|A Universal Bedford TK
From the early 1930s Bedford trucks carved out a lasting niche in the Irish market, representing excellent value for money. W types were superseded by the O series in 1939, became the utility OW for the duration and reverted to normal specification in 1945.
|This range remained in production until 1953, but was overshadowed from 1950 by the S type, Bedford's first civilian forward-control model. In 1960, this gave way to the TK and if previous Bedfords were famous, this one became legendary.
The TK was of comparatively simple design. It had full forward control, with the engine mounted behind the seats. This was accessible from outside the cab which, surprisingly, was fixed - at a time when tilt cabs were becoming more common: some maintenance people regarded this feature as a black mark against the TK. The cab, however, won in several other respects, including comfort and all-round visibility. To try enumerating all the members that eventually made up the TK family would require a page of its own.
With the addition of several variants introduced during the early sixties, TKs could be up to 12.5 tons gvw or carry as little as 30cwt, this model having single rear wheels.
In the beginning, many TKs were petrol-engined even some of the heavier models, as evidenced by a splendid recovery vehicle operated by McCairns Motors of Santry. This firm was the Bedford assembler and distributor in the Irish Republic for nearly fifty years, being taken over by PMPA around 1980.
Petrol engined commercial vehicles took a terrible pasting from the various fuel crises of the 70s. The resulting price increases, fueled by tax jumps, led to many of them being replaced, or converted, to diesel.
The TK range came successfully through all these difficulties and was so familiar a sight in both town and country as to be accepted as part of the landscape. Several Irish fleets standardised on the TK and in many others it occupied a special position in the light to medium weight category. It was much favoured by the public services, working in a wide range of roles in the utilities the sort of operation virtually invisible even to those engaged in transport. Public utility TKs tended to be very long-lived: two of Dublin Corporation's Drainage route vans commissioned in 1973 worked for over twenty years, as did some only slightly newer hydraulic platforms in the Public Lighting Dept. The Defence Forces also used TKs extensively (plus TK-cabbed military 4 4s); these gave sterling service on emergency work during bus and dustbin strikes in the troubled seventies.
The telephone system now operated by Telecom was administered by the erstwhile Dept. of Posts and Telegraphs up to 1984. Like most public services, it is taken for granted, and few people notice the large transport fleet needed to maintain it. A special design of service van known as the Gang Truck evolved generations ago, examples being built on successive models from various chassis makers: Ford V8s in the forties and Thames Traders a decade later were among the models used. In the sixties, the Bedford TK became a standard vehicle for this work.
Continuity of style in the design of the bodywork is testimony to its original and probably long-forgotten designer. The Gang Truck body has seating for five in the crew compartment, plus a cargo-load area with shelving and bins. Apertures in the front and rear of the body facilitate the carriage of ladders, poles and other long items. The vehicle is equipped to tow a trailer, usually a winch, compressor or cable drum carrier.
During the eighties, gang trucks of various makes appeared in quite large numbers and when Bedford bowed out of the market it was only a matter of time before the TK began to slip away. This process was hastened by the seemingly insatiable demand abroad for old Bedfords.
When approached by the Transport Museum in late 1993, Telecom readily agreed to make a Bedford TK Gang Truck available for preservation. The vehicle selected was a 1979 TK750, with 3.61-litre four-cylinder diesel engine, four-speed synchromesh gearbox and air-hydraulic brakes. It carries fleet number 79E395 and was lying out of service at John's Road Depot.
A handsome and extensive restoration was carried out by Telecom, the vehicle being finished in the old P&T orange and white livery before being handed over at a ceremony in Howth on 15th February 1995.