” Knight of the Road ” Safety Culture Pt1 !

UK road haulage safety culture was a living organism circulated between the drivers and fitters via the more experienced men relating stories of past incidents in conversation whilst waiting to tip or load, brew times in the garage or in the pub after work at night, and was continually evolving at least to the time I left the industry in 1993.  A commonwealth of accumulated experience with its roots in the beginning of modern vehicle technology in the 1930s.
Like I mentioned in my Coal Board article I started in the haulage industry at 13 and we had an informal Wagon Club at school at playtime, break the rules and go out on the front where it was quiet.  I was the youngest member, two 2 year older boys who individually helped out at 2 of the main haulage contractors in Clitheroe and a slightly older boy who I was mates with who’s dad was part of the driving furniture at Horrocksford, like my uncle Louis.  We swapped stories about what was going on mostly banter but it was a good way to find out about accidents like when Mad Monk went through the Settle & Carlisle railway bridge at Lancliffe ( just above Settle on the Horton-in-Ribblesdale road ) on the way down loaded from Horton quarry.  Its all downhill wide road from the then less than 10Mph summit of Sherwood Brow ( Sherod ) and it was standard practice to touch 60 by the ” top paper mill ” and opposite tip entrance. the gradient up towards the bridge takes quite a big slice out of that but you have to brake and change down a couple of gears to be set up for the significant gradient up across the bridge which is 30 Mph max left curve immediately prior.
I was later informed when on the pretext of borrowing an oil can from the garage at Horton that people listening to the action on the adjacent allotments heard no attempt to brake or change down and as Mad Monk knew the road well the true cause remains a mystery and its a bit ironic that said unit only had a 180 Gardner when the rest of that company’s fleet were fitted with eight cylinder 240s. A Clitheroe company one of the school club members worked for bought the wrecked tractor unit and after she was rebuilt she did many further years profitable service.
In the early 1980s I was friends with quite a few people in Settle via CB radio, one of whom was the son of the top local ambulance guy and thus I got to see a photo of the aftermath of the Mad Monk incident taken from the railway track bed at the bottom of the 30ft deep rock cutting.   The trailer was almost dangled down the side of the cutting with the tractor unit jack-knifed to its left on the northbound track underneath it.  It was allegedly a close shave but the authorities managed to stop the approaching Thames-Clyde express at the signals in time to avoid any further carnage. 
Mad Monk survived ( despite the flimsy coach built Atkinson Borderer cab ) with serious injuries and one school club report said that  they had found him with the fuel tank pinning him down by the chest, he made a full recovery and ended up driving one of the local Ribble Valley dustbin wagons.  Everyone claims that Reliant plastic pig cars are dangerous but it was an even less serious outcome when Taffy’s fiberglass cab A-Series ERF clashed with a steel ( ergomatic ) cabbed AEC under the too narrow for two HGV’s to pass under in opposite directions arch Ingfield bridge at the southern A65 entrance to Settle.  I saw the result after it was dragged back to the operators yard, it was a total wreck almost as if a bomb had hit it and the trailer was wrecked as well, Taffy survived with cuts and bruises but sadly the AEC driver from outside the area died after a few days in hospital.
When I was at Sandiford’s we did tipper work for Shell owned Gilbraith’s using one of their tri-axle trailers ( as fitted with a hand start donkey engine )  from Horton to the cement works at Clitheroe technically to replace stone Tarmac had taken from the cement owned quarry.  It was as dug rock straight from the quarry face and it had wrecked the trailer floor before I started, in fact Gilbraith maintenance and care about their equipment seemed poor as I was to find out later.  There was also 6mm which the Horton weighbridge guys gave me because they had known me since I was a kid and it meant I could tip at the gantry and load from the stock-field and avoid going all the way up the quarry to load and down to the crusher to tip thus shortening the distance by half a mile.   I got into trouble by doing 5 loads a day when Gibraith’s own drivers were doing 4  ( Taffy big union man claimed that ” you can’t do 5 legal ” ) but got around it parking overnight in an empty chipping dump within 5 minutes walk of my home and refuelling at the next door to my backyard local garage.  A bonus was that I got paid a tenner night out money for doing the extra load.  I used to lap Gilbraith’s drivers by afterboon but I was also using the short cut ( now weight limit ) road through my village of Chatburn ( home for dinner ).
Around that time we got a job hauling betula birch wood pulp imported at Tillbury then sent  by rail to the depot at Fogarty’s Blackburn forward by road to Bowater Scott ( Andrex bog roll ) at the north west end of Barrow-in-Furness as part of a months trial.   Obviously it was a stitch up as for almost the entire month in question the main Barrow road was closed for major road-works at Dalton which meant you had use the unsuitable for efficient use of HGVs coast road from Ulverston which also put you at the opposite end of the town.   It was impossible to do the projected two round trips a day in the then 8 hour driving limit, we tried exchanging trailers at Crooklands in a big lay-by but it was a pointless ball ache and only saviour was doing Barrow in the morning then two tipper trips out of Horton after dinner then load up the flat for the morning after.  You could have done two trips easy if the direct road through Dalton had been open but the rail interchange experiment failed just like is was probably designed to do all along.

