The Golden Days with a SuperMAN! 

Watch out it’s going to get rather romantic I think! I wasn’t about in the golden days of trucking I was a mere ankle biting pain in my parents backside. As a lad and as I’ve told you many times before I longed for my driving licence and to be heading off to far flung places but I admit my golden days are very different to the general term of the 70’s and 80’s and also very different to everyone’s own good old days. No matter your age, country or work, if you’re a driver you’ll have your own favourite job, workplace and truck. Not necessarily your first or last, or even the most expensive but the one job you’ve loved, the job that made you think; “I love my job!”. I maintain to this day that if you haven’t had at least one day like that then more fool you for doing a job that underneath it all you don’t enjoy. For me those days were the second truck I owned as an owner driver at the tender age of 20ish, an MAN 8.163, 7.5 tonner. 

The little German really earned her keep. No speed limiter back then meant there were plenty of days that packed the best part of 1000km into my “10” hours driving. I’m no hero and don’t claim to be a nonstop 24 hours a day at the wheel type, but most of you at some point would have and probably have found the old fashioned ways of bending the rules to get a job done, or to get you to a load point or even home. This little lorry never let me down and got me to different places day in day out. Various jobs entrusted to me meant that I was the only truck on the job and often I’d have deliveries to the same destination one week and then onto another project the next week. Maybe Braintree to Cheltenham and Gloucester and back. Maybe Chelmsford to Swindon and back. May be three days of Braintree to Carmarthen and back. 270 miles one way, that’s 4.5 hours at 60mph. I could just about do it in 9 hours and I think the worst day was a 10 hour drive. Thankfully I am just on the edge of remembering the good days of the M25 when you could get round it without stopping at most times of the day. The little MAN was up for it all. If only there had been more European trips I really would have been in seventh heaven. 

This was my second truck so perhaps as the whole driving thing and freedom had passed and I was just intent on doing as much work as I possibly could. This was where I adopted the phrase “Long Days, Late Nights” a sticker of which would appear on the doors of all my other trucks. At this point I’m not sure anything could have stopped me loving everyday on the road quite so much. We all love the open road and seeing the world go by through the windscreen otherwise we wouldn’t be doing the job. Getting up to Larkhall in Scotland three times a week and reloading from Newcastle-upon-Tyne back to Essex and Suffolk, it was awesome. How much I picked up on these trips from old hands who really had been there and done it and are probably still doing it! For me part of the job was the people you met and what you could glean from them. These days it drives me nuts that the majority seem to park up and go to bed or plug in their Playstations. When I did park up I’d get out the cab and go and find a like minded person to spend the evening with and chat. You could learn new routes, new ways to do things, even learn about delivery points,  all info that isn’t written down but is (for want of a better phrase), driving folklaw. A new one GW!. All this just made me love the job I loved even more. What wasn’t there to love?? and ontop of all I was making money. 

Good old days indeed. I’d spend my money on what I thought were decent accessories for the little MAN. I think it started with a box full of lights and stainless steel from the then biggest name in the USA, Panelite. Then came new stainless steel rear door hinges, handles and brackets. A set of Speedline alloy wheels from Tyretracks of Eccleshall. Always Michelin Tyres. I know some of you even remember the “barbers pole” I painted on the prop shaft?! and so it went on. I’ve always been of the mentality that the truck is what sells my company to those who don’t know me. Definitely the case when the airbrushed Atego came along. I like to think the truck wasn’t over the top but showed that I cared for it and in turn cared for people’s cargo. Regular cargos of sunbeds, to tail lifts to computers and farm machinery. Often with comments on how smart the little truck was. Add everything together and I think it’s fair to say that you can see why these were my own golden days. At the end of the day I was young, successful and driving what I thought was the best looking 7.5 tonner in the UK, apart from Frank Hudson Transport of course! 

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Owner Driver??

Are you an owner driver?? Are you a man or woman living the dream and haulin’ ass with your own motor? Are you in the UK, the USA, Canada, China, Greece, New Zealand or Peru? Or any where in between? Then please can you post a photo of your pride and joy for us all to see? I’ll start off with the last truck I owned and drove across the UK, Northern France, Belgium, Netherlands and Western Germany. 

  
 

MAN Down on Shap (Nearly!)

