All Change ?

 

So having put off strimming the grass paths between plots for as long as possible I have to cowboy up and try to start the Stihl machine. I think myself not good with machinery but having spent a wonderful day re-learning how to drive agriculturally immense beasts and sitting seven feet up in the air in charge of a dump-truck that when loaded tipped the scales at around eight tons I am feeling a rare sense of confidence.

Even so, a couple of hours later I have completed the job (including re-loading the plastic string that spins at speed and throws grass, nettles a and shredded greenery across dug ground and my boots) I am pleasantly surprised.

And curious.

Human nature eh? We can’t just settle for things as they are can we? No, we have to keep making things better, to make work easier; that dump-truck replaced men and wheelbarrows (O.K. so wheelbarrows replaced something else, but you get my drift don’t you?). The strimmer replaced a man with a scythe, which replaced …

GM crops, battery farming, production lines, mechanisation, double glazing, triple glazing. Heating, central heating, remote central door locking, motorways, jets, steam trains, diesel trains, electric trains, HS2, supermarkets …

Pallets. The source of timber for repairs, the compost heaps, the Overseer’s Throne. I wonder, my grasshopper mind focussing after whirling through the random list (above). When did pallets become the way to shift stuff. Stuff? Is there anything not carried about via pallets these days? There was a TV programme last week, The World’s largest Flower Market (Aalsmeer Flower Auction in Holland). It worked via an automatic system that took orders of flowers, brought them together on pallets which were wrestled into containers by fork lift trucks and at their destinations within hours. I found it both amazingly brilliant – and just a little frightening. You can see a splendid YouTube video of this at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMc8XxiyOw0 .

But that little trio: (containers, pallets and fork lift trucks) kind of go together so easily – changing the way goods of all types, shape and size are moved around the world – at least in my mind. I have some vague, totally unscientific idea that it all began in the mid-1960s, thinking about dock strikes in London and …

Image result for cargo pallets  Image result for cargo pallets  Image result for fork lift truck

 

Well, on an unseasonably cold June 1st (British Met. Office’s first day of summer ) – it is genuinely too cold to work up at the allotment so I set to looking on the internet.

The findings astound me (you just don’t always know what you know do you?)

Cargo pallets developed from one-layer skids back in the 1920s (so early!). In the 1930s a railway boxcar with 13,000 cases of canned goods would take about 3 days to completely unload; these same canned goods loaded onto pallets took a mere 4 hours to unload. Added to this a simple low lift hand truck first appeared in 1887 and evolved into a sleeker, all-steel low lift in 1909. The first high lifts fork trucks surfaced in 1915. The development and sophistication of forklifts helped to increase the quantity and the variety of materials that could be handled. By 1926, the basic idea of the modern forklift, made vertical stacking possible and greatly improved the efficiency of warehouse and storage facilities, and would eventually dictate not only the design of these buildings but also the way they are run. Pallets also evolved with time and use. In order to facilitate the use of the forklifts, spacers were added in between loads, boards were then added on top of stringers to make skids. With time, boards were also secured to the bottom of the skids in order to create a pallet. It was not until 1925, when boards were attached to the bottom of these “pallets”, that the modern wood pallet was born. Originally, narrow enough to make it through standards doorways, as warehouses were rebuilt, companies decided to design their buildings in order to accommodate a larger pallet size thus reducing the cost of labour and the size of the workforce needed.

In pre-pallet days for international shipping, goods would be stored at a port warehouse until a boat was available. When an empty vessel arrived these goods would be transported from the warehouse to the side of the docked ship. Goods would typically be loaded into sacks, bales, crates and barrels, and then they would be loaded by hand onto the ship. As you can imagine this would be a very labour intensive process. This process was known as break bulk cargo, and a typical ship would have around 200,000 pieces of cargo on-board.

Towards the later part of the second industrial revolution (early 1900’s), this lack of standardization was becoming a real issue, especially considering how prevalent trains had now become. Transferring cargo from ships to trains was extremely slow and caused major delays and blockages within many ports. Larger ships would take around a week to unload then re-load.

Image result for docks unloading 1930s

Since the 1940s, the pallet (first appearing in large numbers twenty years earlier) has played a significant role in modern material handling. Pallets, combined with the forklift, have had the greatest influence on the way materials are handled, stored and shipped. In the 1930s, a boxcar with 13,000 cases of canned goods would take about 3 days to completely unload; these same canned goods loaded onto pallets took a mere 4 hours to unload. Prior to this, wooden crates, boxes, kegs and barrels were generally used in order to gather, store, protect and move merchandise. A rudimentary low lift hand truck had first appeared in 1887; a sleeker, all-steel low lift truck emerged in 1909. The first high lifts fork trucks surfaced in 1915. The development and sophistication of forklifts helped to increase the quantity and the variety of materials that could be handled. By 1926, the basic idea of the modern forklift, made vertical stacking possible and greatly improved the efficiency of warehouse and storage facilities.

Enter one Malcom McLean whose name, though his legacy is enormous, is not commonly known. Born in 1914, he grew up on a farm in North Carolina. After finishing school in 1931, he worked for several years to save up enough money to purchase a second-hand truck, and in 1934 he launched his transport business. McLean soon scaled up his transport business and had five trucks running underneath him.

Image result for malcolm Mclean transport company  Image result for malcolm Mclean transport company

During the period 1937 to 1950 several weight restrictions and levying fees were introduced to road transportation. It was not uncommon for McLean’s drivers to be fined for heavy loads of cargo while operating his nearly two thousand trucks and thirty seven terminals.

McLean was now looking for a more efficient way to transport his clients’ cargo and was reminded of his experience in New Jersey back in 1937. It was now when he had the idea of creating a standard sized trailer which could be loaded onto boats in the volume of not one or two, like with his trucks, but in hundreds.

McLean, convinced by his idea to create a standardized shipping ‘trailer’ or container, sold his trucking business and in 1955 took out a bank loan for $42million. He used $7 million of this loan to purchase an already established shipping company: Pan-Atlantic Steamship Company. Pan-Atlantic already had docking rights in many of the eastern port cities which McLean was targeting and shortly after buying them he renamed it to SeaLand Industries.

McLean then went on to test variations of the container and finally settled on a primitive form of what we know today as the shipping container. It was strong, standardized, stackable, easy to load/unload and lockable (which made it theft resistant).

It is almost impossible now to remember a world that could function without the high-speed efficiency of the whole container-pallet model …

But, back to the allotment – as we both should and must.

Those basic hand tools: spade, fork, rake, hoe and wheelbarrow – though benefitting from the use of different materials – remain pretty much the same. Somehow I find both the progress and the old-fashioned, tried-and-tested functional reassuring.

 

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