Industry Profile

Person: James Brindley

Thursday, 26 January 2006 ( #244 )
James Brindley.
James Brindley.
James Brindley has forklifts in his workshop he never wants to sell or rent. Keeping names like Towmotor, Lansing Bagnall and Coventry Climax alive is the aim for Brindley, 62, who opened the UK's National Fork Truck Heritage Centre in 2004. Forkliftaction.com News reporter Christine Liew spoke to the amicable Brindley this week.

The most satisfying achievement in James Brindley's life so far is the forklift museum he opened in 2004. "It's something I can leave for people to look at without spending oodles of money," he said.

The National Fork Truck Heritage Centre, housed in the Midland Railway Centre, in Ripley, Derbyshire (a recovered mining site), is also home to Brindley's stationary engine museum. The heritage centre currently displays 50 historical forklifts, 20 of which are from Brindley's private collection.

Brindley is vice chairman of the Midland Railway Trust and persuaded his fellow directors to have the forklift museum on the same site as the Midland Railway Museum.

"I've always been interested in science and technology and that has influenced my working life. It's also spilled over into my social life and you can see that with the museums," he said.

A 1949 Coventry Climax FTD.
A 1949 Coventry Climax FTD.
The former Fork Lift Truck Association director first dived into the forklift world when he left the British Royal Air Force in 1966. He was a forklift maintenance fitter at an ordnance depot where spare parts and machinery were stored for tanks and other army vehicles.

It was in the depot, which had 34 counterbalanced forklifts, that Brindley worked on his first forklift, a 1949 Coventry Climax FTD.

"It was performing very well and was still there when I became redundant four years later."

After the air force, Brindley worked for small UK forklift companies before beginning a career with BT Rolatruc in 1974 that spanned 25 years.

"I started off as a service engineer, on the road, and moved on through technical services and then into management. I ended my career as the national resale manager for the company," Brindley said.

In 1993, he became a director of the Fork Lift Truck Association and in the same year, was awarded a science degree by the Open University.

Brindley says he "retired early" but he is far from idle. The 5,000 square foot (465 square metre) forklift museum is his personal labour of love, apart from help from a few friends. He opened the stationary engine museum in 1996 and it is soon to expand.

"I asked the directors and ex-directors of FLTA for help with the funding and I was given GBP28,000 (USD50,047). I put more or less the same amount of my own money and of course my labour."

While building the museum, the industrious Brindley also wrote a book. After two years, Power through the Ages, chronicling most forms of power, from watermills and windmills to nuclear power, was published.

The museum is far from finished. Brindley is currently building a mezzanine floor for archive material. Last year, he was granted full custody of the full archive from Materials Handling News dating back to 1930. There are more than 100 bound volumes to be preserved.

"So, at the moment it's a little untidy," Brindley said.

The archives are not the only problem to be sorted out. Brindley still has machines that need to be restored for display.

"I refurbish the machines as well. Most have been saved from the scrap men and I would like to say to them 'get your hands off them they're mine'.

"The process can take one to two weeks or one to two months. It's a very interesting process; the only tedious part is cleaning off many years of oil and dirt from the chassis. Then I clean the little bits, do repairs, put them back together and repaint them.

"It's absolutely marvelous seeing them come to a good condition. I love that time," Brindley said.

The oldest known forklift in the world - a Yale 1926.
The oldest known forklift in the world - a Yale 1926.
The National Fork Truck Heritage Centre is currently open on limited days but that will change after its official opening this year. Brindley said he had yet to decide who would open the museum but it would not be a politician.

"The museum has the oldest machine in the world, a Yale 1926. It's actually on permanent loan from Yale. I knew the people at Yale and, with a little bit of persuasion, they were happy to put it in my museum."

Brindley's most prized forklift is one of the first British forklifts, the 1947 Coventry Climax. He said he would never sell it although, for a million pounds, he might be tempted. He bought it for GBP100 (USD179).

"I was given a tip off by someone that a machine was rusting away in a coal yard, somewhere near Alton in Hampshire England. They said it was in a sorry state. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was definitely one of the first British-built forklifts. It still had the original petrol engine."

Museum visitors will be able to see the Coventry Climax soon. It is currently in Brindley's workshop, awaiting completion. To his knowledge, there are four other Coventry Climax forklifts that have been preserved throughout the whole of the UK. Three are in the care of the National Science Museum and the first prototype is at the Coventry Motor Transport Museum's storehouse. Brindley's forklift will be the only one on display.

Two friends help Brindley at the museum. One is a train manager whom Brindley says is "good with his hands" and another is an engineer. He has 20 more forklifts that need a lot of tender loving care once engineering space is freed at his workshop. Retired engineers and former forklift technicians are welcome to volunteer at his museum. Contact James Brindley at james.brindley@rdplus.net.



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