The Finnieston Crane (also known as the Stobcross Crane) is the largest of the cantilever cranes, of which four remain along the river. The last to be built, it was erected in 1931 especially to load huge locomotives, a major export and Glasgow’s second most important engineering industry. It is
still in working order.
Local author James Cowan described a trip up the crane and to the far end of the jib in 1935: ‘A noticeable peculiarity of each lateral movement was that it was not continuous, but took place in gentle jerks of a few inches at a time. The object of this is to prevent the load at the end of the cables acquiring a swinging motion, which would soon render the accurate placing of any load a matter of great difficulty and danger...I saw the heavy machinery ... placed in a few minutes into a space where there was hardly an inch to spare on one side or the other, all the directions during this delicate operation being conveyed to the craneman by signs, and blasts on a whistle...’
The crane’s capacity was 175 tons. It is 175 ft high with a 152 ft jib which could make a full revolution, of 1,000 ft at the tip of the jib, in 3½ minutes. It was built by the Carlisle firm Cowans, Sheldon & Co. At the time it was the largest hammerhead crane in Europe.
Its principal purpose was to load heavy locomotives for export but it was also used for fit ships’ engines for yards which lacked their own fitting out dock, and to load heavy armaments into warships. At first the massive locomotives were drawn slowly through the streets from the works by steam road locomotives. Later they were put onto low-loaders. There were a number of locomotive builders, including the Caledonian Railway, and Andrew Barclay, Sons & Company of Kilmarnock. By far the largest was the North British Locomotive Company which was formed in 1903 when three rival companies – Dübbs & Co, Neilson, Reid & Co and Sharp Stewart & Co - joined forces. At its height NBLC employed over 5,000 men and exported 90% of its output.
In 1987 the Glasgow sculptor George Wylie created a memorable and poignant artwork, The Straw Locomotive, for the Finnieston Crane in 1987. Made from straw in the form of a full size locomotive, the sculpture processed slowly through the streets, then dangled from the crane for two weeks, twisting slowly in the wind, before being brought down and set ablaze, as a commemoration of this once vital industry.