Russian Diesel Hammers at Vulcan: Series I and II

Vulcan’s last foray into diesel hammers was, in many ways, one of the most interesting ventures in the company’s history. It was certainly one of the most involved.

In 1987 Vulcan first met with Russian (then Soviet) trade representatives in Washington concerning marketing Vulcan’s offshore hammer line in the Soviet Union. It’s interesting to note that the Soviet trade office was just around the corner from the hotel where Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981. The Soviet Union had enormous oil and gas reserves and, not to be outdone by the Chinese, were beginning to solicit foreign assistance in exploiting these resources. (Even having lost the other republics in the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia remains rich in hydrocarbon reserves and a major producer.)

The Soviets had other ideas. Never much on spending their hard currency on lining American corporations’ pockets (they weren’t well endowed with hard currency to start with,) they invited Vulcan’s people to Moscow with another objective: to convince Vulcan to market Soviet pile driving products.

Vulcan’s personnel made the trip in April 1988, and were regaled with several interesting types of equipment, including the vibratory hammers (native to the country) and the concrete pile cutter. But the most significant products were the Russian diesel hammers, which they demonstrated to Vulcan’s personnel at the Central Testing Facility (TsNIIP) in Ivanteevka, northeast of Moscow. (In addition to scientific testing, this facility also supplemented this activity by raising pigs.) These were the water cooled variety, produced at their plant in Sterlitamak, near the Urals. (More information about these can be found here.  Vulcan personnel also went beyond Ivanteevka to Zagorsk to visit Russian Orthodox Church personnel.)

Although the hammer was simple and ruggedly built (something Vulcan liked to see in a product) the water cooling was a problem. American contractors never took to water cooling diesel hammers, even though it was certainly, in theory at least, the best way to do so. It was an obstacle the Japanese such as Kobe and Mitsubishi had to overcome when they marketed their hammers in the US in the 1970’s, and they largely did so with very competitive pricing. Neither Vulcan nor the Soviets, the latter working through their trade organisation, were prepared to really get the details of such an arrangement, and so Vulcan returned to the US empty handed. (Vulcan did get a chance to propose their offshore hammers, but this too came to nothing.)

At this point all seemed at a dead end, but by 1991 the Soviet Union was unraveling and Vulcan had established meaningful contact with some of the people it has met three years earlier. Given the economic conditions in Russia and Vulcan’s own priorities, the emphasis had shifted to Vulcan acquiring Russian equipment and technology, and the diesel hammers were high on the list.

The following year Vulcan personnel visited Russia again with the idea of acquiring the Sterlitamak hammer. Sterlitamak was the only Russian organisation which actively exported diesel hammers, and the pricing they had proposed (facilitated by the slide of the ruble) would give Vulcan what it was looking for: a proven diesel hammer, economically priced, which would allow it to repeat L.B. Foster’s blitz with the Kobe hammers twenty years earlier. (This kind of blitz was actually carried out by some of Vulcan’s competitors with the Chinese made hammers later in the decade and into the new millennium.)

Sterlitamak, however, got cold feet at the idea of selling their product at the price they originally proposed, so Vulcan was forced to look elsewhere for equipment. In doing so they discovered that not only did other manufacturers exist, but that they produced air cooled hammers, which is what Vulcan was looking for to start with. The first plant Vulcan visited was in Lyubertsy, south-east of Moscow, shown in the video below.

Vulcan purchased a few of their 2500 kg ram hammers. Below: the “before” (left, September 1993) and “after” (right) of the Lyubertsy manufactured diesel hammers. The biggest challenge (as with Nilens) was to move the fuel tanks (one on each side of the hammer, like the old XJ6 Jaguars) up and flatten them to get the hammer into 26″ leaders. Vulcan rechristened it the V25 Series 1 hammer.

Luybertsy-Diesel-Portrait V25-Series-I-Diesel

Vulcan also acquired 1800 kg ram hammers from a plant in Podolsk, south-west of Moscow.

Almost two years later Vulcan visited a military plant in Bryansk, which produced equipment for its railroad troops, as shown below.

A front view of the largest hammer designed for Vulcan, with a 7500 kg ram (Vulcan V75 Series II.) The jaws designed were stub jaws for U-type leaders. The pile cap arrangement below was a standard Russian type of arrangement using a large wood cushion and fabricated cap. Vulcan never intended to use this, but their own standard diesel cap system.

From this plant Vulcan purchased some 1250 kg ram hammers.

What Vulcan ended up with were hammers which were economical enough, but weren’t intended for export. (They suffered from a common Soviet problem: well executed design, but not so good execution in manufacturing. The Bryansk hammers, being from a military plant, were the best.) Vulcan was required to make modifications to the Podolsk and Bryansk hammers as they did with the Lyubertsy ones.

At this point things went awry on Vulcan’s end. Vulcan certainly did manage to deal with the technical and quality issues in front of it. But it could not come to an internal consensus on how to market them; the Kobe model wasn’t universally accepted. In the midst of this Vulcan’s other problems took precedence and the Series I program fell by the wayside.

Vulcan never intended the Series I hammers to be the last word on this. It commissioned the design of an air cooled “Series II” of hammers which ranged in size from 1250 kg ram to 7500 kg ram. Vulcan’s idea was that they would have a hammer which could be built in Russia, the US or wherever manufacturing was the best. The series design was completed but none were ever built, and so Vulcan never got the chance to overcome its past history and bring a viable and economical diesel hammer to market.


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