Tuesday, 1 August 2017

A Heavy Weight Funeral in Bloxwich

Whilst David Hall was taking a break on his way to a funeral in Reading he received a call on his mobile from a lady in Bloxwich. She said that she had found David’s number from the Vintage Lorry Funerals website and wanted to know the cost of a funeral in Bloxwich. David asked if the Deceased was her Dad, however, the lady replied that the lorry was for her Husband who was only 53. Having recently been to Walsall, which is the next town to Bloxwich, David could provide an instant answer on the price. The Deceased’s only wish was that he should be taken to Streetly Crematorium on a lorry. The lady had enquired if her Husband’s former employer could have provided a lorry, however, the company pointed her towards ‘a bloke in Bradford-on-Avon who has a Beaver.’
Whilst David was on his mobile, he noticed that a young man in a Grundon uniform was waiting to speak with him. David had previously undertaken his Dad’s funeral in Newbury on February 2nd. He shook David’s hand and said, ‘We will never forget the brilliant job you did for our Dad and the excellent Obituary article you wrote for Vintage Roadscene.’
David then phoned Sean Hayward who runs Haywards of Walsall a transport firm with over 80 vehicles, with whom David parks the 1950 Leyland Beaver the night before a Midland’s funeral. Sean said it was no problem and he would get Quinn Holmes, his Fleet Engineer, to make space available in the garage and Quinn would take David to the Premier Inn and collect him in the morning.
David’s next phone call was to the Bloxwich Funeral Director and Marie who answered the phone asked if David was a friend of the Family. David was disappointed that despite his marketing efforts, not for the first time, someone in the funeral industry had never heard of Vintage Lorry Funerals. Marie asked the height of the side roller and then expressed her concerns as all her employees were female and the Deceased in his casket was thought to be 36 stones. David responded, ‘You’ll need to find some blokes to lift the coffin onto my lorry.’

Cognisant that an all female team would be at the crematorium, David thought of how he could revise his handling techniques which would enable him to operate on his own on the deck, supported by one person on the ground, treating the Deceased as if he were 15 stones.
David can never recall having achieved so much whilst taking his 45 minute legal break from driving, parked in a lay-bye on the A4 in Thatcham.
David worked out the best way to Bloxwich which involved going round the old inner Birmingham Ring Road the A4040, which has stretches of dual carriageways in dense populated areas. With no toilet facilities on this route David spoke to Neeley Transport at Stechford and asked if he could take a comfort break at their facility. The man who answered the phone said, ‘The old man would love to see your wagon’.
The journey went well and David made his first stop at Alcester Services on the A46. Having experienced no hold ups David was surprised when the traffic came to a standstill on Maypole Lane due to road works under the low bridge on Colebrook Road. A long delay was envisaged with cars turning around in front of the Leyland Beaver attempting to find an alternative route. David spotted in his wing mirror two workmen returning to the road works after a shopping expedition to buy sandwiches. As they passed the vintage lorry David pointed to the ‘Funeral In Progress’ sign in his windscreen. The men then started to run and took over the management of the traffic lights manually overriding the system. They stopped the oncoming traffic travelling toward the Leyland Beaver and frantically waved the cars in front of the vintage lorry through the lights and as David passed the men they took off their hats and bowed. It is said that a picture is better than a 1000 words but on this occasion a sign was better than any words.
When the Leyland Beaver trundled into Neeley’s yard their transhipment operation came to a halt. All of the Fork Lift Operators were older men who had been Lorry Drivers in the 1950’s and as soon as they heard the Leyland 600 engine they jumped off their Fork Lifts and surround the Leyland Beaver. They said, ‘Sounds Good…That Slow Tickover….The restoration is immaculate.’
David was instructed to park in the corner of the yard and with the transhipment operation being performed in front of his eyes, David was transfixed, whilst he ate his sandwiches. In a multiple delivery transport operations the consolidation between consignments is paramount to achieving profitability and this rests with two people, the person who routes the load and the person who loads the trailer. The former usually gets most of the credit in the office, however, in David’s opinion the person on the Fork Lift has a more important role as he has to find the best way to fit the consignments onto the trailer so that nothing is damaged and the Driver will have the minimum of pallets to shift at a delivery point. Loading a trailer from one side has its’ challenges and planning must take place to determine which face of the pallet should be up against the far curtain. Normally a Traffic Manager tries to get a quart into a pint pot and the Fork Lift Driver must decide which consignments can be double stacked. To see Fork Trucks moving at speed, turning a pallet of the ground, positioning it on the deck using side shift and reach facilities was fascinating to watch.
A man with a clip board was checking the consignments and came over to David and had a chat about his lorry. The penny then dropped that this was Mr. Neeley and David apologised for not recognising him. He didn’t fit the persona projected by his staff and the ‘old man’ description conjured up an image of a much older man. Mr. Neeley provided an insight into his business and he was interested that David had previously managed a frozen food groupage operation some 30 years ago which had the same characteristics of making a good margin on small consignments. As David and Mr. Neeley watched the transhipment operation David quipped, ‘You could sell tickets to watch this super show.’ Mr. Neeley laughed and said David could stop there as long as he wanted and indicated where the toilet facilities were.
Having previously arranged to meet the Funeral Director at 1500 hours David drove through Walsall and took the road to Bloxwich. The plan was for the Funeral Director to see the lorry and for David to explain how the coffin would be loaded, with the need to establish how many men would be available in the morning being the cardinal consideration. Within 10 minutes of David being there the Widow arrived and took an envelope containing cash out of her handbag and gave it to David. She was there with her children and a friend of the Family who looked at the lorry and said to the Widow, ‘You have done him proud.’ David was intending to measure the coffin and the Widow offered that he should do this without delay as David had been on the road a long time. However, David said the most important thing was for her and her family to say their last good byes and he had all the time in the world as Haywards weren’t expecting the lorry until 1730 hours.
David got to Haywards at 1645 hours and the entrance gate into the part of the site he would be parking was blocked by a lorry and a car. Having been there many times before everyone knows the vintage lorry and the vehicles moved off just as Quinn was opening the gate. Quinn watched David reverse into the garage which had been swept an hour earlier to ensure no metal got into the tyres of the 66 year old lorry. Quinn made David a cup of tea and David embarrassed the Fleet Engineer with his rendition of Manfred Mann’s ‘Mighty Quinn’. David handed over two boxes of biscuits and put his sandwiches in the fridge, before Quinn took David to the Premier Inn. Quinn had arranged to collect David at 0745 hours but instead of a car coming down the street David saw a Haywards Service Van that was equipped to escort Abnormal Loads. When David saw the ‘Abnormal Load’ sign on the head board he thought this was very apt knowing that he was about to load a heavy weight coffin.
A number of men helped David load and turn the coffin on the deck, however, at the crematorium David use a lever mechanism to lift the head end of the coffin and he turned the coffin himself on the deck supported by the Funeral Director on the ground. After the service an elderly couple came to shake David’s hand to thank him for the dignity he showed in manoeuvring their relative on his vehicle.

David came back using the A452 which is a fast dual carriage way in parts that goes around the east side of Birmingham in which the traffic flows and his first stop was at Tewkesbury where David normally refuels with competitively price diesel.
For once David got home in time for his tea, however, whilst his wife was making the meal David sent pictures to the Widow.