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"Wings, Waves and Wheels: a personal lifetime in transport" by David Reid, FCILT - Edinburgh meeting of 15 February 2011.

David reidd

David Reid.

© John Yellowlees, 2011

Events in David's life have been paralleled by dramatic developments in transport inspiring an early interest in aviation - his first flight was at the age of four from Prestwick - but the Bristol Brabazon was not to be one such for after much preparation it never entered service and was quietly scrapped in 1953.

His father's death when David was just 14 made higher education not a possibility, and a family friend took him on in a haulage office where he had to work long hours due to the "exigencies of the job".

He got sent to night school, and having sat his test on a Triumph Herald acquired at 19 his first car, a Hillman Minx with a vertical online engine. Consciousness of logistics came later, but even in those days the focus was on delivering just in time, with orders received via a telex machine and a waybill providing drivers with a predetermined route and deadlines.

Materials then tended to be stored on the floor or stacked up in pallets. Haulage was a rough and tumble affair, with people out of the army using old Scammells and Albions disposed of on the denationalisation of British Road Services which had floorboards and not infrequently experienced brake-fade on the descent from Shap Fell.

The British Transport Commission's remit had been to provide an efficientand economic integrated transport system, but after a final two years under the chairmanship of Dr Richard Beeching it was abolished in 1963 having failed in this aim.

In the era of A, B and C licensing the Traffic Commissioners were all-powerful, but operators tended to improvise on loadings, while the unlit carparks of the early motorway service areas were the haunt of prostitutes and of thieves draining whisky (once at Wembley a lorry due to be stored there over the weekend was found to have gone and the watchman left tied up) and stealing cartons which included petfood from Robert Wilson of Kilwinning that was thought to be eaten by the immigrant community in Birmingham.

In those days when the future M6 amounted to just the Preston and Lancaster Bypasses, David had to progress the many accident reports. Crashes were occurring also in the air, and the de Haviland Comet had to be taken out of service despite its popularity, being replaced by the larger and faster Boeing 707 which truly shrank the world. Meanwhile the first nuclear-powered submarine the USS Nautilus sailed for six thousand miles under the Polar ice, and Sir Christopher Cockerell pioneered the hovercraft - but March 1958 saw the Munich air disaster in which so many of Matt Busby's team at Manchester United died.

Leaving in 1963, David began to manage vehicles and drivers at the Glasgow office on the site of the present Consort House of a US office equipment manufacturer reporting to a boss in London. He used the Condor railfreight service, forerunner to Freightliner which was not bad when it worked, offering integrated transport with break of bulk to provide next-day delivery. The company moved to Hillington, but this was the era of industrial disruption by avowed Communists and, leasing everything but the machine tools, the Americans were able to pull out quickly, transferring these to their plant in Belgium.

David's next employer was a bakery, which gave him much freedom and in eighteen months he was promoted to Divisional HQ in Manchester and gained an auto-engineering qualification at Bolton College, taking time out to go flying at Blackpool, and after two years got his first job as a transport manager. The Transport Act 1968 introduced operator licensing with an annual vehicle test and requiring that a fit and proper person should ensure implementation of the legislation. Finding the business initially rundown, he was able to turn it round in two or three years, and while in Cumbria had his first experience of gliding but found that his ambition lay with powerflying.

Joining Scottish Gas in 1970, he was pleased to be in a professionally-run business with an emphasis on performance whose downside was the extent of political influence. The Gas Act of 1972 reduced ministerial interference, and in 1974 he moved to the North East Electricity Board - but now Britain was embarked on a time of industrial strife when nationalised industries were vulnerable to the activities of the trades unions who went to Downing Street for beer and sandwiches with Labour ministers while rubbish piled up in the strike over Dirty Jobs. David was told on his arrival that his predecessor had gone in an industrial dispute, and in 1976 he returned to Scottish Gas where he was now responsible for half of its transport operation.

Concorde was now flying high in a reign of the skies that would end in sadness after the Paris crash of 2000, and Margaret Thatcher took on the trades unions, applying Milton Friedman's monetarist disciplines to the privatisation of among others British Aerospace, the National Freight Corporation, National Bus Company and culminating with the Tell Sid campaign for the sale of shares in British Gas. David joined the Institute of Road Transport Engineers and CIT, finding these helpful for his credibility and for introducing him to people, but no transport course was available to him so he turned to the new Open University, enrolling in 1972 on a six-year course that led to him graduating as a Honours BA at the University of Glasgow.

His boss's death in 1978 aged just 48 led to David moving into the top transport job at Scottish Gas with 1600 vehicles covering 23 million annual vehicle-miles. The whole of British Gas followed his lead in switching to diesel engines, with Scottish Power also emulating him, and at this time he experienced power-flying on the Cessna 172 at Edinburgh Airport and Scone on which the Iraqis also trained, with laxer safety then permitting spinning to be part of the programme, but withdrawal of fire cover on Saturdays was to prevent his continuance.

Now David had made his home in Dalgety Bay, which encouraged him to try sailing and his experiences ranged from powercruisers to the supposedly unsinkable E-tap yacht. In the air he was able to sample the Goodyear Airship and the Robinson R22 helicopter.

On implementation of the Gas Act in 1986, David took charge of the Northern and North-West Regions with 10500 vehicles, 350 staff and a territory eventually stretching down to Potters Bar. Now the Monopolies and Mergers Commission commenced an inquiry under direction from the new regulator OfGas which led to the shedding of all non-core activities and the loss of over 25,000 jobs. Having previously seen Scottish Gas as offering a job until he retired, David now decided to leave and moved again as transport manager to Babcock which was taking over the privatised Rosyth Dockyard.

This he found to be a very loosely-run organisation with lots of possibilities, and he wrote a report on savings whose recommendations were already being implemented when he saw an advertisement for a full-time job with part-time pay as CIT's Scottish Officer which he took in 1998, a year before the merger with ILog, enabling him working with the Regional Committee to develop its annual dinner, hold conferences and from 2002 initiate Young Professionals events, forging media links, getting into universities and colleges and making contacts with the worlds of property, tourism and of government through the new Scottish Parliament.

Since his retirement David has regained a place on the Regional Committee, and has also visited the National Aviation University with fifty thousand students in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. There he met Professor Maria Grygorak president of the Ukrainian Logistics Association and went to the National Aviation Open Air Museum, seeing a MIG17 which saw service in Vietnam and the Tupolev 142 Russian Bear which was used to prod UK defences, our planes scrambling from Leuchars so that crews on either side could take photographs of each other. Kiev offered a diverse transport scene of trolleybuses and trams, with cars parked on carpets at upmarket restaurants and a Motherland Statue over the Museum to the Great Patriotic War - but also evident were big social divisions between oligarchs and street-traders.

Now David's main passion is for cycling, where he has pedalled for up to seven hours a day, covering a maximum of 94 miles. Recent travels enabled him to witness a race scrum on Lake Garda, and he took the train to Venice's massive station overlooking the vaporettos which are the city's main means of water transport. In Tenerife he admired integration between train and bus, in Lisbon he enjoyed the trams and he has also now travelled in a submarine.

The Scottish Region thanks Graham Atkins of Edinburgh City Council for hosting this event.

Report by John Yellowlees

 

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