Champions in Holland
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Sampling the transport highlights of the Low Countries
by John Darker
COLLIN BURROWS and Ken Duggan, winner and runner up respectively of this year's CMLDoY competition, thoroughly enjoyed the European Study Tour—part of their prize awards—arranged by the Michelin Tyre Co Ltd. Colin and Ken, both Esso tanker drivers, are representative of a new generation of lorry drivers. As readers of CM will know, Colin has driven lorries in America. Ken has visited Russia on holiday.
The Michelin tour included visits to the Rotterdam container terminal, to •the Ford Motor Company assembly plant where the Transcontinental is produced, and to a massive new flower auction run co-operatively by Dutch horticulturalists. There was an opportunity for the drivers to call in to an Esso oil terminal in Holland and an interesting visit to a sizeable road transport operator, near Amsterdam. Add to this some social occasions hosted by Ford and Michelin and at least one foray "to tell the lads at home what it was like" in some of the more raffish quarters of Amsterdam's night life, and you have in summary form the outlines of a most interesting and worth7 while trip.
Both drivers are blessed with a sense of humour. Ken Duggan commented, en route to the Ford factory: "Makes you feel very much at home, seeing all these foreign trucks; it's just like MI or M62!" And Colin Burrows speculated on the ultimate dominance of beer or wine drinking in the Common Market.
On arrival by air at Rotterdam the champions were taken to see the rebuilt centre of the city, devastated by bombing during the war. Thence to lunch at the Rotterdam Euromast, giving a panoramic view of the area, followed by an interview with a Dutch girl radio journalist. There is no equivalent to the CMLDoY in Holland, but it became clear during the tour that there is a good chance of a similar competition being organised. Both Ford and Michelin have offered support.
A brief visit to a local Esso terminal was fitted in on the way to the Europe Container Terminus. The drivers observed a Volvo 46-ton, six-axle outfit (three axles on the unit, and three on the trailer) and formed the view that it appeared rather unstable in motion. Colin Burrows said later, after a short drive, that the roll was not too apparent. Used at 32 tons in the UK the big Volvo, said Colin, was very fast, but he imagined that at 46 tons gross the performance would he akin to Esso's 32tonners.
At Europoort, the Esso drivers were taken through the terminal in the sequence of a visiting driver. They were impressed by the cleverly designed anti-theft system incorporating computer control of container numbers. This is said to be virtually thief-proof, since as many as 14 staff employees would have to connive to beat the system checks. " A split between 14 chaps would mean a container was hardly worth pinching," said Colin. " Someone would be sure to talk, in any case."
While there is no written guarantee, trucks are turned round at Europoort in an hour, on average. This is as fast as a driver could physically do the operating routine. The Esso drivers were told that the turn-round of general haulage vehicles at Rotterdam Harbour is around two hours. Dock labour gangs at Rotterdam are fully integrated. On the same day a man may drive a straddle carrier, fork-lift truck, shunt tractors or strip and stuff containers. Colin Burrows was aware of similar job flexibility on Esso's ships where stewards could inter change with some engineering functions.
The dock workers at Rotterdam are all on measured day work pay rates, each member of a gang drawing an average pay. The productivity of the different gangs is measured, and the slower paced gangs are told of the other gang's results.
On the second day the Esso drivers, with a mixed party of Ford and Michelin people, arrived at the Ford assembly plant during a tea break. The English visitors noted that the Dutch workers, who were a small minority of the total workforce, and the considerable numbers of immigrant workers, appreciated a midmorning break for refreshments. Colin Burrows commented on the sensitivity of some workers in the factory to a party of visitors ; we were urged by our guides not to linger too long closely observing the work processes.
An interesting feature at the Ford plant was the special fleet appraisal area devoted to what might be termed preacceptance examination. Fleet buyers of Ford Transcontinentals visit the Amsterdam plant to check that the ordered specification fitments — and there are 57 varieties—have been incorporated in the first vehicle of a batch.
A highspot of the tour, the opportunity for Colin and Ken to drive the Transcontinental, was imminent. The test vehicle had been brought over from England, via the Harwich Ferry—a journey not without incident, since problems arose at customs clearance. The Dutch customs had to be convinced that the vehicle was not being imported into Holland for sale!
Before the Esso drivers left the plant for a drive around Amsterdam's network of trunk roads and motorways, they learned that the factory was producing seven or eight Transcontinentals a day with a capacity to turn out 22 a day. So far around 600 have been sold to all parts of Europe, with Germany a predominant customer. The bulk of the vehicles are left-hand drive, only 12 per cent being right-hand. Most of the big, Fords have Michelin tyres; despite their higher cost operators prefer them because they lead to less operating down-time.
We learned that the hgv testing system in Holland is rather primitive, a car licence serving for vehicles up to 71 tons. One advantage of the British-registered Transcontinental was that the Esso drivers could drive the vehicle under the instruction of a Ford driver well used to it. Oddly, a British hgv licence suffices to drive a Dutch registered lorry in Holland, but a Dutch driver may not drive a British registered vehicle in Holland.
