So to complement my “fleet” I needed my own 7.5 tonner, like the one I'd given up when I ditched the big contract. And where I'd been paying a grand a month to rent one this time I was sensible, and paid another of my customers two grand for one they had which was surplus to requirements.
This second-hand Ford Cargo had seen a few years, but had been regularly serviced and only used once a week. Its ownership taught me a valuable lesson.
|30 years in production, Backbone of the haulage industry for 15, and the only picture of a Cargo I could find was an Austrian one...|
That lesson was “don’t be cheeky to civil servants”.
Shortly after I bought it the truck went into a BRS garage for its first service and while there the Department of Transport came visiting.
I was having a coffee while the BRS mechanics took the wheels off the truck and found the brakes needed an overhaul.
“This vehicle is unroadworthy,” said the civil servant.
“Of course it isn’t roadworthy,” said I. “It’s got no wheels on it.” The DoT man scowled humourlessly and slapped a prohibition notice on the truck so I couldn’t drive it away. I had to spend £1,000 to get it released, the truck was out of action for a fortnight, and I got fined £900 and had my operator’s licence curtailed. Ooops.
I picked up more work - including a huge account with a car parts company, and thats where it started to go wobbly.
People ordering plastic tanks don't mind a day wait. People who want car parts want them now, if not sooner. At the same time the network was collapsing, I was owed a fortune and stuff just wasn't getting where it was needed on time.
Then I was thrown an apparent lifeline. A major parcels network offered me a deal. They would pay me £2,000 a week, and my two drivers and I and my three trucks could work. I'd hand them my contracts.
They'd pay me every month, regular as clockwork. I could buy my fuel off them.
It offered a desperately needed breathing space.
Only catch was, the Cargo was too old, and I'd need a newer truck.
I sold the Cargo for a profit, and bought a second truck, this time an AWD – or as it was otherwise known, a Bedford. The truck was a year old, but the design was ancient and more than a little agricultural – still, it did its job well.
|An AWD. Mine had a box on the back|
I spent a year hacking round West Wales, going to places like Crymych, Maenclochog, and Pontrhydfendegaid (pronounced, according to the great P J O'Rourke: "huh?").
It was lots of fun. I saw the sea a lot, gave lifts to farm workers and students and burned out hippies searching for the fabled lost stash of Operation Julie.
I was hit head on by a Ford Capri while driving a rented VW Transporter and ended up in court, accused of dangerous driving. I fought it - on the grounds that I'd been going too fast, but that so had she. And at least the parcels I was delivering were legitimately carried unlike the ones she had in the back of the Capri. The magistrates listened, and remarkably found me not guilty, giving the police a stiff ticking off as well.
But things just weren't working out. The eight grand a month turned out to be £6,000 once the depot manager had shaved off some highly dubious penalty payments that he invented for this and for that.
£2000 a month would have cleared the debt I had. six grand had me treading water. The vans were knackered and needed replacing. Money I was owed never materialised. Companies that owed me money folded up their tents and stole off into the night, only to be reborn days later.
Ripoff Express Ltd would become Ripoff Express 1991 Ltd with the same vehicles and staff but owned mysteriously by the previous owners sister.
One of my drivers, a mate who had come to work for me, badgered me to make him a partner. I refused, for his own good. I knew there was nothing but debt to partner in.
Then Norman Lamont kicked me in the bollocks on Black Wednesday .
A week later I called my bank manager from a call box near Llandovery and asked my bank to authorise a cash withdrawal from my my bank to pay that weeks wages and was told that my operating overdraft had been cancelled because of the prevailing financial conditions. I told them all this meant was I'd never be able to pay it off. They cared not.
I was screwed.
But all was not lost. The Iveco and the battered Citroen would be repossesed. The only people I owed money to was banks, finance companies and the tax man.
One thing I did have a reputation for was reliability, honesty and hard work.
It looked like I would rejoin the ranks of the unemployed.
My erstwhile partner came up with a proposal where he would take over the now £1,500 a week contract, and he would hire a couple of Renault Masters at £500 a month each.
The AWD was covered by unemployment insurance and I'd lend it to him.That gave him a potential income of five grand. More than enough to pay him, my other driver and he'd give me a few quid to work on the side, helping his set up his operation and driving.
Eight weeks later and the whole thing had gone to shit.
He'd ignored everything I'd told him, ripped off half the parcel companies contracts, struck out on his own with another very dodgy network and was running up a massive debt. Something I'd slogged away at for three years had been ruined by a chancer.
I washed my hands of the thing.
Months later the finance company came to repossesss my AWD only to find he claimed it had been stolen.
In fact he'd sold it.
As a final insult the DHSS contacted me shortly after we had parted company to tell me they knew I'd been working on the side and they cut my benefits.
The informant? His wife.
I had, in the parlance, been done up like a kipper.
So I'm busted flat, £60,000 in debt, with a partner and a kid to support, no job, no money, no benefits and the only crumb of comfort is that negative equity had hit, so our house was worth less than we'd paid for it, so even if I was bankrupt, they couldn't take the place.
There was only one thing that could save me.
The Toughest Motorcycle In The World.