David received a phone call from a lady in Bolton who wanted the Leyland Beaver for her Dad’s final journey. The Deceased’s main interest was restoring cars and he was working on a VW Camper when ill health stopped the progress of the restoration. Given that most of the discussion with the Family was about the VW Camper Van, David was surprised that his 69 year old lorry was chosen rather than the VW Camper Hearse which is based closer to Bolton and would possibly have been cheaper.
In his desire to personalise the funeral David asked for any pictures they had of the Deceased that could be enlarged and placed on the headboard. Instead of sending a head & shoulders picture as requested, most of those that were sent were of the Deceased working on cars and eventually his Wedding picture was sent which proved to be ideal. David’s wife cropped it to size and Andy Walder of Tech Office enlarged and laminated it. When David collected the laminated picture Andy asked, ‘I didn’t realise that you were taking Tom Selleck on your lorry!’
The only Floral Tribute was an 18 inch ‘Heart’ and Gaynor, the Florist, was most helpful describing the Floral Tribute which helped David decide how best to secure it so that it would appear to float. The Florist was only 50 yards from the Funeral Director and it was agreed that Gaynor would deliver the Floral Tribute direct to David’s lorry. The Funeral Director explained that the Deceased would be at the family home and as the Family had paid David direct he should go to the house as soon as the ‘Heart’ had been loaded and spend time there.
As soon as a family has booked the lorry then a detailed planning operation takes place. With Bolton being over 200 miles from Bradford-on-Avon David planned to travel the day before the funeral and park the Leyland Beaver undercover as near as possible to the Funeral Directors. David has an arrangement with Kwik Fit which allows him to park the vintage lorry overnight before a funeral and luckily David’s wife spotted a Kwik Fit in Manchester Road with a cost effective B&B within 50 yards, ‘What more could a man ask for?’, David thought.
A week before the funeral the weather forecast changed and a storm labelled, ‘The Beast from the East’ was scheduled to hit Britain with heavy snow being predicted across the Pennines. Given the risk of snow David decided to equip the Leyland Beaver ready for winter conditions and placed his ‘back-box’ on the rear of the deck. This structure adds weight onto the drive axle and this is supplemented by 9 cubic feet of 4 inch by 4 inch and 8 inch by 2 inch timbers. Also in the ‘back-box’ is equipment to assist the lorry cope with heavy snow and icy conditions and the list includes shovels, road grit, mats and rolls of stair carpet.
The detailed planning for a trip includes where the lorry should be refuelled and where David can pick up a copy of the Times which he buys with a voucher each day solely for the Football and the Sudoku puzzles. David noticed that a Newsagent was next door to Gaynor’s Florist’s shop and David asked Gaynor to pop next door and ask if the owner would take the Times voucher and if a paper could be reserved for him to collect on the morning of the funeral.
The Leyland Beaver had previously been to Horwich on the West side of Bolton and so most of the route planning had already been done for the trip to Farnworth on the East side of Bolton. The old girl knew her way through Wolverhampton, Stafford, Stone, Holmes Chapel, Knutsford and Warrington. When David joined the East Lancs A580 road for a short time he remembered being on that road in the 1950’s riding in the passenger seat of a Leyland Beaver bound for Liverpool to collect animal feed. David arrived at Kwik Fit around 1700 hours and he was surprised that the Manager, Wes, was much younger than he had imagined and that he was a Jamie Vardy look-a-like. David walked to the Highgrove B&B and Debbie, the Manager, was very friendly and gave him a quiet room. David was very lucky to find space in this B&B which costs £39 per night, including a cooked breakfast as most of the rooms are block booked by contractors working locally or Travelling Salesmen visiting companies in Bolton. Debbie’s husband had been a Lorry Driver in the 1960’s and she moved a few residents around to accommodate David because he was involved in a funeral. The room was basic but clean and being called Highgrove caused David to smile as he doubted whether Charles or Camilla had ever crossed the threshold. Debbie advised David to go to Wetherspoons where he would get a cost effective meal and she wasn’t wrong. With a promotion, the price for a main meal, a pudding and a Coca Cola was less than £10 and this location was less than 100 yards from the B&B.
David looked at the weather forecast before he went to bed, heavy snowfall was expected in Farnworth in the morning but David had no fears that the Leyland Beaver would cope with any conditions and he slept soundly. David awoke to find 4 inches of snow had landed, the main road was black, however, the side roads were reminiscent of a Christmas Card scene. Debbie had the radio on as she made the breakfasts, one gentleman was listening intently as he was planning to drive to Sheffield, however, as Debbie brought the cooked breakfast she whispered in David’s ear, ‘You’ll have no problems with the old lorry in the snow’.
