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A Century of Transport - Bigger Lorries
The introduction of motorways changed the financial balance of freight transport away from rail in favour of road. Most goods had to be transferred to and from trains to get from the manufacturer to the customer. This was labour intensive and increasingly costly as wages improved. Trucks could pick up at the manufacturers and deliver the products directly to the destinations. Motorways increased the competitiveness of road for speed and bigger lorries further improved the economics.
Early in the twentieth century, it was realised that the wheelbase of lorries could not be extended indefinitely to increase load space. The solution was either extra axles, a trailer or articulation. The first solution gained favour in Great Britain. At first an extra rear axle was provided but soon came the first rigid eights, i.e. twin steering axles at the front as well as two axles at the rear. These giants were commonplace on trunk roads in the 1950s. Many boys in the 1950s will recall with delight possessing the Dinky Supertoy Foden or Leyland Octopus 8-wheeler which felt as impressive in the hand as the real thing! Trucks were then very much a male industry - the heavy steering and controls, and the rigours of loading and unloading, plus sheeting and roping the loads, meant few women drove trucks in the 1950s. Some who had begun in the Second World War (1939-45) remained at the wheel.
The principle of articulated vehicles really dates back to the horse pulling a trailer. Scammell pioneered the concept in this country for motor lorries after the First World War, both for heavy haulage and then for light urban distribution with its mechanical horse. For many years weight and dimension limits meant artics had little advantage over the rigid 8-wheelers for ordinary haulage work. This began to change from 1955 and operators found that artics were far more manoeuvrable than the big rigids - once the art of reversing had been mastered! The big bonnetted Scammells were the most memorable of the early artics and remained in production until recent times.
©Copyright 2018 Malcolm Keeley for the Transport Museum, Chapel Lane, Wythall, Worcestershire B47 6JA, England.
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