  

Back when I were a lad and a fairly infant owner driver, I remember a time that certainly put hairs on my chest if nothing else. When we all start out as young drivers we are entrusted with a truck and asked to set out on our own across the UK or where ever. Naturally there is a learning process, somethings are common sense, some things are taught by others, some taught by making mistakes and some taught by Mother Nature! I’ve always been one to listen to older drivers as in my experience what they have to say is worth listening too. Most older drivers have been there and done it and I think they have nearly always been in a situation that the younger generation will learn from. I’m all for learning and all for taking advice and it’s only natural that as inquisitive beingswe might not always make the right decision when faced with a situation we have not encounter before. It’s called thinking on your feet. 

 

Having delivered another load of new sunbeds to Larkhall, Scotland there was a single unpacked, salon ready sunbed to return to Braintree. I strapped it against the headboard and headed south. Just enough time to get back Penrith Truckstop for the night. Overnight the wind got up. When I say it got up I mean it was howling! The buzz around the Truckstop was a couple of trucks had gone over on the A66 and drivers were trying to decide whether to wait it out or head off into the wind. Now here’s the decision for a 19 year old owner driver. I had to get back to Braintree that day to get my next job loaded, but I had to go via Manchester to collect some parts. Penrith to Manchester is a beautiful drive on a lovely day but for those who don’t know the UK, driving the M6 motorway between these two places involved probably the windiest section of motorway in the UK. Near the town of Shap the motorway claims no end of trucks during the year, with high winds, ice, snow and what ever else comes out of mother natures purse! So I had on an expensive piece of electrical machinery that couldn’t get wet, I had to get back to base to load, I also had to go over Shap to get my second collection on. Should I go or should I stay?? I decided I’d give it a go.   

If my curtains had been like this and I wasn’t loaded, the worst would have been losing the fibreglass sheet roof, but as I was loaded the curtains were shut. Off I set out of Penrith Truckstop and south onto the M6. A mile or two south and I was already thinking I had made the wrong decision, the wind was strong, stronger than I’d felt before and it seemed to be directly side on. A 7.5 tonner with closed curtains might as well be described as a kite. A couple more miles passed and I passed some over turned trucks. I have to say not many vehicles were on the motorway at all, I slowed right down and was struggling along at 20-30 mph at most. I caught up with another 7.5 tonner that had lost its roof and was taking shelter under a large bridge over the motorway. Perhaps that’s were experience should have taken over. I carried on and was virtually at Shap and the worst weather I had encountered, howling wind and rain straight from my right had side. A few gusts really knocked my sideways and I was on the hard shoulder, managing to get back to the main carriageway another strong gust caught me so I eased off the throttle and then a second huge huge gust hit and put me up on just two wheels. You know the saying “time stands still”, that must have been the longest few seconds of my life!! Luckily for me the gust passed and I managed to get the little MAN back on all fours, so close to being blown over is a feeling I won’t forget and in someways I don’t like to think would could have happened. Anyway there was no shelter what so ever, so I carried on trying to get my heart rate back down to normalish and work out what I should do. Just then I noticed in my mirrors a truck catching me up. It turned out to be a couple of Irish fridges. Known for running at full legal weight these two were obviously not as affected by the wind as I was in m my little German kite. I grabbed my CB in the hope these two may be on channel 19. My luck was in, truck 2 replied and asked if I was alright. I noticed when they were passing I was clearly in the safe zone and taking the brunt of wind, lightbulb moment!! “Can you stay in the middle lane and I stay on your inside until we get further south?” I asked. The reply was “of course” so off we went. Me in my little truck being chaperoned by these two big Irish fridge trucks taking the wind on my behalf. I stayed there for the 35 miles or so to Lancaster and I was more than grateful to the two Irish drivers whose names I can’t remember. Thank you. 

Anyway it just goes to show that driving trucks is a permanent learning curve no matter what your age. Yes I was young at the time and perhaps a few years later I would have made the other decision and stayed put at Penrith for a few hours til the wind dropped, but without a bit of comradeship the job can be a lot harder. It saddens me to think that  my friends who still drive say there is no comradeship in the UK anymore. Just remember if you see a driver struggling and your thinking “what a plonker why doesn’t he/she just do that?” Perhaps take five minutes to help them or pass on what you probably learned from someone else. There are enough pressures and deadlines to make the job of driving trucks theses days hard enough, perhaps if more drivers helped in other out it would make your day or there just that little bit easier. 

Oh look a step down off this soapbox…..

All About Me

  

There’s been a lot of new recruits to the blog this year, on the www, Twitter and through the Facebook page so I thought I better tell you my credentials as I’m not just a wanna be trucker (although I do wanna be one again!), I have been there and done a bit. It goes something like this. Now this is a story all about how, my life got flipped-turned upside down, and I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there, and I’ll tell you how I became trucking nerd…… Oh no hang on that doesn’t rhyme!!

