Other things I have driven #4 – 7.5 tonne trucks

24 Nov

As I passed my test back in 1972 I have a licence that covers me for seven and a half tonners. I did drive some back in the days when they were more or less HGV Class 3 as it was then, but only in the yard, and I also drove Class 2 in the yard on a regular basis in those days too, but my official 7.5 tonne driving started in 1996.

I worked for Royal Mail then and, when faced with a national strike, the decision was taken to try and run the service with non striking workers, casuals and managers. As senior managers in the logistics side my boss and I were volunteered and he went off to do Class 1 work as he had a licence, mbut I was initially pressed into other service with my multitude of fork truck licences.

There was a desperate need for 7.5 tonne (or 600 in Royal Mail parlance) drivers and I was taken off FLT work to a duty where I would drive a Leyland DAF box van out to Chippenham, use a Sherpa for some local work, take the 600 over to Marlborough and back, do another local run in the Sherpa (or a Transit) and then take the 600 back to base via Marlborough. That was, of course, an analogue tacho fitted vehicle, one of the early turret type. I did that for, if memory serves me, about 3 weeks.

My next experience was not until 2008 when I drove for several days over a 3 month period a one year old long wheelbase DAF LF 45. The operator had a pair; automatics, air conditioning and with the unusual configuration of a curtain on the near side of the box, but a plain panel on the offside. They also had tuck under tail lifts. These were wonderful trucks and were ideal for the tight confines of underground car parks and loading docks in the City of London and Docklands, and also for the narrow streets of Mayfair and Soho.

In the early days of that assignment I also drove for another operator who ran an older Mercedes Atego. This was an analogue tacho truck unlike the newer DAFs, and was a bit of a wreck. I would run it from Swindon to an RDC in Milton Keynes and back leaving at around 2000 when the traffic was pretty light and returning anytime between 0000 and 0400. My biggest problems with this truck were the tacho which would often chew up the disc, and the gearbox. There were 6 forward and one reverse in there, but they were rarely to be found where they were when you last used them. Reverse was especially elusive and there were a couple of bays at the RDC that I would dread being called to as they had awkwardly placed drains that made it difficult to get the truck properly positioned for the loading dock. The call for “a couple of inches to the right mate” was not what I wanted to hear.

In the next couple of years I drove a succession of DAF LFs for various operators. Mostly they were old heaps, but I built up a knowledge of different variations of cab and body configurations. My only real variety in that time was a day in a 4 ton Mercedes LWB Sprinter chassis with builder’s drop side body and a chance to try out a MAN 7.5 tonne demonstrator.

In recent times a short assignment to run a Mercedes Atego 816 came up and translated into almost 7 weeks work. The operator has two; one a 57 plate and the other a 10. I started with the older truck and found that the gearbox was almost as bad as the other Atego I had used, but otherwise it was an OK vehicle. After a week or so I was switched to the newer truck and was looking forward to a slick box, but no, it was every bit as bad as the other one. The hardest part with both is finding reverse. With a lot of practice each day you do get to know roughly where to find it and develop a few tricks to engage it without embarrassing yourself too much, but it is still a bugger.

On one day off from Mercedes driving I was asked to ferry a couple of rental trucks back to the depot for another operator. The first of these was a fairly new automatic Isuzu that I did not take to in the 30 minutes or so that I had her for, but the second was a 53 plate DAF LF. Depsite my concerns about an elderly truck the gearbox was an absolute delight after several days of Atego action.

Trucker Toggle shares my opinions. Yes we are happy to earn a few bob driving pretty much anything, but if the choice is an Atego or a DAF we’ll go for the DAF every time.

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