by Dan Bysouth
Monday morning arrived and I sat nervously in the Parts Managers office alongside his secretary Jean, Assistant Manager Peter and the Manager himself, John.
John told me they all agreed that I had taken to Stores work very well and had good motivation to expand beyond van deliveries to the everyday running of a large BL Unipart stores department. I would still have my normal deliveries to carry out, then if stock orders were in, I could help with the placement of that. If I had collected any orders myself, I could source those and invoice them for delivery the next day and - best of all for me - I could take on the Mann Egerton’s tie line.
As we were a major stockist, we were designated a Parts Library, which involved all the Mann Egerton departments in the country being linked by a separate phone line. If a garage wanted a tailpipe exhaust for a Marina, for example - which I think was part number GEX 3626 - and they did not have one in stock, they would call tieline Ipswich and yours truly would first check to see if we had one. If not, I would go to the closest dept to the Mann Egerton branch that wanted it.
I would arrange to have the part delivered to us on our vast network of vans that criss-crossed the country daily, then dispatched to the branch that requested it in the first place. I could get an exhaust from one end of the country to the other in 24 hours. That was good going in the early 80s. Remember exhaust centres were not as common then as they are now. There was to be no increase in pay for me but I was treated very well by the company in other ways. For instance, if I wanted to borrow a van or car I had no problem at all and also I had access to such places as the radio store and the customer records.
The other van drivers only did their deliveries; they had very little to do with the running of the stores and as such had very little trust put in them. We did at one time have a problem with a driver collecting money from a cash account holder for their parts and putting it straight into his own pocket. He destroyed the invoices and thought he could get off scot-free. He soon got caught as the rounds got swapped around and each one he was on suffered the same fate. It gave drivers that were honest a very bad name.
One morning I had loaded up the Sherpa Luton with my 10am delivery route load. I took the Luton as I had a batch of exhausts and body panels for one of my BL garages I delivered to out in the countryside. That was another perk of my ‘post’; I could choose which vehicle from our fleet I wanted to use. Also this morning I had a delivery to make to the twin US Air Force bases of Bentwaters and Woodbridge. These housed the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing of the United States Air Force.
Today it was Bentwaters that I was due to visit, Building 47 is where the motor vehicle repair shop was and after stopping at the main gate showing the armed guard the printed invoice he gave me a card to display in the front screen of my van. This showed I was a civilian and had clearance to be on the base; he then sent me on my way around little America. I loved the bases and spent many hours watching the planes and also the many massive American cars they loved driving. All in all I loved being on base.
As this was my first delivery of the day, it would put me in a good mood for the rest of the day … or so I thought. I gave the American grease monkey his bits, he thanked me and we chatted for a few minutes then I climbed back into the Luton and drove off towards the main gate again. How to describe the noise of the alarm that made me jump out of my skin, I don't know, it was more like a scream. A jeep went careering past me and skidded to a halt, whereupon two uniformed guards got out. One stood in front of me holding a rifle which was pointed directly at the front of the Sherpa. The second guy opened the driver’s door and asked me to step out of the vehicle. And guess what, I flaming well did just that!
He told me that an American facility had that morning been targeted by terrorists attempting to detonate a bomb. As such all active USAF bases were to be immediately put on complete shutdown. That meant no civilians were allowed to enter or leave the base for the foreseeable future. I had to get in the Jeep after leaving my Sherpa keys with one of the guards and they took me to one of their canteens where there were other people who had also got trapped on base. With two guards on the door another American came in and told us again what had happened. He asked if we had questions about what was going on.
The only thing most of us wanted was for them to let our bosses or families know where we were. In time he said he would, as we were now guests of the USAF he told us to order from the canteen staff what we liked, as we would be there for some time. To be honest, I loved it! Now there wasn't a gun being pointed at me and I knew what was going on I was going to enjoy myself. Burgers and coke were the order of the day, all on the USAF, happy days! Nearly 6 hours we stayed there, well looked after but glad to get out in the end, when of course I headed straight back to the dept.
The relationship I had with my customers was the best thing about my job. To have an experienced motor engineer was such an advantage because, for example, if a customer was restoring a vehicle and wanted all mouldings and certain clips or a particular body panel I could source it easily and the usual phone conversation of “Well, you know, that curly clip thing that holds that little moulding thing on" would not have to happen. I had massive respect for my customers and I can honestly say that they did for me too.
Some of them really were characters and next time I will tell you about a few of them.
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