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Pan-continental Postcript

Pan-continental Postcript

 

Destination Doha Dover!

A battle-weary Astran trailer offloading in Bow in 1982

The recent relaunch on DVD of the 1977 BBC ‘World About Us’ documentary ‘Destination Doha’, which chronicled pioneering UK-Middle East haulier Astran’s tortuous overland route to the Gulf, brought to mind the (very) small part we played in their operation back in the day. 

Providing a traction service for their trailers in the UK, the frequent 24 hour delays at Dover whilst trailers cleared customs might seem insignificant when compared with 5 days on the Iranian border, but for an owner driver being paid by the mile it could be a real downer. Despite the glamour associated with the longest of long haul operations, money was always tight and drivers were expected to sort out problems on their tod. Breakdown assistance, if it existed, didn’t operate out of hours even in England. 

Arriving at Dover at 10 o’clock one winter’s night our driver found - after ‘standing on the stairs’ for an hour - that the trailer which ‘will be cleared by the time you get there’ was unlikely to benefit from Customs’ attention until the following day, and was already ankle deep in snow. Resigning himself to a night in a cab with no heater, his joy was multiplied many fold when on checking round the trailer he found a flat tyre.  Two spare wheels hanging from the chassis were soundly chained & padlocked and the key was likely to be the wrong side of the English Channel. Now midnight, there was little point in ringing the office. Back to Astran’s West Malling base where he borrowed a wheel off a trailer parked in the yard, strapped it to the catwalk and set off back to Dover. Shovelling the snow aside, the wheel was changed and by 5am he was ready for the off as soon as Customs had obliged.  There was just one problem left…where to put the extra wheel now that the tractor unit was coupled up.

The obvious answer was to pop it in the back of the trailer, so, seals removed, doors opened, and the trailer was found to be filled floor to ceiling with boxes of crystal chandeliers. Now truck wheels are heavy things, and a trailer floor is 5 feet off the ground. With no-one around to help and the will to live ebbing away, inspiration and determination was needed in equal measure so a piste was duly constructed using cartons from the load. It was at the half way point, with the wheel 3 feet off the ground and hypothermia setting in, that it was realised crystal chandeliers are perhaps not the best form of support for 100 kgs of steel & rubber. Nevertheless, with much grunting, heaving and crunching of crystal, the wheel went in. It was now 8am. 

At 12 noon Customs finally released the trailer which was great, except that the delivery point was 2 hours away in London and, being Friday, was closing early. The trailer therefore went back to Astran, the driver went home, and the invoice went out for the fixed rate of £30.  In case you are wondering, even in 1982 this wasn't exactly a fortune. Ah, happy days!!!

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