April 2018 – Arthur Barrie

Hi, my name is Arthur Barrie, I’m a 60 year old truck driver, or as we used to say years ago, lorry driver, from Glasgow in Bonnie Scotland. I’ve held my licence for 36 years and I’m the only driver I’ve come across who holds an HGV Class 1 P.H.D. licence. (Pot Hole Dodger)

It all started when I was about to get married, I had been working in a jewellers shop and realised my meagre wage would not stretch to renting and furnishing a house. The big removals (furniture movers) and heavy haulage firm, Pickfords, came to the rescue with a better paying job, and started me in the removals division. I only had a car licence to start with so they started me as a porter, (swamper) then, around Christmas time the company decided to lay off some staff. Unfortunately I was one of the unlucky ones, but the union fought against it and called a strike, Pickfords said I could get my job back if I had an HGV driver’s licence.

As I had holiday money from my last job I used some of it to pay for a five day course. I only needed a class 3 for Pickfords, (2 axle 16 ton GVW), but my instructor said it was the same price, £162, to sit the class 1, and with that I could drive all classes. The law has since changed, and new drivers now need to start small and work their way up. I sat my test after the five days instruction and passed, and so began my life as a lorry driver. Pickfords was a good job, the trucks were mostly GM Bedford TK models with the in-house six cylinder diesel engine and a five speed gearbox. They were all cabovers with a double seat for the two porters and a very handy shelf behind the seats for jackets and all your gear. The early cabs didn’t tilt though, so all the engine checks had to be done through a hatch that lifted up, one on each side of the cab.

As you can imagine for house removals they were all fitted with high volume box bodies, with what we call a Luton extension sticking out over the crew cab. For most house removals the crew was the driver and two porters, working with the same two guys’ day in and day out you had to get along, and for the most part we did. There were plenty of practical jokes, anybody who knows me will know I like a laugh. If we were at a job I would sometimes hide in a wardrobe in an upstairs bedroom and wait until the guys came up to take it and load it into the truck. It was hard to keep from laughing as I listened to them as they carried it, and me, down the stairs, “Well Joe, they certainly made the old furniture to last eh? Aye Wullie, its solid, a ton weight”.

The look on their faces when I jumped out at the truck was a picture. Or I would sometimes throw an old blanket over an electricity junction box that was screwed to the sidewalk near to where the truck was parked, then ask for a hand to lift this “sideboard” into the truck. It wasn’t all one sided though, when I wasn’t looking one of them would sometimes turn the windscreen washer nozzle to the nearside, so when we were driving through a town and I wanted to clear screen, the water would hose the people on the sidewalk, and as the driver I would get the blame. Years ago just about everybody was a smoker, not me though, and like a lot of drivers, I liked to keep my cab clean, it didn’t take much to give it a quick polish at the end of the shift.

It was normal practice back then for the driver to drop the porters off at the pub when the shift was over, or take them home if they lived local. The driver then took the truck back to the depot, parked it up and clocked the crew off for the day, so I laid it on the line to the porters, if you want these perks to continue, there will be no smoking in my cab. And they never did.

Another hilarious episode, for us anyway, was the time an old woman we were moving asked us to take her cat with us to her new house, it was in a cat box and she didn’t think she could manage to carry it. We got the truck loaded and the old woman locked her house and went on her way to the new place, the boys decided to have a look at the cat and opened the box. The cat shot out of the box like a bullet and disappeared around the corner of the building, we spent ages looking for that cat, but it was gone, nowhere to be found.

What would we do? We couldn’t go to the new house without a cat in the box! That was when a similar looking stray cat came down the street. We grabbed it, put in the box and drove to the new house. The cat box was left in the cab until all the furniture was in the house and the job was signed off, then we handed the cat over, she looked at this stray moggie and said, “He looks different.” “Well,” we said, “that’s because it’s very dusty in the cab, just give him a brush down and he’ll be good as new,” then we got out of there as quick as we could.

