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Thursday, July 18, 2024
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PeopleJohn Read

John Read

I was born in Wells, in Somerset. I went to a family party recently and met a lot of my cousins, and it seems like we were all born at the same nursing home there. My mother and father rented a farm at a place called Farncombe, near Shepton Mallet. Mother drove a Ford tractor, went ploughing, and other tractor work, while Dad did the dairy. That would be around 1947. The owner of the farm decided to sell up, so we had to leave. My uncle also farmed near there at a place called Chesterblade, so we moved there to live. It was the middle of nowhere, and Uncle only switched on the electric to milk the cows, although he did put it on so we could watch the Cup Final. I think my dad was involved in cheese making at one time.
The first school I went to was a convent in Shepton Mallet. That was because someone in the village took his daughter there in the mornings, so I could get a lift, and mum would pick us up in the afternoon. I went to various schools after that, then Dad got a job on a farm at Trent, near Sherborne, and I went to St Aldhelms, which is now the Gryphon School in Sherborne. After the farm at Trent, Dad got a job on a farm at Forston, near Godmanstone, in about 1960. We left there and moved into Dorchester just as I was leaving school.
I’ve got 2 brothers and a sister. My older brother David looked after us quite a bit. I can remember him taking me to the Motor Show at Earls Court in a Mini, when they first came out in 1959. He did well at school, and went to Hull University. He worked at Sheffield University, later lecturing in biology all over the world. His speciality was trees—I used to call him the tree doctor—he’s now Professor Sir David J Read FRS.
My first job after school was at Lee Motors in Dorchester in 1962. We serviced Vauxhall, Bedford, Land Rover and Jaguar vehicles. If you go into Iceland car park in Trinity Street, there’s a wall down one side—that’s where our benches were. That was a 5 year apprenticeship, including day-release at college. I was one of 6 apprentices to start that year, and in due course it was suggested to me I should start working on lorries, with a first class man called Graham Hansford, from Charminster. He taught me the job, as well as being a brilliant man to work with. Later on, work moved down to London Road, where the Shell Garage is now. One day I was changing the engine in a police bus from Chantmarle, when I became unable to move. I managed to push the tools into a heap with my feet, but had to go to hospital, where I was told my spine had collapsed. I was in Portland hospital for weeks, where they took bone from my hips, and fused the spine with it. I was also told I’d never do any heavy work again. I was in my early twenties. I went back to work in the stores at Lee Motors, then applied for a job as service reception engineer for the workshop in London Road. Eventually they started me on trial; I put a lot into it, and it worked out well for me.
Lee Motors briefly became Rob Walkers—he was a racing driver, and we had an open day with Lamborghinis and Ferraris on show, but we weren’t allowed to drive them. That didn’t last long, and Caffyns took over, although they didn’t want to be involved with lorries. Graham Hansford said to me, “we need to find a good boss”, so in 1973 we engineered a meeting with Brian Cook, who was the transport manager for Dorchester Transport. We were always doing work for them at Lee Motors, so we asked Brian to ask the owner of Dorchester Transport, Mr Perry, if he could take us on. Of course, everyone wanted Graham to fix their trucks, so he was glad to. At the time, they had just bought their first Volvo truck, which was in a different league to the ERF’s and AEC’s that we were used to; it was said there was no chance of nodding off to sleep in an ERF, it was so noisy and uncomfortable. In its heyday Dorchester Transport ran 35 trucks, and became a Volvo dealership; Volvo trucks became massively popular at that time. I also worked for Lee Lines Commercial, part of Dorchester Transport, on the recovery vehicle. I went all over the place towing broken down trucks, winching them out when they got stuck, and recovering them after accidents. I’ve got albums of photographs I took at the time which make an interesting record—in fact I was known a bit for taking a good photo.
I got to know my father-in-law John Penfold through fixing his lorries. He was hauling hay and straw, he had lorries with a platform over the cab roof for the job. One thing always seemed to lead to another with John. My boss told me Pop (as we called him) had asked for me to come out and have a look at his car one day, which smelt of petrol. When I’d got under the car to remove the tank which was leaking, he said, “while you’re under there you can stick these on”, a pair of track rod ends. He got me to help out loading hay and straw on his lorry in the evenings, then I began to notice his daughter Mandy, and that’s how we got together; we got married, and I got involved in the business. Pop also did fertiliser sacks, collecting the empty ones from farms (when they were 50kg bags) and reselling them as rubble sacks for builders. They were fetched back here to the yard, flattened and rolled up into packs of 50. A lorry load was 40 to 50,000 sacks, and I’d take them up to London, Cardiff, Bristol, West Bromwich, all over the country. Then 1 tonne bulk bags came in, and that killed the trade.
We started with the pallets because I noticed at work there was a stack of them in the yard getting in the way. Someone at West Bay had asked John if he knew where he could get some so we supplied them, and John began finding out where we could get hold of pallets and who might be in the market for some, and it went from there. We began supplying Norman Good and Sons, and learned from them what was needed. We also repair broken ones for reuse.
My younger son Richard joined the Navy at 18, then he had the option of leaving at 25 or stay on till he was 40, so he decided to come out and be a pallet man. He’s been brilliant, and held the business together. My older son Chris is an electrician, a very good one; he can fix anything.
On May Bank Holiday in 2005 I had a bad car accident. My wife and I, and Pop, were on the coast road at Burton Bradstock when we were involved in a head on collision with a car which had veered across the road into us. I was air lifted to Southampton hospital with a broken neck. Sadly Pop passed away 3 days later. It was a very sad time for all of us, but we pulled together and got through it.
Things that happen here, on this corner on the main road, are unbelievable. I remember one night a well-dressed young girl knocked on the door at about 1.00am, and asked where the nearest train station was. I said, “Dorchester, but there won’t be any trains at this time of night. Where are you trying to get to?” “Boscombe”, she said. “My boyfriend and I had an argument and he threw me out of the car”. So Pop said to me, “Get dressed, I wouldn’t want my daughter walking the roads this time of night, we’re going to Boscombe.” So we took her home. I often help people out who have broken down. A chap was here with a puncture on his nice new BMW the other day, no spare wheel of course these days, had to get recovered back to Shaftesbury. We gave them tea and biscuits while they waited. Accidents, there have been loads over the years. “Accident at Penfold’s Corner” is often the announcement on the road reports. The pallets make it a bit of a landmark, everyone knows where it is.
I’m retired now; I enjoy watching the pallets come and go, and I look after our 2 German Shepherd dogs. I keep an eye out for anyone breaking down; I offer to help if I can.

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