I’d not had my class licence for long, and the ink was hardly dry when I got a job with a real trucking company. It was a big change from running about the streets in a three-ton van delivering parcels people had ordered from shopping catalogues.
Archibald Brechin was a company that took on just about any driver when they were busy. They covered all aspects of the whisky haulage industry: the grain to make it, the casks, and bulk tankers. If you had a brand-new licence or years of experience, it didn’t matter. They kept most of the drivers during the busy time, then paid off when things slowed down.
To begin with, I was on local jobs hauling the grain, and then I got moved onto box vans hauling the casks, full and empty. When loading empty casks with no bungs in the summer heat (yes, it gets warm in Scotland), I would get a little lightheaded from the fumes in the back of the trailer. As the winter weather came in, I got a few deliveries a bit further up into the snowy north of Scotland that involved an overnight stay. The fleet had no sleeper cabs, so I had to find a B&B.
In hindsight, I think the boss was probably trying me out to see what I could do. One day, he said, you keep a nice clean lorry, that’s good. But what else can you do when you’re sitting waiting to get loaded or unloaded, and there’s a couple of old rags in the cab? One day, I was in the yard when he asked me to help another driver change a ripped tarp on a flatbed trailer loaded with pallets. We got the tarp changed and started to rope it down. I had no idea how to make the hitch that we call a dolly over here, so when the rope came over to my side, I just pulled it as tight as I could, put it around a hook, and threw it back over.
When I started getting more bulk tanker work, I was glad to get away from the physical box van work loading full whisky casks. It was almost Christmas when I came back to the yard one day. The boss said there’s a full tanker going to the Co-op supermarket bottling plant in Warrington tomorrow. There was another driver beside him, and the boss told him to give me directions to the place. I suspect this driver had been asked to do the trip first but made some excuse not to go because it was so near Christmas.
Over the years, I’ve noticed a number of drivers who have gone to more than their fair share of grandma or grandpa funerals when heavy snowfall is forecasted, or Christmas is a few days away.
Archibald Brechin was a company with a fleet of old ERF, Foden, and Volvos. There was one ERF with a 220 Cummins. All the rest were Gardener 180s, a real boss’s favourite, economical, pulled like a train, but not the fastest truck on the road. When I came in the following day, and the 220 Cummins was ticking over, I thought my luck was in, but no, I got a Volvo, although the Volvo is very car-like and easier to drive.
I set off with my load, and after driving for a while, I thought I should have written those directions down. A real rookie mistake, trying to look as if you’re more experienced than you are., I was hoping to find somebody to point me in the right direction when I came off the main highway and stalled the truck at a set of traffic lights. I turned the key, and all I heard was click, click. Another trucker came to my cab door and suggested giving the starter a knock with the wheel key, while he turned the key, I hit the starter, and it was a success.
I eventually found my delivery and got unloaded, but it was late afternoon by now. I’d been up and down that highway many times through the years, and I knew the round-trip driving time should’ve taken eight and a half hours. But with the dodgy starter and getting lost, I needed a bed for the night. Luckily, another trucker saw a rookie in trouble and took me to the place where he would be sleeping that night. After a Christmas dinner and a good night’s sleep, my fellow trucker came out with me after breakfast and helped start the lame Volvo to get me home.