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Recovery Tow Show | March 26, 2019

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Cliff hanger for Stag Lane Motors

Cliff hanger for Stag Lane Motors
Paul Gregory

We love to hear from operators on some of their more spectacular jobs, but most operators don’t have the time to tell us about it – or are you just too shy?
For that reason we are indebted to Alan Stay of Stag Lane Motors on the Isle of Wight for not only contacting us, but for going into intricate detail about every stage of his cliff top recovery performed in early December of last year.
Alan’s narrative takes us through every stage of a unique recovery and he explains how he and his team had to improvise their own techniques and equipment to winch the vehicle 250 feet up a steep rockface.
Read on and please can we have more stories from you!!

This is the story about our little cliff job that we did on December 2 last year at Compton Cliffs on the Isle of Wight.
It was back in October 2012 that a two year old Fiat Albarth went off the Cliffs at Compton dropping about 250 feet and fatally injuring the driver. The car ended up on the rocks at one of the most picturesque parts of the Island which is very popular with tourists and surfers alike.
Where the vehicle ended up it was a bit of an eyesore, one thing for sure it could not stay where it was, but it was virtually impossible to reach it other than by a two mile hike along the rugged shoreline at low tide.

Lots of talk

IMG_7623There was lots of talk on the Island about what would happen to it and how it was going to be removed but nothing ever happened, so having done several jobs like this in the past, myself and the team from Stag Lane Motors decided to look into it and see if it could be recovered.
The first time we faced a job like this was back in 1972 when a truck ran away and went over the cliffs just half a mile from where the Fiat had finished up, only that time there was no one in the vehicle, the driver got out to check his load and off it went.  The truck was cut up on the shoreline and winched back up the cliffs over three days in bits using the old Scammell 6×6 and AEC Matador. It was loaded onto a trailer and hauled back to the garage.
I remember having a day off school to help, so you could say jobs like this are sort of ‘in the blood’, as we have done several jobs like this over the years since. In 2007 we got a Honda CRV up a 300ft cliff at Allum Bay near the Needles but this one was different.
The first time we looked at the Fiat job from the top I thought there is no way it’s coming up there. The cliff top was far too dangerous to run a cable over, having no slope on the edge, just straight off the top for the first 100 feet, also the edge was only 16 meters from the road above giving little room for extension cables which might be needed.
Next we looked at the car from the shoreline, but there was no way you could get near it with any type of vehicle with a winch, and the nearest slipway is about three miles away so that was also out of the question.
So one thing for sure, the only way was up – but how? It was too close to the cliffs for a helicopter to be used and the rocks in the sea made it too dangerous for a barge to get near, so it had to go back up the way it came down – somehow!

Stubborn buggers

Back at the garage we spent several weeks talking about what to do, one suggestion was leave the bloody thing there but I’m afraid we are stubborn buggers around here and defeat was not on the cards. What we needed was some sort of gantry that could be placed on the top of the cliff to run the cables through, which could be winched back up to the edge of the road once the car was back up.
It just so happened that we had the chassis cab of an old Ford Cargo 813 in the yard that was due to be scrapped –  this would form the ideal base for a gantry to be constructed. First the cab was removed, but with steering and parking brake retained as this could be used later, then we removed the crane winch drum from our old Leyland Martian which was then mounted on the rear overhang of the chassis.
After this we made several cable guides on the rig, and as the winch drum had a screw guide we also welded plates and more guides on the drum itself.
The diff, halfshafts and propshaft were removed from the chassis to keep the weight at the rear down and make it easier to push around, while the engine and gearbox were retained to keep the front down. The final modification was to make two bars that could be bolted to the front wheels, so that if it tried to roll forward they would dig in the ground to stop it.

Road closed

So, after two weeks work and testing it by winching a ton weight up to the back of it, we were ready to go! A date was agreed with the coastguard and the local Highways department to close the road for the day and on the frosty morning of December 2 we set off with the what we now affectionately call our ‘Cliff Recovery Unit’ on the back of our Hiab truck, our Daf underlift, the newly acquired Ex-army Foden, and another slidebed truck for transporting the car itself.
We had previously changed the 24mm cable on the Foden from the standard Army 80 metre cable to an over 90 metre cable from the old Leyland Martian, having worked out that from the road above to the car below was about 100 meters and with a single 10 metre extension cable we could just reach the car below.
Arriving on site we explained to the head of the coastguard what we had planned and how we hoped it would work, and then set about putting everything in place.
The first thing to do was mark the point on the cliff top exactly where we wanted the cable to go over, and we then preceded to unload the Cliff Recovery Unit with the crane on the Foden. Next the airline to release the brakes and winch cable was attached to the unit and it was lowered into place with railway sleepers put under the back wheels to spread the loads near the delicate cliff edge.
By this time two of our guys had made their way down to the car below with strict instructions how it had to be attached to the winch cable, with a double chain looped around the rear axle, with a chain on each side of that to hold it in the middle. This way the vehicle is pulled up from the centre rear, and the two chains on the side prevent it from slipping sideways.

Final checks

When the cable reached the car there was just two turns left on the large Foden winch drum, which was tight but just about enough. With radio communication from the shore to the man on the winch control the strain was taken up, and after a final check all around, the vehicle was slowly winched up to the rear of the gantry.
Next the winch on the Daf was used to pull the Cliff Recovery Unit towards the road, the brakes on the unit were released and it was steered back up, while at the same time the car was being winched up behind it.
With the car safely back at the top of the cliff, everything was packed up, the recovery gantry was craned back onto the hiab truck, and this truck was used to hiab the car onto one of our Mitsubishi Canter slidebed trucks – job done!
The road had been closed at 11am and we left the scene and reopened the road just before 4pm. When we got back to the garage everyone was buzzing. What at first seemed impossible had been achieved, and everyone who has seen what we did so far have been amazed.  It was a great day’s work by everyone at the garage, something we are all very proud of and will be talked about for years to come.
A few days later someone asked me: “If you did that again what would you do differently?” After going through it all again in my mind I replied:  “Nothing – everything worked out perfectly!”
The Cliff Recovery Unit now sits proudly in our compound, saved from the scrap yard, and we love it so much it’s even going to get a paint job when we get the time, ready for the next call – well you never know!