I was also lent to Gilbraith’s to drive one of their wagon’s when one of their drivers was off, an old guy who had been with the company since its  pre Shell heyday, now they only had 4 artic tippers left and were dabbling in the skip business in the garage next door to their Austin car dealership.  It was crippled by a 6 am start and you had to get the tractor unit out of the garage and then couple to the trailer in the compound across the road when in haulage an hour in the morning is always worth two in the afternoon.  I quickly familiarised myself with the Bedford TM tractor as fitted with its L10 250 Cummins and set out to do 4 Hortons but it was soon obvious that it couldn’t pull itself out of a paper bag and probably not even as good as a fit 180 Gardner. As a rule I never used the brakes in anger if avoidable but by the end of the day it was apparent that something was amiss with the brakes so on the last run I felt round the brake drums after coming down Sawley Brow immediately prior.   The offside front was stone cold so I reported it at the garage, pick it up the day after already coupled at Sandiford’s yard but within two minutes it was time to turn back home as as soon as you touched the brakes it pulled violently to the right.   Got my employer out of bed and explained the situation to be informed that they had relined the front offside brake the night before, yet not even bothered to check the nearside and as it turned out even adjust it, and to save grief I was persuaded to try adjusting the nearside brake and tried again and it was just about OK.   I was brought up to always reline brakes as an axle, yet Ribble fitters were relining one front brake on buses when I worked there in 1991 even though they had claimed to have been to tech and study sound engineering practice.
One day on hire as driver to Gilbraith’s on the Bedford I did a load of Bricks to the industry training and research centre at the south of Stoke and was soon tipped and off for my back-load from ” Steetly’s Brownhills ” and so off I went to Brownhills on the A5 and couldn’t find a brickworks anywhere.   I rang in to enquire only then to be told that the said brickworks was right next door to Port Vale football ground at the north end of Stoke so I had gone all the way south for nothing due to incompetent management.   I came back north and loaded the bricks but it was far too late to make the planned delivery to site at Leyland, not helped by the fact that the sick 250 could only make 45 Mph on the flat on the motorway with a full 38 tonne load making it into a long hard day.  There was nothing basically wrong with the TM tractor unit, it handled as well as a Seddon Atki, the cab ergonomics were good and my later experience of TM’s with fit engines led me to the opinion that unlike the old Bedford’s they were a really useful tool yet they never caught on and the Bedford factory closed.
As I briefly referred to it in my Coal Board article the work at Sandiford’s changed at that time and the new Knacker Davis junk pet food jobs were often hand ball and my bad back was suffering when another serious wagon accident opened up an opportunity to get back for an easier life on the local based tippers.  Again it was the Horton road and Langcliffe and in this case a totally gormless and lazy if given the opportunity youth a year older than me and with whom I worked as an apprentice when my original company took over his and who was the primary reason I left my original company.  I was carrying him when the only main skilled fitter left and he was stopping me getting a better pay rate because my employer would have had to pay him the same when he wasn’t worth peanuts.  He passed his Class 1 and went driving tippers for them but he had no idea and I noticed that when I was approaching him from the opposite direction on the narrow A682 he was grabbing handfuls of nearside lock and obviously scared to death.  His fatal accident occurred whilst he was attempting to overtake the Giggleswick School tractor and low farm trailer at speed when it was turning right into the council tip.  His ERF B-Series RR265 with short tandem trailer struck the school tractor trailer with sufficient force to snap the drawbar off and jack-knifed throwing him out of the cab onto the road where he smashed his head on the kerb, other than that not a mark on him.  An avoidable mistake if you ran the route regular and worked out the difference and movements of both the yellow Giggleswick tractor and the more regular bigger blue paper mill tractor which  mostly turned left at that point although sometimes it turned right into the tip also, concise route learning is essential for safety.  The real intrigue of the accident was that my CB mate De-Coke was sat in the box at the front of the school trailer and thrown up into the air on impact only to land safely on his feet totally unscathed, one of the attending traffic officers asked him if he was a cat !

To end this post and although not strictly on topic its worth mentioning that when the school club was going a southbound goods train de-railed and totally demolished the level crossing signal box next door from where one of the club members helped out and again by luck the signalman escaped almost unscathed.  The train consisted of 12 ton box vans containing Scotch whisky and spuds which were strewn out on the track and the enterprising early bird locals had field day pilfering first the whisky before the police finally arrived and put a stop to it although they still let people help themselves to the spuds !

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