Monday 5 March 2018


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'Fatal Traction'

A Love Story

by Dave Roberts

My cousin Geoff had an old ERF
Which he loved like a wife and called Nell.
She was way past her prime and the passage of time
Had made her as cranky as hell.

She was falling to bits and she suffered from fits
As her engine had seen better days,
But Geoff loved her still, as a true trucker will,
And put up with her crotchety ways.

The faithful old truck, less by judgment than luck,
Kept on going and seemed to be fine;
But Geoff knew the truth - she was way past her youth
And was close to the end of the line.

She was Geoff's only friend, and he cried at the end
When the plucky old girl broke her crank,
And stopped with a scream in a shower of steam
At the bottom of Congleton Bank.

Blinded by tears, after twenty-five years,
Poor old Geoff bade his Nellie farewell,
And went for a drink and a bit of a think
In the Lion & Railway Hotel.

His Nellie was gone, but life must go on,
And he still had his living to make;
So he phoned up a bloke at a garage near Stoke
Who was known in the trade as Big Jake.

By a great stroke of luck Jake had just the right truck,
A flighty young thing known as Tanya,
With stainless steel wheels - Geoff fell head over heels
In love with this eight-wheeler...Foden...

And they travelled from Kent down to Clwyd and Gwent;
And from Land's End to Southend-On-Sea.
They dropped in at Crewe, in the way lovers do,
And they drove up the A1 for tea.

Meanwhile, for Nell in a scrapyard near Chell
There was nothing but rust and decay.
Forgotten and cold and covered in mould
She was quietly rotting away.

It seemed like the end, but Nell still had a friend,
And it wasn't the close of her story;
One day, at last, a young enthusiast
Bought old Nell and restored her to glory!

He worked very hard in his father's back yard,
'Til she ran like a bat out of Hell,
With an engine he'd bought from a bloke in Southport,
And a new diff and gearbox as well.

One glorious day old Nell went on display,
In her fresh coat of paint she looked new.
Cousin Geoff went along and stood in the throng;
He still loved her, to give him his due.

Old Nell spied the lad, and she felt pretty mad,
When she thought how he'd left her to rot
And gone off for a fling with a cheap Swedish thing
Made from tin cans, as likely as not.

On vengeance intent straight towards him she went,
And just like a fool he stayed put
And smiled with great charm, which turned to alarm
As old Nellie ran over his foot.

The Moral

As this dreadful tale shows, fate can deal awful blows,
And even a truck can be skittish,
And doing a bunk with some cheap foreign junk
Leads to aggro - you're best buying British!

© 2018 Salt Town Productions


This epic love story was written in the 1990s when I was working for ERF Ltd and the company was making a big thing of being 'the last British truck maker' and plastering union flags all over everything in sight.

Even those slanting 'sun rays'  in the ERF trademark (put there because of E.R. Foden's belief in the health giving properties of sunlight - hence 'Sun Works') were made to look like bits of a union jack.

Photo: Commercial Motor

This little bit of doggerel was my attempt to capture the mood of the times. 

A little taste of what ERF's Middlewich operation looked like during those final, fraught days before a series of take-overs finished the company off altogether can be found here:

Just a word on the illustration. We usually like to acknowledge all the photographs used in our blogs,and would like to do so with this one. Unfortunately the photo in question seems to have been put on file without attribution. The fact that it's on our files must mean that we asked for, and were presumably given, permission to use it. If it's your photo, please let us know so that we can acknowledge the fact. Or, if you prefer, we can remove it. But please don't make us do that because, of all the photos I looked at in my search for a truck to play the part of Old Nell, this is my favourite. That's Old Nell as I envisaged her, right there in that photo. Oh, and Geoff's telephone number, as quoted on the back of the truck, is ERF's old Sun Works number from way back when...

I've had a lot of fun with this little bit of nonsense over the years. Audiences love it, because the story of Nell has obvious 'highs' and 'lows' and, if they're in the right mood, those audiences will respond with cries of 'Awwwwww...' (for the sad bits) and 'Hooray!' (when you get to the happy bits).

It's obvious, of course, what kind of truck Tanya is. I'm not saying that in a censorious way. I'm not trying to imply that she's 'no better than she should be' (even though she isn't, of course). She was obviously built by that Johnny Foreigner company whose name rhymes with hers. It's just that when the audience knows what's coming (or thinks it does) and you substitute something else at the last moment, confounding their expectations, you should get a laugh.

All true-born Cheshire folk will not need to be told that the word 'bank' in verse four - as in 'Congleton Bank' - is pronounced 'bonk'.

And you'll notice that our favourite pub, the Lion & Railway gets a mention as the place where Geoff goes to drown his sorrrows. As I've said before, the nearest pub to us with that name was in Northwich and closed down many years ago.

All the characters in these poems frequent the Lion & Railway because the name fits so well into comic verse like this.

I hope everyone will take 'Nellie's Revenge' in the spirit in which it is intended. 

It's just a bit of fun. 

And that sub-title, 'Fatal Traction', was just too good to resist...

Dave Roberts
March 2018

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