Occasional contributor John Eccleshall previously worked all his life in the commercial vehicle industry, and mainly with British products. A superb raconteur, font of knowledge and general all round good egg, he has many a funny tale stored in his grey matter memory banks.
Over to you John…
Mike Humbles articles and features on the Cummins-Railton car reminds us all of the interesting and colourful people that have been within and around the motor industry. Meeting up with old friends also brings memories flooding back. Some can be repeated, some cannot, and some have to be anonymous to protect the guilty.
My life within the truck industry has seen its fair share of these colourful characters. Now in my dotage I wonder if the new generation has the same sort of characters popping up or have they been rehabilitated to be more community minded and politically correct? Answers to Autobritannia on a postcard please.
Part of the memories include, Leyland ergonomic cabs on steroids rusting like a 1960’s Fiat, or exploding Albion hub reductions not to mention fixed head Leyland 500 series engines, lasting but a month or two. But by far the most memorable experiences have been the people.
One old boss said; “it isn’t sold until it’s paid for” so part of my job going back as far as the 80s was debt collecting, mostly in the London area. It was a task that was diligently carried out by myself and colleagues. Along the way we learnt who could be visited and those best left to a phone call, if you get the cut of my jib?
Picture the scene, a bomb site yard in East London with a Porta-cabin, a rather mangy Alsatian chained to a shipping container and a large gentleman in an expensive suit standing by the door. “What do you want boy” was his opening words. I told him I had come to collect something from the office. He suggested I go away, but he did not use those words – once again if you get the cut of my jib?
Being young and naïve I continued that it was all arranged so it would not be a problem. It was at this point he clarified his position and suggested once again that I go forth and multiply before I had a bit of an accident. From which I thanked him and left very quickly. Later in life I was told that the owner of the company had connections with people who relieved organizations of their valuables and arranged for others to disappear.
One of my colleagues about the same time, was asked to go and see another truck operator concerning an outstanding payment. After a bit of discussion the operator politely said; “if you must have payment today just lean over the shotgun on the desk and take the cheque, but I would prefer if you come back later”. My colleague saw this was a poser of a problem and went back a week later. When he was paid in full, with thanks for waiting.
On another occasion we had a promotional clay Pidgeon shoot, for which guns were provided. However one particular customer arrived with his own pump action shotgun, for which the event organisers were shall we say a little concerned. The customer said he would be disappointed not to use it as it was his favourite, which helped him get the money to set up his business. We think he was having a little joke…. but then again in hindsight!
Moving on to another truck dealership in the 90s, I started to deal with farmers and people outside of the M25 who had trucks, they too had shotguns but were a little more discrete with them. About this time I also came to the conclusion that some post codes were for bank robbers and others for robbing bankers.
On the other side of the business fond memories still linger for colleagues who are no longer with us. One such man was a gentle giant with hands like loading shovels, whose knowledge of trucks could not be matched. If you had him as friend he was a friend for life. However he did not suffer fools gladly and that’s when a service manager nearly felt his wrath.
The manager to keep him in his place identified a minor indiscretion, but rather than deal with the matter himself sent a supervisor to issue a verbal warning and then went out to see “a very important customer”
The supervisor being a canny soul and only half the size of the offender, walked down the workshop and asked the question “you alright” he got a rather colourful reply and walked away. On return the manager asked the supervisor; “did you speak with him” and rightly so he replied; “yes Guv I did” for which the matter was then closed.
Another colleague had a sporting accident in his youth, which meant he spent the rest of his life using a wheel chair. However he had a zest for life and did not see himself as disabled, to the point of being politically incorrect with a vengeance. In particular he enjoyed talking with the sensitive souls who mistook being in a wheel chair for also having a mental impairment. The words sarcasm and caustic wit came to mind on so many occasions.
Back in the 80s I had the good fortune of working for the commercial division of a cement company that had diversified into Leyland truck distributorships. I say division which in reality was a converted workshop in North Kent. The general manager was a genial pirate of the first order, with a particular liking of Beaujolais.
His philosophy was, that life was to be enjoyed and if you can spread that enjoyment to your customers and staff then business would be a success. For which he was right on so many occasions, up to the point when the enjoyment became greater than the business could ever be and the receivers duly came in.
Overall my life within the industry from Counter Hand at a motor factors to Manager at a PLC has been good because of the people I have met on the way. In particular three bosses gave me chances which took me in directions I did not expect. Good friends led me into trouble, but there again also kept me out of it. One even gave advice whilst playing the Banjo……..Ah but that’s another story.
This article was written in memory of Michael Eves, Roger Cronin and Dennis Sparrow, all of which worked within the motor industry and have been good friends to so many.
Editors Note: John along with the much missed Roger Cronin, were two of the nicest people I ever had the pleasure of knowing both in professional and friendship capacities.