by Dan Bysouth
Doing van deliveries in the summer time is great; windows down, warm sunshine & beautiful countryside to look at. But the winter is another story. I remember one winter in particular that was very rough, we had massive snowfall and freezing temperatures for weeks on end.
Main road travel was not too bad as Ipswich is on a direct route to the major container port of Felixstowe. The roads are kept clear for the lorries. It was the back roads, where most of my deliveries were, that gave me massive problems. I remember one morning run I had a drop at RAF Wattisham, about 20 miles from Ipswich and of course in the middle of nowhere. I was in the Ital van which was a beast to keep straight on the snow covered icy roads.
About 5 miles from the base the road was down to one lane as the hedgerows were non-existent and drifting snow just gave you a single 10 ft deep channel to drive in. I kept seeing little shiny bits of metal in the snow as I drove along and only realised what they were as I got to the base. They were the door handles of abandoned cars left over night. I found that very scary stuff.
At the base there was a message waiting for me in the guard room from my boss. His instructions were to return to the depot as heavy snow was falling in town and looked to continue for a good while. A lot of Police were escorting traffic towards town and I was glad to get back and spend the rest of the day on the phone lines and sorting orders for the next afternoon. The next morning run was cancelled and just one longer run was organised to get as much delivered as possible.
It had been organised for me to make only three deliveries the next day, two in Hadleigh and an engine, diff and rear axle to Sudbury. That meant I had to take the Luton box can, as it would be the only one available. The road to Hadleigh was completely open to the elements and as such was a complete nightmare. All vans left at 10.30am and we were simply told to do what we could. I knew the engine, diff and axle were wanted badly, I was friendly with all my customers but this guy in Sudbury was a star. I would get it there whatever. It took me 3 hours to get to Hadleigh and that was the easy bit, only about 7 or 8 miles.
We had cars off the road, jack-knifed lorries and such heavy snow you had to stop - but Hadleigh got their parts! The Sudbury road was even worse, such heavy snow had fallen that the Police closed the road to two way traffic. For 15 miles or so around thirty vehicles would follow a snowplough to the main road into the town centre of Sudbury. Luckily for me that was where Queens garage was, and where I had to drop my delivery. My boss had called the owner and asked him how late would someone wait at the garage for me. That was not a problem as the owner lived next door.
It was dark when I got there and after a welcome cuppa and a sarnie I joined the massive queue of traffic waiting to be escorted back in single file to Ipswich. I went straight home, called John my boss and settled down at around 9.30pm. More of the same was planned for the next day, one run leaving a bit earlier and instructions to be careful again. I was chuffed to be back in my Ital van, two drops in Stowmarket, service parts in a little village called Badwell Ash and two drops in Bury St Edmund, one to Anglia Body Works and the last to Mann Egerton’s.
Again heavy snow was falling and the roads were like glass. After yesterday it seemed most people stayed at home as the roads were so quiet. The main road to Stowmarket was not too bad, very slippery but passable, then the next stop was at Badwell Ash. I had to leave the main road to travel a B road to the lane that led to Badwell Ash. The B road was a sow to drive on, and the first 100 yards of the lane to Badwell looked promising. A JCB had cleared a path towards the village but as it started with an incline thick with ice I got nowhere. I turned around at the entrance to the lane and reversed the entire six miles to a wall of snow where the digger was busy at work. It was only one car wide, so that to this day is the longest I have ever reversed.
Good thing was the digger driver was waiting for me and took the bits into the village. The garage owner told him I was coming. Handy for me! Not being able to cut through the lanes to Bury I had to go back to the main road and that put another 20 miles on the trip. It was after 3pm when I dropped off some body panels at Anglia Body Works and then only a 10 min drive to Mann Egerton’s.
As it was winter it was now getting dark and heavy snow was falling again. I phoned my boss -there were no mobile phones back then and the only van in the fleet with a cab radio was the local town van driven by Herbie. The boss said if I wanted I could stay in Bury with the boss of their stores dept, but I wanted to get home to the wife.
Thirty miles of sheer terror awaited me and nearly four hours later I arrived home with my van, which wasn't really allowed without permission. I phoned John, the boss, and he said that the van was no problem. In fact he wanted me to pick up a few guys who would struggle with public transport and so make sure they got in to work.
You won't be surprised to hear that ever since then I have hated driving in snow; a Yeti I am not!
Next time; Good days and bad days.
Part 1 - Triumph Stag
Part 2 - Interceptor
Part 3 - Rolls-Royce
Part 4 - Her Majesty vs the Honey Monster
Part 5 - Rolls, Allegros and an MGB causes trouble
Part 6 - Rain
Part 7 - Brassy and a Rover SD1
Part 8 - A P6 and a Big Bird
Part 9 - The End of an Era
Part 10 - Unipart Man Cometh
Part 11 - Honey vs. the USAF
Part 12 - Meeting my Heroes