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Homepage. This page: Recollections of working in a garage, including accidents caused by the mis-use of hydraulic lifts.

A mechanic's tales of life in a 1950s garage.

Roy has sent over a number of stories in recent times, regarding his life spent working as a mechanic, and also looking back at some of the old cars he's owned and worked upon (the story of his Morris 8 can be found here for example). Here he recalls some of the scrapes that he and his colleagues got into while working with single-post hydraulic car lifts, and highlights some of the dangers of mis-using these old-style vehicle lifts.

The single poster hydraulic car ramp.

"The ramp or vehicle lift has been with us for a very long time, as someone who spent two thirds of my working life as a mechanic working from small premises, not to mention several years as a mobile mechanic, where there was no height or facilities for raising the vehicle off the ground, thus making hard work of an already thankless occupation. In later years when I finally got around to buying a ramp I really appreciated it, after all those years hauling gearboxes etc lying on my back in all weathers. Iím sure that my career as a motor engineer was prolonged thanks to the use of the ramp, despite suffering with back problems and painful arthritis (an occupational hazard). I was able to carry on working well into my late sixties, anyone will tell you that once the back and knees give out, working on the floor is no longer an option so I never took the ramp for granted."

The Tecalemit vehicle lift.

"When I started as a trainee mechanic in the 1950ís most of the ramps were of the single poster hydraulic type, and most of them seemed to be made and maintained by a firm called Tecalemit, who seemed to be everywhere with regard to vehicle lubrication. These ramps were shaped like the letter H and had a huge hydraulic ram in the centre, restricting some jobs at the centre of the vehicle although there was an advantage gained when working on three wheel cars, as the single wheel would fit onto the centre post area. The hydraulics were operated by compressed air and even with a powerful compressor it seemed to take an age to reach maximum elevation. Lowering the ramp was even slower, particularly in the cold weather when the oil was thick. Sometimes the operator would go and find something else to do whilst the ramp was being lowered, and it was up to his colleagues to make sure that it came down straight as they had a habit of rotating when being lowered. This was very useful where space was limited as the ramp could be spun around 180 degrees whilst being lowered, thus enabling the operator to drive off forwards although the manufactures used to frown at this practice as they reckoned that it shortened the life of the ram seals. Thinking about it now they were probably right, as the maintenance engineers were always being called out, mainly for hydraulic leaks. "
Tecalemit single post car lift
Different types of Tecalemit vehicle lift, the H pattern version is shown on the left.
"These ramps seemed to have character compared with their modern counterparts and had many uses. One such use was the practice of storing vehicles underneath the ramp overnight. I remember one such an occasion when there was an Austin 16 on the fully elevated ramp, anyone that remembers such a vehicle will testify to the fact that they were a heavy old car, used mainly as taxis and if I remember correctly was fitted with a straight sidevalve six cylinder engine, a rare beast these days and I would assume would be of some value. Underneath the ramp, either side of the centre post, was a Jowett Bradford van (I think it was called an Odsal van but I stand corrected) and an almost new Ford Zodiac Mark 2 in stunning condition. During the night there was an air leak from the compressor valve, causing the ramp to descend slowly during the night and to make things worse it started to rotate of its own accord and landed squarely on to the aforementioned vehicles parked alongside. There was a big inquest about it and they never allowed the ramp to remain elevated overnight again."
"Another trick was to use the ramp as a press to compress suspension coil springs (don't try this at home folks!!!), this was never a safe practice on the four posters but was almost suicidal with the three posters. The practice was to lower the ramp with the new spring underneath to compress it to enable an apprentice (usually yours truly) to fit the clamps or keeps, before the spring could be fitted to the vehicle. This was a good idea in theory as the clamps supplied were not easy to fit and were dangerous, unlike the many versions available today - Health and Safety gone mad some say, but spring changing along with fitting commercial tyres have been known to seriously injure and even kill people. The problem with the single poster ramp was that it would rotate with the tension of the spring being compressed, and everyone would run for cover, it was a bit like a UXB (UneXploded Bomb) wartime operation, although I only ever saw one that actually came off, the released spring shot across the workshop like a rocket and destroyed the area which was used as the tea room, luckily no one was injured."
"The last time I saw one of these ramps was in the late 1980ís and it was being used outside by a mechanic who was almost ninety years old, and still had parts and service tools for Model T Fords as well as Austin Sevens. He used to have an Austin agency in the mid thirties called Alder Bros in Birmingham. After he died the ramp was sold and transported to a remote part of Pakistan, where apparently they are using oxen to drive the compressor, I'm not too sure how that works but it must take them several days to raise it to full height."
The Wakefield vehicle lift
A similar design of single-post lift, manufactured by Wakefield and featured elsewhere on the site.
Thanks for sending this write-up over Ray, much appreciated. If anyone else out there has interesting memories of working on old cars, either independently or for a garage, and would like to share them, please do drop me a line. Roy's recollections of working at a garage in the early 1960s, and on an Austin A60 Cambridge in particular, can be found here.
Visit the motoring memories pages at oldclassiccar for more stories like this.

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