I suppose that a good place to start is when I was working part time after school and the drivers would ask me what I had been doing that day and one day we covered the basic principles of friction and how we did practical experiments to prove it and that friction was independent of area. This was immediately challenged by one of the experienced drivers and he went on to prove his assertion by telling the story about how as a young lad he had been involved in a runaway incident in a then brand new 1962 6 wheel ( Kew cab ) Dodge coming down into Whalley on the old A59. The hill in question is not really that steep or long and he had managed to slow down to crawling speed but it was clear to him that there was no way he was going to be able to stop for the then queues at the traffic lights in the village so he put her into the stout stone wall at the other side of the road on the sharp bend preceding the bridge over the river Calder.
In the run up to the said incident one mid week the driver had requested to have the brakes adjusted with the response from the owner being ” they can’t need adjusting we only did them at the weekend ” but he did personally set out on a test run through the narrow entrance to the yard between two houses. Even though only going dead slow the brakes were useless and he crashed into the wall across the road from the entrance and so it was into the garage for inspection even took the front hubs off to inspect the linings which one driver pointed out were no wider than those on the front of his fast car. It all came out in the police report on the incident at Whalley and Dodge were grudgingly obliged to retrofit new far wider front brakes which solved the problem and the main lesson was that your front brakes stopped you and the back brakes slowed you down.
Most of the work we did in the early days never required any heavy braking and the Gardner 150 ERF 28 ton powder tank with first rate driver only needed the brakes relined once a year usually just prior to the annual test even though the brakes were originally designed for 26 ton. We were probably behind the learning curve when we got the first 180 ERF which was bought as a 26 ton chassis cab and we extended the chassis and moved the back bogie back and fitted a flitch bigger front tyres to uprate to 28 tons and fitted a tipper body build using second hand parts including parts of the tipper of 1966 AEC we had scrapped. Even riding shotgun it was clear that the 180 was not as good at holding you back down hill like winding through the bends coming down from the summit of A 59 Blubberhouses eastbound and probably due to the valve timing on the 180 being advanced 11 degrees compared to the 150 and you had to use the brakes heavier to stop the engine overrunning and hitting the valve heads. The brakes needed to be adjusted more often and the linings wore out faster and to compensate for wear in the drums we would put a copper washer under the wedge the shoes sat on at the fulcrum end adjuster, we always used copper rivets to secure the lining to the shoes. However, back in the early 1960s when the fitter I worked with was an apprentice at TGB Clitheroe told of when they serviced the Guy’s owned by the then Regent Petrol, and who’s chief engineer Clancy specified brass rivets to prevent groves being worn in the drums and expected brakes not to be relined until they collapsed a cloud of dust.
We did our level best to keep the fleet brakes in tip top condition and in any case if you let the brakes get out of adjustment the rubber air brake cylinder diaphragms were more likely to fail so good practice saved us work and one time we relined the front brakes of a tractor unit( always relined front brakes as an axle ) a couple of weeks before it was due to be scrapped. The irony was that we bought the shoes back from the scrapyard for further use and the pressure was on us after we took over the Horton-in Ribblesdale ex-works RMC Burnley contract with its route over the A682 between Gisburn and Barrowford with the deceptive steep gradient long straight down past Blacko tower. When Horton was owned by ICI you could load 24 hours ( write your own ticket out in the weighbridge ) and one summer evening I went with the owners son to do a load to RMC Burnley. Just before Barrowford we noticed that one of the trailer brakes was smoking probably just in time before it ignited the hub grease so we had to stop for a while to let it cool down, and its probably worth mentioning that on the way back from the yard of the then under construction new garage on the trading estate ( despite the lock tabs ) two of the studs came out of the air filter mounting in his just out of warranty 2000 S Ford Capri one jamming the accelerator wide open and the other completely smashing one of the pistons. Just to add its worth mentioning that soon after we took over the RMC contract it emerged that thousands of tons of dust had gone missing under the previous haulage contractor allegedly mostly for the benefit of the concrete block works at Ingleton in which he had a financial interest as part of his overall main building contractor and building product supply business, Horton out of normal hours loading was stopped but no criminal charges were ever brought.
