Brian Dye's field memories Part 18: The Early Days

Our trip to Holland and the Meddo show, in September 2006 brought back many memories for the three of us. The high speed ferry trip from Harwich to the Hook was very different from the last time Ann and I had travelled by this means of transport. That had been on a service call for Standen Engineering to Ireland from Holyhead in Anglesea to the port at Dublin in January 1998.

We had been on a tour of the British Isles in early January that year, carrying out a small modification to the potato monitor that was fitted to the planters of that year. We had to change two small capacitors in the units to increase the delay time before a warning of a missing potato was relayed to the driver.

We had driven from Norfolk to 20 miles north of Aberdeen in Scotland, in blinding snow most of the way once we crossed the border, and, after fixing the unit there had driven down to Holyhead.

The weather had changed slightly by the time we got there and now we only had a severe gale to contend with!

The High Speed Ferry could not leave the port until the wind speed decreased and even then, the Irish Sea was very rough. Crossing was quite an experience. It was accompanied by loud bangs and a twisting motion followed by the noise of plates and cups smashing in the restaurants as they were thrown from cupboards and shelves.

I love these sort of conditions at sea! I have travelled from Hook van Holland to Harwich many times and always love it when the sea is rough.

On this trip in September 2006 it was a very smooth crossing and very fast. To stand on the stern of the ship and watch that huge white wake stretching away behind the craft, and feeling the 40 knot wind in what is left of your hair is a wonderful experience. It certainly clears all the cobwebs from the mind.

The trip down to Winterswijk was also a revelation. I had done the run many times in the 1970's and 80's when I was working with Claas but the traffic conditions were really heavy now, a far cry from the fast and easy runs in the early mornings that I remember in those days. Luckily Oscar had prepared us for the traffic.

We were accompanied on the crossing and most of the way by a number of Willis Jeeps and old soldiers who were going to Arnhem for reunions. Felt like a second invasion of Europe when we drove off the Ferry!!

We have talked a lot on the site about the meeting of us all at Meddo and the wonderful welcome we received so I only mention in passing that it still is a constant talking point in the Dye household. After many years of not being able to get about in Europe, due to caring for my aged father, we are now free to do so and intend to visit more in future years.

As I started my working life in a garage that serviced cars and lorries as well as tractors, the cars on show too stir memories.

Some of the old cars were still brand new when Ann, Pat and myself were in our teens and we once owned a selection of those on display.

Pat has fond memories of the Triumph Herald. This was one of her first cars after she passed her test.

The Herald was built by the Standard Motor Company who, as well as making the Ferguson tractor, made a range of cars and commercial vehicles. The range included the Standard 8 and 10, I worked on these when I first joined Lenwoods Garage in Swaffham. They were good little cars but had one failing, they were bad to work on. The bulkhead in the engine compartment came over the top of the engine at the back and it was impossible to remove the cylinder head of the overhead valve engine without first dropping the suspension or removing the engine.

This was all changed with the Herald. The whole car was built on a strong chassis and the complete front of the car, front wings, bonnet and all the fittings, hinged upwards to give an unrivalled working area. Everything was so easy to get to.

Standard also fitted a six cylinder engine to the same chassis, fitted twin head lamps and a vinyl roof. They called it the Vittesse. This was a really sporty motor with a light body. It went like the clappers!!

The Standard Vanguard of the 1950's was powered with a similar engine to the Ferguson tractor and could be fitted with the diesel version. The Vanguard was a big car with a distinctive rounded back and renowned for its ability to withstand abuse. Versions of this car were used in the military.

Peter, one of the mechanics at the garage in Swaffham where I was serving my apprenticeship, had been working in the motor pool at North Pickenham aerodrome, as a civilian. This was a USAAF base and remained open as a storage area after the planes left. His job was to service the cars, pick ups and lorries that were used as transport for the Military Police among others.

North Pickenham, at this time, had become a massive bomb dump with lines upon lines of high explosive bombs stacked on the sides of the miles of runways and perimeter tracks. Mr. Hugh Carter, the farmer for whom my father worked, farmed the areas between the runways growing barley, wheat and sugar beet. I was also allowed in this heavily restricted area to assist with the cultivation and harvesting of the crops.

