Travelogues from Anonymous Mate continues in Kenya…
Just when I thought I had seen it all in light freight I experienced a mode of transport for hauling boxes, vegetables, and other small bulky goods on a vehicle called a hand wagon. In one sense it is simplicity in action as you can get extremely close to where ever you want to collect or deliver an item and maneuverability is infinitely more easy than say a pick up truck.
Let me explain how it is constructed, operated and its limitations. Construction: using disused car parts they make a cart about the size of a flat 4×6 trailer with only 2 moving parts – the 2 car wheels and no electricity. Instead of a tow bar, it has a bar across the front made out of pipe that the pusher can lean against at around hip height level. So in a sense, the cart fellow must get inside the pushing area and lean and push against the front pipe so as to make the hand wagon go where he wants it to go. In principle, very simple.
Then all you need to know is the principle of a lever and a fulcrum such that you place/balance the freight (weight) being carried over the axle such that the majority of weight is supported by the axle and your sole focus is pushing and manoeuvring the cart, hand wagon where you want to go. Conceivably you can load it up with as much as the axle can support. On the rear is a barrier to keep the goods from falling out while in transport. You can also put your licence number, name or what ever you want on the rear – who cares, its unregistered any way!
Now here is where the rubber meets the road literally and figuratively. Loads have a tendency to shift when going over bumps and what do you do when you have to stop quickly? Very soon you realise that understanding physics and gravity is a totalling different thing from having the experience of operating one of these contraptions. While watching these guys in actions you can quickly see what they do ( imagine in your own physical body) and suspect correctly you would not be able to do what they do, like not even close.
Let’s start with stopping the hand wagon. For example, in Canberra you are allowed to tow 500 kilos of firewood before your trailer is considered over weight. Let’s be real, how far could you pull or push by hand a 500 kilo trailer load even if you had a jockey wheel on your trailer? Now have you ever towed 500 kgs and tried to stop quickly? What have you noticed, experienced? Their form of stopping is to attach an old tire at the bottom rear of the cart and since the cart weight is always ever so slightly to the rear of the axle (its important to know how to load the cart weight properly) if the guy at the front lets go of the pushing bar at the front, the cart flips up at the front and the rear comes down on the old tire against the road so as to slow the cart. So again the principle is so simple as to be elegant.
However if you have even a scarric/smidgen of athletic ability, you only have to watch what these seemingly normal beings do to quickly realise you would not have a hope in hell transporting what they do. So lets start with the weights they can carry on a hand wagon. Here is a picture of 6 normal huge bags of potatoes @ weighing 90 kilos = 540kilos plus the weight of the hand wagon! Just getting the 6 – 90 kilo potatoe bags on the cart let alone positioning them so that the weight is only slightly to the rear of the axle defies imagination. Now if I have explained clearly, you have quickly come to the conclusion, that to load the cart the front of the hand truck is either in the air or the pusher had to be loaded up by another party so his feet are not in the air. After all, how can you push & maneuvre a cart through traffic if your feet are off the ground? Impossible.
Still with me? How do you break inertia, get 540 kilos plus the weight of the cart moving? Well usually there are two guys who work together to load and push the hand wagon. So once loaded up the pusher jumps up onto the pushing bar and then his helper does the same. With both of their weight out there, gravity brings the pusher’s feet back to the ground and he then leans out over the pushing bar to distribute his weight such that the bar remains parallel with the road. But you have to get the thing going so the second guy pushes from the rear and they are off!
Amazing as that is, it only gets more amazing. For example you don’t think a poor country builds them separate laneways do you? Not a chance! So they trudge along with cars and 24 wheelers coming up behind them at 80-100 kms only to swerve at the last minute to avoid hitting them. Please do not come to the conclusion that they have any empathy for the hard working boys rather, can you imagine the damage to your 80 km vehicle hitting a metal trailer weighing over 550 kilos? Thats like hitting an emu, kangaroo or a wombat multiplied about 10 times.
But wait, up ahead is a train overpass, how do you push a cart up that elevation even if the road has a gradual slope? Well with 40% of the population unemployed and also walking along the same road where the hand wagon is going there is always one or more boys willing to run out and get stuck helping push the hand wagon up the hill. By the time the 2 boys reach the top of the train overpass they are well and truly stuffed so have to take a break, of course in the road, where else? Traffic? I am reasonably fit from walking everywhere here (about 10km/day). So one of these hand wagons went by me fully loaded. Yes I was carrying 13 kilos in my back pack but was I going to let these guys get away from me before I got a picture, no way! Well after 2 kms trying to catch up to them to take a photo of these amazing guys I finally caught up to them at the crest of the train overpass – see below. Trust me, if the train over pass was not there I never would have caught them and I too was passing all the other walkers trying to catch these supermen. Pure animals they are and there are many of them doing this kind of work.
Anyway I got my pictures of them and carried on down from the crest of the train over-pass almost to the bottom. Now I know that most men place no value on something unless death or at least great physical danger is involved but what happened next I would not have believed except I ride bicycles and I saw it with my own eyes. These crazy bastards blew by me at about 40 kms and get this, so as to not have the front end flip up, the second fellow was adjusting his weight up front such that the pusher did not have to worry about adjusting the front push bar weight. HE ONLY HAD TO MAKE HIS LEGS RUN LIKE WHAT YOU SEEN IN COMEDIES WHERE THE FEET BARELY TOUCH THE GROUND GOING 40 KMS AN HOUR! If only I had my camera out, but who would have thought they would catch up to me? Absolutely unbelievable commitment or stupidity! Only 3 outcomes were available: stop immediately and the back end will flip up over the front nailing the 2 guys or the back end flips down backwards and the 2 guys at the front of the cart go airborne immediately or they make it. I was so astounded that they made it I forgot to get out my camera.
And then I realised they were still going to keep going so off I go to catch them but after 3 kms I gave up! Now David does marathons 3 times a year, but mate there is no way in hell he or anyone I know in Canberra could do what these guys do. By the time I made it back to the flat I had to rest for an hour. This last photo shows you the fellows I was chasing and how big the sacks of potatoes are – go right across the wagon and there are 6 bags @ 90 kilos!