Things went downhill when we eventually moved into the new garage on the Pendle Trading Estate the company was forced to buy after the local council put a compulsory purchase order ( on the yard and ample garage in the centre of my village they had originally intended to use ) in order to build OAP bungalows for sheltered housing. My own health was deteriorating after initially being diagnosed with an infected appendix which was found OK when it was removed anyway via a five inch long scar on my always had been fat belly and perhaps the reason I collapsed in pain whilst drilling a broken bolt out of a trailer brake cylinder casting was my back problem all along. It probably didn’t help that I had been riding around shotgun in wagons during my recovery and I probably went back to work too soon anyway and ended up having to go back into hospital for a day to have a cortisone injection in the scar to cure the pain. I had never smoked until then but started when I went back to work which seemed to help but the whole work atmosphere had changed and the owner became totally unreasonable and he wouldn’t listen to anyone anymore. I was totally unaware of the situation at that time but I was later reliably informed that the company was on the verge of going bust and at a stage where a liquidator had been sent to value the fleet which was mostly worthless so they kept the company alive. The main factor was that one of our biggest and best customers had gone bust due to a shipment of their foundry products to Turkey being denied entry to the port, plus due to mega late paying ( alleged in order to dabble in ” short money markets ” ) our company also owed a fortune for work they had subcontracted to other local haulage contactors also at that time under pressure from their banks.
Everyone was brassed off and it was not long before the head fitter left leaving me and the incompetent idiot we got as part of the RMC deal with everything although he did take on the eldest son of a ( known rouge driver although favourite of his for some reason ) as a just left school apprentice to help out. He was alleged to be going to tech but it was later found that he was staying at home on the said day and the only thing he was any good at was changing tyres. By then we had got the latest windy-gun but it was not much help because the owner had insisted on bringing the ancient air compressor from the old garage which only had enough air to remove three of the ten wheel studs consecutively and he had also insisted on getting one with a ” long shank ” so it was useless for spring U-bolts. We did get a small windy-gun which was useful but only I was competent to do electric stick welding and spent most of the time repairing the balance beams of the alleged to save maintenance Charmer’s rubber suspension on the trailers we inherited. We were also spending loads of time replacing the modern design plastic tipper ram seals, ( which although I have forgotten name of the company who made them ) on the trailers we inherited in the RMC deal, whereas the Edbro ( basic principle 1950s design ) rams as fitted to our own original fleet were never any trouble. Even though he was a year older than me the other fitter wasn’t much help, for instance one day we set out to replace the worn king-pins on the front of a tractor unit for test and even though I did the easier nearside, I had finished the job before he had even got his side stripped down. He was pissing about trying to use his patent Snap-On taper fit ball joint splitter when the best way to split them was to smartly strike the end of the forging with the seven pound hammer which he must have seen fitters do.
By this time most of the drivers who actually cared about the job were moaning and especially about the Michelin XZY tyres the owner insisted on fitting on the front of the tractor units which went ” walkies ” in the wet and even though to anyone it was obvious that they were drive axle off road tyres with their three groves and big knobbles on the outside. Everyone knew full well that Michelin XZA tyres were the best for steering axles with their two big groves and solid edges, ( and jumping forward to when I went back working for the company at another financially stressed time after to moving to a new garage again ) they fitted some cheap imported XZA imitation tyres to the front of my tractor unit which were dangerous in the wet and I told the owners son who was then in command that he either put some new ZA’s on or I was only doing four loads from Swinden to RMC Burnley instead of my usual five, I got the ZA’s that night.