The Vanguard had a gear change on the steering column. This was common on British cars in the 1950's and 60's. The gear changes were worked by a system of linkages.

This enabled the vehicles to be fitted with a bench front seat that stretched from door to door. Much like some of the modern furniture. Once you got used to them they were great to drive. They increased the carrying capacity or relatively small cars, by today's standards. You could get three people in the front and three in the back with some comfort. No seat belts of course.

On this particular day Peter and one of the American staff were testing a Standard Vanguard that its driver complained, made a strange noise at about 50 mph, down near the gearbox. So Peter and his colleague were out on the runway driving at speed to see if they could locate the noise.

The bombs, being stacked on the sides of the runways, left the width of a four lane road between them. Imagine a young man, being allowed to drive a powerful car at high speed down miles of straight road with no other traffic! Of course the Vanguard was tested to its maximum.

On this run, with the American mechanic, half laying on the bench seat with his ear to the gearbox, Peter was travelling at about 60 MPH when the noise was heard. It was difficult to locate or identify so Peter took his eyes off the runway to see if he could help. He also bent his head below the level of the dashboard!!!

When you do something like that, you always tend to turn the wheel slightly in the direction in which you are leaning! Perfectly safe at low speed or in a wide open space. But between piles of high explosive?

The Vanguard left the road between the stacks and ploughed into a line of smaller bombs. It actually leaped over the first ones and landed right in the middle of the pile and ended sitting on top of them!!

Peter told me, the first few seconds after the car stopped seemed to go on for a very long time. Luckily both he and the American mechanic were not badly injured but they sat there for some time waiting for the large bang!! Had it happened, the explosion would have wiped North Pickenham of the map. The Vanguard survived and was still in daily use when Peter left the site to join Lenwoods some years later.

Standard also built two other strangely shaped cars, The Mayflower and the larger Renown. These had aluminium panels and were not the curved shape that was popular in this era. They were built out of flat panels which left sharp angles where they joined. It was very cleverly done and again, these were a very strong well built car.

J.J.Wright and Sons, at Dereham, were agents for Standard Motor Company vehicles as well as holding the Ford agency. This was allowed in the 1950's but this state of affairs soon came to an end when Standard Triumph was taken over by British Motor Corporation and the Standard name was discontinued. Wrights did not loose the agency completely though. Another company was set up by the Wright directors called Dereham Motors, on another site in town and this continued to trade until the late 1980's selling BMC and British Leyland vehicles until the whole lot fell apart.

It's a good thing that J.J.Wright and Sons did not take on the Ferguson agency along with the Standard one. I could have been writing stories about little grey Fergusons instead of Dextas and Majors!!

Pat's memory was also stirred by the sight of a VW Beetle, the first car that she and her late husband Geoff bought after their marriage.

For me, the sight of a Wolseley brought back memories. This one was built in the corporate shape of BMC vehicles of the time, with angular lines and tail fins!! I really wanted either an Austin or Morris version of this car!

I had been working for Wrights for a couple of years and my car was a 1953 Ford 8 Anglia with three gears and a side valve engine, 5294H was the distinctive registration. This car would fly!! It was a step up from my first car, a 1934 Hillman which had been passed down to me by my father when I sold him a 1954 Hillman, from Lenwoods, for the princely sum of 125.00.

If I owned that 1934 Hillman today it would be worth many thousands of pounds. It was only built for a couple of months in 1934 for the 1935 motor show. The car that was in production in 1934 and the version sold in 1935 were completely different cars to the one I owned. It seems that the Rootes Group who owned Hillman and Humber (a really luxury car maker) got all the panel and coach work made by Humber but it proved too costly for a smaller car at that time. So things were changed when the new car went into production. Mine was one of a very small batch of the Humber built ones. BGU 825 was pretty unique but we did not know this at the time. She finished her days, again on North Pickenham aerodrome, but this time after the bombs had gone. My brother and Hugh Carter's son taught themselves to drive in her on the runways and whilst she was there, vandals got to her and smashed her to scrap.

