problem – on the face of it, there were no freight services suitable for this type of cargo, from Portugal to the USA. Needless to say, after careful research, an economic solution was found and shortly the cars were on their way.
Having spent the last years of its working life in Sarajevo, Bosnia – this locomotive had recently been purchased by a UK railway preservation society. On paper the task seemed simple enough – load to a specialist trailer and head home to the UK.
If only it were that easy – on the only route out of Sarajevo, there was a weak bridge, incapable of taking the weight of the loco. The solution – select a trailer that was far longer than needed, so that only part of the load was on the bridge at any given moment. The side effect – trying to persuade the rest of the authorities on route to accept a trailer combination that was, demonstrably, much larger than necessary.
Southwold, at the mouth of the River Blyth in East Suffolk, is home to the Adnams brewery – renowned for a wide range of beers including Broadside, Ghost Ship and Explorer.
Originating in Germany, having arrived at Lowestoft by sea, then being transferred to waiting trailers, this brewery vessel has reached “the end of the road”. Trapped by cottages on either side, in a very short while, the vessel will be lifted, swung and lowered into place, through a hole in the brewery roof – months of planning having come to a successful conclusion.
Tendering, particularly for projects in Russia, can be a fraught affair – whatever the nature of the project, something similar has probably never been done before!
This was the scenario in the case of the Walkers Crisps factory, to be moved from Grimsby to Kashira, 150kms south of Moscow. An added complication was that, even though 84 vehicles were involved – a mix of both standard and special trailers – the client stipulated that they had to travel as one convoy, for customs clearance purposes.
On the due date, all 84 were assembled on the Finnish/Russian border – their being quite a sight as they set off together on the final stage – St Petersburg – Moscow – Kashira.
Russian Security Clearance
Some years previously, the team had qualified for security clearance in Russia. On this first occasion, it had involved collecting a section of a satellite from the Russian Space Institute, just outside Moscow – for delivery to the European Space Agency at L’Aquila, near Rome. Our understanding is that, some months later, the unit was transferred to Pasadena, before being launched from Cape Canaveral – interesting to think that something we have moved is now orbiting the earth!
More recently, the team were responsible for delivering a “shaker” from Royston to the same Russian Space Institute. Whilst the shaker was oversize and overweight, the more interesting part was that its role was to replicate the forces (i.e. the shake) that rocket components experience on take-off.
British Sugar, Wissington
In many ways, the design of this vessel was influenced by advice from the STG team. The consulting engineers responsible for the project wanted to know the largest possible diameter that could be moved from Pune, central India. Working closely with our Indian partners, STG came up with the answer although, strangely enough, this caused by a low bridge not far from Wissington itself.
In due course, STG were awarded the transport contract itself and, here seen being transferred from the horizontal to the vertical, the first section of the vessel will be lowered into the framework shown in the background – a second, identical vessel, to fit on top, followed 24 hours later.
When STG was approached by the Italian Embassy to move a church organ from the Midlands to outside Bologna, Italy – even we thought they might have dialled the wrong number! However, it turned out that they were serious and, having studied the project in detail, it was soon in hand. Under supervision, everything was carefully dismantled, packed, dispatched and reassembled in its new location.
Some years later, the team were involved in the new chapel organ purchased by Merton College, Oxford – in order to celebrate their 450th anniversary. Originating in the USA, the most difficult part was negotiating the chapel door, in theory not wide enough for the largest piece – but that’s another story.
The wind farm near Helston in Cornwall was one of the first in the UK, being commissioned in 1991. Twenty years later, the towers, turbines and blades were replaced by more up to date technology – making the units redundant.
Despite their age, they still had a useful life. STG were approached by the purchaser in Lithuania and soon put a viable package together – to dismantle, pack & ship as one consignment, all fourteen units, to the main port of Klaipeda.
This charter vessel, having just departed Falmouth will, in ten days’ time, discharge at Klaipeda – ready for the units to be refurbished, ready for another twenty years work.
Time is of the Essence
Over length, width, height and weight are the routine challenges. To these can be added the destination, sometimes remote – the value, frequently irreplaceable and therefore invaluable. Sometimes hazardous cargo comes into play. Needless to say, particularly if production is jeopardised, timing can be critical.
With this American Motorhome, it was the same but slightly different. The customer wanted to know if STG could deliver the unit to Baku in Azerbaijan, within the next 17 days – the reason being that it was a birthday present, with obviously the due date being very important.
Of course, STG rose to the occasion – delivery being made with 48 hours to spare!
Oversize Sculptures have always played an important part in the life of STG. Three of the more recent projects are featured in our News section – the Bronze Reclining Nude, Empowerment and The Guggenheim Museum.
The photograph shows one of the early sculptures, collected in Germany and delivered into central London. Disregarding the fact that the delivery and installation had to take place at the weekend, the authorities insisted that a second, reserve crane was on hand, just in case the primary crane broke down!
Nothing was left to chance to ensure that the city reopened on time, in the early hours of Monday morning!
Royal Festival Hall
We thought that we would round off this history of the last 25 years by featuring one of the smaller projects carried out in recent years. The Singapore Tourist Board wanted to exhibit on the south bank of the Thames, not far from the Royal Festival Hall.
The only access route was via the Festival Gardens, well known to us if only because of our involvement in the London Eye. Despite the myriad of parties involved, taking into account the safety implications for the hundreds of milling tourists, eventually routes and timings were agreed.
For a journey length of only a few hundred metres, several weeks of advanced preparation was needed.
Although, throughout this summary, the emphasis has been cargo associated with special trailers – the reality is that standard trailers, normally loaded with ancillary equipment, make up an important part of the STGs work load. Sometimes it is just a single trailer, or perhaps even a part load, other times multiple trailers running into the hundreds. Our record number, on a single project from Poland to the UK, ran to over four hundred.
Solving transport problems for over 25 years
We hope that you have found this short history of STG interesting. The aim has been to illustrate just some of the many challenges faced by the team. To say that we have “enjoyed” the last 25 years is perhaps the wrong word – put simply, everyone at STG thrives on solving transport problems. We look forward to doing the same for the next 25 years.