Jack Spittle

The Lorry Driver's Life part 2

Like the blue collar and white collar class consciousness of the factory and office worker at the time, the transport driving fraternity had their own form of selective identity. The experienced long distance heavy goods drivers were accepted as the cream of the crop, a 'top bloke' driving with pride the attractive liveried wagon of a fleet owner such as Fisher and Renwick's Scammell Showboats. Journeys of a hundred miles or more were classed as long distance, with a journey from Glasgow to London taking three days. Down the scale a little, the short haul local delivery.  Further down, the scrap and tipper chap, etc. All equal, but some a little more equal than others, with the respect given and accepted by the drivers themselves, in their own grading of job importance.

There was no calling the AA or RAC to their aid on the breakdowns of some of the overworked lorries of years ago. Owners did not appreciate a large garage repair bill following a trip. Fix it yourself or wait for another driver to give you a "snatch'.  The secret communication system of the talking/ signalling to each other by use of the headlamps and side lights by the lorry men, is now a part of history of the road, replaced by the CBs and mobile phones.

Just how many lorry drivers were injured or killed on the dangerous wartime roads we will never know. One thing is for certain, they were war casualties, albeit without a uniform or indeed the benefit of decent overalls if he worked for a small transport firm with a limited budget. These small transport firms, that came into being after the return to private ownership in 1953, had a situation to contend with that should get a mite of publicity here, in the interests of justice.

Model of a Guy Wolf service van.

Many large factories and industrial companies had the choice of British Road Services, or private enterprise, for their transport needs at this time.  The position of Factory Transport Manager was created within a lot of companies to obtain the best transportation service for their business. In some instances this did not bode well for the transport haulier. The decision for allocating loads was up to these individuals and, sad to say, in several cases they seized the opportunity to enhance their salaries more than somewhat.  Many an owner driver will no doubt remember the 'dropsy' and 'back hander' that had to be given to these gentlemen, in an effort to survive.  This was  money, that had been hard earned behind the wheel, handed in a plain envelope to someone who was a blight on the transport industry. A few of this minority were caught out, but not all.

Only a veteran lorry driver in his seventies or eighties would remember the ladies of the night who plied for hire on the old trunk roads, "Floozies", several of them as well known as the transport cafes and stretches of road that they frequented, so many years ago. Everyone has to live or make a living. One can look back now in hindsight on those poor unfortunates with sympathy and a little more understanding. The existence of child benefits and handouts were a thing of the future and force of circumstances dictate actions.

A warm cap and woollen muffler in winter were a must. One small thing that comes to mind following the war was the sale of war surplus gear. RAF flying boots were ideal for lorry drivers in the winter to combat drafts up the trouser legs from the holes in the cab floor where the driving pedals came through.  Leather flying jackets and gloves, that had criss­crossed Germany with American and British flying crews, were seized upon by drivers for winter use in peace time,eliminating the dangerous habit of sitting on the hands to keep them warm. Another excellent part of army surplus for drivers were the leather sleeveless coats of former soldiers and army drivers, not forgetting the 'vest and long johns, woollen'.

Model of a Guy Warrior as a BP petrol tanker.    

In the cab the area of the drivers side window was cold, as the window had to be constantly lowered for hand signals. Petrol engines drove hot, diesel engines mainly cold. A seasonal choice of alleged pleasure to look forward to, was trying to start a cold diesel engine, after a frosty night's standing out, with a smouldering rag held over the air induction pipe after the removal of the air cleaner.

Draining the water off at night, then filling up again next morning was usual, if irksome. Sitting just inches away from a hot and throbbing engine for hours, on a warm summer’s day, leaning out of the cab while moving to get a little respite and cool air, is a practice that has now passed into memory.

Drivers did experience the changing seasons, hating some and enjoying the others, stopping to pick a bunch of heather to fix to the front of their wagons to show they had been to, or come from, Scotland. A well known fleet owner from north of the border had distinctive tartans painted around the cabs of his clean and handsomely turned out lorries, making it easy to recognise 'one of Pollocks'.

It would be fair to say that, in those days of pre-managerial smart suits, it would be difficult at times to differentiate between owner and driver. Many successful fleet businesses have been developed over the years by drivers who became owner drivers, simply because by experience they 'knew the score'. It would be the experience of these proprietors that lead to improvements to cabs interior, in consideration of driver comfort, when the new pressed­metal panelled cabs replaced the wooden structured sort. Injuries to drivers included spine trouble, vision problems, plus hearing loss caused by the continuous knocking and throbbing of diesel and petrol engines in the cab alongside of their left leg and ear.  These were not compensated for until years later, when the Transport and General Workers Union grew stronger and fought for better conditions for their members. The new design that came later, of building the driving cab over the engine, eliminated many of these health hazards and discomforts, seeing great improvements in the lot of the driver and his mate when out on the road.

Model of a Foden tractor and trailer unit with Guy and AEC tractor units in transit. Both are finished in Jack's own livery of orange and blue.

That part of the dedicated war service of hour after hour, day after day, and year after year at the steering wheel, sometimes in very trying circumstances, by British lorry drivers has been practically ignored by historians and heritage research writers. One had to experience the job of short and long distance driving in those earlier days, before putting the story into print, and doing justice to that hardy breed of working man.

The cavalryman had his horse, the professional transport driver had in his charge his lorry. Consideration and affection was extended to both in their different way. Dependability in each case was paramount to succeed in the job they had to do, in the field or on the road, knowing the friend that carried you would repay all the care and attention that had been spent on it. The important service that the British Transport industry has provided for this country over the decades is something that is just accepted but little acknowledged.

Governments did not create this excellent transport service organisation that has grown to what we see today, on the motorway systems of Britain and Europe, a business that keeps the country's goods moving.  It was built on enterprise, experience, enthusiasm and hard work, from the top to the bottom. Running on roads that went from dirt‑tracks to cobble stones or hard wood blocks and then, from that accidental spillage of tar from an overturned barrel onto slag stones at a Black Country iron works, to a new road surface that was both durable, maintainable, and a pleasure to drive on.

All of this progress has lead to the safe well heeled lorry of today, with its comfortable well equipped cab, complete with inbuilt sleeping and rest facility. These are lorries that can travel across continents and back, with driver comfort equal to that of a luxury car. Transport drivers do not have to ask for heaters and radios now, they come as standard equipment with the satellite communication system, in this last century of invention and improvement.

Return to the

Return to Lives
of Local People