Thursday, 31 March 2011

The electric milk float

The Electric milk float. I had a three wheeler version like the animation and they are ideal for nipping in and out of tight parking spaces.

They were very heavy because they had batteries not just under the seat but under the chassis as well. The front cabin was just a flimsy fibre glass shell so if something hit you head on you did not stand a chance. The back was a different matter all together, I have told you that my dad reversed one through a heavy set of oak gates and hardly noticed and I had something similar happen to me. My normal float had gone in for a service and I had been given a replacement. This was a longer than my normal float and the back extended a lot further over the back wheels. I actually forgot about this and when doing a U turn in the road managed to knock down a barrier outside a school, it was early in the morning and fortunately no kids were around.

In bad weather they could slowly chug through deep snow but the big problem was that the single front wheel would not steer and trying to go round a corner was a nightmare. You had no heating, no doors so you would get very cold at times. These floats would be charged up over night and most of them would only just manage to get back to the dairy on a single charge so if the weather was icy and you got a fair bit of wheel spin the chances were that you would run out of electricity. With no mobile phones in those days you would have to find a public telephone or ask a customer to ring the dairy and they would normally bring out a petrol van for you to finish the round. The one advantage to this was that the milk float was towed back to the dairy and you did not have the job of unloading the empty bottles on return as it was done for you.

Driving one was a little strange as well because you did not just press the start pedal. You pressed it once until it started to move, then lifted the pedal slightly and pressed down again, something that came easy with practice. Because they were so bloody slow you had to continuously keep looking in the rear mirror to see what was approaching from behind, a habit that has stayed with me even when driving a car.

Oh it was so nice after finishing your round to chug back to the dairy, one foot on the start pedal and one foot resting on the bulkhead and the best time to enjoy a cigarette, yes I did smoke, it was the days when smoking was inexpensive and the health problems were not apparent. Smoking nearly killed me after I had finished a round one day. The last call was up a long lane that had a vicarage and a church a few cottages and one my way back down this lane you could get up a good speed, probably all of twenty miles an hour and it was an ideal time to light up a fag. This particular day I could not find any and as I gathered speed tried to get a new packet from the locker behind me. As I did so the milk float wandered onto the grass verge, it was raining heavily and that bloody front steering wheel refused to steer and I ended up going into the ditch at the side of the round, milk float on its side and broken milk bottles everywhere. A public telephone was just around the corner and as I was unhurt rang the dairy to be rescued. I was in shock I suppose because I sat back in the cabin with rain pissing in one door and out the other. I found a fag lit it up and at that moment the vicar pulled up alongside in his car, wound down the window and asked if I needed help.I cheerfully replied everything was fine and he went on his way. It was a later date that I found out that the vicar had advised people not use the Unigate milkman because he was a complete loony.

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