David was contacted by Carol Morris, of S.A.Bates & Son, Funeral Directors in Dunstable just before Christmas in 2018 regarding a funeral that involved visiting a house in Tring before travelling to Chilterns Crematorium in Amersham. S.A.Bates is part of a larger group, however, Carol, ably assist by Heather Matthews, run the operation as if it were their own business and this is exhibited in the way that they care for the families who put great trust in the two ladies.
David was amazed when Carol offered a number of dates and times for the funeral, which was the first time a Funeral Director had ever shown this level of flexibility. When Carol was travelling with David in the cab, he found out why she was so appreciative of David’s needs. Carol had recently joined the funeral industry, fulfilling a childhood ambition, however, prior to joining S.A.Bates she had a number of other jobs including being a Long Distance Lorry Driver, trunking loads between Scotland and England.
The family wanted an early morning funeral and although 3 months previously David had undertaken a 255 miles round trip in one day to Luton, on this occasion he decided to travel to Dunstable the day before the funeral. This was because the coffin was to be loaded at 0845 hours and the high risk of fog during December. Travelling to Dunstable the day before the funeral suited David as it would enable him to visit his Grandson’s grave in Green Acres Woodland Cemetery at Beaconsfield. Freddie passed away in June 2014 after only 15 months on this earth, and the staff members at Green Acres always welcome David to visit any time he is passing with the Leyland Beaver.
David normally contacts tyre services near the Funeral Director to store the Leyland Beaver undercover, however, most of these locations don’t start work until 0800 hours and there would have been a risk that rush hour traffic would cause a delay in the journey to S.A.Bates.
Luckily David’s wife found Stathams Recovery, a company that provides a 24/7 recovery service for Commercial Vehicles down the old A5 and M1 motorway. Stathams is closely situated for Dunstable and has a Premier Inn within walking distance. David spoke with Kim and asked if there was any possibility of overnight undercover parking for the vintage lorry and she said she would have to speak with John Statham. Within 24 hours David got an email to say that John would be delighted to help.
David spoke with the Daughter of the Deceased and ascertained that she wanted a simple approach with just the coffin and coffin spray. However, as the Deceased had owned a Haulage Company she asked if David could provide a canvass folded sheet to be placed on the rear of the deck, secured by old rope, depicting the scene of a 1950’s Lorry Driver on his way home after completing a load. David used an old canvass sheet that he had used many years ago, however, finding old brown coloured rope wasn’t as easy because most people now use blue nylon based ropes. A morning was spent on the telephone contacting people in Wiltshire who David knew from the Commercial Transport in Preservation (CTP) Organisation before he spoke with Mike Garbutt Transport in Market Lavington who found exactly what David needed in an old container that had been untouched since the 1960’s.
David left Bradford-on-Avon at 0645 hours, just before the rush hour and saw a Stag dart across the road in front of the Leyland Beaver in the wooded wild area between Melksham and Calne. Traffic through Newbury and Reading was light and David arrived at the Woodland Burial site at 1045 hours. After spending some quality time at his Grandson’s grave, David had his sandwich before heading through Amersham, Chesham and Birkhamsted and then hitting the outskirts of Dunstable.
David arrived at Stathams Recovery earlier than anticipated, however, the staff members were pleased to see and hear the Leyland 600 engine with around 15 people assembled around the vintage lorry. Stathams Recovery has a 24 hour call centre on site and Drivers on standby to deal with emergencies. Whilst David was there a tri-axle School Bus had a problem with the oil seal on the drive axle which meant that a standard type of recovery, using an Uplift, wouldn’t be appropriate and Stathams despatched a stepped-framed trailer with a winch to carry the bus to the company’s garage.
John Statham welcomed David into his office saying, ‘I have often read your articles in magazines and always wanted to meet you.’ John and David had a business to business chat, however, John’s staff often needed to speak with him about various projects and it was evident that John ran a tight ship. David was unclear where the Leyland Beaver would be parked overnight as Stathams single bay workshop was as busy as a runway at Heathrow. David need not have worried because John had planned to store the Leyland Beaver in a heated separate unit in the top yard that is reserved for John’s own vintage lorries. David had to reverse up a steep slope into the top yard and then squeeze the Leyland Beaver between John’s Diamond T and his Foden S21. John kindly gave David a lift to the Premier Inn and told him to report in the morning to the female controller who starts her shift at 0600 hours.
David had a sleepless night having woken up worried about the Leyland Beaver as parking in a 24 hour Recovery Business wasn’t the same as parking in a Tyre Fitters garage. David declined a cooked Breakfast and just had cereal and toast before he left the Premier Inn on foot at 0645 hours.
