A story
of Gritting

J.B.Schofield & Sons Ltd, scrap merchants a family firm who have been dealing in scrap metal since1876 on the same hillside, 800 foot up in the pennines above Linthwaite and Slaithwaite in the Colne Valley near Huddersfield, turned to gritting in 1974 after a chance conversation between the newly formed Kirklees Highways chief engineer, Keith Dwyer and Carl Schofield.

Dwyer suggested that Schofields should submit a tender for winter maintenance work to supplement the highways day work that they were already undertaking. The tender was duly submitted and a dilapidated BMC tipper with gritter body sat in the back was purchased, Carls 14year old son Mark was press ganged into being the drivers mate, he took one look at BMC and decided that a coat of Schofield maroon and post office red would have to be applied before he would be seen riding round the Colne Valley in a BMC, Fodens and ERFs where the order of the day at Schofields.

After a successful winters gritting around Linthwaite and “Slawit”, the following summer saw the gritting fleet increase, second hand Atkinsons of Clitheroe bodies appeared in various states of disrepair, however Carl wanted “sumat” with a Gardner engine so one of the ERF tippers on the scrap side of the business was retired, OSX 356 a former Rowntree Macintosh van bodied vehicle with a Gardner 5LW 100Bhp, David Brown gearbox and Eaton two speed axle became the first “proper” gritter.

The tipper body was removed, all draught holes in the cab blocked (not much point because Carl went everywhere with the window down, a source of many a late night, heated argument between a frozen teenage son and father in the middle of a snowstorm up Standedge) chassis and cab resprayed by Mark, cab painted internally by hand in light blue but, and it was to be a big but, the only gritter body long enough was a Neville Charrold coal body with an aluminium hopper. The front end of the chassis had to be fitted with a plough frame and bumper bar made of 1″ thick steel and 8″ x $” channel iron, this job fell to former employee Geoff Dyson a blacksmith and vehicle repairer from Marsden who had a knack for bending steel into any shape you liked. Geoffs bumper bars became a trademark feature of Schofields homegrown gritters. Other ERFs with their timber framed fibre glass rot proof cabs were bought from Showerings wine distributors at Magdale between Meltham and Netherton (a regular source of 2nd hand ERFs). High milers but well looked after. One of these, 27 PYB a 14 tonner, was unfortunately for those who drove her, blessed with a Gardner 4LW 80Bhp engine which due to low gearing would climb any hill, even the 1 in 4s of the Colne Valley, walking would have been quicker.

The cab heaters in Gardner engineered vehicles were always a little lacking on the heat side of things, however with a sack over the radiator 10 tonne of salt on the back and very steep hill to climb some warm air filtered through to driver and mates frozen feet, going down the other side normal service was resumed. Carl with his window down seemed to be oblivious to the cold. The reason for this became clear to Mark a few years later, all that 1″ steel and channel iron mounted on the front of a wagon with no power steering led to very heavy steering, this, a rather long wheel base and lots of corners lead to sweating not shivering. The ERF side of things was quite reliable, the coal body though broke down on a regular basis. The hopper sides weren”t steep enough to make the salt slide down onto the conveyor belt in the bottom, Carls answer to this was to make Mark climb out of the cab into the body whilst moving and gritting, and shovel the salt down onto the belt, being the 1970s health and safety hadn”t been invented!! The upside of this was that the excersize got the blood flowing and the body warm and lets face it life would be a bit boring without a little risk taking. There were never any accidents involving those onboard the gritter, cars though now that was another
thing altogether.

Carl decided that the most efficient way to spread the salt was to drive down the middle of the road, including, in fact preferably, the A62 Manchester rd. So there we are plough lights mounted high shining straight at the eyes of oncoming motorists, the orange flashing light invisible behind the glare until the last moment, 10 ft wide side plough mounted on the front at all times (to intimidate I think) taking a central line a wheel either side of the white line, 40mph, the spinner of the rear throwing salt over garden walls, never mind the road, unstoppable, Carl would not ever give way. As the unsuspecting car driver heads onward unaware of what the glowing lights were hiding behind them, assuming it will move over, no chance, time and time again, every turnout cars swerved to their nearside mounting pavements, verges and occasionally other cars! The orange “noddy” light commanded respect and if that didn”t do the trick the plough soon changed their mind.

Of course this driving up the middle of the road did have its drawbacks, undertaking for example the nightly climb up Standedge with its three lanes almost always led to a game of chicken with a certain category of impatient driver, who couldn”t make his mind up which side to pass on, should he choose the inside though, he would find his passage narrow rapidly as the old ERF drifted to its left and then back to the centre. Only the very brave, foolish or very very fast got by and those that did often became a cropper in the conditions ahead, they were to be found with wheels spinning helplessly in the snow. In one instance a young lad in a mini passed in Marsden throwing slush all over the ERF, by the time the gritter had got to the layby above the Coach And Horses halfway up Standedge, a pair of wheel marks made a sweeping arc highlighted by the plough lights in the newly fallen snow, straight through the fence and down a 20ft banking, the driver dazed but unhurt had staggered to the top just in time to watch them drive by, the moral of the story being, never pass a gritter, there is a reason for it being in the middle of the road in front of you.