At the beginning of 1997 I was tasked on a college course to formulate a business plan that would or could work. It turns out the plan worked and the bank were keen so before I finished college I got a DAF 45 on order and started looking for work. In October ’97 I started as a Subbie for DFDS distribution in Coggeshall, Essex. I was soon covering….. 

 On a daily basis with anything between 15-20 deliveries and collections. What a way to learn my way about (no Sat-Navs then younger readers just a box of maps!) maps I hear you say?? Yep read THIS BLOG.  I still use some of the short cuts now! A year or so later and DFDS moved to Purfleet and I didn’t follow. Local business soon started giving me work and I was soon UK wide with loads of virtually everything and anything. The poor little DAF couldn’t keep up and 2-3 years after getting her I traded her in for possibly my favourite truck from the BJS fleet, an MAN 8.163 with a Hatcher Space cab.  

 This little German served me very very well and in our prime we were doing Braintree, Essex to Larkhall, Scotland 3 times a week even now and again with a reload of lead rolls from David Park Transport in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 3 pallets just over 3 ton. From day one I had done the odd run to the Continent but never enough. I was so busy running round the UK that I only ever got to wave as we passed to Steve Marsh as he was also the owner of a smart Hatcher canned MAN. A massive if only, but I believe if only we had stopped for a cuppa I could have still been doing the Continental with a little Tonka you. Along with, tail lifts, computers, baseball hats, Chinese menu’s, supermarket light fittings, industrial door fixings and 50-75kg sacks of hand loaded hessian sacks of malt to name but a few commodities I took on a driver and put the real show truck of the fleet on the road and passed the MAN onto my only ever employee Steve Shackle.  

 The Atego was awesome and again worked hard across the length and breadth of mainland UK. She was well recognised and got in quite a few magazines. This lead to the start of some Mercedes-Benz friendships that continue to this day. A very big customer went pop with no warning and I was literally in the proverbial dirty river with no oars. So goodbye to the MAN, the Atego and Steve. At the same time I was offered traction work although I didn’t have a class one license at the time. I ordered a Mercedes-Benz Actros of the same man that sold me the MAN and the Atego and two weeks before it went on the road I passed my class one with no minor faults.

  
I can safely say that living in this Actros (Claudia), turned me from boy to man. I lived in her virtually for the three years I had her and the long distance lorry driver life was what I hoped it always would be. Bloody hard work, great friends, some crazy trucking about and much to my delight a lot more continental. Nothing silly by most of your standards but, Belgium Holland and just into Germany on a very regular basis. Amazing the things you see and the situations you can find yourself in, some good some bad, some exciting and some ‘kin scary and eye opening but none the less it was awesome! I bought and restored a Scania 141 the same age as me and had agreed with the people I was working for that they’d give me trailer with no more than 15 ton on so for odd weeks I could run the 141 on the continent. Sadly it never happened. The 141 did, the work didn’t and not long after I had to make the hardest decision I’ve ever made and had to give up BJS International. 

  
The 141 got me going and the pinnacle was taking her to the Truckstar Festival in Holland. In the real world I got a job with a local firm driving an 8 wheeler around Essex for GB Finch. A fun job and I’m told I still hold plenty of fleet records. Drifting an 8 wheel tipper in wet mud is always good for morale.  

 I landed a job at HC Wilson Transport in the office and this was close to being what I wanted to do. Great people, great job and a great fleet. Routing trucks and securing loads all over Europe, Scandinavia and where ever the customer would pay, there’s a lot to learn in the world of international abnormal loads but it was rewarding. Oh the romance of international trucking! 

Moving on from Wilson’s having sold the 141 to raise a family, I went to Kersey Freight as fleet manager and holiday relief driver! Long days and on call 24 hours a day was rewarded with the odd spell back on the road doing two trips to Paris a week. Good times although I have to say back then crossing the channel was a breeze. 

 
Once again I got itchy feet and have now changed to the other side of the desk if you like and I have great job, spending my time talking about trucks to hauliers. Although not long after starting this dream job I did get offered the chance of being an owner driver again with a mini artic moving flash cars all over europa but age brings a certain amount thought and reality over what your spontaneous side wants to do. Funny old game, but I am a firm believer that once you get diesel in your veins you can’t get rid of it, hence the reason I’m trying to encourage my son to continue with his love of the local zoo and animals, but that’s the start of another hot topic in the press this week #lovethelorry. I now have friends across the UK and a couple else where in the world  through the blog and I find myself taking a big interest in driver friends daily trucking exploits to satisfy my never ending urge to go back on the road. I’ve not been a truck owner for a few years now and I feel like I have to say that in an AA meeting style! Hopefully in the next year or so I can get another retro show truck to help my marriage and stop me annoying Mrs Blog every weekend!! 
Anyway that’s me. Happy to talk trucks with anyone and I always question those who spend every day and night involved with trucks but still say that hate them.