One day I got a job to load laboratory equipment from a company called, Oganon. It was going to a town called Oss on the border between Holland and Germany. I got loaded and drove down to Hull on the English east coast. Because of a mix up in the paperwork I missed the ferry I was booked on and had to take the next available, this meant a day sitting waiting. This was my first time driving outside the UK so it was very strange driving on the, “wrong” side of the road, actually it was the first time I’d ever been outside the UK. But I got the job done and headed back to the docks for my return ferry, because unloading had taken longer than expected I also missed that ferry that I should’ve been on.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because I had been booked on The Herald of Free enterprise out of Zeebrugge, and that ferry was now lying on its side on a sandbank not far from the harbour. It was reported in the news that there had been a problem closing the bow doors, and the Captain set sail before they were watertight. When I heard in the news there were 193 dead, I thought, there but for the grace of god go I. Or maybe the devil looks after his own, but whatever your beliefs, I was one lucky trucker that day.

Pickfords had been good to me, but it was time for a change and I landed a job with Nippon Express at Glasgow airport. Their business was all airfreight, import export. They had a couple of big DAF 3600’s, a great truck, and like most tractors over here it was a two axle cabover. It was an easier job, no climbing stairs in other peoples’ houses carrying boxes and furniture in and out of the truck. There were some occasions though where I had to hand bomb cartons. One night I had to deliver 30 boxes to a company called, Sun Micro, in a small town on the outskirts of Edinburgh called, Linlithgow. My supervisor gave me a heads up as to the value of the shipment, it was £6,500,000. Maybe he thought he was doing me a favour as some of the trucks that the bad guys knew carried freight for the computer companies had been hi-jacked in the past. Criminals would stick a blue light on top of their cars to make drivers think they were cops. So some companies issued their drivers with a notice they could hold up to the cab window saying, “We will not stop even for blue lights, follow me to my depot or the nearest police station.” All the way to the delivery I couldn’t get that six and a half million-pound load out of my head. I was suspicious of every car that lingered too long behind me, but, I thought, if any bad guys cut me off I would just pick up my jacket and bag and walk away, they can have the truck. But I never ever got hi-jacked and I stayed there for five years or so before I got itchy feet again and moved to Express Cargo Forwarding.

Express Cargo Forwarding was a great job, and the money was good for the time. They were the UK branch of an Irish company called, Irish Express, based in Blanchardstown, Dublin. I started there driving an old-ish Mercedes box van, a twelve ton gross truck with a six speed box and 180 bhp. It was ideal for the multi-drop work it did as there were barn doors on all sides, so if you couldn’t get the freight off from the back, or if a delivery was closed for lunch, you could just move on to the next delivery and unload from either side. It wasn’t a top weight truck for a four wheeler and it had smaller 20 inch wheels so that meant the body was lower which was a big plus point when you had to handbomb freight in and out of the truck. Unlike Pickfords, it was a small company with three drivers on permanent nightshift and myself and another three on dayshift. When it was really busy sub-contractors were brought in, usually the same ones all the time. They were people who had given good service and were trusted with the personal computers we were delivering.

Computer manufacturers IBM and Dell were the main source of income for the company. The IBM loads were usually bulk loads for export and picked up on a daily basis from their plant in Greenock. Dell on the other hand came up from Liverpool overnight for delivery to schools, offices and homes. As well as the computer deliveries, I and the rest of the dayshift picked up general freight as we went about during the day. My normal route was Fife and central Scotland and sometimes the distances between drops and pick-ups ate into the available time to get things done. But you’re always better being busy, a busy truck is usually making money.

Customers were very impressed by the service we could offer. If I, or any of the other dayshift drivers, picked up collections on our route, that freight would be in Dublin the next morning. As the night shift trailers got busier a position came up for a second permanent driver to go on the Warrington and Liverpool run. I fancied a change from the old Mercedes and as nobody in the company wanted to move off dayshift I got the job.

I was glad to get off the old Mercedes, the air assistance on the clutch pedal hadn’t worked for a while and the dealer didn’t seem to be able to sort it, but once the truck was up and running you could change gear without using the clutch. The usual driver on the Warrington run, Kenny, was an old school driver, always ready to help and give another driver the heads up, so, with a few helpful hints from him it was like I had been doing the job for months. He loved his Volvo, it was an F12 360 bhp cabover that he’d had from new, not big power by modern day standards, but it didn’t matter how much he loaded into it, he always thought it pulled like a train.

