When a ‘vintage’ Volvo BM621 arrived with Paul Bacon, owner at Cambridgeshire Sand and Gravel, in February 2016 and was dragged off the low-loader in a bent mess his family thought that he’d finally taken on more than he’d bargained for with its restoration. But with his engineering background, some savvy part hunting, a lot of hard work and late nights, the 1973 wheel loader is almost fully restored and has now been put to work in the family business.
Cambridgeshire Sand and Gravel supply aggregates which are delivered in both small and large trucks. Their smaller trucks have been in the business for 31 years and are often preferred by their customers. Paul says, “Our small trucks are a discreet size, usually people don’t mind them turning up in narrow lanes in residential areas as they don’t displace the ground and can easily fit into small spaces and driveways. For this reason they’re our preferred delivery method and will deliver two tons of material in one load. While we do also have large trucks available, they are often not manoeuvrable enough for our customers’ sites.”
Paul was therefore looking for a smaller sized loader, but also one that could lift two tons of material - which is how he came to find the BM621. “I needed something reliable and capable of lifting. Most of the loaders capable of lifting two tons were too big for our small yard. The BM621 was a perfect size and having hurt my knee shifting gears on other older machines, the Powershift feature on the BM621 was a definite bonus for me.” Cab safety was also a factor for Paul. “Volvo has a good reputation for safety, and from watching video footage of the machine online I could see that safety tests had been carried out by Volvo on the cab of this machine. The chassis is that little bit thicker than other manufacturers and a hatch in the roof means I can still get out of the machine should the door become blocked.”
Paul spotted the machine on eBay for just £1,000 and thought it’d be snapped up fast, so without viewing the BM621 he bought it immediately and enlisted George Webb Recovery to bring it from Manchester to the family home and business site in Alconbury, Huntingdon. Paul says. “I was told that the machine would start and would not leak oil. Without too much fiddling, it did start but it only didn’t leak oil because there was no oil left in it! It went forwards but not backwards, and the bucket was bent, as was the top of cab and the door. The interior was also wrecked and one of the front tyres had a puncture.” Paul’s wife, Jeni, comments, “We all just thought that Paul had bought a complete wreck. It looked as though someone had sat on the machine as it was bent completely out of shape.”
The more Paul looked into it, the more he saw what needed working on. “I did at one point think it had got the better of me, “ he says, “but when I start something, I like to see it through and do it properly. Some small victories spurred me on - I got the engine running and with the addition of hydraulic oil, I started to get the arms moving, so I knew the machine was fixable.”
Paul got to work stripping the machine and began to identify the parts needed. He also took the engine apart and found that the radiator had split. The inside workings of the machine were covered in cement powder and both front tyres were riddled with nails. Paul says “Aspects of the machine were really well thought out in terms of build. Once the bucket was removed and the chassis was propped, I was surprised at how easy it was to remove the front axle.”
A friend was able to provide Paul with a manual for the machine and he used a variety of methods to track down the parts for the loader. Paul took pictures of parts as he removed them and then would either contact Traktordelar, a parts supplier based in Sweden, or search online to find the parts needed. He wasn’t able to find like-for-like replacements for everything, but used this as an opportunity to make some improvements. “I couldn’t find original headlights for the machine but Ferguson had some which looked exactly the same. I decided to buy them to see if they fitted and they did. They are also much brighter than the original lights giving me improved visibility in low light.” As Paul intended to put the machine to work, he also added some other modern touches for improved safety. “As there is a footpath which runs through the yard and visibility looking backwards is poor, I decided to add a reversing camera to the machine as well as a blue beacon and white noise alarm which improves safety to the public, and gives me confidence when reversing.”
Paul purchased an excavator bucket online and then manufactured brackets himself to attach the bucket to the machine. He also added steel plates to increase capacity. Paul says, “Unfortunately I could see that the bucket was bending in the middle and I was worried it wouldn’t be strong enough. After looking online at Volvo’s larger buckets I could see that they add a rib in the middle so I welded one in myself to give the bucket extra strength.”
While working on the BM621, the drive shaft broke on Paul’s Thwaites loader which suddenly made completing the machine a much more urgent task. “I was reduced to using our Dextor tractor and it took ten passes to load one of our trucks,” Paul says. Jeni adds, “I hardly saw Paul in that time, he would be in the workshop often until after 11pm. I’d hear him banging around a lot of the time!”
The rebuild has been a family affair with son, George (10) learning and helping his dad in the workshop. Daughter, Darcy (8) is also showing an interest - working with machines is not just for boys in the Bacon family - Jeni works on the family farm and Paul’s Mum Mary has been driving lorries for 32 years in the family’s haulage business E. & M. Bacon and also operates a backhoe loader. Paul’s father Eddy who sadly is no longer with them, would regularly service the trucks and carried out all repairs himself, teaching Paul in the process. Both of Paul’s children have their own ride-on lawnmowers which they help Paul to cut the grass with and he’s teaching them to repair the mowers themselves when needed.
Looking at renewing the cab, Paul decided to refurbish the existing seat after struggling to find a replacement. “I took it apart and then glued a new piece of foam to the seat. I took the original leather cover apart and cut around the old pieces on new leather. I then dug out my Gran’s old sewing machine and sewed the new leather up myself. It wasn’t that difficult really, it’s the same as fabrication, but I’m just stitching the pieces together rather than welding them!” Paul welded an additional plate into the cab to house the screen for the reversing camera and replaced all the switches which he’d bought on a Vintage Truck website.
Paul found that some of the parts he tried to track down were obsolete, such as the exhaust and rain protectors for under the windows. He’s therefore added to the exhaust to create a vertical tail-pipe as the original was leaving a black residue on the back of the machine. He is also missing the side panels which the eBay seller has said they can provide, but if this doesn’t happen, Paul is planning to make them himself. The machine has now been given a fresh coat of paint – brush painted by Paul - and has now finally been brought into service in the family business.
Paul has kept a log of all parts bought and where he purchased them, along with part numbers just in case he needs to replace anything in future and he says the benefit of having to completely strip the machine means he now knows exactly how everything works. “Should anything go wrong, I will be able to repair the machine relatively quickly and know where to get the correct replacement part. Also, as everything has been taken apart and cleaned and greased before being put back together, it shouldn’t take as long to take any areas apart again.”
The family are pleased with Paul’s efforts as Jeni comments, “I can’t believe it’s the same machine really, he’s done a fantastic job and it’s great to see an old machine like this back up and running.” Paul adds, “I’m really pleased with it - it’s turned out much better than I expected. Not only does it look the part, but it does the job too! It lifts 2 tons easily and will improve the speed at which we can turn around our trucks. This machine will more than pay for itself.” The total cost of the rebuild so far is £6,800 just over his original budget for a new machine of £6,000.
With the BM621 almost complete, Paul will now be moving on to restore one of the Volvo lorries from his parents’ business which has been with them for over 30 years, since new. The lorry has been round the clock but Paul is confident that with a bit of TLC, it’ll be running like new again. Paul says, “We’ll have a retro yard soon full of only 70’s and 80’s machines! When they are as well built as this though, why would you have anything else?”
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