A strange reversion of contemporary commercial vehicle design trends occurred in 1949 when the Fordson 7V series of forward control lorries, available since 1937, was replaced by the bonneted ET. In those times Fordson was the name under which Fords built at Dagenham in Essex were marketed. The designations of all models emanating from that factory included the letter E, denoting that the vehicles had been built in Britain. An important development during the ET's production run was the introduction of a new 3.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine in 1953 which led, a year later, to Ford's first diesel engine. This was of similar dimensions to the petrol unit and was to become very well known in the Fordson Major agricultural tractor - and in the ET's successor.
|In contrast to the ET's very ordinary appearance, its 1957 semi-forward control replacement could never be confused with any other lorry built before or since. Extremely difficult to describe, its most outstanding characteristic was the unusual shape of its stubby, curved bonnet. Known as the Ford Thames Trader, the range catered for loads from 30cwt (1.5 tons) to 7 tons, with a simple range of designations: 15 for the lightest (1.5-ton) model, going up through the 20 (two-ton), 30 three tonner and 40 four-ton models. The seven-ton 70, the largest rigid four-wheeler was Ford's first foray up the scale and intended as competition to the Bedford S type. In addition to the models just described, articulated tractors and bus chassis were also available. The lighter Traders were available with petrol or diesel engines, a 5.41-litre six-cylinder diesel being standard in the 70.
Remaining in production until replaced by the D series in 1965, it was once said that there was a Trader around every street corner in Ireland. Through the interest of the ESB, the models that came after the Trader - the D series and Cargo - are represented in the Museum collection.
Nothing better illustrates the dependence of every large organisation on back-up vehicles than the Thames Trader in the National Transport Museum collection. It was very much an odd man out in a fleet so famous as to be described in Barry Fitzgerald's introductory voice-over for the film Rooney as an essential service. The lorry pictured on the previous page, No. 271 in the fleet of Arthur Guinness, Son and Company was registered YYI 219 in 1959, the bicentenary of the brewery's establishment. But it never carried a single hogshead of Guinness in its entire twenty years of service, being a tipper assigned to the Engineer's Department.
A Trader 40 with the four-cylinder diesel engine, No. 271 has a four-speed synchromesh gearbox and dry-plate clutch. The rear axle is of the fully floating hypoid type and the hydraulic brakes are servo-assisted, while the four-ton tipping body is of steel. This vehicle was well looked after during its working life, moving builders' materials and stores for the huge St. James's Gate complex for over twenty years. Withdrawn in 1979, it was sold to the museum for a nominal sum in 1980 and removed to Castleruddery in Co. Wicklow where it had to be stored in the open for a time due to a shortage of secure housing.
Vehicles in open storage are vulnerable to damage from vandals and the elements, but No. 271 also fell prey to a deadlier enemy the scavenger who deliberately steals components. This happened in 1982 when the engine and gearbox of the Thames were spirited away. The Gardai told us they believed they knew who was responsible but couldnt prove it. These were hard and discouraging times for museum personnel but, as usual, perseverance paid off in the long run.
In 1985, a FÁS (then AnCo) programme at Cabra in Dublin began restoring vehicles for the museum and over the following five years, seventeen major items were tackled. Shortly after the programme began, McCormack's Garage in Naas scrapped a Trader recovery lorry and donated the mechanical units. These accompanied No. 271 to Cabra in October 1985 where, over the following ten months, it underwent a complete restoration. On 30th August 1986, it drove triumphantly to Howth, proudly displaying its fleetname and traditional Guinness blue livery - and also carrying several obsolete demonstration items from the Dublin Institute of Technology.
Transport people who visit Howth spend much time in deep nostalgic reminiscence, the Trader regularly evoking from them wonderful stories of transport in the Ireland of thirty or more years ago. But not all recollections are bathed in a hazy glow of pleasure. The reaction of Gerry Burke from Castleconnell in Co. Limerick is an example of the latter. Gazing with somewhat mixed feelings at the Trader, he recalled that in those frugal times drivers comforts were not exactly at the top of the list and a cab heater was a £25 optional extra on the Trader.
However, the lorry did manage to capture the atmosphere of 1960s Dublin in the film A Man of No Importance, where it was one of several museum exhibits used as action vehicles. Apart from its own individual and famous associations, No. 271 has another important distinction: it is one of a series of five British Ford lorries in the museum collection covering a production period of half a century, from the wartime years 7V to the Cargo of the eighties.
One thing about this Trader continues to intrigue museum personnel. Soon after its acquisition a long and complicated form arrived to be filled in for the Central Statistics Office. Enquiries elicited that selected individual vehicles were used to compile statistics on various industries and continued to be monitored when they changed hands. It took the system some time to accept that this vehicle was now a museum piece and no longer in active service, but some intriguing questions remain. Which industry was No. 271 used to compile figures for - brewing or building? Or could it have been chosen as a source of data on commercial vehicles? Whatever the reason, its effect on the resulting statistics must have been interesting.