Back to the story and it was increasingly impossible to keep up a reasonable maintenance standard and I did try to help the situation by suggesting that we removed all the brake back plate covers from the trailers in order to make it easy to see the condition of the brake linings as we were often having to replace them when they cracked around the bolt holes and fell off anyway. I got the idea after a tech organised visit to Accrington Corporation Transport bus depot where they had just introduced the latest Dennis double decker fitted with a Voith automatic gearbox incorporating a two stage hydraulic retarder. We were taken for a demonstration coming down the steep gradient of Willows Lane where the retarder as progressively operated by micro-switches on the brake pedal slowed the bus down to walking place without actually using the foundation air brakes at all. ACT had big brake problems having to reline after only as little as three weeks due to the steep gradients on most of the routes they operated, all the fleet were fitted with the latest SAB automatic brake adjusters. I had a close encounter with Leyland automatic slack adjusters when whilst working at Ribble in 1991 when I was sent to change a 150 Preston service Olympian at Burnley bus station after the driver reported the spring parking brake inoperative. I assumed that the problem was due to broken springs in both brake cylinder units until on the way back I had abort stopping for traffic lights which changed to red on the last second when I almost ended up sideways in the wet road, it was found both rear axle automatic adjusters had completely backed themselves off.
Back to my apprenticeship and one afternoon one of the 32 ton artics went to load for the morning after at Waddington Fell sandstone quarry and she got away on the driver coming down the two miles long steep hill into Waddington village and he managed to stop her by putting her into the wide grass verge and sinking to ground the front axle on the edge of the road well before the village itself. I managed to pull him out with a chain on my Land-Rover which I was allowing the company as a favour because the old Escort van was unserviceable and although it was said that we were getting a ” new ” one but ” they wouldn’t release it “.It was all getting too much to bear and the pointless exercises we were instructed to do like for instance when I overhauled a 180 Gardner in a tractor unit which had blown up due to a radiator leak which he tried to solder but it was rotten. I used the original five pistons we had saved as serviceable from the first time it was repaired from new plus another second hand one we had hanging around, the driver said it went really well but the radiator was still leaking half way down and as a result it overheated again and blew up again. It was all my fault but this time a new radiator was fitted, then there was the Saturday morning when one of the drivers reported a badly worn nearside front tyre on his tractor unit which we put over the pit and I inspected to find a badly worn track-rod end and set about replacing it with one we had saved from a scrapper and a new tyre . However the owner would insist that the centre-bolt had sheared on the nearside back spring and despite the fact that I had got the tape measure out and measured both sides from the fixed end and found that there was only a quarter of an inch difference he would insist we dismantled the rear spring. Of course it was proved that there nothing wrong with the spring and the time was wasted when we could have been doing something productive which meant we were forced to work Sundays to cope with the workload when it was becoming clear to me that the lack of a break was reducing my overall competence at actually doing the job. My back finally gave out when I collapsed in pain at the side of the road whilst replacing a heavy hub reduction unit on a Kirkstall axle, the main damage probably done when I lifted my heavy toolbox into the back of the ” new ” van before I set off.
I would have left earlier but for one of the drivers who I had known since I was 13 dying suddenly ( aged 37 ) of a massive heart attack at home at Darwen after he had got up early not feeling well but went down to make his flask and butties for work anyway, his wagon driver father also died young due to a heart attack when he was sat waiting in the queue for the weighbridge at Horrocksford. The stupidity continued and I got into a big argument with the owner when we were fitting the tipper ram to a trailer we had converted from a 20ft container skeleton trailer about the bolts for the ram pivot brackets onto the front of the chassis. The brackets were already drilled with a five-eighths holes and I intended to drill the chassis top flange with 5/8 holes and use 5/8 bolts two each side, but no I had to use 7/16 bolts even though the bracket holes would be 3/16 slack. I had no option but to comply with my employers wishes but after I left I discovered that the bolts had sheared when the driver was tipping off at Carnforth not that long after it went into service. I have to concede that what can you expect from a poor farm lad with no formal scientific training who served his apprenticeship on Fordson tractors during the war and probably only got the opportunity to set up in his own business because he got the daughter of a local top Mason pregnant and had to marry her ?