Wes at Kwik Fit got one of the lads to come in early to get David away before 0815 hours as rush hour conditions would mean 4 miles may take 45 minutes. David eventually got to the Funeral Directors at 0915 hours and the traffic was still gridlocked. David stopped on the main road and asked the driver behind him to hold back the traffic whilst he reversed into the side road. David drove into the other lane, stopped the traffic and everyone was patient as the 1950 Leyland Beaver spun round onto the virgin snow on the side road. Initially everything was going well, then David spotted a car in his wing mirror coming quickly towards him. The car driver then started to flash the headlights and use the horn. David stopped, went to the back of the lorry and found a woman who was shouting at him, with every other word being an expletive. She was annoyed that the lorry was stopping her getting out of the street and she drove over the pavement to get round, much to the annoyance of the drivers stopped on the main road, who had been exceptionally patient.
Just about this time Gaynor arrived with the ‘Heart’ which David immediately fixed in place. David asked if Gaynor had spoken with the Newsagent and she said she had, but didn’t think that he would be of any help. Gaynor apologised for the behaviour of the woman driver and said that her attitude was typical for the area. Sheila, the Funeral Director overheard David talking to Gaynor about the Times and she commented ‘You won’t get a Times newspaper in this area, not in the Newsagent, nor in Lidl, you may get one in Tesco.’ Something told David to try the Newsagent and he entered the small shop, no one was in it apart from a small Asian man behind the counter. David asked if he had the Times and if he would take the voucher. The man said, ‘There is only one Times in the rack which has been specially ordered for a man who is working at the Funeral Directors today.’ David said, ‘I am that man,’ and he took the Times out of the rack, left the voucher on the counter as the Asian man looked quizzically at a man with a black beret who spoke with a North East accent, not what he was expecting, no doubt.
David drove towards the house on untreated side roads, however, the Leyland Beaver being 5.5 tons gripped the loose snow. The family had cleared the snow away in front of their house and invited David in for a cup of tea. The Daughter of the Deceased told David that the coffin was in the house, the coffin lid was off and asked if he would have any problems. David said, ‘No problem,’ and he had a flashback to the 1950’s when it was commonplace for the Deceased to rest at home the night before their funeral. Coming from a simple two up two down house, despite the cramp conditions overall, the front room was never used and kept for Christmas Day, Weddings and Funerals. So the front room was the place where the Deceased would lie in the coffin with the curtains closed, mirrors turned backwards so that you couldn’t see your own grief, David would be invited to go in on his own as a young child, say his goodbyes and gently kiss the Deceased on the forehead.
So as David crossed the threshold he was expecting to turn left into the front room, however, he was invited into the back room where everyone was and the Deceased lay in his coffin with his Grandchildren playing on the floor beneath and around him. David took off his Beret as a mark of respect and told the Deceased that he would take good care of him whilst he was on the lorry. The widow gave David an envelope with pictures of the Deceased restoring the VW Camper and as he sipped his tea David thought it was an honour to be invited into the house, however, he sensed that not all Carriage Masters would be comfortable with this situation.
Getting into Overdale Crematorium wasn’t easy due to mourners parking cars near and opposite the entrance and only because of the tremendous lock did the Leyland Beaver get through the gates and other large vehicles would not have been able to make the turn.
David left the crematorium at 1330 hours and was back home by 2300 hours despite refuelling at Morrison’s on the A579 and J P Nicholls in Tewkesbury. The trick to the 9.25 hours driving time was hitting Wolverhampton just before the start of the rush hour.
The following day David spoke with David Eccles, the Editor of VW Camper & Commercials Magazine who was happy to accommodate an Obituary article and David asked David Eccles if he would add,
‘If anyone can help the family to finish the restoration, or suggest any help with how the family might set about it, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org and I will pass the information to the family.’
The Family wanted the VW restored so that the Widow could go touring with her dogs, and the whole family were extremely pleased with everything David had done for them.
During the next two days Britain was badly affected by heavy snow and high winds had caused drifting with some major roads being blocked, like the A46 north of Bath. Traffic movements were affected almost as bad as in 1964, however, there was a lot less snow and David wondered if the problems were caused by local councils cutting back on gritting and snow plough costs. In the modern era Articulated Lorries are hopeless on hills with little weight on the drive axle they get stuck on any slight incline, cars get trapped behind and snow ploughs can’t get near the problem areas to clear the roads. In 1950’s and 1960’s the world was very different. Most large haulage companies operated trunking services with lorries like Leyland Octopus eight wheelers and trailers running over night between major conurbations. These lorries were good on snowy roads with plenty of weight over the double drive axles and these regular trunk services used to keep the roads open. In addition local farmers were paid to put snow ploughs in front of their tractors and instructed to work through the night to keep a certain section of an A-Road clear.