Rollo lathes were made by Rollo Industries at the Barrmor Tool Works, Garadhmor Works, Easdale, By Oban, Scotland with the company offices at St. Andrew's Works, Bonnybridge. The founder of Rollo Industries was John M. Rollo (1901 - 1985) who had a hand in hiding the "Stone of Destiny" for thirteen weeks after it was stolen from Westminster Abbey in 1951.
Although small, the company produced (with the aid of young engineers considered by those in the know to have served an excellent apprenticeship) a range of simple, easily maintained but well-made lathes. These not only had a high degree of standardisation between models, but also parts that were interchangeable between examples made many years apart. With an unusually wide range of skills available, the works were able to undertake not only ordinary sub-contract work, but also highly specialised jobs, including very ambitious projects - one being exemplified by an Irish customer who wanted a particular model of a then very popular English capstan lathe, but one that was not, unfortunately, available in the length of bed he required. The Birmingham maker having refused to consider a one-off model, the owner commissioned Rollo to buy a standard version and have a longer bed cast at the Broomside Iron Foundry in High Bonnybridge and then machined as necessary - no small task.
On one occasion a letter from South Africa arrived at the desk of the then manager, John Walker, enquiring about spares to rebuild a lathe that had originally been fitted, some thirty years earlier, as part of the machine-room in a Clyde-built ship. Not only could the items be provided, he asserted, but they were still being used on lathes then under constructed on the shop floor.
During the Clydebank blitz in World War 2 a German plane dropped a large land-mine close to the tiny works, the pilot no doubt attracted by the flames issuing from several kilns being fired in the three surrounding brick yards. With unembarrassed pride the company always maintained that, so important was their contribution to the war effort, that this bomb had been aimed at them.
Besides machine tools Rollo also produced, during the 1950s until the 1960s (and possibly later) what must have been one of the world's first miniature tractors the "Croftmaster" a 4-wheel device designed, appropriately enough, by Mr John Rollo himself. It was available in both standard and "Twin" forms, with the very first version reported (unreliably) as being pedal powered - in which case it would have been only marginally less tiring than digging with a spade or dragging things about by hand. The real versions were powered by a JAP water-cooled 4-stroke and various BSA and Villiers units. Not all the tractors were made at the Barrmor Works, a second factory in Firemore, Inverasdale being opened to cope with demand and, according to rumour, production of complete or part units being undertaken elsewhere as well.
Helped by "The Highland Fund", an organisation founded in 1954 to assist in developing the more remote parts of the country, the tractor soon became popular. It was also actively supported by many notables of the time, amongst whom was (naturally enough) Mr John Rollo, appointed as Vice Chairman. He was specifically thanked by the fund for Designing, developing and producing the Croft Master Tractor - which he made available to the organisation at cost. An anonymous donor then covered the purchase of one-hundred units and made them available to Crofters throughout the Highlands and Islands, the distribution being completely free of charge.
If you have a Rollo mini-digger, or any information about them, the writer would be interested to hear from you.
Unlike many concerns making larger machine tools, Barrmor also dabbled in lathes for amateurs and, besides a wood lathe, also produced three versions of their unusual Elf model, a machine that defied conventional design criteria in several interesting ways..