After serving my apprenticeship with the Co-op as a bacon slicer working my way up to become Manager at Hixon. I decided it was time for change of careers. At the time my uncle Tom Bates told me of a vacancy in the Transport Office at Evode which paid a better salary than the Co-op. I was interviewed by Ken Shardlow and was turned down in favour of a more suitable candidate, thankfully for me the other candidate turned down the job and I was offered the position.
In the early days of my employment with Evode we made do with limited space in one of the main buildings until the new warehouse was built with bays and special ramps for ease of loading the lorries. The Transport Office was quite large for it had to accommodate the Transport Manager in a partioned box at one end, Transport Personnel, Myra, Stella, Brian, Keith and myself, also the Progress Department, Terry, Ron and the nurse were accommodated. My responsibility was Turners and Reigate with a large furniture type van from Scraggs Transport arriving every day for a load, there were always disputes between transport and the drivers over what weight we estimated for the load, and the actual carried. On many occasions the vehicles went out of the gate so overloaded that they could hardly get up the hills! I can remember the wide variety of products transported in those days including chemicals, one of which was Miniset, a highly corrosive chemical used in the building trade, the product was carried in large tanks which had been bought second hand from Burgess Fuels. Petrol engine minipumps were used to discharge the load and on many occasions the pump failed to start at the customers premises due to the corrosion caused by the Miniset spillage on to the pump and the load had to be returned to Stafford for the pump to be repaired. To overcome this problem, a brand new custom built Articulated Tanker was purchased and it became the pride of the fleet.
Administration for the works garage became my responsibility in 1968 and until 1973 I worked with and sometimes against the Garage Forman to keep the fleet of lorries running. We progressed from running Austin/Morris to Volvos and Mercedes Benz trucks and we did a lot of development work with van body builders Boalloy in Congleton. Part of my job was to look after the internal transport vehicles which took materials from the stores to the factory, and finished goods to the Warehouse. In the early days I purchased ex-ministry vehicles from the army at Ruddington, my best purchase was 2 Scammell Scarab mechanical horses with seven trailers all for £250.00, the result of my economical purchase was a memo from the Doctor commending my actions.
As I was at this time looking after the Company car maintenance, I became involved in the purchasing side under Mr. Linnell who was Head of Finance for Evode Holdings which later became Evode Group plc.
I had the job of organising or should I say assisting the Chauffeur as one of my duties. On occasions we were called to the Doctors house, 'Thark' to help the gardener who either had problems with the lawn mower or needed a lift with something. I quite enjoyed these trips out and sampling the apples and tomatoes added to the pleasure. Also at this time we provided a collection and delivery service locally, and Mrs. Hill was our driver and she did errands for people, collecting shopping (unofficially!) taking people home when ill, and the traffic wardens turned a blind eye when she parked her Morris 1000 traveller on the pavement to just pop in to the shops.
In the early days of Company cars the first vehicles I became involved with were Morris 1000,s which were reps cars. Morris Oxford for Managers, and Westminster's for Directors. Throughout the years there have been many different Company cars including:
Vauxhall - Viva, Victor, Cresta, Cavalier, Vectra, Carlton and Omega.
Austin - A55, Minor 1000 1300,1800, Maxi, Marina, Ital, Princess, 200, 400, 600 & 800.
Hillman - Avenger, Hunter, Sceptre.
Ford - Escort, Cortina, Sierra, Mondeo, Scorpio.
Plus the Jaguars, Mercedes, BMW and many many more, but the vehicle we took pride in most of all was the Doctors Roll Royce which was purchased second hand from Byatts garage in Stoke on Trent. On one occasion when I took the Rolls to a petrol station to fill up I had a problem getting the petrol tank flap open, and was rather embarrassed when I had to get a mechanic with a screwdriver to prize open the flap to enable the car to be filled with petrol. (Not a done thing with a Roller!)
After becoming Fleet Manager in 1971, I became involved with all the Companies in the fast growing new Group, and the works garage at Stafford became the central point for all the Fleet operations, the Department looked after the contract vans for Evode Roofing, and dealt with the numerous depots throughout the country. Looking after the roofing vans was quite an experience, for they were always breaking down, the interiors were covered in bitumen and the cabs littered with mouldy sandwiches from weeks previous. We tried several different makes of vans to try and extend their working lives, and on one occasion a Bedford van was purchased. It lasted 9 months before it was scrapped. All roofing cars were white with liquorice allsorts stripes down the sides so they could be easily recognised.
At the time Evode Roofing had a large fleet of vehicles and it was decided that L.P.G. fuel should be tried and so all the cars and vans were converted. The conversion was only a partial success and in service problems and poor supply of equipment was its downfall.
As the Fleet Department, we had a great time with Sheila, Nancy and Bob looking after the daily tasks and problems leaving me to look after the purchasing, car policy and other matters. We had the opportunity to drive many different types of vehicles, and one minute you may be driving a Mini, and the next a Jaguar or truck! There were inevitable mis-haps, and I remember having to hastily arrange a quick body repair on a Directors car which had been accidentally driven into a wall whilst being moved from the car park to the Works Garage. If ever we damaged a car whilst it was in for service, it was always the personnel Directors! If ever a vehicle was not going to be ready on time it was always the Personnel Directors!!
The administration of the car policy under the guidance of the personnel Director was one of the most interesting and eventful aspects of the job, the discussions that took place with the drivers of Company cars to agree the level and make of car available to them required great diplomacy, particularly when dealing with companies who were new to the Group. Many decision referrals were made to the Group Personnel Director, or Chief Executive!!
Over the years there seemed to be always new companies bought by the Group. Allweather Paints, Supra Group, Carter Bros., Stafford Roofing, Postans, Worralls to name but a few, with the busiest time coming in 1989 with the purchase of Chamberlain Phipps plc. At this time, from memory, I think the number of companies administered was about 20.
The not so happy times for me have been when companies were sold and people you had known for a long time and worked with became redundant. When Evode was sold to Laporte it was the end of many happy years and memories working for a family business where everybody felt part of the success that the business had achieved over the years.
As the Evode Group was dismantled and all the staff made redundant, I was fortunate in being retained by Evode Ltd., to work out of Stafford with responsibility on a secondment arrangement with Laporte. I worked for Laporte purchasing their vehicles and providing fleet management support for over 2 years. During my time with them I set up a Group-wide scheme for the leasing of vehicles. My work with Laporte was quite interesting at times, for they where a company that did not like to be kept waiting. Sadly for me, or relief, Laportes new Chief Executive decided to reduce the Head Office staff at Luton and move to London making the Fleet support activity redundant.
During this Head Office restructuring, we were hearing rumours of a possible sell off of the Adhesives and Sealants Division, which was hotly denied by the Chief Executive. However, as we were called upon to chauffeur the groups of prospective buyers around the sites, we were a little suspicious.
As it turned out, Evode Adhesive and Sealants Division was sold to Elf, and a new chapter in the history of Evode began.