The Forgotten Art of Map Reading

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Way back when in 1997 mobile phones were just becoming part of my everyday life and it was a handy gadget to have especially as I had just bought my first 7.5 tonner at the age of 17 and I had started subbing for DFDS at Coggeshall, Essex. The one thing I would never have believed back then was that now a days there would be a gadget in in the cab that would have saved me from learning  what felt like every street across Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Hampshire, Surrey, West Sussex, East Sussex, Kent and last but definitely not least, Greater London. In my first week I was given a day in London with something like 15 drops across the Greater London area, nice. Oh for those who aren’t sure, Greater London is probably easier described as everywhere inside the M25 circle. So age 17, 1st week of owning and driving my first Tonka toy and 15 drops across one of the worlds busiest cities, where do I start???! One of the other DFDS subbies said “Don’t worry son, just get yourself a hard back copy of the Master Atlas of Greater London and you’ll be fine.” – I couldn’t have had any better advice than that. So on the way down the A12 I stopped at a garage and found a copy of the London bible.

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So just take this in for a minute, its 1997, I had X amount of drops (& collections) across the capital, a list of addresses, not many with postcodes and TWAT SAT NAV was no where to be seen. How did we ever cope I hear you ask. Pull up a sand bag and I’ll tell you a story. Once upon a time you could stop at a garage and buy these little paper paged books called road maps. You could buy them for counties or towns depending on what you required and basically they had pages full of the layout of your selected area. At the back was an index with a full list of roads and estates and these were listed with a page number and grid reference so you could find the road on the page in the map, amazing huh?? Using one of these town maps along side a bigger road Atlas you could pretty well find any where you wanted to go, all on your own without 22 satellite’s guiding you down an unsuitable one way street! Or even better than using the road map you’ve just bought you could use what we used to call common sense, most people had a bit of common sense as it was gained from parents and the school of hard knocks and tough luck. For example your honour; Station Road, Anytown. First up have a look on your map (if you have one of that area/town) and look for station road in the index or just for the station. If there is no visible station have a look to find the closest road to a railway line, simple. Again using a bit of common sense and a good map you can even work out where an old railway might have been. If you haven’t got a map you could always head towards the town and see if you could pick up the sign posts for the station. Or last but not least you could ask the local and they’d send you right round the town and back to where started and in the mean time with a bit of luck you’d stumble across Station road.

Now in London the streets are a plenty and the traffic lights and junctions are even more. So having to keep an eye on your hard back atlas was very easy or convenient so I found it best to tear the A4 page out. See the photo above. Still an A4 page isn’t so easy to hold, so when you are close enough you can fold the page to A5 size. Then finally when I was really close to where I needed to be I would fold again so its small enough to hold in finger and thumb. Please see my thumb below. I have to say that in day to day driving it was very much find your own way to your destination, no typing in a postcode and follow the arrows on your dash-mounted screen. All drivers back in these prehistoric times had to have a sound knowledge of the UK’s road network and most industrial towns and somehow we managed. In a previous life as a transport manager I watched a driver heading from Ipswich to Leamington Spa take the A14, M6, M42, M40 to his destination. When I quizzed him to why he went this long way round, I got the response “That’s what sat nav said”. Now call me an old stick in the mud but I asked if he had looked at his road atlas to check where he was going and I got a short silence and then the response “I haven’t got one”. Not impressed I confiscated the drivers twat sat nav for the following week. Now I hope he has a slight knowledge of the road network. Anyway I digress.

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The beauty of a paper map over a twat sat nav is that I find I can always see more than I need to, which can only ever help you know where you are and what your surroundings are. For example heading into London the other Saturday as a passenger I decided we would have a Map-Off. This was fine and a good contest and we both arrived at the right place with no major dramas, but along the way I could check each street I passed and I could see how far ahead the next turning was, without having to wait for the 200 metre warning or what ever it is. Also looking at the map you can get some idea of what the road you are turning into is like or which way it goes, something which twat sat nav can’t do very well. The one downside I found to the paper map is that it doesn’t light up when you enter a tunnel!!

I challenge any driver who isn’t a map reader to take up the challenge and try and get yourself across the country with no twat sat nav. At the end of the day you might just find that you have some sort of new found satisfaction in your day to day job. Twat Sat navs do have their uses and I for one do like that fact they can tell you how far you are from your destination and I can never argue against the fact that some one shouting directions at you is far safer than reading a map while driving along or each time you stop. My biggest fear is that the beauty of a good map is lost on all new drivers. Where’s the sense of direction that you all had to find the nearest sweet shop when you were a kid? Does anyone else agree that all drivers should have an understanding of where about’s they are in the country and what other roads are available to the one your on with no help from the NASA convention on your dashboard?? In the worst case we know that at 12 o’clock the sun is in the west and we want to be just to the right of that, so we best take that tangent………………..