“Ever see a duck that couldn’t swim?!”

My Best Truck of 2014

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For me this is the best truck I have seen in 2014. It might not be the newest, it might not be most practical for most of Europe and it certainly won’t be everyones taste but for me, spot on.

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If you live in the UK and haven’t been to one I strongly advise that you make 2015 your first trip to a European truck show, the standard of trucks is amazing. I can’t deny that the trucks here in the UK are getting better and better but the Europeans just seem to have it right, they all look good. To me the best trucks have always been out of reach of what I could afford or achieve and the T560 is no different. We all joke about winning the lottery but a Tcab would be very close to the top of my list. It’s blue, it’s got two sets of pipes, it’s got a subtle custom interior and enough lights to make it look good but not over the top. As with anything I would make a few subtle changes as I’d want to put my mark on it.

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2014 has seen a big rise in the blogs popularity through all mediums, the Facebook page, twitter and the good old fashioned http://www.truckblog.co.uk website. I’m not going to link to any of those this time round as I’m sure you all could do with a break from the ruthless links and plugs for the blog. I have no idea where the blog will be in another 12 months, hopefully you’ll all still send me stuff, photos, info and the odd piece of trucking memorabilia to decorate TBHQ and I’ll keep bugging the TV companies in the vague hope they’ll see that we need Truckblog TV!

Hopefully I’ll be visiting, Truckfest Peterborough, Crowfield Truck Rally, Gathering of the Griffin, Retro Truck Show at Gaydon, more than likely (and hopefully) Truckstar Festival at Assen as my foreign trip, although I have heard on the grapevine that there is quite a convoy of English motors heading to the International Trucker & Country Show held at Interlaken, CH. I have always wanted to go James?? Finally if the offer is still there then I might just make it to Belfast too.

Anyway thank you for following and thank you for making the blog what it is, without your contributions I’m sure you’d all be bored silly of 143’s, MAN TGL LX’s and Mercedes-Benz photos! As we all do secretly say now and again Keep on Trucking!

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FOUND: Pigeon Perfect Atego

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After months and months of trying to track it down and a couple of sightings last year, my old Atego has finally been seen and confirmed. I got the message last night from George Ward, who had spotted it back in April on the M6 at Sandbach, Cheshire. Looking at the truck it hasn’t changed much, it’s got a mouldy spot light, the alloy wheels have gone and the drivers side at least has a new rear mud wing. It’s definitely carrying birds and George said that there were a number of other pigeon trucks passing at the same time. The other truks were from Hambleton Blackpool and Croston Lancashire. Does anyone know these companies? Do they run the Atego??

Email me; ben@truckblog.co.uk
Thanks George, keep up the spotting.

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Stop the Pigeon, Stop the Pigeon (Transporter!)

AV52 KGU - Mercedes Atego (80)

I WANT TO FIND MY ATEGO!!! I know she’s still out there but she seems to be the new Lord Lucan, she’s out there but I just can’t catch up with her! You’d think that if she is still in a half decent condition she’d be easy to spot especially in her new guise, reportedly now a pigeon carrier. How do I know? well 2 top spotters say they have seen her carrying the racing birds. The bizarre thing is that trying to find pigeon carrying companies is proving to be a little tricky. You’d think their would be facebook pages, websites and everything but it doesn’t appear so. There must be plenty of people who have seen the Atego out and about carrying our feathered friends to the start line.

Colltex Atego

The last photo of her was this one parked in a High Street doing charity work for Colltex. This was way back in 2009 so I hope she is still in good order. I guess that as she is carrying pigeons she will have had a tidy up and perhaps be a bit shiny again. What I need you lot to do is clap eyes on her and send me any pics you can get out and about, or if your that way inclined and your involved in pigeon racing circles can you tell me who now owns her. I think there are only a few firms pulling the birds, so surely it shouldn’t be too difficult to track her down. I reckon it might now be on a private plate as the DVLA vehicle search doesn’t bring up any details.

AV52 KGU - Mercedes Atego (78a)

If you spot the Atego and its safe, please take and send me a photo ben@truckblog.co.uk
If your into pigeons please tell me who owns the Atego now.

All help of course will be much appreciated and it gives you some thing to do while your driving about next week!