After many different companies I have worked for over the years, wagons/buses/ coaches..I had a go at them all.. working some years from season to season in some cases..in the winter on the wagons, and in the summer on the coaches, jobs were easy to get in those days, so I had a ball.
I WILL BE 71 YEARS OLD this year 2019 AND I AM CURRENTLY STILL WORKING ON THE AGENCY FOR VARIOUS COMPANIES UP HERE IN THE NORTH, MAINLY NIGHT TRUNKING TO FORTEC AT WATFORD VILLAGE (WATFORD GAP) out OF BRADFORD, WHICH SUITS ME DOWN TO THE GROUND NOW..IT’S REALLY NICE AND STEADY FOR THE AGE I’M AT.
BUT MY JOURNEY STARTED FOR ME ON THE ROAD, WAY BACK IN 1965 AS A TRAILER MATE AT THE TENDER AGE OF 17 AFTER I LEFT SCHOOL WITH LITTLE OR NO EDUCATION.
I had lived in a small village in the country as a boy, and was as green as grass to the goings on in the outside world…. until I was to don my green overalls, and steel toecap boots, which seemed to be the unwritten order of uniform for a long distance lorry driver back in the day.
And that’s when a whole new and exciting world opened up to me, and now almost 53 years on, driving Buses, Coaches and Lorries…Wagons…Trucks…
I can share some of my travels and photo’s and video’s with you, thanks to the power of the internet.
My old Albion Clydesdale of Eccles and Scotts (Halifax) we tramped many a happy mile in the late sixties before motorways and bypasses carpeted this green and pleasant land.
This was my upgrade from the Albion Clydesdale that I had at my previous job at Calder Valley Transport.
This now classic vehicle was equipped with NONE of the following:
Power steering / Radio / Night Heater / Tacho / Heated mirrors / multifunction heated lumbar seat / bed-bunks / air ride / exhaust brake / on board computers.
The air con, however, was always present through the engine cover which was situated in the centre of the cab, unfortunately, it only had one setting, which was effin freezing.
The necessary extras that came with the vehicle were, good strong ropes and sheets/chains and Sylvesters, or if your Scottish.Twangs..lol,
various lengths of timber for landing steel and machinery on, my hands were like concrete, all cracked and hard coz gloves were for girls..
But we did have the statutory tin of easy start for the winter months.
…Oh! and not to forget, you needed a good sense of humor.
So come on… climb aboard.. no need for any silly high viz health and safety rubbish on here…jump in, and take a ride through the last fifty odd years of my world in transport with me.
We have come a long way in the last 50 years
The Juniper Berry at Southampton was a popular overnight drinking den, one which a lot of drivers my age and older will fondly recall.
Many a happy night was spent in this tavern.
This pub, not far from the dock area was our meeting place for a great night out for all the lads from up North… and the rest of the nation too I might add.
I spent my 21st birthday here in 1969.
The Southampton Dockers were on strike at the time.
BUT IT ALL STARTED A FEW YEARS EARLIER FOR ME…
We all have fond memories of how things used to be in the old days when we first started wagon/truck driving.
Good or bad, they were certainly different, and most of the lads I worked with then, have grown, let’s say..more mature and a lot wiser, as we all do…or should do..lol.
So dust off your rosie glasses and come on .. climb aboard..
Most of the photographs and stories are local to my area of Halifax up here in West Yorkshire, however, they have affected so many people nationwide, and I reckon that it is all relevant to so many people.
I hope they will invoke fond memories of times long gone, and of friends and colleagues, the ones that are sadly gone, and those of us still here now to tell the tale, the tale of how different it was then, and the camaraderie and friendship that existed between each other, which has lasted, in my case, throughout my lifetime, and something for which I will be eternally grateful.
Over the years I have worked for many different companies up and down this great land of ours, mainly in and around the West Yorkshire area, I started my driving career in 1965 as a boy of 17, the very first journey I was to make was as a drivers mate, my driver was a chap called Spud Murphy (we all knew one around here) and he was charged with an added duty, one of which I think he could have done without at the time, (babysitting me) anyway Spud showed me the ropes, if you will pardon the pun.
The very first company that I was to drive for would be a chemical firm by the name of Wm. Aske of Water Lane in Halifax it was 1964/5 and I was working as a trainee lab technician at the time, but I knew then, that wasn’t the job for me, I was always out in the yard talking to Spud (my Driver) and helping him with the wagon, which was a 6 legger Thames Trader with a flatbed body in battleship grey.
I managed to talk him into letting me travel shotgun with him on one of his trips to Glasgow during the works holidays, this was a run in those days where the old road was the only road, the M6 and M62 were still on the architects drawing board.