With Ford driver Peter Coach between Colin and Ken, and your reporter perched on the lower bunk, the trial drive, with Colin Burrows at the wheel, commenced. He com pared the gear change favourably to other vehicles he had driven and noted that the " pull " was better •than that of some vehicles with the same engine he had driven in the United States. The good steering " line " also qualified for praise. Peter Cooch's comment when the English drivers changed over: "Cohn could have made more use of the overdrive."
After Ken Duggan's trial drive the Transcontinental and one or two accompanying support vehicles drove into a motorway restaurant. The decor here was of high standard but the service—in the area reserved for waitress service—was painfully slow. Fortunately, the quality of the food and drink made up for the time taken awaiting the meal.
The party next proceeded to a general haulage operator— Schalk and van Breen, at Nieuw Vennep—where we were able to talk to the English-speaking directors. The company operates a 35-vehicle fleet—Scania, Daf and Ford— and five Transcontinentals will soon be added.
No one can be in Holland for long without realising what miracles have been wrought in land reclamation. This, we learned, had increased Holland's land area by 10 per cent —even Schipol airport is built on a reclaimed "polder." The transport depot at Nieuw Vennep, built on reclaimed land, was paved with bricks laid in zig-zag fashion, but some outside areas utilised large composite panels. The hard surfaces are put down on top of a metre of sand that has been allowed to consolidate. Though there were a few signs of subsidence these were not such as to hamper 'efficiency.
An associate company based in Rotterdam runs five refrigerated vehicles on a regular service to Glasgow, carrying butter and flowers outwards and returning with meat.
The Esso drivers were interested to note. the fuel pumps at the depot. Each driver has his own key and fuel issues are carefully monitored. There are a few similar installations in the UK.
In the company's offices the history of the firm could be traced in pictures. In 1942 horse transport was revived! We were given a comprehensive run down of the company's operations and current problems by Mr L. J. Van Breen. The costing system, he said, was supervised by a local firm of accountants specialising in road haulage accounting. Standard forms were used and the general impression of a "tight ship" was given.
Drivers, we learned, are hard to get in Holland, and perhaps even harder to sack. Trade unions are powerful and a dismissal is only possible with good reason. The view was expressed by more than one manager during our visit that a taxpayers' revolt is on the way. Redundant workers in Holland ,get 85 per cent of their former earnings for the first six months of unemployment, 80 per cent for the second six months and 75 per cen thereafter. As in Britain, it is difficult to prevent a person who receives redundancy payments from "moonlighting" for a day or two a week, thereby maintaining his former gross earnings. Although trade unions are powerful in Holland we learned that even big road haulage companies were not fully unionised ; indeed, the Nieuw Vennep firm's drivers were only about 10 per cent "organised" The dualityprotestant/catholic—of unions, newspapers and operators' associations in Holland was explained.
The Esso drivers were interested to learn about the wages of international drivers in Holland. A typical driver could earn 350 guilders (£64) a week (272g net; £50) plus 50g (£9.22) per day while on international trips. The gross salary and expenses of a married driver on European journey work could approach 50,000 guilders (£9225) per year. (We were not able to discover how many days a year, on average, a lorry driver works on international jobs. Typical Dutch workers are employed for 220 to 225 days a year. At the higher figure, 45 weeks at five days=225, it is clear that total holidays amount to seven weeks annually.) The Esso men were given some pointers to life in Europe during the trip. For example, they saw a demonstration at the Spanish consulate in Amsterdam against the (then) imminent threat to the life of
Spanish revolutionaries. Anyone having a bike pinched in Amsterdam was urged to rush round to the Flea Market when, with luck, the bike could be bought back? Dutchmen, with a dozen or more political parties, cannot conceive how the British political system works with only two main parties.
A most interesting visit was paid to the flower auction at Aalsmeer. Run co-operatively by Dutch horticulturalists, but managed very professionally, the auction market is a huge complex from which specialpurpose vehicles leave for all parts of Europe. Particularly impressive was the mechanical handling system employed. Electrically driven double deck ed steel " tables " (wheeled) can be slotted together to form a raised deck of any desired area, and at convenient height for loading flowers or produce into the rear or sides of vehicles. No depot designer or architect specialising in road transport/ distribution premises should fail to visit the flower auction, which makes the new Covent Garden complex at Nine Elms look very small beer.
Passenger transport was not entirely neglected during the visit. We examined the " Wit cars " — white, electrically driven hire vehicles available at ranks in the centre of Amsterdam. Supervised by the town council, the Witcar experiment was urged on by the "Provos" young militant students—a few years ago. Cars can be hired by those paying an annual subscription of 100 guilders (E18.45). The risks of driving around in a glass "conservatory " in the dense traffic of Amsterdam may not deter users, but the limited range and the embarrassment of running out of power has blunted the popularity of Witcars.
The varied tour provided by Michelin was well conceived. Colin and Ken found it difficult to imagine the insular English providing the sort of VIP hospitality they received in Holland. Colin Janmaat, of Michelin, worked like a beaver to make the tour a success. Even he could not prevent a deluge of rain during a shopping excursion, but the high spirits of the Esso drivers were not seriously damped by shoes full of water.