A Century of Expanding Horizons: Robert Livingstone

Posted: 09/02/2015 | Scottish War Blinded

As work progresses rapidly on the new Queensferry Crossing bridge, our second in the series of ‘A Century of Expanding Horizons, articles describes the ingenuity of Scottish War Blinded member, Robert Livingstone, who provided a solution to a considerable problem which halted the construction of the Forth Road Bridge in 1963.

Contractors were faced with a problem when connecting the viaduct approaches to the Forth Road Bridge. It was necessary, during the connection process, to bore holes into the mean beam girders which, upon completion, required sealing to prevent corrosion. Several potential solutions, involving corrosion-resistant cadmium plated bolts and prototype plastic plugs, were proposed and later rejected.

The contractors approached the Linburn Workshops in the spring of 1963 having heard its members were engaged in plastic moulding projects. Impressed by the workmanship and lively response of the men an order was placed at Linburn for the development and production of the plastic plugs.

Robert Livingstone, totally blind and his left hand amputated as a result of service in North Africa during World war II, was shown early prototypes of the plastic plugs which were assembled in five parts. To the astonishment of everyone, he had developed a solution to the problem within an hour providing a plug with sufficient seal and strength.

Robert produced over 10,000 of the plastic plugs using an injection moulding machine installed at his home in Arbroath during the latter part of 1963. Upon completing the order, Robert visited the Forth Road Bridge site receiving some well earned praise and thanks for his efforts. Robert sadly passed away a short time afterwards.

His work was recognised in Scottish War Blinded’s 1964 Annual Report:

“It is remarkable that, on this Forth Road Bridge project, which is renowned throughout the world as an example of engineering skill, a problem involving the most recent scientific techniques has been solved by the Scottish National Institution for the War Blinded and one of their craftsmen. It shows that the men, by their own courage and the training and attention they receive, can feel that they have a part to play in the development of Scotland.”