Big Boy’s Toys

Look back by all means, 

But not in anger, please. 

Life goes on onwards and forwards 
Even for machines. 

(And upwards too we see it go, 
Though now only 5.50 m, not the 6.20 we used to know).

Sideways and circles with agility to spare.

Does my riddle yet have you tearing at your hair?
How about a clue to bring sense to this chatter? 

The word you need is “fork” – and it’s an uplifting matter. 

Uplifting and shifting and piling and stacking

From bricks to cars to crates for unpacking.
My dear old forklift has reached the end of its days, 

My sadness only tempered by the new one in its place.

Alas poor Lansing, that you met such distress. 

Hello Jungheinrich, now it’s your turn to impress.

Maybe all boys have an inner Bob the Builder desperate to burst forth and create. Or was it just me?
Having fought to keep it contained for what seemed like an eternity, I was finally overwhelmed by my compulsion to build 31 years ago. I had been vegetating with neither cement mixer nor forklift for some 14 years by that time despite having a section of a backstreet industrial zone of my very own just crying out for adornment. This land was once, a century or more ago, a parade ground for the mounted police, whose presence lived on through the vast number of horseshoe nails still embedded in the earth.

When I moved in, the land register showed all kinds of creditors with claims on the site, apparently none of whom dared to take on the many encumbrances and risk actually purchasing the space. I, though, was more than naive enough to take the risk – and it took every last pfennig of the price I paid to settle the creditors’ entitlements.
Excellent. Although I now owned a derelict building, it’s rear yard also belonged to me and that was the bit I really wanted. I completed the deal with the aid of various banks – banks that were happy to terrorise me even relatively recently with interest rates as high as 6.5% and even, in one instance, 8%. I slaved for them for decades.

I have paid for my castle several times over, in other words. As tends to be the fate of a generation that rolled up its sleeves and set to work with entrepreneurial vigour only to discover uncomprehendingly, later in life, that some of our basic assumptions turned out to be false (without, I stress, necessarily being wrong or even the slightest bit unreasonable). Credit flowed like rain after the currency reforms in Germany and the adoption of the euro, apparently with little thought as to how it might all be paid back (or perhaps relying on rampant inflation to effectively wipe it all out). But enough about politics… Except to throw in a pearl of wisdom on the subject from my childhood. When I was four, somebody asked me what politics was. I apparently told them that politics was when girls made themselves look pretty…

Despite the opposition of numerous wise old owls I had decided that I wanted to make myself a home on my workshop site, mainly because the amount of time I spent driving to and from work every day struck me as exactly the amount of time I was lacking every day to achieve all of what I wanted. The days were too short and my workload too big and there was still the additional threat in winter of snow and ice complicating the commute. As a result I found myself increasingly disadvantaged, not least among newly made friends of the fairer sex who, not unreasonably, felt that I should make at least some concessions to comfort and cosiness wherever I planned to hang my hat. I recall they were really very clear on this point actually: boys with expectations have expectations to live up to first.

I spent decades trying to bring all of life’s requirements together under one roof, often with my tongue hanging out and never with more than two wheels on the ground through the corners, but there was always work to be done on my latest new boat (never an easy option to resist) and the supposedly quiet days of winter flew by so fast. However I stretched it, my time in those days was always too short and I felt I was falling ever further behind. There might be a solution though, I thought.

What if I had a forklift?
My backstreet mechanic’s workshop leaked like a sieve. I needed as many as 30 buckets to catch the drops in heavy rain and even then it still took another pass with a squeegee scraper (a tool I knew from my time working at a local swimming pool) to make the floor safe: open the door, scrape the water out, shut the door, repeat a couple of hours later. I had the enormous good luck that my workshop pre-Lent party found Hamburg deep in the grip of winter, with a sufficiently insulating covering of snow on the roof that my fan heaters actually brought some warmth to the place. Cold is never good for a party I feel, but I digress…

I wanted to change things around, reach for the sky, stick another storey on top of the workshop. A chat with Rainer, who managed team upon team of builders in our area, brought the matter to a head: and how did we intend to deliver all the buildings materials necessary to the yard? There was only one logical answer: it was forklift time! The very next day I made my way down to the port to hunt down and acquire the machine we needed.
The answer turned out to be a Lansing reach truck that showed plenty of wear and tear after ten years working the docks but was still functional and ready for action. Five tonnes live weight, a triple telescopic system for a vertical reach of 6.2 m and, as a nimble reach truck, the perfect choice for the narrow confines of our back yard: I was instantly sure we would get on well together.