The fleet grew in the 70s and by 1978 three 1967 16 ton Fodens, ex British Salt Of Middlewhich were bought at the auctions at Brighouse, complete with aluminium salt tanks. With Gardners 6lw and 112 brake horse a Foden six speed plus overdrive gearbox and Fodens own axle great things were expected. Only two were converted, tanks removed, no expense spared in the sandblasting and painting. Mark worked 16hours a day sanding, masking and painting. The cabs were cellulose primed and painted with expensive 2 pack paints, Vauxhalls “ruby” became the colour of choice, another name for maroon. Post Office red chassis and a home made orange come yellow that Carl had (still has!) a penchant for. Lessons had been learnt over the previous years about salt and corrosion, never put aluminium and steel together, electrolytic action soon turned the ali to mux, salt water would travel up the inside of electric cable dissolving the copper as it went, the wagons were rewired with every precaution that could be thought of taken. Rustolewm, a fish oil based paint was used along with large amounts of Carls home brew red lead, made from white lead in a form similar to putty mixed with boiled Linseed oil and liquid driers, a drop of turpentine, the whole lot brewed over a gas stove, even the gas cooker in the kitchen, where one of the cans sprang a leak much to the lady of the houses displeasure, after six or seven coats of paint the whole lot was sprayed with wax oil. New tyres with plenty of grip, mudguards at the rear the vehicles looked as good as new.

Things didn”t go as planned, British Salt had specced the wagons for motorway and trunk road work, the highly geared (for the day) backends were useless in the Pennines, the six speed box didn”t have the spread of the usual Foden 12 speed epicylic box of the larger Fodens (although the 3rd 16 ton Foden that never got converted did have a 12 speed). A new lower dif was found for UMA 394E though lasted over 10 years, reblasted and repainted several times, with her original dif another way was found to overcome UMAs lack of “grunt” as a steep hill or indeed deep snow was approached the drivers mate pulled back the bonnet side and lifted the cold start button, a plume of black smoke from the exhaust and she surged forward, most obstacles could be overcome by this method. UTU on the other hand appeared to have been helped in the power department whilst at Middlewhich, revving for faster than the usual 1750 revs she always had power to spare.

On the scrap side Schofields had two six wheeled Fodens, one, OYG 258E a 24 tonner bought new in 1967 the other, 892 CWW a 20 tonner fitted with a telehoist skip unit, but originally run by the legendary Robert Hansons on coal haulage. 892 had spent her early days at Schofields fitted with a tipper running scrap to the steel works at Skinningrove, the two hundred odd miles being an all day job she worked night and day, OYG then took over the role, originally fitted with a Gardner 6LX 150, a dropped value in 1977 saw a 6LXB 180 fitted at Pelican Engineering. Both wagons with their low gearing and double drive bogies could pull unlimited weight (50 ton!!) almost anywhere, with suitably strong plough frames and bumper bars fitted, plus of course the obligatory orange “noddy” light both vehicles would be ballasted and used to plough the parts that normal vehicles couldn’t reach. 892 CWWs career was fairly short lived with the skip unit at the rear of the chassis and the lock (a positive point in all other aspects) of a 3rd dif she just wouldn”t steer around the Colne Valleys tight corners, OYG with its tipper up closse to the back of the cab didn”t have quite the same problem and ploughed on regardless.

The Fodens were often seen running echelon style, sweeping the snow from wagon to wagon there by clearing the road from side to side at one go, the wagon at the rear of course drew the short straw, as the snow got heavier and more compressed as it passed down the line, Carl in OYG at the front, oblivious to the havoc he left behind, snow would be spilling over the top of OYGs plough but nothing stopped her, or him!!

With a suitably strong chain hanging from the towing eye OYGs party piece was pulling stranded 32 ton artics over the A640 Buckstones or Standedge, this being where they ended up after things got difficult on the M62, usually after driving past the flashing road closed sign, any driver who questioned the whereabouts, whilst he had got himself into this mess was left, the grateful ones were given a helping tow. Many of these drivers after a lifetime sat in their cabs were incapable of getting out and shovelling salt under the wheels of their own wagon, the Schofield teenagers, four of them by now were gainfully employed as mates both to help rescue other stranded souls but also to rescue the Schofield gritters after either Carl or George had rammed yet another 6ft drift and driven till the wagon would go no further, this method of ramming and digging, reverse onto cleared road and ram again being the norm in the severe snows of the late 70s early 80s. The other contractors didn”t employ these methods, their method being to do as little as possible so as to incur as little wear and tear (and expense) as possible. Schofields though were there for the thrill, gritting got them away from a frozen scrapyard and let them play and be paid taking risks having fun, it became a winter way of life, even the routine frost prevention grits got them out of staying in the house at nights and weekends, even Christmas day could be relied upon for a drive up Holme Moss or the Isle Of Skye whilst everyone else sat stuffed with Christmas pudding.

The ability to slide at great speed, backwards with wheels turning forward without hitting walls or cars became an essential skill for the aggressive “this wagon will go anywhere” gritter driver, fortunately the high torque and low gearing of the ERFs and Fodens meant that stalling was unusual so that once a non slip surface was reached the tyres would bite and normal direction would be resumed, remember their vehicles threw salt behind them, no advantage to the forward travelling gritter, reversing up hills, or indeed down, whilst gritting under ones own wheels was the safe albeit slow way of tackling an icy Tiding Fields or Crimble Clough, not easy in a blizzard.

Mark by now driving and Carl tackling the evening grits splitting the Colne Valley down the middle it was supposed to be done by 6 or 7 vehicles but this was deemed too easy. In bad conditions the evening shift drove through the night till 6.00am, the morning shift starting at 5.00am, 5 drivers were drafted in for the mornings.