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Wednesday, June 04, 2003
ROCK SOLID (12)
You’ve got to hand it to John and Edgar Wild, they were far sighted business men. They saw the collapse of the work from the textile industry coming in the 1950s and started looking for more lucrative work. One key thing to recognise is that at this time the vast majority of wagons on the road were four wheelers and all the haulier’s garages were geared to this size of vehicle. This might not sound very important but nearly all the premises that you delivered to had been built for horse-drawn transport and on general haulage anything bigger than a two axle wagon was a liability.
Wild Brothers stuck to four wheelers and gradually built up a respectable fleet using the better makers. My picture this week is one of the better end, a Maudslay Mogul that Jack Platt drove for while on the tramp. My thanks to Brian Carlos for this snap. Eventually they standardised on AEC Mercury’s because at the time, they were the highest powered four wheeler you could buy. They all had the AV470 engine that delivered about 120 horse power and very high torque. We always used to say that the rougher they sounded the better they were running.
It was a fairly steep learning curve when Jack went on the tramp at first. However they soon got a regular clearing house in London, a firm called Verlins and they used to load them for Glasgow. In Glasgow they had a regular man on the Broomilaw who loaded them out of Colville’s at Gartcosh with sheet steel for Fords at Dagenham. The first time Jack went in there he was with Gordon Westwell and when he came out he said to Gordon that his wagon seemed a bit low on the springs. When he got his note he found he had fifteen tons on when all he was allowed by law was eight. He had to back in and get seven tons taken off.
Jack and I agreed that Buckhaw Brow at Settle was one of the steepest hills on a main road in England. If you could get up that you knew you were alright wherever you had to go. Wilds never had a lot of trouble because John wouldn’t allow them to load more than eight tons in normal circumstances and as they had good wagons they were well within their weight.
The big problem with tramp work was that you were taking what was left over and the rates were very low. John was acutely aware of this and on one of his trips to Liverpool looking for work he found himself talking to a man who could give him container work. These were the large metal containers we are so familiar with today, they were loaded at the factory sending the goods and not opened again until they reached their destination. The firm was called Anglo Containers and soon Wild Brothers wagons carried nothing else.
The container work was from the Liverpool area to London and much of the freight was perishable goods like meat and fish. There were no refrigerated containers in those days. The goods were loaded and then containers of ‘dry ice’, frozen carbon dioxide, were put in. These kept the container cold enough to do the trip to London.
The container job was hard work but it was a regular earner and kept Wild Brothers going comfortably through the 1960s and 70s but things were changing. The search for economy led to bigger wagons and the 32 ton articulated lorry became the hauliers standard. If Wild Brothers made a mistake it was by not converting to larger vehicles but they never did. The old 18 ft long containers were superseded by 40 feet boxes and Wilds gradually lost their haulage work. By the late 1970s they had declined general haulage and were concentrating on coach and private hire work. ‘Travel with Wilds for Miles of Smiles’ became a well known phrase in the district but in the end ill health in the management and an unwillingness to invest led to closure.
Wilds lasted long enough to see Jack into retirement. By 1973 I had seen the light as well and was engineer at Bancroft Shed. Jack used to call in many a time for a cup of tea and a crack in the engine house. We travelled a lot of miles in those two chairs telling each other tall stories about the things we had carried and what we had seen on the road.
One thing we always agreed on, the coming of the motorways, more regulation and tighter management might have given the lads bigger, more powerful and certainly more comfortable wagons but they had taken the magic out of the job. There was a lot more interest fighting your way over Shap Fell in winter than tramming up the M6 through Tebay. I suppose we were both getting older but the characters had vanished, the old transport cafes had given way to truckstops and the traffic bobbies all looked far too young!
If you’ve got the impression from these pieces that I liked Jack, you’re right. He was a hard man and he wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea but we understood each other and had done the same jobs. I suppose the biggest characteristic we shared was that we had both had a spell of being cab happy and we weren’t ashamed of it. We saw the end of the old style haulage industry in Britain which ran on overloading and bent log books. This was law breaking I know but the end result was a lot of goods carried very cheaply and did much to fuel the country’s economy when the railways went into terminal decline. It was hard, but it gave us a living and a lot of kids were reared out of the plunder. Rest easy Jack, they were happy days.
