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The Care and Feeding of the McAllister Camera Dolly?


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#1 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 07 October 2010 - 04:19 AM

I was looking for any information on the McAllister camera dolly with the hydraulic riser. Where spare parts might be available (this one is missing the Side boards, Diving board and Drop board and a locking sleeve for 1st's seat. The operator seat has one. Also where one might find tires for it.) I would also like to find a manual or on-line manual. Does anyone know what is the proper hydraulic oil one should use on this beast? Any and all information would be greatly appreciated. Thanks B)
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#2 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 08 October 2010 - 01:31 AM

WOW, I figured SOMEONE would know SOMETHING about these things. I did get some info from H.W. Stone over at the Konvas.org site. Here's what he had to say:

"History on the dolly will give you the inside track to operation and rebuilds-- the original design was a bomb loader to move 500 and 750 pound bombs for WW2 aircraft. There was a version for 1,000 pound bombs, but it is wider and longer, and seldom was converted. The company that designed them never made them, they were made by aircraft companies, and they used off the shelf aircraft hydraulics and off the shelf hard forklift and warehouse wagon tires. After WW2 the forklifts all switched to the aircraft hydraulics, and still use them today.

The only custom parts for the dolly conversion were the seats. Anyone who does either forklifts or aircraft hydraulics can work on them, and they take one look at the hydraulics and can tell you what it should be running, and usually tell you that draining the system, flushing it, and refilling it is a good move because of the hydraulic oil age. It should be replaced every ten to fifteen years, and they can just dip into the system and see if it looks like it needs it or not. The tires are standard "warehouse" forklift tires, and they recommend changing all of them at once. You can also get a "yard and lot" wheel and tire set, which simply means it is set up to go into parking lots and outdoor warehouse yards. They are a shade larger than the originals, and come in both tread and no tread versions.

The outside metal was designed to be cut from leftover bits from aircraft wing, body, and tail stampings, and is easy for any aircraft metal worker to make cheaper than you can buy it-- if you have a good guy-- because it can be cut from scrap metal aircraft parts.

The only warning is do NOT mix types of hydraulic fluid. That might be a good reason to drain it and flush it, just to be sure. If two types are mixed you start getting leaks, but, like I said, both aircraft hydraulics guys and forklift guys can handle and even replace anything in the hydraulics with ease, from the electric motors through the lines and cylinders.

Enjoy it-- they work well."

I love the fact that this is a modified piece of WWII military equipment. That means it was built to be simple, straight forward, tough and easily repaired!!! JUST the kind of design that will hold up over years of production. It is a little heavy, 690 lbs but certainly usable on dolly tracks and I really like the adjustable riser which allows one to set the riser height to the operator finds most comfortable. Does anyone know if skateboard wheel saddles can be adapted to pneumatic tires? My key grip told me that they just run the dolly's pneumatic tires on wider pipe(I believe he said 1 1/4 to 1 1/2)He said they used, I believe furniture polish or talcum power to quiet the squeak of the tires rolling along the track. The only problem I can see with that large of pipe is fabricating circular track for it. I DID find out the accessories (sideboards, diving board and drop board) will have to be fabricated which should be fairly easy. I'm really excited about getting to use this thing in production. Here's what the little beast looks like:

Posted Image

How does this dolly compare with more modern camera dollies? B)
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#3 Warwick Hempleman

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Posted 08 October 2010 - 01:42 AM

There was a thread some time back on McAllisters, if I recall correctly. And if I further recall correctly the biggest difficulty is finding a membrane accumulator for the dolly's hydraulics system. The type used in McAllisters is apparently no longer available new. Since the membranes inevitably fail, the issue was sourcing or making a comparable replacement, or replacing the accumulator wit ha comparable, newer design. Here you get into physical and weight constraints.

As to the track, most dolly track is 1 1/2" in the US anyway, but riding on top of the rails with that dolly sounds dubious at best. The tires ought to fit into most skateboard troughs. And I stand by Pledge as an anti-squeak spray.
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#4 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 09 October 2010 - 12:57 AM

Good to know, thank you for that very important bit of information. That s the one drawback of older technology, it gets replaced with newer, though not always better stuff. As for the McAllister's membrane accumulator, how can you tell when the membrane accumulator is going out, where is it located and what would be the modern replacement for it? (I really need a manual for this thing.)

