Art for art’s sake 07 March 2016

Salisbury-based specialist JA Mackenzie has cornered much of the market for fine art haulage. Ian Norwell talks to its founder about how he specifies, equips and runs his chosen vehicles

Public art movements only occasionally hit the headlines. Installing Sir Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North, next to the A1 in Tyne and Wear, certainly did. Hauling 200 tonnes of steel from Hartlepool and standing it up safely on site was a feat not only of engineering, but also transportation ingenuity. But, while most public art is not on that scale, even getting more modest pieces where they need to be takes serious equipment and skill.

For Jimmy Mackenzie – the man behind JA Mackenzie – that process starts with assembling the right vehicles and lifting equipment. His fleet may be small in numbers, with four late variant DAF trucks, a Scania and a Volvo, but it’s the detail that counts. A mix of wagon-and-drags, a tractor unit and a light rigid, this fleet’s latest addition, for example, was a DAF CF510 FAX 8x2 drawbar with a difference.

Built to a requirements spec from Mackenzie and his team, the chassis starts with a lifting and steering rear axle to maximise manoeuvrability. He also went for the CF Space cab, ensuring that it was nicely appointed for the drivers with leather and high-quality interior trim, but also managing the combination of driving and living space well. There’s certainly plenty of bling, but cornering spotlights, for example, are not regarded as a luxury: they help prevent damage when light conditions are poor and manoeuvring space is confined.

Local builder Wessex Vehicle Services provided the 6.5m rigid bodywork, with further Mackenzie-inspired features, including a sliding 1.5m extension. That enables the option of more deck space for large sculptures when the drawbar trailer is dropped. Meanwhile, when on site the muscle for precision lifting and positioning heavy art comes courtesy of a front-mounted Palfinger PK78002. Its capacity is 14 tonnes at four metres, with a maximum reach of more than 20 metres. Solid handrail edge protection and access steps all around the truck top off a safe, professional and adaptable unit.

“Getting the specification right and well executed needs a dealer that’s on the ball,” comments Mackenzie. “There’s no plain vanilla on this fleet.” That’s why he’s regularly on the phone to DAF in Eindhoven and Thame, as well as Palfinger in Welwyn and Saltzburg. As for trailers, his preferences are Dutch manufacturer Broshuis, local maker Andover, and Muldoon, from County Tyrone. For this latest truck, Mackenzie turned to Adams Morey DAF, in Bournemouth – one of the longest serving DAF dealers in the UK, withmore than 40 years of experience.

But it’s not just about the trucks and their cranes. Building a reputation for specialist heavy movement isn’t earned overnight. Mackenzie has been in the business since 1987, starting out moving industrial equipment. Back then, typical loads would include transformers, and they still account for a sizeable chunk of his business. But moving artwork, public and private, has grown to 60% of turnover.

Qualifications and compliance certificates abound, covering everything from abnormal load movements and project management to CPCS, (Construction Plant Competence Scheme) and ALLMI (Association of Lorry Loader Manufacturers and Importers) membership. JA Mackenzie is also FORS (Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme) Gold registered. Without these, the company couldn’t turn a wheel.

Mackenzie is hands-on – himself certified as an appointed person, lifting operations supervisor, with an NVQ Level 6, CPCS certification for unlimited cranes and a slinger/signaller. His drivers are similarly qualified and Mackenzie has put them all through TfL’s (Transport for London) cyclist awareness programme, with the seven hours chalked up to their DCPC. That’s not just about altruism: it’s good business sense. High-profile clients seek out hauliers seen to be making an effort, not just paying lip service to safety issues, he says.

As for the drivers, there’s no shortage at this operator – and they’re not just drivers. “If my drivers didn’t work here, they probably wouldn’t be drivers at all. It’s interesting work and you get attached to it,” explains Mackenzie.

Having watched drivers Steve Meader and Martyn Robson delivering a relatively small three-tonne bronze to an art gallery in the New Kings Road, Chelsea, it’s clear that driving is almost incidental. Parking at 6.00am, supervising the footway closure and preparing the site for placing the piece on a plinth was quickly and efficiently carried out.

The distant reach into the corner of the courtyard, over a set of railings, was then planned and issues with one of the fixing bolts in the piece found to be not quite true were resolved. Painstaking work was then required, with the Palfinger crane moving the eight-metre-tall sculpture a millimetre at a time – ultimately holding it steady while it was packed with lead and securely bolted in place.

The sensitivity of the Palfinger chassis-mounted crane was impressive – as was the skill of its operators. We’ve all seen heavy objects craned into position, but none more deftly than this.

Mackenzie and his people clearly relish the work. He and his staff plainly enjoy the satisfaction of a professional job completed without fuss. And there’s the variety: Mackenzie works throughout Europe and his office walls are decorated with pictures of jobs ranging from Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth, where he placed the Gift Horse, to the tram lines in Oslo, where power was shut down overnight for another movement. The risk assessments, method statements and road closure documents fill his filing cabinets.

Whether it’s mobile classrooms for a community farm, delivering a grand piano of immense provenance through a fourth storey window in central London, or delivering a series of bronze sculptures to a private collector in the south of France, it’s bound to be an uplifting experience.

Ian Norwell

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