Stealing Stone

A little Belfast history! On the outskirts of Belfast is a range of hills in which is a layer of limestone. In Victorian times this was quarried to grind and send to the Mainland to be fed to chickens to improve the egg shells. From the quarry, right down to the docks was a bogy track on the line of a road now called the Limestone Road. When I first went to Belfast, I found a narrow street off it called Tramway Street, which puzzled me for a long time. It was there the bogeys or ‘trams’ were stored. I found all this out when I was looking for filling for Belfast Airport.

When making concrete of very high quality the stone used has to be as near cubical in shape as is possible and there was only one quarry viable. The quantities to be bought were huge. One of my jobs was to check on materials and this day I could not make the amount of concrete agree with the amount of stone we had paid for to make the concrete. As we were using a very sophisticated method of making concrete where the quantities of the various materials were accurately measured, there was no way the discrepancy of having bought some thirty percent more stone than we should have used could be accounted for. Others checked the books with the same result, – something serious was amiss. We checked the weigh-bridge which we had installed at the edge of the site, it was OK.

Stories throughout the building industry tell of lorries defeating the system. With sand it is a matter of spraying the lorry with water just near the site so the buyer is buying water at the price of sand. A certain amount of moisture is essential to stop the sand blowing during transport and this is what unscrupulous contractors sometimes play on. Then there is the old chestnut of the lorry going in one gate, being checked, going out another gate and then, after a bit, going round again to be checked yet again. It was with this in mind we set up our own weigh bridge and checking system, the site was too large to police. We filled one of our own lorries, sent it to the Town weigh bridge and then checked it on our own. It was fine. It is usual on a site to weigh the contractors’ lorries empty and to note the weight which is known as the ‘tare weight’. This saves having to weigh the lorries full and empty every trip and provided nothing has changed, the system works, except when the initial weight has been fiddled by removing all the surplus weight such as the jack, and the spare wheel and then subsequently carrying it – that can amount to quite a sum on a big job. We checked that too, then we set our boxer friend to sit near the weigh bridge with a novel, and look like someone unemployed enjoying the sun.

It paid off. The weighbridge was level in itself but had been built on sloping ground. The lorries were very long with two axles at the back. The system we had agreed was that the weigh bridge man would see the front wheels of the lorry onto the weigh bridge, go into his office and press a button, the weight would then be recorded automatically, he would then wave through the window and the lorry would slowly move forward until the back two sets of wheels were on the bridge and the front ones off. He would then weigh again and the sum of the two weights less the tare weight was what we paid for. Our boxer friend found that unfortunately this was not the case. When the bridge man had seen the lorries onto the bridge and was on his way into the hut, the lorries would ease that little bit more forward until half the back wheels were on the bridge as well as the front ones, then, when the bridge man waved, the lorry would ease forward again and the two back axles were weighed. What was happening was that we had been unwittingly weighing one set of back wheels twice.

More Lessons I Learned I learned never to say right when it could be misconstrued. It was early morning and I needed to examine the surface water system of the old runway. The chainman and his sidekick had been struggling to get an old manhole cover off and once again I forgot what had been drilled into me in my Naval days, ‘never volunteer’. I was in a hurry so I went to help them. We managed to get the cover clear of the hole and then I thought I had done all that was required of me, so I said ‘Right!’ meaning I was letting go and they were in control. Of course, like all slapstick comedies, they let go too and this huge, cast iron disc weighing nearly a hundred weight and a half fell on my foot. Instead of severing the toe, it only broke it, I was wearing dispatch rider’s boots instead of the standard wellie.

Categorized as General

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