I think his main concern about running the dolly in skateboard troughs was the pneumatic tires and if they would cause any problems in achieving a smooth tracking shot. How would you say the McAllister measures up to say a Fisher 10 or 11 aside from the obvious weight issues? B)
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#5 Warwick Hempleman

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Posted 09 October 2010 - 06:08 AM

The accumulator fail is pretty easy to spot, loss of pressure, disappearance of oil as it displaces the gas, and ultimately loss of boom function. As long as the tires are normally inflated, using the troughs is no issue at all. As to a comparison - you're looking at machines that were designed decades apart. Fisher and Chapman built on what the McAllister and Moviola Studio dollies could do. It'd be nice to have a working McAllister sitting around a stage for low budget or maybe 3D rigs, but otherwise you'll get more fun faster with a newer dolly.
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#6 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 10 October 2010 - 03:05 AM

Well being most definitely low budget, I'll take the cost savings over speed right now. I'm VERY glad I was able to obtain this little beast and am very sure it will work for us. I really appreciate you taking the time to give me a heads up on this unit Warwick. Your the best. :)
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#7 Hal Smith

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Posted 10 October 2010 - 10:54 AM

Cap'n

If anyone's got a McAlister dolly manual I'll bet it's Nathan at Owyheesound: http://owyheesound.c...ster-dolly.html .

There's a "Contact" link on his webpage.
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#8 JD Hartman

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Posted 10 October 2010 - 02:44 PM

F.Y.I.: http://www.tobul.com...ntpage&Itemid=1 This sort of stuff isn't "black magic". How involved you get with the care and feeding, depends on how willing you are and how handy you are with tools. Since these were adapted from a piece of military equipment, it's highly likely that a publication exists that describes the hydraulic system and its operation and maintenance.

Edited by JD Hartman, 10 October 2010 - 02:46 PM.

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#9 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 10 October 2010 - 08:53 PM

Thanks guys, I'll check out the links. Honestly, I'm not bad with tools but hydraulics is something that seems a bit of a specialty so UNLESS it's cost prohibitive, I'll leave it to professionals. The unit is in good working order, though makes some noise while charging which I attribute to the reservoir being low and the fact it hasn't been used in quite a while (maybe 6 months to a year) so I'll take Warwick's advice and have the system flushed and refilled. I DID get some information from H.W. Stone regarding the McAllister's membrane accumulator which I'd like to pass along to anyone (and apparently there are several people on this board alone) who owns or work with these little beasts. Here's what he had to say:

"Got word back from a mechanic I had used-- now retired and on an around the world cruise-- and he said that there are Hyster, York, and a couple of other forklift makers that use the identical unit and can replace the membrane or entire unit for a reasonable cost."

So IF this is still the case (the mechanic is retired so it's possible things might have changed since his retirement), repair with original style parts may be possible and less expensive than a refit. At the moment, the McAllister's membrane accumulator seems to be working perfectly so this is, at least for me at the moment, for future reference. I'll continue to relate any new information I get as I become aware of it. B)

Edited by James Steven Beverly, 10 October 2010 - 08:56 PM.

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#10 JD Hartman

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Posted 11 October 2010 - 02:44 PM

Flush and refill? Why? Any condensed water would tend to accumulate in the bottom of the hydraulic reservoir, so it will drain out with the fluid (oil). If the inside of the empty tank isn't rusty, then there probably wasn't any water in the system. If the tank had any water, the pickup line for the hydraulic pump is positioned above the bottom of the tank to prevent drawing any in. Replace the filter at the same time time you replace the oil. Most any forklift repair shop should be able to provide the replacement oil and filter. You wouldn't believe the kind of use and abuse a forklift gets and they keep going and going and going. In comparison a dolly lives a life more akin to a Rolls-Royce motor car.

Edited by JD Hartman, 11 October 2010 - 02:46 PM.

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#11 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 12 October 2010 - 04:57 AM

Oh, I know what you mean, we've had several forklifts over the years. They do tend to get a little beat up. The main reason for the drain, flush and refill (of course this would include any filter replacements, basic maintenance, ect.)is that I don't know how this unit has been taken cared of or maintained, when the last time the oil was changed or what oil was used(which,from what I've been told, is supposed to be every 10 to 15 years and mixing oils of different kinds causes leaks).

