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How I mastered a mastodon

By Peter Sieling / November 13, 2002

I like small things. I run a small lumber business with one full-time person: me. In my wood shop I use small power tools. We used to move lumber around the yard with a little farm tractor and unload tractor-trailers by hand, a grueling five- or six-hour job with four or five helpers. That is, until somebody dropped a board off the truck and hit my little sister on the head. Time to buy a forklift.

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I told Doug - an engineer, weekend logger, and lumber wheeler-dealer - that I was looking for a "bunny" forklift, the smallest machine that could lift a lumber pack off the top of a tractor-trailer. We were unloading his semi, one board at a time. He agreed that I should buy something to unload his truck.

Doug likes big machines. One of his hobbies is ferreting out old log skidders, loaders, and forklifts the way some people look for antiques. He rebuilds them and sells them to unsuspecting people like me. Doug's yard was getting cluttered with old parts, and I suspect his wife finally had put her foot down.

"Peter, how would you like my old loader?" Doug said. "I have two other newer ones I'm working on now, and the backyard is getting full."

"How big is it?" I was getting desperate. As long as it could lift at least 6,000 pounds.

"Let's just say I use it to pick up old forklifts," he said. "Lifting capacity isn't an issue."

"What kind of machine is it?"

"It's sort of a Baker-Lull," he said. "They've been gone for years, bought out by the Otis Elevator Company. They built loaders for the military during the Korean War. It has a seat for the machine gunner. I put three retreaded Boeing 747 tires on it. Most of the electric parts I replaced with Ford parts. The carburetor is from a Chevy C-60 truck."

"Well...." I hesitated. If something broke I'd never find parts. Many of our rural neighbors put rusty hay rakes and manure spreaders in their front yards as lawn ornaments. That's what I would have to do with a dead loader - maybe hang a couple of baskets of impatiens from the forks and plant petunias underneath. If I backed it up to the road, I could weld our mailbox to the bumper.

Doug felt a sale coming on. "I tore it down into a heap of parts and put it back together," he said. "I'll guarantee it. The Hercules people tell me that '54 engine was the best they ever built. If anything breaks, I'll make you a new part."

I hoped he'd keep his promise.

A couple of weeks later, Doug backed his truck into the driveway with "Ethyl" on the back. For some reason he wanted to unload in a spot where there was a bank behind - something to stop Ethyl should her brakes fail on the way down the ramp.