After several years of enjoyment with Vesta cruising the canal system we realised that with six growing children things were getting crowded and reluctantly I sold her to a British Airways pilot and his family. When withdrawal symptoms set in I remembered a sunken full length (72 ft) narrow boat near Cannock. A little detective work traced a cagey owner who was being pressed by British Waterways for license charges and to remove the wreck. After negotiations the problem became mine and I sought Les Allen’s advice on how to raise her. He recommended a large pump and sandbags to stem the flow of water into the hull. Duly early one Saturday morning we set off from Wolverhampton in Eric Pike’s “Adder” with Albert Brookes my fellow conspirator in the venture. With the Bolinder banging away we reached the site to find the canal was high following heavy rain and part of the hull was under water. A row of sandbags on the gunwale stemmed the flow and she started to rise. As advised by Les we then looked for swirls in the water which signified a bottom leak and dropped a sandbag on the spot. In a surprisingly short time she floated up sufficiently for us to set off for home with the pump running. As the water receded we thought we had a shoal of shimmering fish but it turned out to be bright stainless steel screws. It seemed that workers in a nearby factory were tipping all their mistakes out of sight in the boat, but as a model maker I later put some of them to good use.
As darkness descended we arrived at Roy Chaters Bumblehole boatyard in Netherton where he had agreed to make room for the boating lunatics. Surprisingly two weeks later, having domestic release,we found the hull floating dry and used farmer Albert’s Grey Fergie tractor to pull it out on old telephone poles. Now we discovered just what we had acquired which was an 1890′s iron plate boat with an unusual lower elm strake and 3 inch thick elm bottoms. It has been suggested this was built by Bantocks of Wolverhampton or,it was a Crewe built LMS Station boat, used to collect and deliver goods to an exchange railway siding.
For many years it had been used by the previous owner to spoon dredge the canal under contract to the Birmingham Canal Navigation Company.In the centre of the hull was a wooden platform with a middle hole to take a wooden crane used to raise and lower the dredging iron shovel, and transfer the mud into the hold.
Once chocked up level Albert cut the hull in half from which we planned to build two 56 ft long boats. I had the bow section for “Ballinger” and Albert created “Glenfield” shaping the stern into a fine bow.
By good fortune one of my major customers Ford Trucks changed the steel specification for the chassis sidemembers on their Thames Trader Lorry leaving us with tons of scrap 3/8th inch steel in long lengths about three feet wide. Fords loss was the canals gain.
We removed all the Elm for a giant November 5th bonfire and replaced side and bottom in steel. New Motor Boat counter sterns were welded to the iron front section. Hingleys Ironworks supplied the matching rubbing strakes as scrap as they were closing down. All the curved plates were formed by Albert’s tractor rolling the steel sheets to shape on brick and timber formers. It took two years spare time to create the two boats by which time my children had other weekend interests like Lacrosse and Slalom Canoeing and I was becoming totally involved in the Droitwich Canals restoration.
One day I was bolting the last wooden gunwale in place when a young RAF pilot was introduced to me by Alan Picken and said he was looking for a boat. He made an offer and I gave him the spanner to complete the job.
He completed the cabin and fitted a Junkers single cylinder fishing boat engine similar to a Bolinder.
A year later I was in Germany negotiating with Alexander Hahn for a component he had invented. I discovered he was Junkers Test Pilot in the 1930′s and later Chief Engineer. I told him about the engine in “Ballinger” but he doubted there was a survivor. A few weeks later I took him to a Worcester Birmingham Canal Society rally at Stoke Pound and watched with delight his face as we chugged along the canal. I understand the engine is now back in a German museum. “Ballinger” was generously donated to the Worcester Birmingham Canal Society for fund raising by the Bebbington’s. It is now up at Castleford in Yorkshire looking resplendent and giving pleasure to the new owners, the Adie’s.
I called the boat “Ballinger” in memory of Charlie Ballinger from Gloucester who was the last canal Number One, a private carrying boat owner, of which there were many after the Industrial Revolution starting with horses and then motor boats. He carried the last load of Chocolate Crumb from Frampton to Bourneville with which small boys were rewarded in wartime with a sticky lump if they ‘helped ‘ with the lock gates. I saved the Petter engine from his boat ‘Olive’ which is now in the Motor Boat ‘Oak’ at the Waterways Museum Gloucester. Max
preparing to haul out.
The hulk was dragged out on old telegraph poles, with the help of Ian, my son who decided to see how deep the canal was, still did’nt do him much harm he later became an expert in most forms of watersport. Max.
Putting Fergie to good use.
The Ferguson came in very usefull when removing hulk from canal.
Cutting in half.
The first job was to cut in half to begin conversion.