I don't doubt the unit was taken care by the guy I got it from but he told me that it was really dirty when he got and he spent a lot of time cleaning it up as well as reupholstering the seats, so the guy before him may not have been so meticulous. It was a little loud when we charged it, so maybe there's some air in the lines or something like that.

HERE'S my thinking, you are right, a camera dolly is treated more like an expensive sports car than a farm truck BUT, LIKE a sports car, it sits around a lot more than a farm truck has the luxury of doing and like any machine, if it sits too long, I'm assuming it can develop problems from lack of use. The guy I got it from said it had not been used for quite a while and was just taking up space on his studio floor which is why he was willing to sell it at a price I could afford. I just figured it's not a bad idea to go through it a little before we put it out on the job where it would cost a whole lot of money if it fails.

It COULD be making noise just from the jostling of being moved across country but again, I don't know enough about it to make an informed guess.

I've got a couple of friends who work on forklifts, so I'll let them explain what maintenance they feel should be done and take it from there, I suppose. I do very much appreciate all the information. B)
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#12 Bruce Taylor

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Posted 12 October 2010 - 07:36 PM

It was a little loud when we charged it, so maybe there's some air in the lines or something like that.


I had a McAlister until recently, and it WAS loud when pumping up-- so it may be normal. I mean the thing runs at something like 3000psi, right? As long as it was quiet while operating (which it was) I didn't have a problem.

I wish I still had it, but there were drawbacks. First the weight-- makes for very steady moves, but it is hell to move. Though if I were wrestling 150lb camera packages it wouldn't have seemed so bad. The other thing is that it is 40 or 42" wide, so it will never go through a standard 36" doorway! I read a post somewhere where a fellow had narrowed the chassis to something like 34". If I had the wherewithall to do that I would have kept it.
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#13 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 12 October 2010 - 10:35 PM

AAAAAHHHHH STEADICAMS are for indoors, McAlister's are for outdoors and studios. :rolleyes: ACTUALLY, I didn't consider this all that much, STILL you should have kept it. Can these things be turned on their sides and pushed in a room on a piano dolly or will that screw up the hydraulics? I know the push bar and steering arm are wider than many doorways but on it's side, you should be able to jockey it in though unless it has to go down a narrow hall. B)
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#14 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 15 October 2010 - 12:26 AM

The other thing is that it is 40 or 42" wide, so it will never go through a standard 36" doorway! I read a post somewhere where a fellow had narrowed the chassis to something like 34". If I had the wherewithall to do that I would have kept it.


When I read this I remembered when I had this thing sent to El Paso, I got the dimensions from the guys over at Fantastic Plastic for the shippers. The width was supposed to be 2 ft, 10 in. so I decided to measure it myself just to be sure and it was actually 33 in. (2 ft. 9 in. although I'm sure the guys over there purposely, and prudently, erred on the side of caution) NOW that may seem like good news and for exterior doors, it is wonderful because in the USA, the average exterior door is 36 in. (3 ft.)wide HOWEVER the average INTERIOR door is 32 in. (2 ft. 8 in.) which I could see as a bit of a problem. I guess it would depend on how often scenes tend to get filmed in back rooms of an average sized home. I guess this must be a newer unit or one that has been converted to modern standards.

It still weighs in a 690 pounds so it is 150 pounds heavier than the 445 pound Fisher 9. BUT of course the Fisher 9 uses 4 different camera risers, 36", 24", 12" and 6" whereas the McAlister has a built in, hydraulic variable height riser which for my money more than makes up for the 150LB weight differential between the 2 units.

A quick look at the J.L. Fisher site gives me a pretty good idea of how the front, side, beam, drop and diving boards as well as the front porch and the lifting and carrying handles for their unit are constructed. By taking the size if the Fisher 9 it's self and the size of it's accessories, I should be able to extrapolate from these drawings what would probably be the optimal size of the various boards for the McAlister.

I'll probably use polished aluminum diamond plate for the construction of the accessories instead of carpeted wood for looks, better resistance to wear and weather and weight reduction on an already heavy dolly.

I DID get ahold of Nathan at Owyheesound. He said he had never even considered a manual being created for these units as they were re-purposed WWII bomb loaders and as JD Hartman suggested, I might be able to find a manual for the hydraulics, so I guess I'll start looking for a WWII bomb loader manual instead. B)

Edited by James Steven Beverly, 15 October 2010 - 12:29 AM.