So we left Halifax via Keighley – Skipton – Settle – Kendal – Shap – dinner time stop at the Jungle cafe, then on to Carnforth – Carlisle – Ecclefeccan – Beattock – Crawford – stop at Crawford truck stop for eats, but it wasn’t called a truck stop then, it was plain and simple… we just called it a cafe, remember, we were Lorry drivers, and we hadn’t been Americanised yet.
Jungle Cafe..of Yesteryear
as seen in my memory Lane video below:
O.K. bellies full and refreshed, we got stuck into the final leg of the long journey to Bonnie Scotland, onward along the A74 to Lesmahagow- Hamilton, and then into the great city of Glasgow (my home town as a very small boy)
On the way into Glasgow along the London Road, there was a Salvation Army Hostel, and this is where we would spend the night.
Let me tell you, this was an experience I will never forget, there was no en-suite , no walls between you and the next fellow, just a curtain, and all I heard all night long were noises of human exhaust from both ends, you can imagine the smell, …never mind, it was only one night out of my whole life.
The next day dawned and off we went into the deepest darkest city of Glasgow to make our delivery, and after that trip, I never looked back and I knew what I wanted to do, and that’s where it all started for me in the haulage industry.
A lot of haulage companies used drivers mates back then, and it was a good leg up if that’s what you wanted to do, especially for youngsters like myself just starting out and learning the ropes, and I mean that literally.
I have to say this without trying to sound being too old and boring, but it really was hard heavy graft, the wagons, were very basic, everything was handball, no shrink-wrapped palletised loads, and all us lads from the northern textile towns had a wool hook as part of our uniform.
The hook was for positioning the heavy wool bales on the lorry before we roped and sheeted them, and they were a dead weight, I can tell you.
Most of our lorries were fitted with a ratcheting system, front to rear, so you could tighten the wool load down the full length of the wagon as well as roping them from the side.
When I turned 18 I had my first proper driving job and was able to drive my wagon on my car licence, which was a little red hessian backed booklet type that you applied for from the local council office here in Halifax.
That covered you to drive any vehicle, the heavy goods licence was yet to be introduced, this came about in 1968 when you were required by law to hold a HGV.
I was working for Eccles & Scott of Halifax at the time, my boss asked us all to apply for the licence, and we were issued an HGV stamp on our ordinary licence until the correct ones were in full-time use, no test was required, and they were issued by Grandfather rights.
Most of the wagons still had vacuum brakes and no power steering, tiny little wiper blades which never seemed to work properly, there was a little handle inside that you could manually twist to help it go faster as the rain got heavier.
No one I knew had the luxury of a sleeper cab, nobody had a nice warm night heater, and the heaters that were in the cab were very poor indeed, you got the heat you needed from the engine updraft coming up through the engine cover in the middle of the cab which could be removed to access the engine and do basic repairs to when necessary, which was more often than not in my case.
I had to cover it over completely with blankets to soundproof it, which also doubled up as a draught proofer as well, in an effort to keep some heat in on cold winter mornings, which never worked, by the way.
I can tell you now, that the noise from the road and the engine, and the cold still got through, there was also the psychological factor attached to it that really worked, you got so that you could trick your mind into thinking you were warm an cozy, and you just got used to the noise after a while, it seemed to work for me anyway.
In the dark cold winters mornings at 0300/0400, I would go down to the yard in Halifax to get ready for my day’s work which would more than likely take me away for a week or a few days.
My motor /wagon at the time was an Albion Clydesdale 4 wheeler flatback wool wagon with a push-button starter, it also had a winder starter too which I’ll come to in a moment.
O.K. in I jump and give the starter some welly the engine would turn and turn and the exhaust was a picture..thick white clouds of smoke coming out helped along with a can of easy start sprayed directly into the air filter.
The thick blue-grey smoke would fill the early morning air and just hang there, I used to think that it smelt really nice. you couldn’t see anything for a while, but sometimes they wouldn’t start because the diesel had frozen which separates the wax and it drops to the bottom of the tank.
So this is where the mother of necessity comes to the rescue,..after lighting up some old rags which were soaked in diesel we placed them underneath the diesel tank, then set them alight and the diesel would slowly thaw out,then it was time to use the big guns, yes, the winding handle, off round to the front to insert the handle into it’s coupling and turn it, now remember ,this is a big diesel engine that I am trying to turn over by hand, so it was no easy task, anyway after a few turns (at speed I have to add ) It would begin to fire, but only in spits and puffs, and if to let go of the pressure while it was on the firing position, it would kick back and give you a nasty clout on the hand, by this time you are well warm and the cold morning just blended into the background.
After the starting ritual, it was time to check the load which was always roped and sheeted, I walked around the wagon pulling at the frozen solid ropes which were as stiff as a board, the sheets were in the same condition, anyway the engine is running and it’s time to start my journey, destination, the big smoke..London…
My load was 2 high and a roller of Aussie’s, they were big heavy woolen bales bound for some funny sounding continent far away on the other side of the world, my job was to get them to the docks in London’s East End, and all the way there it was old roads to the A1 and through every little town and village, high streets, the lot, and the reason for that was, there were no motorways or bypasses that were built and ready to use, they were still in the process of constructing them, so it took the whole day to get to London.