David arrived at the Stathams Recovery security gate at 0700 hours and it was still dark, however, David could see that his worst fears had happened. Looking at the ramp up to the top yard David spotted that a JCB Excavator with two ‘tank tracks’ had been parked on the ramp which would prevent the Leyland Beaver getting out of the yard.
David spoke with the female controller who gave a young man the key to the heated shed, however, he was unable to unlock the door and went back to the Controllers Office. David had planned to get to S.A.Bates before 0730 hours to beat the Florist up the driveway and park the Leyland Beaver at the top of the driveway where it could stay until the funeral left for Tring. David became concerned that he would be late at S.A.Bates and also there was a risk that he could have missed the funeral. David walked into the Controllers Office just when she got a call about a job on the M1 and the last thing she wanted was David needing to get his lorry out of the yard. She confirmed that the key she had given to the young man was correct, but then she returned to the emergency she was dealing with.
Also in the office was an older man and when David asked him to help, he just motioned his hands like they were holding a steering wheel saying ‘I just a Driver,’ David said that, ‘No one is just a Driver, you are John Stathams contact with the customer, you are very important.’ David gave the Driver one of his business cards and told him that if he couldn’t get his lorry out of the top yard within 30 minutes he would miss the funeral. David said to him’ Won’t you please, please help me,’ with almost as much emotion as Tina Turner singing Help.
The Driver said, ‘OK I help.’
The Driver ran up the yard, up the ramp and inserted the key not in the lock but in two dead-locks at the top and bottom of the door. The door sprung open, he put off the alarm and he raised the roller shutter door. He looked at the Leyland Beaver and said, ‘Lovely motor, will it start?’ He smiled as David fired up the Leyland 600 engine. The Driver, who told David he was from Albania then explained that he needed to get the security code for the Excavator and in no time he was jumping into the cab of the JCB. David was relieved to see the puff of black smoke as the engine of the Excavator started. The Albanian Driver was very skilled at manoeuvring the tracked equipment. In no time David was down the ramp, out of the yard and onto the A5 on which traffic was building up.
David got to S.A.Bates 30 minutes after the time he had planned, however, there was no one in the drive and despite the horrendous set back David was back on track. It was light now and as David was reversing slowly up the drive he noticed an overflow pipe that he managed to avoid. When David stopped at the top of the driveway he reflected that things happen for a reason and if he hadn’t had the problem and arrived at 0730 hours it would have been dark and he wouldn’t have seen the overflow pipe.
Carol and Heather were pleased to see David and his lorry, Heather joked saying, ‘Have you been here all night?’
The family were delighted with the lorry when it arrived at Tring and on the way to the crematorium something amazing happened. On the single track A413 vehicles were stacking back behind the cortege on this busy commuter road and at the start of the Dual Carriageway two cars, travelling at around 70 miles per hour, shot past the lorry and then no more cars came past. A Lorry Driver just behind the last vehicle in the cortege apparently took a dim view of car drivers not showing respect to the Deceased so he positioned his articulated vehicle to straddle both lanes.
Some interesting things happened to David on his way home. In the middle of Reading the Leyland Beaver was in the first lane and a bus approached in lane two. The Bus Driver opened the door and asked a number of questions about the lorry. David thought that the bus was probably out of service, however, he was shocked when it went past as there were a number of passengers on board, who were not pleased with the Driver for delaying them.
On the A4 David invites vehicles to overtake as the road was once a three lane road in the 1950’s, however, some car Drivers are reluctant to overtake with oncoming traffic approaching at speed despite having plenty of room. However, car Drivers are like sheep, one goes and the rest follow and over 200 vehicles got past the Leyland Beaver between Reading and Calne. On the section near the Cherhill White Horse the middle lane is hatched and some drivers are reluctant to enter the boxed section. One van was travelling very close to the Leyland Beaver and was ignoring David’s left hand indicator bursts, so David wound down the window and waved the van past. David suddenly realised that the van was in fact a Police Van, however, the Policeman came past and used, left, right, left indicators to thank David.
In the wild wooded area between Calne and Melksham David saw two Crane birds on the opposite side of the road where the Stag had appeared the previous morning.
David fuelled at Sainsbury’s Melksham where he is known to the staff and was home before it got dark. A few days after the funeral David rang John Statham to thank him and his staff for all their help, he also found out that the Albanian Driver was called Alin. So in addition to providing a lasting memory for the Family of their Loved One’s final journey, David would also like to Alin for his invaluable help whose actions saved the day and put the plan back on track.
Since the Leyland Beaver was in John Statham’s yard John Statham has appeared on the TV programme ‘Bangers & Cash’ in which he bought the Volvo F89, featured earlier in this blog, at an auction at Mathewson’s Thornton-le-Dale site near Pickering.