The Ford 8 Anglia and Popular, the 10 hp version had transverse springing, that means the two springs mounted across the axle rather than having a spring at each corner. This made the cars prone to rolling over. In fact a friend who had a Popular, turned it over so many times that we threatened to mount wheels on his roof!

One of the fitters in the workshop at Wrights was really into rock music of the time and decided to start a rock club in a room behind one of the local pubs in the town. He could only just afford to pay for the bands and needed support from the local villages around Dereham. He recruited some of his workmates, me included, to help him run the club on a Sunday night. No alcohol was allowed in the club and we acted as transport drivers and bouncers. His good idea was to let girls in on a reduced rate and our job, as transport vehicles was to collect them from local villages and a local RAF base. This started great friendships with very attractive young ladies. We were their chaperones for the evening and it was our job to see they got home safely at the end of the evening.

One Sunday evening, I went to Swanton Morley, about 4 miles from Dereham to collect some young ladies from the RAF base. I had got to know two of them well as they worked in Dereham and we met at lunch times in the coffee bar in the centre of the town. This was in the time whilst I was in the workshop and lunch times were more structured, giving us time to visit the town. On this particular Sunday evening, when I drew up at Helen's house in the married quarters where she lived with her parents, there were eight waiting to go to the club. Some of her friends had heard about the good music and had decided to come along with Helen and Marilyn. How we managed it I can't remember but six of them got on the back seat and Helen and Marilyn shared the front seat. You got really friendly with eight girls in a Ford 8 I can tell you. I have just realised as I write this, that was why it was called a Ford 8!!

We brought groups like Jimi Hendrix, The Animals, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames and others, to Dereham on a Sunday night.

They came cheaper than on a Saturday.

These groups were just starting out in the music business and were not as well known as they later became.

I acted as a "bodyguard" to them along with a couple more friends. There were no real dressing rooms for them to prepare for their acts so they changed in the toilets, then we helped them to get through the packed room to the stage.

Not a hard job at all. We did not get any trouble in all the time we ran the club and we had some really "hard" customers from the local "bad" areas. There were only four of us in a place with around 200 patrons. If any trouble looked like starting one of us would just go and stand near the group and they would quieten down.

It might have been the rumour that Brian (the one that started the club, not me), started about how I had taken out three big men and remained on my feet and laughing when they were flat on the floor. This was not true but the word spread and it seemed to work. A quiet word to potential trouble makers and things went calm again. As calm as they could be with some of these groups playing rock music at high volume!

We had a double bill, a Top Ten Group and a local one. The Teatime Four were very popular and members of this group went on to become members of more famous ones. Lucas Gooddaddy and the Emperors were one that sticks in my mind. Lucas was a rock soul singer and still performs today with quite a local following, but he brought the house down with his antics at the piano. He played a duet with himself - one end of the keyboard with his hands, the other with his TOES!!

A few years later I was dating a young lady, the step daughter of my partner Reg, She had been one of the support team for Jimi Hendrix as his makeup artist.

I decided to upgrade the Ford 8 when my mother was taken ill and had to go into hospital in Kings Lynn for a period. This involved me in a fifteen mile drive to and from work then a further fifteen mile drive to visit her in the evenings with my father and brother as I was the only driver in the family. Father never had a full licence although he drove tractors and also drove many miles in a car during the Suez crisis.

This clocked quite a few miles on the old car and it was quite uncomfortable for mother after her illness so I bought a Vauxhall Velox. This had a huge 6 cylinder engine which was very smooth and powerful. Only problem with it was, the bodywork rotted from the inside out and I drove home from work one evening to discover that the spring shackles had parted company from the chassis and all that was holding the axle in place was the handbrake cables. I soon changed that for a better car.

This brought the Austin Westminster 95/6 Automatic into my life. It remains one of my all time favourite cars. Big, smooth, with a nearly silent powerful engine. So quiet that, one morning as I drove into the car park at Wrights, I saw one of my colleagues walking up the drive in front of me. I crept the Westminster up behind him as he walked down the middle of the drive, just touched his legs with the massive chrome bumper and hit the twin windtone horns at the same time! I have never seen anyone leap so high in the air, or heard so many new expletives!!!