The end came when after spending all afternoon drilling and tapping and making new retaining pins for a Kirkstall drive axle brake pivot mounting when just before official home time he waltzed into the garaage sporting a new replacement and said we had to do it before going home. My response was unprintable but I finally cracked when he knocked my big tool box off the big wood box it was sitting on onto the floor distorting it and I just swung for him connecting firmly with his nose which started to bleed. I was warmly welcomed back to work there in 1986 ( by then the ram pivot brackets had been welded on ) and we are still good friends when we meet in the village pub and we usually talk about old times. On one such occasion he was particularly keen to set the record straight about his war service, ( which although he was not old enough until almost the end ) everyone was under the impression that he had dodged the draft as an essential farm worker. He had in fact been called up and sent for training in the RAF as bomber crew, but when they found out what his job in civilian street had been he was discharged and sent home considered to be more useful to the overall war effort as a tractor mechanic,
I got a new job working for the father of an old school friend who had a small garage and ran a few wagons mostly engaged in muck shifting from construction sites and a couple of Cat’s plant hire plus a low loader for hire for transport of such as used by several local small plant hire companies. He had me working in the garage originally and one task I was entrusted with was to recondition the engine of an old Series2 Land-Rover which went really well when I had finished but the owner crashed it a couple of days after he got it back. I was more interested in driving and my first steed was an old 20 ton gross Guy Big J 6 fitted with an AEC 505 engine AEC 6 speed constant mesh gearbox and a steel tipper with a scow end. Most of the work was short distance to the tip but on one such job I was instructed to take a load of ash dug from the old railway embankment near Helmshore to Salford to use as pipe bedding. One Morning I was sent to work on a site at Colne but on the way she started knocking bad almost at the summit of the bank of the A682 Coldweather from the A59 at Gisburn so I nursed her the rest of the trip and she got better over the day trundling around the site of the old railway yard. I never said anything about it when I got back to the yard but soon after he decided to scrap her and I was theoretically promoted to driving a 24 ton gross six-wheeler Leyland Bison fitted with a Leyland 500 fixed head engine with six speed box.
It was mostly site work again and the main problem was stopping the machine driver overloading you by trying to fill the large capacity alloy tipper body she was fitted with and on one busy day on one big job at Sterling Stubbins paper mill they would not be told and I had to go back and tip off after I couldn’t get up the steep hill into the tip to prove my point. Tyres were also a big headache as well got frequent punctures and damage on tips and not helped by the owners long term friend most mega and useless at anything practical fat guy I ever knew in charge of looking after them and perhaps the only reason he kept him was the fact that he was a walking telephone directory who had memorised all the useful phone numbers. I did get farther afield occasionally carting dry stone out of Tarmac Clitheroe but the work I enjoyed the most was for a couple of weeks to cover for their six-wheeler off the road Waddington Fell quarry.
Waddington Fell quarry at the summit was then owned and run by the three Brown brothers and covered most of its own haulage with a fleet of Fodens they operated, the gradient down into the village of Waddington itself was notorious for runaways and one of there eight wheelers had once got away and demolished a house in the village centre. By then their whole fleet was fitted with Telma electromagnetic retarders which were built into the prop shaft and the company was featured in the full page Telma adverts in the commercial motor at one time. Their crushed rock sand was popular in the building trade and they supplied builders merchants throughout Lancashire and it was good loading because the brother who drove the loading shovel would deliberately leave you slightly light then follow you the short distance down to the weighbridge and top you up to full weight using a light controlled in above the weighbridge. I had worked out a plan for coming down the hill at a reasonable speed and I never had any problems doing four loads a day returning with the brakes almost stone cold before setting out down the hill loaded again. However one day working out of there after I had graduated to a 220 RR 30 ton Scammell she got away on me despite my previous safe experience.
