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Digger Man Blog

by Nick Drew  |  Wed 02 Jun 2021

Rare Priestman/RB VC20 Spotted at Ritchie Bros Auction

During my visit to the Ritchie Bros auction facility in Maltby last week, I was delighted to discover a classic VC20 long reach machine, which reminded me of a blog post I once wrote on these VC machines back in 2012.

Rare Priestman/RB VC20 Spotted at Ritchie Bros Auction

A a bit of background on these unique machines. In the early 1980’s Priestman Brothers Ltd of Hull launched a revolutionary product to the world market. A machine which would become the forerunner of today’s modern long reach machines, the original VC15.

Designed by the engineering genius, Norman Brocklebank, and launched in 1982, the Priestman VC15 (Variable Counterweight) was a unique idea combining the best elements of a rope-controlled dragline with the power and precision of a hydraulic excavator. In fact, it’s advertising slogan at the time was, Better than a Dragline, Better than a Hydraulic Backhoe.

The machine employed a direct rope pull system attached to the dipper arm, with a hydraulic ram to operate the bucket crowd/discharge, and hydraulic boom lift rams, but also had the advantage of a hydraulically actuated moving counterweight which moved in tandem with the outstretched arm, ensuring that the machine was always kept in balance.

The VC15 was joined by the larger and longer reaching VC20 in 1984, which could carry bucket capacities of up to 1.5 cubic metres (2 cu yds).

Around 1987 the Sanderson Group had started development work on a larger VC30 model, with I believe one prototype model being produced for evaluation purposes. Sadly, in an all too familiar tale, the Sanderson Group got into financial difficulties in the early 1990’s and at that time the Priestman side of the operation was sold onto RB cranes.

I had never previously had the opportunity to get up close and personal with one of these machines before, so it was a real treat to take a look around this Ruston Bucyrus version of the VC20.

These machines were really way ahead of their time back in the day, although a look inside the cab today and it looks rather dated in terms of ergonomics and comfort.

A glimpse across the counterweight reveals that this machine was, I believe, once owned by Banbury, Oxfordshire, based Smith’s Concrete Limited.

The VC20 model seen in this historical photo from the Digger Man Blog archives, is from the post 1985 period, when Priestman’s had been taken over by the Sanderson Group. This example is working for the Witham Fourth District Drainage Board in Lincolnshire, England.

It will be good to find out where this machine was sold to after the auction last week, it would be wonderful to learn that it will be restored to factory condition for future generations to see, but who knows. I hope to be able to update this post with some detail on that, as soon as I hear from the team up at Ritchie Bros.

Checkout my video walkaround of the machine below.





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