Remember that if you are on the internet you can find back numbers of Stanley’s View on www.barnoldswick.blogspot.com
SCG/29 April 2003
ROCK SOLID (11)
The first coach Jack drove for Wild’s was an old AEC which they nicknamed ‘The Old Grey Mare’. Then as John got busier in the office he took over his Albion, a 28 seater like the one I pictured last week. Because of fuel shortages all the work was war related. When he wasn’t servicing the Overdale contract he was moving workers about for Rolls Royce. He remembered being in Nelson centre with a party from Rolls when Rodney was born in 1945.
Jack Platt drove coaches for Wild Brothers until the end of the war. With the loss of the contracts for moving prisoners of war about he found himself driving hire cars more and more. It was a clean job but somehow Jack couldn’t settle to it, personally I think it was cab fever striking again, the vehicles weren’t big enough and he was happier when he was doing a ‘proper job’ on general haulage.
All through the war Wild’s had five flat wagons working on general haulage. Most of this work was for the mills in Barlick and very occasionally Jack was called on to help with this. As the war finished, activity in the mills rose again and Jack moved onto the wagon job permanently. There was a lot of work to be had in the mills and Jack named some of the other firms who were carting in Barlick as well. He said there were six besides Wild’s; he named Aspin, Garnett, Whittaker Platt, Dixon’s and Clark Brothers. There was another firm which he described as ‘Mona’s Uncle’, they had two flat wagons. Wilkinson’s from Earby used to come into Barlick occasionally and some mills like Stephen Pickles at Barnsey had their own flat wagon and a tipper for carting coal in. Bancroft had their own wagon, Jim Nutter used to drive it.
All these vehicles were busy carting weft and yarn in and cloth and empties out. Most of the work was between Barlick and the other Lancashire textile towns but nearly all the cloth went to the merchants in Manchester. By this time the railway had ceased to be a serious competitor, all the traffic was going and coming by road.
John Wild was a good business man and he was one of the first hauliers to recognise that the textile traffic was declining, margins were getting smaller and that if he wanted to pursue his policy of keeping a smart modern fleet of wagons he was going to have to concentrate on the most lucrative contract he had which was with Johnson and Johnsons and put the rest of his fleet on to general haulage. It was during this period that a lot of the smaller haulage firms went out or reorganised. Clark Brothers sold out and became Stockbeck Haulage, most of the mills sold their wagons and eventually Jackson’s from Nelson had a virtual monopoly of all the transport to the mills in the town.
In his search for traffic, John went out looking for work but put his surplus wagons on the ‘tramp’ in order to keep the cash flowing. Jack and I talked the same language here as we had both been tramp drivers. In every major town and city in the land there were ‘clearing houses’ where a driver could go and get a load if he had no regular run. In practice, tramp work was low profit because you were getting what was left after the regular contractors had creamed the good work off. You could get work but you never knew where you were going or when you would get home. There was a famous haulage firm called Slater Brothers in Leeds at the time and a transport journal once printed a cartoon showing a little lass saying to her mother “Is Daddy Dead?” The mother replies “No Love, he works for Slaters.”
The name of the game was to get as many miles in loaded during the week as you could. We all broke the law regularly because we were only allowed a certain number of hours a day driving. I seem to remember that we were allowed 11 hours driving, a 14 hour spread over and no longer than five and a half hours at the wheel without a break. Suffice it to say that a drivers log book in those days was largely a matter of fiction. It was a hard life, everyone was fighting for traffic and one of these days I shall write more about some of the terrible things that went on in the name of profit.
All this took its toll on the drivers. Anyone that knew Jack Platt will describe him as a top class friend and a good bloke but, if pressed, they would have to admit he was a hard man. I’ve thought a lot about this over the years and I believe a lot of this was down to the fact that you had worked on the tramp, if you weren’t hard you didn’t stay the course. Neither Jack or I were on it long enough to get really case-hardened but I fear it left its mark. My kids have told me that I used to frighten them sometimes when they were young. I hope and think that over the years they have begun to realise why. It was dog eat dog and Jack and I were very happy to get out of it.
The end result was that the only way a firm could survive in this trade was by being absolutely ruthless and cutting every corner it could. Knowing John Wild, I suspect that he soon realised that this wasn’t the road for him and that unless he could find a more regular and profitable way of running his business he would have to get out. He had a lot of contacts in Liverpool and one day found himself talking to a man about a new-fangled way of shipping goods around the world called containers. Next week we’ll have a look at what transpired.