The brakes had been adjusted and their condition checked the previous weekend and I had been running out of the Fell for a few days into the week with no apparent problems when that particular day after doing a couple of loads in the morning the Brown brother in charge gave me a quick load down to Eaves Hall caravan park where they were using the local stone to fill in the foundations of a new building they were constructing. I thought nothing about it and was back leaving the quarry loaded again within half an hour and proceeded to normal plan, third gear dead steady down the steepest bit from the summit using a light as possible brake application to stop the engine over revving then after the Moorcock pub where the road almost levels out selecting 4th for 30 Mph again with light brake application to check the engine. Apparently everything OK and it was not until some distance further after some slight bends where I usually increased the strength of the brake application to cope with the increasing gradient that I realised that my foot was already flat on the floor and I was in serious trouble. Nothing much I could do but I try to slow her by running onto the grass verge like the artic driver I described earlier and my speed had by then fallen to just under 20 Mph and I took the big risk of momentarily releasing the foot brake to rev the engine enough ( no synchromesh ) and trying to change down into third gear in which fortunately I managed successfully. It was really lucky that there was noting coming the other way as I ploughed through the picturesque village of Waddington with no hope of being able to stop and finally coming to a halt on the then chipping dump just outside, climbed out of the cab and stood there shaking like a leaf.
I waited a while for the brakes to cool down before proceeding straight to the garage to report the incident so the Fell knew I wasn’t coming back that day and to get the brakes adjusted before delivering the load but I had already found from experience that you can’t do it properly when they are hot because they are liable to bind when cold if you take all the slack out. Anyway they seemed safe enough to do another load out of Tarmac that afternoon but I never went to the Fell again until I was driving a 38 ton five axle artic with a far bigger relative brake area than an 8 wheeler and came down with no problem. Its clear that the reason she ran away on me was that the brakes were red hot when I started and the next encounter I had with seriously hot brakes was after coming down into Newcastle with a Gilbraith’s tandem flat trailer loaded with bales of recycled paper which I finally noticed was smoking on the by-pass coming past the Metro-centre. I had loaded the paper that morning at an industrial estate near Aberdeen airport and had come down the A68 Carter Bar aiming to stop at Birtley truck stop and cars were flashing me to stop as they came past but I realised it was probably already on fire so kept going up the hill to a place where I had a fair chance of putting it out. I pulled into the truck stop next to the kitchens and went in and got a bucket of water then crawled under the back of the trailer and slunged it into the back of the drum which did the trick, took the brakes up before delivering to Sunderland the morning after. I collected one of the tools for making Ford Cargo cab doors from Vickers Elswick works and had no problem coming down the new long gradient down the west side of Blubberhouses on the way back to Blackburn and the lesson being that one of the pitfalls of individually relining one brake means that it ends up carrying more than its fair share of the load.
Some time after when I was in my local Tesco I met and got talking to a ( patently not that competent at the time I first encountered him near the end of my apprenticeship ) driver ( who had left for years but come back after I retired ) who told me all about how he had rammed a newly fitted with a factory reconditioned Cummings 320 engine C-Series ERF day cab unit square into a big tree on the bend at the bottom of the short hill coming down into Cracoe on the Swinden road. He had survived without serious injury even though the tractor unit was a write- off, but then ERF used to advertise ( in the New Zealand truck magazines I saw whilst out there ) on the fact that no driver had ever been killed as a result of a failure of their SP cab structure. He claimed that the accident had been caused by the failure of the trailer brakes, in fact the exact same trailer involved in my incident except this time empty going up early for the first load in the morning. The Police report concluded that he had ” fallen asleep ” even though you have to have your wits about you to get so far and at that time falling asleep was considered a valid defence ( if you were in compliance with driving hours rules ) unlike now, so he never faced any charges over the accident. If it was true that he had fallen asleep then ( with no seatbelts fitted ) its likely that he would have been thrown out through the windscreen and possibly killed by hitting the stone wall behind. The story doesn’t end there though, and several years later the very same guy whilst driving the latest 44 ton technology ( with speed limiter ) for the same company ploughed into standing traffic on the end M62 just going into Liverpool killing some people. Big court case which even made it onto the NW regional BBCTV and he was acquitted of a charge of Causing Death by Dangerous Driving after the Police claimed he had ” fallen asleep ” as a subsequent medical examination had concluded that he was suffering from Sleep Apnoea. They gave him medication and he was allowed to go back to his job as a HGV driver even though the company would have been glad of an excuse to get rid of him in the face of current employment regulations.