A good mate and contact from a Thameside based DAF dealer who is up to speed with my book project called me out of the blue recently. Bradley is also very kindly contributing, thanks to a extensive find of old Leyland T45 manuals and literature. During a stores clear out, he tells me, ‘give this chap a ring Mike‘ – and this I did. Tony Gothard is an Essex based plant hire and Land reclamation business that is based in the shadow of the recently decommissioned Tilbury power station and a brief conversation with him revealed a colossal number of old Leyland trucks on his books.
I was invited to pop by for a chat and a cuppa, so I fired up the Rover and set course for Essex not knowing what to find or expect. After a hearty welcome and a bone cracking handshake (always a good sign) the kettle is checked for function and I set out explaining my visit and he generously offers to answer any questions. Tony has a lovely relaxed mannerism so laid back… he’s nearly horizontal, but behind his cheery chatty persona there is a man with a ruthless understanding of his business, his trucks and market trends.
He shows me a log book of the vehicles he has operated since going it alone in 1968, virtually every truck has been a Leyland based product including AECs and Scammells. Over 100 trucks have been used on his tipper division with a staggering 60 of them being T45 Constructors, all sourced second hand from Ready Mix Concrete (RMC Road stone) spanning from 1981 to 1990. Gothard used to repair and build its own bodies and Tony tells me the key to why the Constructor was so useful was its payload capacity and almost unbreakable chassis.
Tony told me ‘I tried two band new Hino tippers in the mid `80s but I struggled to get 6mpg and an 18ton payload… I soon binned em‘ he quipps with a broad smile. He states that an 8 wheel Leyland would easily handle a 20 ton load, almost 22 with a lightweight alloy body. I ask him about reliability to which he shrugs his shoulders and mentions that his very first one suffered with blown up engines and constant axle hub reduction issues. The early TL11 powered examples were underpowered at 210bhp and working them in shockingly arduous conditions could prove too much.
After mentioning my own favourable experience of the Leyland TL11 unit he retorts with ‘once they developed it into the TL11-C 260 it was a bloody good engine, but by then its reputation in the tipper circles was shot‘. His chosen power unit became the Cummins L10-250 mated to a Spicer gearbox and nearly all future Gothard examples were to feature this unit which went on to become the number one choice for every UK built heavy truck in that era – an engine that’s still very highly regarded today. It ran a pair of ultra rare Gardner 6LXCT 230 engined Constructors but found them sluggish compared to the high revving Cummins.
‘I once bought a pair of new Hino tippers back in ’86… at only 6mpg and an 18 tonne payload I soon binned ’em and went back to Leyland’ – Tony Gothard
We have a wander round the office base and there are hoards and piles of spare parts everywhere including axles, gearboxes and all manners of T45 components. Gothard would eventually cannibalise trucks that finally came to the end of their useful lives so nothing went to waste ‘we would run them on the road for one or two years and them put them on ash tipping duties at the power station’ . Until last month Tony had 10 Constructors based at the station, now it has been switched off and in the process of being decommissioned, just one Leyland continues working on a tidying up basis.
He invites me to join him on a trip to the power station and a short journey in his crew cab Ranger finds us at the huge coal fired plant that now stands redundant, its massive chimneys spearing the sky like colossal concrete Smartie tubes – the silence all around is nothing short of deafening. His last remaining Constructor’s are neatly lined up in two rows all now sadly, just like the power station that casts a huge shadow across the yard – redundant. I jump in the cab of one and it feels like its waiting for the next driver to hop in – a folded recent newspaper adorns the centre floor console marking the end of time.
You can certainly tell they have worked hard for a living after years of site work fly tipping ash from the furnaces and yet some of the trucks have worn their years remarkably well not being as bashed or wrecked anywhere near as I would have imagined. I sense a tinge of sadness from Tony as we wander around the parking area, not just for the ending of this once fairly lucrative contract, but for the end of the road of his fleet of ageing Leyland trucks. Tony built his business on British trucks ‘Leyland have been good to me’ he says with a smile ‘RMC wore `em in… Gothards wore `em out’ – a most fitting tribute.
After a trip to his engineering base, we see even more T45’s some of which never even worked simply being bought and parked up to be used when required, but this was not to be. Once 2008 came Gothard ceased their clearway and contracted tipping service stating red tape and too much complication for their reason and they now concentrate on plant equipment and demolition hire with some impressive Volvo plant units and a pretty DAF XF with low loader beavertail trailer adorning his compact yet efficient workshop plot. Yet wherever you look, there is a Leyland or an AEC hiding in the shrubs.
‘many swore at Leylands… but at Gothards we swore by them. RMC wore them in for me… I wore ’em out’
Parked up vehicles include Leyland Bison – Octopus – Scammell Highwayman – AEC Mammoth Major – Thames Traders – Ford D series and even an AEC Fire engine along with literally dozens of truck cabs – some bought brand new and never fitted. Arriving back at his office we chat a little more and one of Tony’s parting remarks is ‘many swore at Leyland trucks… we swore by them‘ so I ask if this is purely down to patriotism of British manufacturing ‘absolutely not.. they were reliable, payload efficient, easy to work on and cost pennies to run… they were pretty much perfect for my business for many many years’.
He tells me a story about how his Constructors once suffered a spate of broken front axle springs one winter only to find out they were grossing the weighbridge at 40 tonnes. He went on to say “the ice and frost would get into the leafs overnight and weaken them so I told my lads to stay on 30 tonnes till the weather warmed up… we never broke another after that” says Tony with a broad grin. One further tale he shares is when one day he wanted to see what they could do… “we had one top out at just over 53 tonne on site… she moaned and groaned a bit but she did it” – I smile in both amazement and disbelief.
Before I left, Tony gave me an interesting fact to ponder upon on my journey back home. He claims that after keeping records of all work done in all activities, his Leyland tipper trucks have shifted well over 2 million tons just on the work done at Tilbury power station. Needless to say, Tony Gothard and his fascinating Leyland experiences spanning over four decades will be featuring in my book and I thank him for three hours of wonderful and informative entertainment.
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