Dick Denby is someone known for caring passionately about the trucking industry in the UK, in which he has spent his working, and believes that a move in maximum GCM from 44 to 60 tonnes, and overall length from 18.75m to 25.25m, has numerous potential gains for society as a whole, namely increased productivity, a lower carbon footprint and less congestion and accidents.
The Denby Eco-Link is a 60-tonne 25.25m long, 8-axle B-double, which was engineered by Dick himself and PowerTorque’s European Correspondent, Will Shiers has interviewed him about his campaign.
The standard 6×2 prime mover pulls a set of B-double trailers, the first of which has a pair of active steering axles at its rear. This effectively ensures that the second kingpin follows the first one, and keeps the outfit within the legally permitted turning circle.
The octogenarian has long since retired from family firm Denby Transport in Lincolnshire in the East of England, but he certainly hasn’t put his feet up. Instead, for the past two decades he has fought tirelessly with red tape and unnecessary layers of bureaucracy, all in the hope of persuading UK government ministers and the Department for Transport (DfT) that the time is right to increase maximum vehicle lengths and weights.
Pic credit: Tom Cunningham
While we wait to see whether the UK government will finally see sense, and follow the lead of six European countries that have already allowed A- or B-doubles to operate on their roads, now seems like a good time to find out a bit more about Dick’s fascinating life. I put the following four questions to this hero of haulage:
Question: How did you get into transport?
Like so many UK transport operators, Dick’s father’s haulage firm WG Denby was compulsory purchased by the government in 1949 as the industry was nationalised, or as Dick puts it, “gobbled up and swallowed into British Road Services”. Instead Bill Denby started a tyre fitting business in the centre of Lincoln, and Dick joined him in 1955 after his two years of national service.
“By 1960 my father was itching to get back into transport,” says Dick. “We heard there was a local transport company, which specialised in livestock and tippers, for sale. Although it was losing money handsomely, we bought it, and I was sent in to run it. Within a year we had sold the livestock division, and a few months later we got rid of the tippers too. We moved away from agricultural work and rigid lorries, towards long distance work and articulation.”
Since then Denby Transport has flourished, and its distinctive red trucks are a common site in the UK and mainland Europe. Since the early 2000s the company has been run by Dick’s son Peter.
Question: Have you ever been in trouble with the authorities?
The answer to this is a resounding ‘yes’, both with the transport authorities, and very nearly the police too.
The first incident occurred shortly after purchasing the transport firm in 1960.
“The fleet we inherited was rubbish, worn out, terribly old and the standard of maintenance was about as low as you could get,” explains Dick. “And then we had a fleet inspection. I was in the manure, right up to here (raises his hand above his head).”
Despite the inspector ‘handing out prohibition orders like they were confetti’, Dick managed to weather the storm, and bounce back stronger than ever.
The second, more high profile incident, occurred some 50 years later, when in 2009 Dick attempted to ‘test the law’ and run his Eco-Link on public roads. He had uncovered a loophole, which he believed would allow him to run at 25.25m if kept under the 44 tonnes weight limit.
“I was confident this vehicle was legal and safe and was prepared to be arrested and taken into custody if that’s what it took to prove it,” says Dick. Although he hadn’t driven a truck for 14 years, Dick updated his licence so he could carry out the planned seven mile (11km) drive himself, avoiding the risk of any of his drivers being prosecuted.
But no sooner had he left the gates, the police pulled him over, to test the truck’s legality. Being too big to turn around, he was then escorted for 1 mile to the nearest roundabout. Fortunately Dick was not arrested but this was the last time the truck ventured onto UK roads.
Question: Has the industry changed for the better or the worse?
“Inevitably both,” says Dick without hesitation. “Better, as there’s a higher standard of maintenance. Bigger fleets tend to have a fleet engineer, better training and better supervision. The lorries are better too, they’re more comfortable for the driver. They have air suspension, sprung seats, and bunks too. These things weren’t there in the past. As for worse, congestion, and of course, out of date legislation.”
By legislation, he is of course referring to vehicle dimensions in particular. In his view the rule makers don’t actually consider what the road network is actually designed for.
“It’s sad because we’ve put all these billions into trunk roads, motorways, new bridges, bypasses, and you’re not allowed to use them properly,” explains Dick. He also thinks the DfT wrongly believes that more productive trucks will ‘hammer rail freight’.
“Eco-Link would eliminate one lorry in four on our highways, because in dead weight terms it would carry 36 tonnes instead of 27,” says Dick. “It’s not difficult mathematics, is it? But for potato crisps, breakfast cereals, and many, many, many, many supermarket suppliers, it can eliminate one in three, because instead of 13.6m (standard semi-trailer length) cargo space, you’re now getting 21.42m. That’s 57.5 per cent extra.
“We’ve got to allow 25m long 60-tonners, which our highways are designed for.”
Question: If you could do it all again, would you?
“Well, I’ve had a wonderful life,” says Dick. “Really, I’ve been a very, very, very, very lucky man, oh God I have. A very lucky man, from the 1940s onward, when my father realised he could actually afford to send me away to school. I had five years away, which was good, and then straight into the Royal Navy, and I enjoyed that too. Oh, I have been so lucky.
“So, yeah, I would do it all again, yeah.”