I got a new MAN diesel, a big change from the Mercedes with the heavy clutch, the manual side of the job wasn’t easier on the nightshift, in fact it was probably harder. The driver had to unload and reload the trailer at Warrington and Liverpool, but, it’s all part of the job we know and love as trucking. Warrington was the first port of call, the trailer was completely unloaded there and part loaded for Scotland with general deliveries, then it was up to Liverpool to load up with the Dell computers. Dell built their computers in Ireland and shipped them over by the container load to the Express Cargo hub in Liverpool docks, where they were made into orders for the whole of the UK.

The Scottish freight, like the rest of the UK was all palletised and shrink wrapped, and if there was room on the trailer, it was an easy job to wheel them up the trailer with a pallet truck. But, if Dell was busy like they were at Christmas you had to break down some pallets and handbomb them on top of the other pallets as leaving freight behind just wasn’t an option. Kenny showed me how he made steps from the cartons to load the loose cartons on top of the wrapped pallets. Then of course they all had to be re-palletised when I got back to Scotland.

Because we all got on so well it was a great place to work, but one day a new guy appeared. He’d been appointed as general manager for the whole of the UK by the big boss in Ireland. We found out he had a background in the cell phone business, so he was ideally suited to run a transport company – not! About once a month he appeared first thing in the morning and gathered all the drivers together in the office, nightshift, who had just completed a shift, and dayshift, who were itching to get on with their days work. He then projected a slide show from his laptop onto the wall to show how well the company was doing. We all wondered why the man at the top of the tree was driving up and down the country in his company car, staying in hotels on expenses to do something a newsletter would’ve done cheaper and quicker.

Then he thought it would be a great idea to make the name of the company the same in the UK as it was in Ireland, Irish Express Ltd. A couple of the English trucks were sign written, and the new headed notepaper arrived in the office, all well and good, that was until the boss of another company in England called Irish Express saw our trucks with his company name on them. For some strange reason we never saw that guy again, he was sadly missed, again – not!

When one of the two drivers on the Irish run took a holiday, some of the other drivers got the chance to go across the water, the ferry left from Stranraer and docked in Belfast. The first drop was a local transport company that was sub-contracted to deliver the northern Irish freight, then down to Dublin where the truck was parked on a dock to be unloaded and reloaded. A company truck then took you to the home of an employee who rented a room to the company exclusively for the Scottish night drivers. As well as the bedroom, there was a toilet/shower and a TV lounge for your exclusive use downstairs. After a sleep and a very good home cooked meal made by Beryl, the employee’s wife, a cab took you back to the depot. I’d never had a job like it, good money and treated very well.

When you left Scotland on a Friday and arrived in Dublin on Saturday morning, unlike the rest of the week, you didn’t leave until Sunday night and then you shipped out through Dublin over to Warrington. That gave you a weekend in Dublin, depending on how much sleep you needed. One Friday I took my girlfriend with me to show her the sights of Dublin town. The company room only had a single bed, but that didn’t matter, we thought we could cuddle up together but oh no we couldn’t. Beryl wasn’t about to allow unmarried couples to co-habit in her house. So we found a B&B for the Saturday night and still enjoyed the Dublin nightlife.

But all good things must come to an end, the Irishman sold his company and all the drivers got a very good redundancy package. After that I spent a couple of years working for a small two truck company before getting my present job with B&Q.

B&Q own a network of DIY stores across the UK, but the transport side is always contracted out, I’ve had fifteen good years there working for several different transport companies, the latest one to win the contract XPO, is an American company I believe. Our very good terms and conditions always stay the same, and my old buddy, Kenny works there as well.

But, to be honest, I can’t wait to retire, all the fun of the old days of trucking have gone. Every minute of a drivers’ day is now electronically logged and as well as the driving licence a driver has to carry we now need a CPC card, Certificate of Professional Competence. If you’re stopped and you don’t have this card on your person, it’s an offence. Just another stick to beat the poor old trucker with.