Perhaps my hardest trip for KeyMed was for us to participate in the ‘Offshore Europe’ show in Aberdeen. I tried to get an exhibition stand there but it was sold out, all they could offer me was an outside exhibit. At our Southend offices I had noticed an old long caravan parked up and asked what it was, I received the OK to refurbish and use it. We built a special display cabinet that had various things concealed inside for potential customers to use our instruments and get those internal views. We bought an ex-WD Land Rover to tow it and booked an outside exhibit space for our revamped caravan.
There was the little matter of getting there – a distance of 575 miles! We decided that two of us (Chris and I) would set off after business hours on Friday night and take it in turns to drive through the night. We were waved off at about 6pm and joined the A13 to get up to London. The long caravan had just two rather small wheels and the Landy had a narrow-wheelbase too. We stopped to move the load several times to try to get it to ride more comfortably but pretty soon had to conclude that 30 to 35 mph was our effective maximum speed before the pitching and yawing became extremely disturbing. We realised this extended our trip to nearer twenty hours than the expected ten.
Worse, we found that we were consuming our two petrol tanks roughly every motorway services, these enforced regular stops did nothing to assist with our ETA.
|ASIDE: The services to the South of Birmingham was one where the catering facilities closed northbound and we had to use a bridge to cross the carriageways to the south-side café. Chris went on ahead and I realised half-way across that I had grabbed up my man-bag, not just my wallet. I was being approached by a group of five noisy guys coming the other way. At this time it was still early for this sort of accessory, you could get away with a man-bag overseas, but late-evening in Birmingham? Thankfully they didn’t appear to notice.|
Soon, we were well into our routine, one napping while the other drove, and starting to make something of an impression on the journey. I was at the wheel when I realised something was wrong and pulled over to the hard shoulder. This woke Chris who looked back down the side of the caravan just in time to see its wheel fall off.
It was about 5am, we were just south of Carlisle, it was raining, and a swift examination showed we were in trouble. The wheel studs had been sheared from the hub. We jacked up the caravan, unhitched the Landy and drove in it on to the next services.
It was early Saturday morning, our travel clothes had got wet through. We killed some time eating and drinking coffee then took over two callboxes (pre-mobiles!) and went through the yellow pages calling anyone who might be able to help. We finally found a garage in Carlisle sixty miles north from where we were and came up with a solution. We drove back to the caravan, removed the hub, and took this the sixty miles north to this workshop – it did not escape our notice that this would later be a two-hour journey in the caravan. We were by now dressed in our exhibition suits, also a tad wet. The guy drilled out the studs and supplied new bolts, of approximately the right dimensions.
We drove back to the caravan and fitted the new arrangement. This jury-rigged set-up carried us only ten miles north before it too broke. It was now mid-morning Saturday and we called the transport manager In Southend, who agreed to come and help but we knew he would be many hours. We went back to calling people for a long low-loader and finally found a guy in Kendal who said he had to offload bales of hay first but would come and get us, because his sister lived in Aberdeen so he would get us there, then visit her.
|ASIDE: Some forty years later I would be driving around Kendal, Carlisle and Hadrian’s Wall successfully finding early traces of the Denton family (below). But, at this earlier time, I was none too impressed by the area, the incessant rain running down a slope to look more like a stream, a mist that made the surroundings dreary.|
Just as we had almost given up on him, early afternoon, the farmer arrived. By now we had attracted a motorway police vehicle who closed the M6 for us to drag the caravan around 180-degrees on its hub and address it toward the rear of the low-loader. The guy had removed the rear wheels and axle of his trailer and used a winch to drag it onto the flat bed.
But, our caravan proved to be just too long to get the rear wheels back on, so we used our jack and the guy’s jack to hoist up the caravan’s front-end (now to the rear of the low-loader) enough to allow us to slide the wheels back into place.
As we completed this, now late afternoon on Saturday, our guy from Southend arrived to see us shake the low-loader guy by the hand and arrange to see him Sunday afternoon at the show. We were too tired to show gratitude and, given his fortuitous timing, even jokingly accused him of waiting over the rise until we had done all the work. We did apologise for ruining his weekend, but we now had it under control, so he turned around and wended his way back home without comment.
We were now able to maintain 60-70mph in the Landy without the caravan, so set off with renewed enthusiasm, until an hour later, sixty miles further up the road, the Landy got a puncture! We both realised that our jack was on the low-loader! But we retained some residual luck, we forlornly looked among the stuff we had received, when so recently taking delivery of the Landy, and found a rudimentary jack that we had not realised we had. The rest of our drive proved uneventful, and we met the low-loader guy at the showground.
Because we had arrived so late, we found other outside stands had been built and there was no route for us to move the caravan to our rented site! However, one of our customers was the forklift manufacturer Lansing Bagnall and they were exhibiting at the show. They had great fun using two of their pieces of plant to lift our caravan high over others’ exhibits, though we had to dismount and reinstall three flagstaffs. They plonked our caravan in place resting on several bricks where the offending wheel was still missing.
Our soggy fixtures and exhibits were all down one end of the caravan, from its having been jacked up on the low-loader, but we had time to remedy that. The low-loader guy was contracted to pick the caravan up again and transport it back to Southend.
In the end, we got so much more publicity and attention for our tale of woe that the show proved a good one for us.