My back yard electric Porsche, with which I very quickly learned to drive very slowly, went on to shift hundreds of heavy loads from the street out front to the yard in behind. From palettes of bricks for the first floor to barrels of bitumen for the roof and chimney components for the apex, in it came and up it went.
My forklift and I were as one, at least when it came to concrete, stone and soil. All the subsequent building projects on my territory were simplified by the speed and precision (she could pirouette like a prima ballerina when necessary) of Aunty Lansing, who ended up as popular with the builders who helped us as she did with me.

Our ventures into construction at an end, the question arose as to whether I should now look to sell my big boy’s toy. I jest of course. There was never any question of selling Aunty Lansing!

Our ventures into construction at an end, the question arose as to whether I should now look to sell my big boy’s toy. I jest of course. There was never any question of selling Aunty Lansing!

The family forklift proved in time also to be useful for all kinds of applications her designer probably never imagined. We used her for window cleaning, for example, to lift furniture out of the flat when there was a change of tenants, to position a wing in my own home and, later on, to move parked cars and to hoist boats from the yard up onto the dry stack.

A forklift introduces a third dimension to everything, which is useful for a dreamer who struggles to fit everything into two. Need to clear the ivy off the hedge? Clematis need new supports? Containers full of building rubble to put out for collection? New delivery of parts to manoeuvre into the workshop? Not a problem. My neighbours too soon discovered what a wonderful helper I had hiding out under my workshop roof.

Add a forklift to your stable and suddenly you are the man, the person everyone wants to talk to. Such popularity can be a double-edged sword because even forklifts have their quirks and a five-tonne piece of machinery in unsuspecting hands can very easily put holes in walls in places holes have no business being. Hence the golden rule: Peter is the boss and nobody else should ever risk moving Aunty Lansing.

Running costs amounted to no more than two battery replacements in 31 years; otherwise the beast appeared indestructible. Then, a few weeks ago, came the colossal shock: the tyres, great solid chunks of rubber, began to break down and after four decades, Aunty Lansing was all at once looking decidedly lame. It did not take much in the way of research to identify the problem: our forklift was coming to the end of her life.
And so it came to pass that an overlength heavy-lift low-loader (with retractable ramps) appeared in our road one morning. The street became a no-go area, much to the consternation of the school-run mothers whose cars quickly jammed the whole thing solid. Great flocks of mother hens planning to disembark their chicks as close to the classroom door as wheels could reach suddenly found today’s journey would not be the usual forward-gears only affair. Chaos ensued and there was plenty of entertainment to be had for anyone not suddenly forced to wrestle with the unanticipated vagaries of reversing on the school run. Our truck driver unpacked his Thermos and settled down comfortably to wait until the lights of the future had safely found their way to their desks, the hens had retired to soothe their wounded pride and he could gently ease his behemoth out of our urban maze and back onto the open road where it belonged.

Operation Replace Forklift was a complete success (from our point of view at least) and we now have an intimate understanding of the breakneck pace of development in forklift technology over the last four decades. Luxurious seat with air suspension, dead man’s handle, comprehensive dashboard display with alarms, soft start-up and shut-down: we have entered a brave new world. We do have 70 cm less lift available now, but 5.5 m is good enough given that the roof and chimney were finished back in the last century and are now the exclusive domain of Rudi the squirrel.

Uncle Jungheinrich (he’s the one with the lifting forks) and I have become firm friends over the last three days and I have more than once caught myself dreaming of new construction projects, only to remember with a start that apparently my building days are over. He’s a young chap and with the care he will receive in our hands – the same care we extend to all the technical moving and immobile toys that simplify our life, brighten our days and put a grin on our face – will in all probability see me out. Quite simply, a forklift is as much a part of my being as the air I breathe. It is my back yard Porsche and my ticket to pirouette – no tutu or pointe shoes required.

Peter Foerthmann

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