Posted by David Hall
In the second week of February 2009, a Winter Storm hit Southern England and this coincided with Vintage Lorry Funerals first funeral for Arthur Jary & Sons in Great Yarmouth.
Normally David Hall leaves Bradford-on-Avon very early and puts the first 2 hours of the journey behind him before most people wake up. However, on this morning David’s wife spent from 0630 hours to 0800 hours evaluating the best way for the Leyland Beaver to escape from Bradford-on-Avon, situated on the southern edge of the Cotswolds and experiencing two climatic extremes. The road north was closed due to snow drifts, whilst all roads to the south and east were closed due to flooding.
David headed eastwards at 0800 hours but the traffic came to a halt just before Melksham, and David flagged down a van driver coming in the opposite direction for an appraisal of the hold up. This was a common way to find out information in the 1950’s before the advent of mobile phones and citizen band communication facilities. It was evident that the River Avon had burst its banks and water had over spilled onto the Holt Road and timid car drivers taking children to school were hesitant to go through the expanse of shallow water. Experienced drivers know that driving down the centre of the road, straddling the white line where the water is shallowest, is the best approach. However, White Van Drivers were ploughing through at speed forcing Mums, taking children to school, into the deeper water and creating a bow wave which threatened to push water into the engine compartments of small cars. Seeing women becoming very distressed and hearing children crying it was time for David to do a bit of assertive driving, like a 1950’s Lorry Driver, helping others in distress. David overtook all the cars in the queue and parked his Leyland Beaver in the deep water at the side of the road. He then climbed onto the deck of the lorry and acted as a Traffic Policeman, waving groups of three cars through the shallow water adjacent to the vintage lorry before instructing the 4th car to stop. He then invited a batch of three vehicles to now proceed in the opposite direction. Within 20 minutes David had cleared the backlog and proceeded towards Melksham, the first 5 miles of the journey taking almost an hour.
David’s wife continued to act as Mission Control, undertaking detailed research of the weather in various parts of the country and texting David updates. Reports of flooding in Essex had caused problems on the A12 at Chelmsford so David decided to take the A30 into London, follow the North Circular Road before taking the A10 to Norwich and then the A47 to Great Yarmouth. The selection of this route ensured that mainly a trouble free journey resulted, however, it was amazing that isolated hilly sections of the A10 were covered with 2 inches of snow and the localised effects of extreme weather is a modern phenomenon.
At 1930 hours David pulled up outside Arthur Jary & Sons Funeral Directors and Barry Gates, who had received a number of progress updates throughout the day, came out to meet the 1950 Leyland Beaver. Barry, relieved that the lorry had got through the Winter Storms, bowed down in front of the Leyland Beaver and thanked David for what he had done. David was dismissive of the praise saying, ‘It was nowt. Men in the 1950’s did 240 miles in 11 hours every day of the week, sometimes 12 days on the trot.’
Barry relayed the good news to the Family, who were delighted. Their Dad had been part of a family Transport Business in the 1950’s so David created a Sheeted Load Theme to replicate the type of traffic their Dad used to pull. It was the third time that a Sheeted Load Theme had been used in a funeral with previous outings in Portsmouth and Newcastle. The Leyland Beaver created a lot of attention in Great Yarmouth and the local paper sent a photographer to take pictures during the funeral. David is very grateful to the Great Yarmouth Mercury for allowing him to use the pictures, two of which are included in this article.
Given that the funeral was in the afternoon Barry kindly offered David the opportunity to park the lorry in his yard for two nights. The night after the funeral was very cold and temperatures got down as low as -10 degrees overnight and a number of pipes had burst in the street as David walked from his digs to the Vintage Lorry in Arthur Jary’s yard. The Leyland Beaver still started first time at 0630 hours, despite the freezing temperatures making the 5 gallons of oil in the sump of the 9.8 litre engine as viscous as treacle. The Leyland 600 engine continued to tick-over as David de-iced the windows, standing on his pop-up seat that he carries, folded flat, in the storage box at the nearside rear of the chassis. The stretch of the A47 between Great Yarmouth and Ackle is called the Ackle Strait and is as straight as a die for over 13 miles. As the Leyland Beaver trundled towards Norwich at 30 miles per hour, cars initially congregated behind the lorry. However, the car drivers were experienced and as soon as David put on his left indicator, making three flashes, they knew that the way ahead was clear and the cars came past in groups of 4 or 5 cars. Once oncoming vehicles had past and the road ahead was clear, David repeated the procedure probably over 20 times before the single lane road is transformed into a Dual Carriageway.
With the moonlight projecting shadows across the flat landscape David felt his actions were a bit like Officer Hilts (Steve McQueen) in the Great Escape making two pulls on the rope to signify that the coast was clear to escapees waiting patiently in the tunnel from Stalag Luft III, situated near Sagan, 100 miles to the South East of Berlin.
Coming back through Cirencester David refuelled the Leyland Beaver and as he was paying in the shop a loud voice shouted, ‘Which (expletive) idiot has got that beautiful (expletive) wagon out on a day like this?’ The man went on to explain that he had a vintage lorry and only took it out once per year on a Bank Holiday Monday in August. David gave the man a Vintage Lorry Funerals business card and told the gentleman, ‘No matter what time of year, no matter what weather conditions prevail, no matter what distance is involved, if a family wants my lorry and is prepared to pay then I’ll be there.’