SCG/26 April 2003
ROCK SOLID (10)
Some time in the 1930s Jack got a new wagon, a Leyland. The biggest improvement as far as Jack was concerned was that it had a proper cab and acetylene lamps. Apart from that, it was still on solid tyres and had lousy brakes. As I write I can look up and there is an acetylene lamp stood on my bookcase and there’s a tin of carbide in the workshop but many of my younger readers won’t know what I am talking about unless they are cavers because that’s about the only place they are used nowadays.
An acetylene lamp is simply a container into which you can put calcium carbide which when it comes into contact with water gives off acetylene gas. This is highly flammable and burns with a brilliant white light. There is a small container for water on top and a valve to control the rate the water drips onto the carbide thus regulating the flow of gas. The gas is piped to a burner set in a reflector and hey presto, you have a very serviceable lamp.
The system on Jack’s wagon was a bit more sophisticated. Just behind the cab there was a round container about a foot in diameter and a foot high. You tipped your carbide in, filled the top tank with water, shut the lid and the gas was piped with rubber pipes to your lights front and back. All you had to do was start the reaction going by opening the water valve and light the lamps. True, there were little hitches at times. Jack tells me he started it up one day and while he was round the back of the wagon trying to work out why his lights weren’t firing up the acetylene generator exploded with a loud bang. There must have been a blockage somewhere. The joys of modern motoring!
I asked Jack how long the solid tyres lasted. He said they were pretty good really and told me that when they needed new ones they went to Oswald Tillotson’s garage at the Summit at Burnley. He described the process of forcing the old tyres off with a hydraulic ram, relining the rim with canvas strips and pressing the new tyres on. He said the drivers got three shillings backhander for each tyre which was a nice contribution towards his wage which was about three pounds a week then.
Late in 1939 the war started and Jack decided to volunteer for the army because he had always fancied it. The big problem of course was that when they saw his hand they gave him Grade Four which meant he was unemployable as far as they were concerned. Later on in the war he got calling up papers and was told they might use him as an instructor but he never heard anything about it. Truth to tell he was getting a bit unsettled at the quarry and was looking round for something else.
His opportunity came during the winter of 1939. During a spell of hard weather the quarry was frozen off. There was no snow shifting and so Jack went down to the Labour Exchange and enquired about what was going. The clerk told him there were plenty of jobs at the new Royal Ordnance Factory at Steeton, he could get there on the train easily so he and a bloke called Arthur Fawcett signed up to go. Jack got the shock of his life when they told him what the wage was, he was on twelve pounds a week, four times what he had been earning in the quarry!
Well, despite the war, and thanks to his accident with the detonator, Jack had never been as well off in his life. Only one thing marred the view, he couldn’t stand being inside in a blacked out factory all day. He stuck it for two years and tried to get out on medical grounds but the doctor he saw wasn’t having any of it. He told Jack that he wished he was as fit as him and sent him back to work.
So, out hero is well off in terms of money but a very unhappy man. One day he saw John Wild the haulage contractor and they fell into conversation. John asked him how he liked at Steeton and Jack told him the sorry tale. John said that he could alter that, would he like to come working for him driving a coach as he had a contract for ferrying prisoners of war about but was short of a good driver. He said that if Jack could pass his Public Service Vehicle test, which he would need to drive coaches, he would set him on.
Jack went for the test, the Examiner made no comment about his injured hand, and Jack set on for Wild’s as a coach driver. He dropped a lot of money by doing so but was happy at last. He said it was a smashing job. He used to go to Overdale Camp on the Harrogate Road, it’s a caravan park now, pick up a load of Italian prisoners of war and ferry them to whatever farm they were working on. He said his Italians were a good lot but his mate Mark Caan always got Germans and he said they were nowhere near as cheerful.
Wild’s garage was on Cobden Street but they also had the old foundry on Havre Park where Gissing and Lonsdale’s is today. They used to have a small garage above Bancroft Mill but that was washed away in the flood of 1932. Jack was to stay on the coaches until the end of the war but had finally found his home. He worked for Wilds until he retired. We’ll have a look at Platt and the long distance next time round.
A word of thanks for the scores of people who rang me about Rag Albert. His surname was Broughton and I think almost everyone in Barlick knew this except me! I’m always glad to hear from you, call me anytime on 813527 or email me on Stanley@barnoldswick.freeserve.co.uk .
SCG/25 April 2003
ROCK SOLID. PART NINE.
