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Canal Archive: Bridging the Years

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Steam 'Navvies'

In addition to the large French and German land excavators, several other types of excavator of English design were in use on the Manchester Ship Canal construction. They were more commonly known as steam navvies, and also ran on railway lines.

The most numerous of these was the Ruston & Dunbar steam navvy, produced by Ruston & Proctor of Lincoln. It proved the most effective machine, being able to deal with a wide range of material. Over fifty of these machines were employed on the Ship Canal.
The navvy scooped up material with its large bucket, then swung sideways to empty the contents into a waiting wagon. Despite being of English origin, the Ruston & Dunbar became known by the navvies as 'American Devils', apparently as the result of an earlier incident on a different project, where workers in conflict with the contractor were replaced with an American digging machine.

A second type of steam navvy was supplied by J H Wilson & Co. This steam crane navvy could rotate round completely, and was lighter and more mobile. However, it was not as effective with the harder material, and so was mainly used for lighter work.

The third type in use was built by Whitaker's of Horsforth, Leeds. Again described as a steam crane navvy, its main advantage was that its excavating attachments could be removed to allow the machine to also be used as a crane.

This is page 8 of Digging the Big Ditch.
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Men on a steam navvy

Men on a steam navvy
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A Ruston & Dunbar Steam Navvy

A Ruston & Dunbar Steam Navvy
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