There is still a huge interest in the golden years of trucking. The 70’s and 80’s for me conjure up endless images of trucks crossing the deserts to far flung destinations, such as Riyadh, Baghdad, Islamabad and even Destination Doha. It’s not often that people like myself (yes truck geeks!) get to meet our heroes as there really aren’t many to meet. I have strong connections to these golden days and recollect one day last year at the Retro Truck Show at Gaydon when during a Middle East day I got the chance to meet the men who pioneered the routes to the East. Everyone of them a hero and everyone with more than a few stories and knowledge they could share to a thousand modern day drivers. I could have stood their and listened to these drivers for hours probably even days. One of the men I met was more of a name I had heard of rather than a face I recognised but even so meeting Robert Hackford was a very enjoyable experience. Here was a man that to most would probably look like just another retired man enjoying his well deserved rest after a busy working life. Well dressed, well spoken, well educated and I’m sure most would never think him to be a lorry driver. For me quite the contrary, one of the old school knights of the road, travelling across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. No hassle, no fuss, no ego, just get loaded, get on with it and help who ever needs it on the way. I spoke with Robert for a while as he shared a few stories and as you could probably predict, he was full of knowledge and clearly had lived every minute of his time on the dusty open road.
Now when I think of the Middle East run, I think I’ve been misinformed a little as I thought it was dominated by the new Swedes on the block, one from Gothenburg and one from Södertälje. But perhaps it was very British to learn that there was another marque that made a no fuss no hassle big impression and conquered the run to the East, the very British ERF.
ERF NGC – Lorries of Arabia by Robert Hackford. My first thoughts on being sent this book to review was that it has every possibility to become way to geeky even for me, with to many chassis and reg numbers. There are other books about specific fleets or marque of truck that are just dull and over the top with to much info no one really wants to read about. I can safely say this is not one of those books. Yes it’s about a mere 70 odd trucks from one particular series, manufactured by one particular manufacturer but I can assure you, you won’t glaze over and you won’t find it heavy going. Mr Hackford has a very easy to read style of writing that makes the information that is included relatively easy to digest. At some points there is a touch of repetitiveness but not without reason as its all relavant to each chapter. The book runs through how the ERF NGC came about and how and why the range became such a hit, bearing in mind, until the point the NGC was unveiled, ERF hadn’t been considered an Intercontinental Cruiser perhaps more intercounty cruiser. You will also find out that it wasn’t just a hit with UK operators but our European cousins were also won over by the NGC’s charm and driver appeal. The book contains plenty of anecdotes from Roberts time on the road and his passion and enjoyment of his time driving trucks is clearly reflected by the way he describes the life of a long distance lorry driver. The romance of the open road is clearly apparent from Mr Hackfords excellent descriptive writing. Having finally driven an NGC while researching this book, Robert had a moment sitting behind the wheel of possibly the only restored NGC in the UK. I quote;
“I closed my eyes to rekindle that wonderful, ‘heading south’ feeling that explodes in the pit of the stomach when you fire up a lorry bound for the orient”
That dear of readers is the definition of the romance of the road! All the way through the book I found myself wanting to read the next page, despite the fact that there is some technical talk, which as I said earlier had the potential to get a little to geeky for want of a better word, it really doesn’t and I just wanted to keep reading. I was fascinated that the ERF was such a hit and such a great truck and that I had no idea of its success. If you are a fan of the Middle East days, a fan of ERF or just a fan of trucks in general I do highly reccomend you read this book. I’m sure it’s not a proper book reviewers term and Robert won’t particularly thank me for it, but in its purest form, the phrase “thoroughly enjoyable” seems highly appropriate!
I’ll leave you with one final passage from pages 64 and 65. I need a time machine and I need to go back to the 70’s, if your a true Long Haul Pioneer you’ll feel the same as I do…..it’s all about the romance of the road!!;
“The evening is hot and fragmentary fragrances of roadside herbs drift through his open window to mingle with the faint smell of warm diesel. In perfect harmony with his ERF, the driver powers into the evening and onward into the cool, gathering mists of night until the moon rises above the trees to burnish the road ahead with silver. The ceaseless rumble of the powerful engine beneath him will reassure him till dawn. He trusts this machine implicitly to bear him safely to the Arabian Gulf where, having unloaded, he will park under dusty palms and recline on his bunk in the soporific heat of noon, half listening to the sound of bleating goats, midday call to prayer and the lazy slap of loose tilt sheets against the sideboards drifting through his open cab doors.”Edit