The opening of Foulridge tunnel on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in 1796 was a red letter day for Barnoldswick. The forty foot high embankment across Burnley was opened in 1802 and made the transport of heavy loads to and from Lancashire practical. It is very hard to over-estimate the importance of this to the economy of Barlick. By this time, the roads were reasonable but horse power was unable to move loads of much more that two tons and was slow and expensive. The effect of this was that heavy materials such as stone and coal were only moved in small quantities.
The canal changed everything. Loads of 50 tons could be moved by one horse at four miles an hour. This opened up the market for high quality stone in Lancashire and the carriage of coal as a return load. Eventually, this enabled the development of steam driven industry in Barnoldswick and drove the development of the quarries.
From 1880 onwards the towns along the line of the canal were improving conditions in the town centres by paving the roads with setts. The tough gritstone of Park Close and Salterforth Quarries was ideal for this purpose and tens of thousands of tons were cut by the banker-hands. Billy Brooks mentioned the names of three men who worked on the bank; George Smith (who later became a grocer), Harry Cawdray and Peter Sugden. The setts were carried down to the canal by tramways and taken forward as far as Burnley by canal boat. Further into Lancashire it was cheaper to bring in granite setts by rail from the huge quarries on Shap Fell.
In the 1920s Sagars had two canal boats, Ida and Alice, named after the daughters. The boatmen were Hartley and Oates Barrett (Walton Barrett’s father) from Foulridge. They would load up with setts at the wharf near New Road Bridge and take them to Burnley. Jack would load his Dennis wagon up with setts as well and take them to the council yard at the top of Manchester Road in Burnley. He would then go down to the wharf, load up and take the setts up to the yard. He carried on doing this until the boats were empty. Jack got on well with the boatmen and he said he enjoyed this job especially having his meals with them in the living cabin on the boat. He went home every night and brought another load the following morning but the boatmen stayed on the boat.
Back in Barlick, apart from the stone paving in the town centre most of the roads were still dry macadam. Jack told me he could remember seeing old men knapping stone at Poor Bones just below Bancrofts and Windy Harbour. He said their was a yard up on Whitemoor as well but I’m not sure where this was. He said that the old chap up there had a pile of stone as long as a row of houses. He worked in the open and the only protection he had was a couple of sacks, one to sit on and one to put over his head and back if it rained. This was exactly how it had been for centuries but things were about to change.
In the 1920’s the depression started to bite. Unemployment was rising and the government financed public works to give employment. The first sign of this that affected Barlick was around 1927 or 1928 when the road from Skipton out to Keighley was rebuilt at Snaygill. Sagars got a contract for supplying infill for building the roadbed and started clearing the huge waste heaps below the quarry and carting it to Skipton. This was a big job and Jack said that about six hauliers from Barlick worked on the job, Emmott Garnett, Aspin and Harry Platt were some he remembered.
Jack remembered a curious incident at Snaygill. The contractors dug a box up one day and when it was opened it was full of jewellery. It turned out that it had been stolen from Fattorini’s at Bradford and hidden. The thieves were in gaol and were doubtless hoping for a good little earner when they came out. As Jack said, “Hard luck lads!”
Barlick got it’s chance for a government project and this was when Salterforth New Road was built. This was another outlet for stone from the waste heaps and a source of employment. When I worked at West Marton Dairies George Dillon told me that was how he came to move to Salterforth, he got a job on the New Road and never went back down south. The New Road altered the geography of Barlick. Tubber Hill, Higher Lane and Salterforth Lane ceased to be main roads. The back lane from Salterforth to Coates fell into disuse and the steam winch at the top of the drag was dismantled.
So, by the 1930s our hero has seen some fundamental changes. Horse transport had virtually died out and motor vehicles taken over. The New Road has opened. On the home front he’s married Mona in 1928 and they are living at Tubber Hill. The recession in the textile industry is getting worse and most mills are on short time. Further afield there are even greater problems. In 1926 the general strike paralysed the country for a week and over in Germany, a man called Adolph Hitler arranged for his National Socialist Party’s annual rally to be held in Nuremberg. The clouds were gathering but for the time being Jack is all right, he’s in work and there are rumours he is about to get a new Leyland wagon.
My picture this week is a canal boat loading setts. I think this is at Whitham’s wharf just behind Burdock Hill at Foulridge. The two men on the bank are wheeling low sided barrows across planks to tip the setts in the boat. On the original photograph I could see that the man in the bowler hat has a cravat, waistcoat and a heavy watch chain. I think he has spats on protecting his polished boots and the little girl is well turned out. Could this be Whitham the quarry owner?
SCG/24 March 2003