PLATT - Towards the end


Around 1988, it was beginning to dawn on me that spending my life repairing old bangers of trucks was beginning to get a bit much, plus the fact we had built up enough costings by now to appreciate that new trucks might just be a cheaper option. By this time the fleet was hovering around 5-6 artics, and a 4-wheeler, and this is about the last time the fleet only contained old dogs.

As you can see, our yard outside the warehouse had magnificent drainage. What you can't see in this pic is the water just lapping at the entrance to the warehouse, and what I hadn't seen when this happy photo had been taken was that our underground diesel tank had also been topped up with rainwater.

By sheer luck, the water and deisel didn't mix, so we left it standing over the weekend to let physics do its work, and on the Monday we just ran the pump into empty 45 gallon drums, and as the pickup is in the bottom of the tank we drew off the water first, and then about  50 gallons of mix, and then clean fuel. Talk about a sigh of relief!!

Another serendipitous job came about because an engineer installing a piece of plant in Aylesford Paper Mill needed a warehouse to store spares, and as he was driving home, stopped at the lights, and saw our phone number on the back of the truck in front. Mike Dawson came and saw us, and we worked together for the next 10 years.

He worked for the European arm of Western Mining in Australia, who were bringing soapstone into Europe to be milled into talc. Now apart from baby's bottoms and our armpits, talc is used in large quantities in both papermaking and paper recycling, and in the electrical industry. We became Westmin's haulage contractor, and shipping in their product fitted in well with our existing Durch work with EW Taylor and Nillson.

Westmin eventually broke into the cosmetic market as well, so saying a girl has a face like the back of a truck isn't necessarily an insult:  her make-up came by truck.

Makes a good Christmas card, doesn't it!

I got called a "cowboy operator" many times in the early years, and Big Bob riding his horse around the yard didn't help any. Bob used to keep this shire horse on a piece of waste ground in the centre of the estate, and it was the most bad-tempered animal I have ever met. You would take it a bucket of water, and it would play this trick where it had a bit of slack chain, that you didn't spot until it made a lunge and nipped you.

I was working late one night and heard a tinkling sound, and Bob's horse is away up the road trailing 80ft of chain, having uprooted its hitching post. I knew better that to try and catch it by hand, it was a 4-kegged piranha. So I jumped in the van, chased it up the road until I managed to run over the end of the chain. I called Bob to sort it out after that, I'm no hero.

This is a much later picture of the fleet, not long before we left the estate, and you can see that we now have an FL10, and two newer F10s.

The nearest truck is CTS 861V, that we bought a few years earlier from John Steward. It was a good runner, except for one problem: it smoked like a bonfire on tickover, and nothing we or John did stopped it: it was sweet and clean when running, passed its emissions tests, but when it started, or if you were stuck in a queue, you had you own private London Smog.

We eventually cured it by throwing the engine away, never did find out why it smoked.

This truck also represented a real engineering adventure for Dave and I. When our Scania 111 went up in smoke on Detling Hill, ( another story for another day) we saved the lift axle, and fitted it to CTS. Took a bit of bodging to make it both fit and work, and then we took it for testing. We handed over the axle manufacturer's paperwork to the ministry, they tested the truck and passed it and issued the new plate: they never noticed they had Scania Paperwork that was three years old for an axle conversion on a Volvo.

This was a most satisfying last job at Platt Industrial Estate, we loved the estate, but had endless trouble with the landlord. I obviously can't mention his name, but it might be written at the bottom of the board.

When we eventually convinced him we could be sound tenants, he came up with a lease which we signed, and then moved in. Two weeks later we get an eviction notice, he hadn't signed his counterpart. By this time we had put racking up. moved goods in : we were truly stuffed. He landed us with a High Court writ to reposess, and then dropped the bombshell: he wanted £15,000 worth of delapidations paid for as a pre-condition of our tenancy, damages occasioned by the last tenant. That was when we took out our first remortgage on our house : no other option. Instead of a full lease, he only gave us a three year licence, but that would come back to bite him.

As the end of the three years approached, we began negotiations, but he was very lackadaisical, because he thought we wanted to stay. What he didn't know is that we had taken a lease at Paddock Wood. We let him dither along, moved all our gear to Paddock Wood. At 4.50pm on the  Friday of our last week, we telexed him saying that we were leaving in accordance with the terms of his licence, and that I would be happy to meet his surveyor up until 10am on Saturday, our last day, to carry out an outgoing schedule of delapidations.

Thank you and goodbye.

I don't know why, but landlords seem to be a particular breed, whether they are rich individuals or representatives of big corporations, they operate by a completely different set of morals than the rest of us, with perhaps the exception of the Nazi Party.

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