London was (and still is) a distance of 200 miles from my hometown of Halifax, it seemed to take an eternity to get there, but there were a lot of superb greasy spoon cafes to call in on route, and we knew them all.
In those days It was considered to be very rude to drive in the dark with your headlights on, which sounds a bit strange now, to say the least, when the lorries in those days came equipped with very small candle like sidelights, no health and safety here then!
The first little wagon of my own at the time was an Albion Clydesdale 4 legger flatbed, I named her “The Flying Scotsman” she was only capable of doing 45 m.p.h. flat out, unless you knocked it into whispering seventh downhill, then it would start to run away with you, so you needed to take care when operating in this mode, and always took a run down a hill to get your speed up for the oncoming uphill bit.
Excitement took hold of me the closer I got to London, I suppose I was a little nervous too, after all this was the big city, and I was a died in the wool country boy, so I found it a bit daunting, to say the least, I also had to use a map and an A to Z ..no sat nav, and no mobile phone, so it was public call boxes which were the only means of communication with the boss.
All I had to do that day on arrival is to find my way to Back Church Lane in Aldgate E1, where we all meet up and park up for the night, where a few bevies would be downed and lots of tales told of the days events, the camaraderie was fantastic, we were all like a big family.
Once there, all the boys from My local area were parked and we would get together for the night and have a drink in the local pub called the Dog and Truck, that was after we had had our tea in Farmer’s cafe just around the corner in Leman-street by the bus terminus under the railway bridge, or sometimes in Beaties in Back Church Lane, we named it Beaties after the lovely old lady that ran it with her husband, who you never heard a squeak out of, I might add, she always greeted you with ” cup a tea darlin” in here cheery east end manner, and what’s to eat then, to which she would reply…”bubble and squeak darlin, alright darlin.
I wish I could speak to her now, she would have some great tales to tell.
RIP.. Beaty me dear.
BELOW: The Dog and Truck in Back-church Lane E1
After our bellies were full we would make our way back to the wagon and make the bed up for the night, if it was summertime and the truck was empty, the sheet would be draped over the headboard and lashed to the chock rail to form a tent where we placed the sleeping bags ready and waiting for us to return to slightly worse for wear.
If the wagon was loaded we just made a makeshift bivvy on top of the load and slept under the stars, by the way, we were all parked in the tiny back streets of London.
(can you imagine doing that these days)
The lorry parks which were available were in Aldgate itself, the area had suffered severe bomb damage during the war, and most of the surrounding buildings which were destroyed by German bombs were still being cleared away to make way for new, so the land was nice and flat and made good parking for us lorry drivers.
I’m happy to say that we never parked on a UXB (and yes they were still finding them)
or I wouldn’t have been here to tell the tale…lol.
When we woke up in the morning, there wasn’t a fancy toilet to get showered in, or even a toilet, come to think of it, so a washing bowl placed conveniently above the driver, usually attached to the sunroof, if you were lucky to have one, which was part of your travel gear was employed and cold water was used for a shave and a quick wash, you had to be quick in the winter months,
There were, of course, many more overnight parking spots of mine, all over the British Isles, each one of them has a tale to tell, a pub to remember, mates to recall, and a girl, there was always a girl.
One such pub was smack bang in the middle of Aldgate in London’s east end called the Red Lion which we frequented quite often, I can always remember my very good friend Merle Beatty, one of life’s great characters and a true friend, he was a tall lad and very popular with the ladies, we were in there one night, and each and every one of us were in green boiler suits, or overalls, (this seemed to be the dress code of a long distance lorry driver then ) and he (Merle) chatted up this lovely young half cast lass, and he got her to ride shotgun to Bristol with him that very night, the rest I’m sure, you can well imagine.
Sadly, my mate Merle was to lose his life in an accident some 11 years later in a horrific shunt on the M6 when he worked for Curries of Dumfries, he will be fondly remembered by all the lads and lasses that he left behind….R.I.P Merle.
And so after 5 marriages and various kids along the way…I would Like to dedicate this site to all the Truckers / Lorry / Wagon and Bus drivers I know, and have had the pleasure of knowing throughout my fifty odd years behind the wheel, and also to all the lads and lasses that I have met along the way.
I hope you enjoy the content that I have gathered from my self and other contributors, and many thanks to all of you, past and present, who have made my life on the road a happy and memorable one…..Alex.
STILL A FEW MILES LEFT IN ME OLD BONES YET!
“Waste your money and you’re only out of money,
but waste your time and you’ve lost a part of your life.”