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Bell Equipment founder passes on



It is with great sadness that South Africa’s leading heavy equipment manufacturer Bell Equipment announces the passing away of its founder, Irvine Bell at his home on 11 October at the grand age of 91.

His enquiring mind and innovative spirit will live on as a legacy to the company. His humble, quiet and unassuming attitude will not easily be forgotten by those whose lives he touched. 

On behalf of the family and company, Bell Equipment Chief Executive, Gary Bell said: “Irv touched many people's lives and we are proud and thankful for his founding principles and the fine example he was to all of us. Everything that’s been achieved at Bell Equipment is built on the sound foundation he established. He will be greatly missed.”

At the heart of his values was having a strong sense of family, teamwork and integrity. Taking pride and passion in one's efforts, showing commitment and a willingness to learn, whilst striving to innovate and care for customers. Today these values form the cornerstone of Bell Equipment's success. Under the leadership of Irvine, and later his sons, the company has lived these values and this has seen Bell Equipment develop into a world class company and a recognised global player in heavy equipment business.

Irvine had an early - and enduring - fascination with tools and machines. Even during his school days he could never stay out of workshops. Whatever nobody else would teach him he taught himself, whether it was servicing starter motors or refurbishing used batteries.

He and his new bride and company co-founder Eunice, settled in Zululand a few years after the Second World War. Having completed his trade apprenticeship as a Fitter and Turner on a Northern Natal Colliery, where he had grown up, and after serving five years in the Army Corps of Engineers during the War, Irvine applied his engineering skills in to building a home-made water boring machine. 

Following two years of drilling boreholes for a living, he took up an offer to start a farm machinery repair service on a sugar estate near Empangeni on the North Coast of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The enterprise's ability to repair even the most extensively damaged or worn machinery soon attracted work from further afield.

When the business expanded in 1958 Irvine Bell built a new workshop on his smallholding. Now joined by his brother Robert, brother-in-law Malcolm Campbell and with Eunice keeping the books, the small enterprise, I A Bell and Company, provided a general engineering service along with the manufacture of Irvine's various inventions.

Irvine had a remarkable ability to listen to his customers, the sugar farmers of that time and transform their needs into innovative machine solutions. Among his inventions were a self-loading sugar cane trailer and a gantry crane for the local farmers. Since that time the company has been instrumental in shaping mechanisation in the sugar industry.

The company’s first defining moment came in the early 1960s when Irvine saw a further opportunity to improve the sugar cane harvesting process. The main problem to confront cane growers in the event of a strike was the loading of cane onto the rigs - an operation carried out manually in the days when cane farming was highly labour intensive. Bell set about designing a hydraulic three-wheeled cane loader that could pick up and load the harvested crop. His invention, which revolutionised the cane industry, was a world-first in mechanical cane loading, and the machine was patented in 1964. The Tri-Wheeler concept has remained popular and a Bell Cane Loader remains indispensable on many cane farms

Among Irvine's achievements was receiving the President’s Order for Meritorious Service Award in 1987, for “rendering exceptionally meritorious service in the general public interest”. However Irvine’s contribution to technology innovation in the heavy earthmoving industry was perhaps best recognised in 2009 when a Lifetime Achiever Award was bestowed on him at the Technology Top 100 Awards – the first such award to be presented since the inception of the awards programme in 1991.

Hamba kahle Mkhulu.

The Memorial Service for the late Irvine Allan Bell will be held at the Bell Factory in Alton, Richards Bay on Saturday 15 October at 11am.

Source: Bell