The unsung hero behind the building of the Titanic
The building of the Titanic involved not just the construction of the ship itself but also new facilities at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. The Arroll Gantry used in the early stages of fitting the hull together towered over the streets of east Belfast and the Thomson Dry Dock used in fitting out the ship was the biggest of its kind in the world.
Yet the building the Titanic also required less spectacular but no less vital equipment. Fifty steam-powered cranes ran around the yard on a network of narrow gauge railway tracks. They were not cutting edge technology but were in use every day and the contribution they made was invaluable. Only a few of these still survive today but they are well remembered by George McAllister. He began work in the rigging department in the shipyard in the 1950s and often needed the crane operators to help him out with his work.
The cranes were made by Thomas Smith and Son, an engineering firm based in Rodley in Yorkshire. Each could lift up to 5 tons in weight – perfect for lifting and moving sections of the steel hull, cables, an anchor or even a whole funnel. They had a distinctive clattering, wheezing sound as they moved around the yard and were seen with great affection, saving shipyard workers a great deal of hard labour. Their coal-powered boilers were also famous as a good place to boil up a can of water to make a much-needed cup of tea in the morning.
The steam cranes were in use up to the 1980s and were the trusty workhorses of the shipyard for George just as they had been for the men who built the Titanic.