Page 3. SD Enthusiasts' Club Newsletter - Winter 2020.
S&D MEMORIES by BARRIE WOODS
A ‘T’ type Fore & Aft tipper.
Having trained to be a Chef, and held that position in
several hotels for a few years, I decided to return to my parent’s home in
Letchworth and seek more local work. I soon
had the job of Second Chef offered me at the Celebrities Health Spa at Henlow
Grange a few miles away. Whilst
considering this I kept looking longingly outside when every few days a brand
new Shelvoke & Drewry refuse vehicle would turn up. My neighbour Martin Atchison was a delivery
Driver at S & D and would collect his vehicle from the works, then return
home to pick up an overnight bag before proceeding with the delivery which
could be anywhere in the country. Martin
was a wonderfully affable chap who always had a welcome word in his flowing
Welsh accent. We often chatted just before he left for his journey.
In 1969, I was 22 at the time, I expressed a view that I’d always fancied driving heavy goods vehicles. Martin had a few words where it mattered and soon after that I had an interview with Gilbert Finch who ran the Demonstration fleet at S & D. I must have impressed him as he soon took me up to No.2 Factory in Blackhorse Lane in my Triumph Herald, which at the time was the largest vehicle I’d ever driven. At the rear of the factory there were a dozen or so refuse vehicles lined up in herringbone fashion. These were in various states of completion, some ready for delivery, with a couple of Demonstrators among them. Gilbert led me over to one of the demonstrator’s, (I later found out it was a TY Pakamatic). Gilbert opened the driver’s door and invited me to climb in. As you can imagine compared to a Triumph Herald this was quite some beast, not only that but it was facing the railway line which was some considerable way immediately below me in a cutting. All that separated me from the drop was a chain link fence! Gilbert showed me the controls and said he’d see me back. So there I was in this very noisy refuse vehicle, seemingly perched at the top of an embankment, with my only option being to reverse out! Now where is reverse gear?
We drove around Letchworth for half an hour or so, completing some more reversing around corners, then returned the vehicle to its spot above the railway line. Back in the quietude and sanctity of my Herald, I returned Gilbert to West Works, whereupon he offered me the job!
I reported to him upstairs in the office some days later. Here I was then introduced to Alan Mountney, one of the Demo Drivers, who escorted me down to one of the air-raid shelters located between the works and a high wall which bounded Icknield Way, to meet some of the other drivers. The shelter, as I’ve mentioned before, was a low flat roofed building about 20 x 10ft with a door at one end and no windows, I immediately noticed the general air of dampness, B.O and stale cigarette smoke –I used to smoke as well in those days - I think there was a desk or two in there and some lockers but not much else other than the general detritus that drivers accumulate during their work, old overalls, wellies, boots, donkey jackets and gloves, as well as some paperwork, I believe there may have been a record book, we never clocked in just filled that in when we were about.
Because of our work schedules it was rare for all drivers to be in the shelter, the exception was on Saturday mornings when most of us would be there for a bit of overtime, come 12 noon it was then off to the local pub. I soon met all the others, I can recall:- Billy Cook, Eric Tooley, Jack Hubbard, who was the Chief Demonstrator, Dennis Nelson, Vic Breed. Ernie Harmes, who drove the Artic unit for Fork Truck deliveries in the main, but used to act as company Chauffeur when needs be, Pete Smith, Mick Edwards and Des Walsh. Plus Gilbert of course, who joined us a few months later, when George Dawson took over from him in the office. Gilbert spent most of his demo work on the Gully Emptier.
Gilbert had instructed Alan Mountney to accompany me on a delivery, (My first!) it was a new Fore & Aft tipper in all over green livery for Helston rural district Council. Helston? I’d never heard of it. Imagine my shock on discovering it was way down in Cornwall just over 300 miles from Letchworth! The following morning I reported to the shelter to find Alan in there, we both had our overnight bags, Alan had procured the necessary paperwork, delivery note, maintenance manual and so on, for the receiving Council and our all-important rail Warrants to return home. We took a van up to No.2 Factory and soon found this gleaming all green vehicle, with the words ‘Helston Rural District Council’ artistically written on the cab doors, all sign-written by hand of course in those days. After collecting the tool kit which accompanied every new vehicle, a final check over:- fuel, water, oil, lights, wipers, etc. I gingerly started up the engine, a very noisy, vibrating Perkins 4-cylinder, the cab soon smelt of burning paint as the exhaust manifold heated up.
We were away! Maps had been checked, although Alan knew the route pretty well anyway. We headed south and eventually picked up the A 303 west. After an hour or so I was quite enjoying myself and beginning to feel at ease, although the noise was still quite incredible compared to a Triumph Herald! Speed was generally between 25 -30 mph, any faster would stress the new engine and become even noisier! Alan was quietly dozing allowing me to get on with things, however he did wake up with a start when I ran the vehicle on to a grass verge, fortunately I quickly rectified the situation, so no harm done. With a fuel tank which held only 15 Gallons it wasn’t too long before replenishment was needed, I think we filled up three times on the journey. The day wore on and we arrived at Wincanton to stay there overnight at The Red Lion in the town centre, having done 145 miles so far. We were up early next morning and back into the vehicle where we continued along the A303. There was no M4 in those days of course. Through Exeter and on to the A30, then after another 165 miles eventually arriving at our destination late that afternoon. Amazingly there were no dents or scratches on the vehicle, so I had done my job.
I believe one of the Council staff took us back to Truro that evening, where we stayed over as it was too late to get back to Letchworth. So we had an enjoyable train journey back to Paddington and onwards to King’s Cross and Letchworth. It was quite a steep learning curve, considering I was expecting a short delivery of maybe 30-40 miles as my first trial!