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Been There & Done it

  

One of the most enjoyable parts of my job is the variety of people I get to meet. Some days it will be directors in suits and big board rooms, the next day it could be a scrap yard with nothing but metal, dirt and sheep skin coats, then on other days you get the ones somewhere in the middle. Often you meet the directors and no matter the size of business I think the transport industry is still a place where a vast majority of the big bosses have been there and done some of it. A recent meeting with a pair of directors unvailed not only two good old boys who have clearly worked hard to get where they are today but also a pair who have started at the bottom and worked their way up. I often here drivers moaning about how their bosses have no idea how to do the job but it’s worth remembering that those bosses have to have experience of something to get where they are. Anyway these two directors have built up a great business and are definitely still on the up, putting the hours in is nothing new to getting to where you want to be and one of the two told me how he started out.

 

“Back in the day, 1983, I joined PHS as a 19 year old not knowing what to do with myself, after 6 months as a trainee accountant for an insurance business.

So day 1 I remember being given the keys for a Dodge Commodore and one delivery to CNC in Horley, Surrey – no training, no showing where the controls were, just off you go! I reckon in a while I will be able to remember the reg number. I then had a year driving all over the country in a variety of 7.5tonners. I met and worked with some amazing people at PHS, many of which I am still in touch with now. 30 years ago one of our part time Saturday workers went on to become the MD of the business I currently work for. Just proves that great relationships last over time.

 Fast forward 3 years I was the Operations Director of a business that went on to become a £12m business with about 100 staff over 4 locations. PHS Transport was bought by Nightfreight on 5th November 1993 and I then became a regional Director of Nightfreight in the South of England.”

And that as they say was that! Onwards and upwards from the days of PHS and Nightfreight to where he is now, with a successful worldwide freight forwarding, transport and distribution business. If your reading this as a boss, a manager or a director then please feel free to email me with your story. We all started somewhere and most forget that applies to those at the top as well as the bottom! 

 

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…..

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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IMPORTANT: Calling All “Truckers”

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Calling all drivers, calling all drivers, a TV opportunity awaits for those of you who are the real characters of our world. It might be easier to nominate others rather than yourselves. A television production company are after those drivers who everyone talks about whether it’s in a good way or a bad way. Do you have a driver who is the loudest most useless driver? do you know the man who’s been there and done it? do you know the quiet driver who does more work than anyone else all without any hassle? Do you know a driver who tells the best stories drives the best truck and is the nicest guy you’ve ever met?? It doesn’t matter who they are but if there really are a real character then please email me their name and telephone number. You can message me on the Facebook page, send me a private message on Twitter or send me an email to: ben@truckblog.co.uk

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This is the words from the production company, see if its a driver you know they are looking for;

“In a nutshell, we’re looking to do a docu-reality show about Truckers, and I came across your blog and thought you’d be a great guy to speak to. We want to put truckers at the heart of the series. We want to follow them on their various journeys and really get to the heart of what their profession involves. The key to the series is that anyone we film has to be a BIG character. Are they somebody people would want to watch on television? Are they interesting or fun or good company or something that makes people watch?”

“In the first instance we’d be looking at shooting a taster of the truckers in question. The series hasn’t been commissioned yet – the network want to see the characters on tape before they give it the green light”

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So you know what they are after and you know the type of person they need. If you want to give me a name and number then they will be passed on to the production company and the named person should expect a phone call. This sounds like the type of truck based programme I’d like to watch so let’s give them as many names as we can.