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#15 JD Hartman

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Posted 15 October 2010 - 09:53 AM

Well, because I'm way too curious for my own good, I've done some asking around. Couple of guys who work at aircraft museums and have experience with repair and restoration of military aircraft and support equipment are puzzling over the thing at this moment. Most of the bomb loaders they are familiar with are powered with a gas engine (or battery and electric pump) and much bigger than that dolly. One of their first thoughts was maybe it's not from the WW2 era. They wanted to know the overall size of the dolly and did it appear that the wheels were mounted on the original framework? Could it have been three wheeled in it's former life?
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#16 Bruce Taylor

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Posted 15 October 2010 - 06:44 PM

Steve, did you buy T2's McAlister that he had for sale?
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#17 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 15 October 2010 - 09:38 PM

HHHUUUUMMMM, interesting. I wonder now if all I have been told about the history of this unit might be either, incomplete, exaggerated or myth. The dimensions of this dolly are Length: 5ft-7in, width: 2ft-9in, height: 3ft-3in to the top of the steering T-bar, I'll have to get the info on the height to the top of the platform. I haven't taken that good of a look at the frame or steering, but H.W. Stone said the they were constructed out of whatever aircraft and forklift materials they had lying around which is why he couldn't give me any information on the dimensions of the accessories like the side boards. Because they used what what left over, the sizes varied with the material they had to work with. I found this pic of 250lb bombs being loaded into a bomber and the loader looks nothing like the McAlister:

http://3.bp.blogspot.../battlertgb.jpg

HOWEVER, I found these and one could extrapolate for the pics that a smaller version could be used as a camera dolly:

http://www.hiinet.co...ages/P1Bom1.gif

http://home.clara.ne...es/y_loader.jpg

I'll try and do some more research as well.
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#18 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 15 October 2010 - 10:01 PM

Steve, did you buy T2's McAlister that he had for sale?


Yes. I've wanted professional camera dolly for our production company forever. I thought I'd probably end up with a old, beat up Moviola or something like that. So when this one came available, I thought, what the Hell, it doesn't hurt to ask. I emailed and called Todd, thinking there was no way on Earth I would be able to afford it right now. Todd is a great guy and easy to deal with. I told him my situation and he was generous enough to make me a deal I simply couldn't refuse (Thanks again, Todd). I paid him, then it took a while, but I was able to secure shipping and it got here about a week and a half ago and It was more than I could have hoped for. Todd did a LOT of work, cleaning this little beast up and re-upholstering the seats and it shows. Quite frankly, I'd rather have this dolly than a new Fisher or Chapman!! I absolutely LOVE it!! B)
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#19 Joel Warren

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Posted 29 November 2010 - 05:17 PM

I just received my new "pre-owned" McAllister dolly. I need to "knock the dust off" this thing- I feel like this dolly is a step in the right direction for my company, however it needs some TLC- including new tires, and a tooth brush scrubbing (with crest, not colgate!) over every inch of this BEAST. I'm scratching my head when looking at this monster and it conjures up 2 memories: My crew and I have nearly tipped over many times when moving onto the curved portion of track using the standard fisher 10's and 11's, and secondly- my ever growing collection of SLR aka DSLR aka HDSLR aka HD DSLRs (that are starting to feel like playing cards) are getting smaller and requested by clients more often.
(So... dude whats your point?)
Should I throw some money at this thing to make it appear that it might have been constructed a few decades closer to the 21st century? Or let it go and spend another 10k(ish) to buy a newer, smaller dolly?
1st issue: I need new tires- any suggestions?
2nd issue: this accumulator issue? can anyone offer me some foresight (replacement, maintenance, other important stuff that I have not mentioned out of lack of knowledge)?
3rd issue: handle installation? how/where on the dolly might we do/have done this?

Any information would be greatly appreciated.


-JOEL
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#20 Charles simons

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Posted 18 June 2015 - 07:21 PM

I have a completely reconditioned from the ground up moviola crab dolly for sale
It looks brand-new
Comes with
6 inch can riser
12 inch camera riser
16 inch camera offset
24 inch camera offset
90° Mitchel camera plate
Seat riser
45° seat riser
4 Seat offsets
3 newly upholstered seats
Rotating offset Mitchell head
2 complete sets of tires
Dolly parts cart
Extra parts , screws, oils , wheel bearings
I can send photos if interested
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