I had many happy years with that car. It had done a high mileage when I bought it so I decided to overhaul the engine. This was an engine that, when industrialised, became the Austin Newage and was used to power Massey Ferguson combines of the time. When I stripped it down and had the crankshaft and bores checked they were still within the original specifications and needed no work at all. We fitted new rings and valves and away she went for many more miles.

This was why when her replacement time came, I was looking at the Austin version of the Wolseley at Meddo.

The next car on display that rekindled memories was the lovely Ford Capri. It was one like this, in the slightly darker bronze metallic colour, that I drove when I first met Ann. These were a lovely car. quite fast, sporty and although mine was the smallest engine it could still do just over 100 mph.

We often joke that Ann only married me to get her hands on the Capri. We went on our honeymoon in that car.

When we first started our company, the Capri did many miles towing the demonstration caravan and was quite a traveller backwards and forwards to Germany. I did once blow a hole in a piston coming home from there. I drove to the Hook with the oil filler cap tied down with string as it kept blowing out with the sump pressure. Still, we got home and she got overhauled over a few days later, then back on the road.

The Capri was followed by another old favourite, a Mk1 Ford Granada 2 ltr. with an overhead cam engine and white with a black vinyl roof. It was about three years old when I bought it and it covered many thousands of miles with the caravan in tow as we demonstrated automatic speed control systems for combines over Europe and the British Isles. Then, when I got involved with training on farms, it was the Granada that was loaded down with tools, projector and demonstration equipment.

When we first got involved with potato harvesters with the invention of our elevator control system to limit the drop of potatoes into the trailer beside the harvester, it was in the Granada that we toured Holland, visiting the farms in the polders and dealerships in Northern Holland.

The Granada was the most forgiving car I have ever driven. Working with combines in the harvest time, when a problem occurs, the farmer expects you on the farm within a few hours to get the problem sorted. This was all right when we had units in the local area or in the surrounding counties of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire or Lincolnshire. But Optimatic, the automatic speed control for combines, was a unique system, nothing like it would be seen on combines until the 1990's and this was 1976. There was only one person who could problem solve and demonstrate this unit in Europe and the British Isles and that was me! So I was expected to work with the Claas demonstration teams and keep customers who had bought units happy. All very well when you are young and the two are close together but when one is in Oxfordshire and the other in Edinburgh its a bit more difficult.

Luckily, throughout the summer months, Ann was on holiday from school and we could travel the country together with the two boys. Or the boys would stay for a few days with Ann's parents in Devon whilst we went out in the local area with the demonstration teams.

On this particular occasion, the boys were with mother and father-in-law when we got a call to get up to Scotland as fast as possible to carry out a demonstration. So we set off, late in the afternoon after finishing a demonstration in Oxfordshire.

It was late when we reached Scots Corner and the B6275 junction that leads up to the A68. We always travelled this route in preference to the A1 all the way. I was tired so Ann took over driving at the junction of the two roads and I settled down in the passenger seat to get a sleep. The hum of the engine and the warmth in the car were very soporific and I was soon asleep.

Suddenly I was wide awake, I had travelled this road many times and I recognised exactly where we were. We were travelling a dead straight part of the road approaching a "T" junction at about 60 mph and Ann had dropped off to sleep at the wheel! I remember saying loudly "we turn left here" as we entered the junction. Luckily Ann woke and hearing me say turn left, did just that. The Granada lurched over as she locked the wheel and completed the turn, Luckily there was no traffic around and we soon found somewhere to stop and get coffee and a rest before completing our journey.

We often remember that happening and remark on how the Granada took a nearly right angle junction, at speed, remained on the road and got us out of a possibly fatal error.

The other thing we all remarked on after seeing all these wonderful cars and the memories they bring back. They have all grown smaller!!! Or is it that we have grown larger!!! Or is it just that the passing of time affects the memory?

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