Email me: ben@truckblog.co.uk

Truckers Wife

I am intrigued to know how many of you have taken your partners out on the open road for a few days or weeks?
When I first met Ben he wasn’t shy at all about telling me his passion and career which was just all about trucks and haulage. Did this put me off? No far from it, in the last few months of him being on the road I threw some sickies off work and spent a period of 2 weeks with him. Didn’t really cross my mind that we would be spending all this time together in a small space, or not being able to have a shower everyday and possibly peeing in a bucket. But I went with it, have camped at V Fest a few times, that never bothered me but being out of your face all weekend at a music festival you kind of don’t give a shit (ed.) monkeys really. But it didn’t seem to bother me being away in the lorry with Ben. I loved being out on the open road, seeing parts of UK that I hadn’t seen before, or even motorways for the fact, learning about his job and love for lorries, the different models, of what looked good and what didn’t, the different companies and owner drivers and the sound of a V8, ( we listen for those sometimes in the summer when the bedroom window is open, fun in the bedroom :).
Sleeping in what I considered dubious lorry parks or outside docks, and Ben telling me that the trailer doors needed to be left open overnight, that spooked me a bit for fear of someone getting into the cab (but probably couldn’t do that from inside a trailer doh!). Bit of adult fun inside the cab with the curtains closed and having other lorries parked up next to you 🙂 kinky!, being the first woman to use the showers at the Birmingham Toll road Services, (that was the best shower I have ever had), or even being snuck into Avonmouth docks showers at the Timber terminal, now that was an experience. They were bloody disgusting and it horrified me that there were toilets in the shower cubicle, it made me heave when Ben said someone could be taking a dump next to us. Quickest shower in history, plenty of men saying “was that a woman”, yes it certainly was who couldn’t wait to get out of there. That I wouldn’t want to experience again.
I got stuck in to helping Ben strap aluminium logs onto the curtain sider at Holyhead, with my steel toe caps, shorts t-shirt high Vis and hard hat, up on top following instructions from the expert!! Good fun!.
During my short travels with Ben I also visited Kirkby Copper Factory, revolting loos, but great cooked breakfast, tried black pudding for the first time.
Loved being able to people watch from up inside the cab, and other drivers staring in whilst I sat with my legs up on the dash enjoying the drive by a man I knew I was falling for fast, good music, and the sunrays coming in through the windscreen, bliss.
I never thought I would enjoy my time away in the lorry, but I did, I loved it (couldn’t do it all the time), but could understand more why Ben loved it so much, travelling all over the UK and Europe, seeing beautiful scenery, iconic landmarks and enjoying the sound and feel of Claudia (that’s what I named Ben’s Mercedes Actros, sorry forgot to mention that at the start).
Funny he kept her absolutely immaculate, always sweeping her out, curtains had to be tied back properly and symmetrical, beds always made no mess anyway, no outdoor shoes inside the cab, but she was his home 5-6 days a week, so cant criticise I am the same about our family home.
I know that he misses being out on the open road and having a lorry to love and care for, which is why he puts as much time as he can, love and passion into his blog, his model collection and getting involved and visiting truck shows here in the UK and Europe.
Sometimes I would meet him at Purfleet (with a dinner cooked by my mum for him to reheat easily in the microwave) and stay overnight with him until he needed to leave around 3-4am, enjoyed meeting drivers from all over (Lord Rylance from Buxton) and hearing tall tales of truckers lives.
I don’t know whether you have enjoyed this read or not, but for ages I have wanted to write something on the blog so took the opportunity whilst Ben is doing bins and recycling, great job for blokes!!:)
I would love to know if your spouses share your passion, have experienced similar trips to me, better or worse. I think it takes a certain type of woman to accept the life of a trucker and what goes with it, but you may not agree.
Oh and I have been told to upload this photo, Ben junior is what I will call him to protect our 4 year olds identity, he has suddenly found an interest in Eddie Stobart, hence the photo. He loves lorry spotting, he knows a Scania lorry, supermarket ones, Mammoet, HC Wilsons, Kersey Freight, and Stobarts. He isn’t quite as bad as his daddy but I don’t think it will be long. but I could be wrong he may become more interested in four legged equines and our daughter will be mad on trucks!!:)

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I hope this blog post finds you and your families well.

From Russia With Love……..

Back with a monster blog by Matt Ireland. Yes him of Transam Trucking fame, living the rock n roll life of concert trucking. Matt and myself have been beaten by technology, so to see the photos you’ll have to hit the link at the bottom, but in the mean time you’ve got to watch Matt’s video’s of one of his mammoth trips across Russia in his trusty DAF. Over to a few words from the man himself:

So this is a video diary I have prepared and also photos, both trucks and non trucks. I’ll start with the video links as they sort of explain where and what. They are all quite long (except part 3). I’ll admit I’m no Luke Vernon, I’m not very good at them.

Once we got to the border this was the route; Kazan, Samara, Chelyabinsk, Ekaterinburg, then back via the same way…


However, from Kazan to Samara, the route we actually went on was like this. the “direct road” was pretty much un-passable apparently so we went round!

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4 

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8 

Part 9

All the photos of the trucks I took are at this link: HERE

I hope you enjoy!