After much fighting with, and help from the Borough Council, we were forced out of my back yard onto a dirt yard at nearby Platt Industrial Estate. The only trouble was I had to supply the dirt. But after many years as a tipper driver, I knew a few men who could, and with the help of a wreck of a JCB from my old friend Dave Weekes of Addington Recovery, I had a nice scalpings surface, just big enough to squiggle five artics in if you had good drivers, and I did.

 Below is the fleet as it was then. The 111 was bought from a garage in Essex, who had used it as a renovation project for the apprentices, and it was immaculate. I didn't buy the truck and look for a driver: I had to pledge a job to a friend called John to keep him out of jail! The  court believed me, and he started the same day: he is still a friend now, but was a real bag of monkeys in his youth. It tickles me today as he shakes his head sadly as his boy gets into yet another scrape, and he mutters " I don't know where he gets it from " -- I do!

I had always known John as an artic driver, the first artic I ever drove was when he pulled up outside my house one weekend in a DAF, and let me have a go round the block. It was only when he was given a ticket to produce by a sharp-eyed copper in Kendal who spotted that the form had been altered from "HGV1" (arabic numeral) to HGVII (roman numeral) He had only ever had an HGV2, and had been getting away with it for years. Fortunately the Police believed me and I didn't end up getting my collar felt. The silly thing is, he had to take an HGV1 test as part of his court penalty, and sailed through it: I think he just liked the excitement.

When I took the photo of this group of reprobates, the fleet had grown to 5. We had bought another F10, driven by Eddy on the left, a refugee from Lenham Storage. Dave, the Hairy one, had the Silver Spring F10, third from left is Dave Irvine who drove the 111, and who went on to drive a tipper for Hugh Laver for many years after us.

On the extreme right is Mad Mick, another local legend, who has worked at one time for every local haulier. He was a real grafter, but had never really moved out of the old logbook days, and couldn't ever really get his head around this idea of stopping periodically and sleeping. He was also a p*** artist. We had to put him on the road on a Sunday evening. If we didn't, he would go back down the club on the Sunday, be too drunk to get up on the Monday, and by the time he sobered up would be too embarassed to come to work, so by Wednesday I would have to go round his house and drag him off to work. That said, he never drank and drove, and he never started driving until he had sobered up, and he was a real worker.

One other problem Mick had, which I discovered by accident, was his eyesight: I caught him one Sunday trying to fill in his tacho card. He was hunched over the steering wheel, peering through an enormous magnifying glass, his pen literally sideways, trying to write with the side of the pen. And yet he always passed his sight test for his HGV medical. Must have borrowed someone elses eyes.

He used to tell the story of picking up a hitch-hiker on the M6 on a filthy night. As usual, the F88 air wipers were doing little more than skating happily over the puddles on the windscreen, and the hiker, with much trepidation, asked how Mick could see where he was going. Mick replied" It don't make much difference to me, mate, I can't see the road anyway". I think the hiker really started praying then.

There was a strike in the major container ports in the early 80's, and consequently every small port with a crane on the East Coast was inundated with containers shipped in on anything that could float from Rotterdam. Most of the boxes had to be loaded straight on wheels.

During one of these episodes, we were waiting in an endless queue to be loaded when evrything came to a grinding halt because the next box, a 20' ragtop, needed Port Health clearance before it could leave the premises. We waited, and waited, and slowly more and more drivers accumulated on the dock, joined by the dockers off the boat. Eventually, a very young inspector drives down onto the quay, swaggers up to the box, very full of himself and his power over all these people, whom he officiously elbows aside, cuts the seals, and proceeds to open the box. The box was full of dried peas,....loose. Much to our combined joy, he was swept aside by an avalanche of peas. Grudgingly I suppose it was lucky he wasn't hurt, except his pride, but I bet he read the paperwork more closely before he ever opened another box.

There is another thing that always amazed me during this era, and was an indicator of the mindset of the average docker. Quite often trucks would load two 20' boxes, and several times I have seen the first box go on, and dinner break to come around whilst the second box was in the air, and I have seen them all disappear with a box hanging two feet above the twistlocks!

Our 7.5 tonner, outside Unit 9, soon to become our second warehouse. In the background you can just see the ramp we made out of a 40ft trailer with one axle and the legs cut off. It was used to tristack flat trailers after the crane died. That really sorted out the drivers: if you think about it, you have to be able to reverse an artic dead straight for 120 feet. 40ft on the ground, 40ft up the ramp, and 40ft onto the trailer you are loading. And once you are on the ramp, because it is the same width as your wheels, you can't manouvre the front more than half a tyre width, because even that half a tyre width requires hanging out over the edge of the ramp. Scary Stuff, particularly scary when you're putting a pair of trailers onto the third one!

Even more scary was the dark night when I backed a double up the ramp and onto the third trailer without first checking that there was still air in the brakes. When the bogey of the trailer I was reversing dropped off the ramp onto the trailer being loaded, it lifted the front so the legs were not dragging, and as I continued to reverse, it joined in the fun, and trundled off down the road as well. The whole manouvre came to a sorry end, and came to my notice, when the second bogie dropped off the ramp onto a trailer that was no longer there, and the bottom trailer squeezed out from under until the under-run bar on the upper trailer dropped and stopped its secret escape. I was very late to bed that night.

Dave Weekes was the owner of our local recovery company, and got to know me very well over the years as he frequently towed my old bangers home after they blew up. Here he is collecting my 110 form the M10 after another series of fatal bangs from the engine. Thats the trouble with truck cranks, by the time you hear the bigends rattle, the crank is an ex-crank.

Interesting fact about TDX, the wrecker: It was one of Astran's early Scanias on the middle East run, then Dave bought it and made it into a wrecker, then sold it to Staplehurst Recovery when they bought him out. Don't know what happened to it after that, probably still plodding about out there somewhere!

Believe it or not, theres a Scania 110 and 40ft trailer under that Cabin.  Geoff Halls Cabin yard at Wrotham awaiting refurbishment ready for Astran's new office.

Around this time, another old friend decided to become an owner driver, Mick Burvill, and this was his first tipper. This tipper was polished to within an inch of its life, but I think the only reason Mick eventually got rid of it was its age meant there were some bits that could never attain that showroom gleam he needed.

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