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Frank Lewis Douglas









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Frank Lewis Douglas the founder of Douglas Equipment, one of the world's leading suppliers of aviation towing tractors, ground support vehicles, port tractors, distribution and yard shunting tractors.


Douglas is Britain’s sole remaining heavy wheeled vehicle manufacturer, with its top of the line tractors having a tractive effort of 600 tonnes. Its story began in the late 1940s with timber tractor conversions of war-surplus AEC Matador 4x4s.

In the decade following World War Two, Britain was as axle deep in the mire as it is now. But in the immediate post-war years the engine that made the wheels go round was not banking or ‘services’ but engineering. The exhortations to what was proudly known to one and all as ‘British Industry’ was export or die – or in many cases make do and mend. Frank Douglas’ new enterprise had its feet in both camps. By the 1950s, when the automotive sector’s export drive made Britain the world’s biggest exporter of cars and trucks, Douglas was supplying customers in 25 countries.

Frank Douglas had previously been employed by Universal Power Drives (Unipower), which in 1937 introduced a 4x4 timber tractor. He got his new business up and running with timber tractor conversions of war-surplus 95bhp AEC Matador 4x4 medium artillery tractors.

The Matador is unquestionably one of the all-time greats of Britain’s once proud truck industry. Determined to make the best even better, Frank Douglas equipped re-fettled ex-Army Matadors for their peacetime task with a powerful winch, fold-down lattice jib and, mounted at the rear of the chassis, a twin-spade land anchor.

As war surplus Matador stocks dried up, in 1950 the company progressed to more extensively modified developments based on civilian AEC models in production at the time. Second-generation Douglas stump pullers were powered by a 9.6-litre, six-cylinder AEC diesel producing 125bhp at 1800rpm and 430ft-lb (583Nm) of torque at 1000rpm. With a 9.75ft wheelbase and weighing six tons unladen, they had a tractive effort of nine tons and were capable of climbing a 1 in 2 gradient at 12 tons gross.

Things have moved on somewhat in the intervening 50-odd years. Today’s flagship Douglas tractor, the TBL-600, has a maximum tractive effort of 600 tonnes – prodigious by any standard. The TBL-600 is designed for moving aircraft as big as an 853-passenger Airbus A380 ‘super jumbo’, the largest airliner in commercial service. Current catalogued engine options for the TBL-600 are a Caterpillar C18 producing 700bhp at 2100rpm and 3198Nm at 1400rpm and a Cummins QSK 19 delivering 760bhp at 2100rpm and 3098Nm of torque at 1400rpm.

By the time FL Douglas died in the mid-1960s, financial realities resulted in wider restructuring. His zealous enthusiasm for mechanical ingenuity led to a firm of moderate size accumulating an exceptionally diverse assortment of product types, some sold in insufficient numbers to recoup development costs.

Sensibly, though probably with great reluctance, Douglas retreated from on/off road markets and elected to concentrate on two vehicle families, port and terminal tugs and civil and military aircraft towing tractors.


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Last modified: Monday, 25 March 2024