Wolf in lambs clothing

You just have to mention the word •Contractor’ to any Scammell heavy haulage devotee and their eyes will probably mist over with a mix of pleasure and excitement in recalling one very special machine.

Of all the models built at the Watford plant, it’s arguably the Contractor which has championed the reputation of Scammell right round the world. In production for almost 20 years (1964-83) the 6×4 was available in a variety of lightweight and heavyweight versions and used for all manner of testing work.

As we explained In the June 2012 issue of Heritage Commercials. Graham Booth must be one of the biggest Scammell heavy haulage devotees in the land. So it’s perhaps no surprise that when he had the chance to buy (in December 2001) a specially modified example of this Watford Classic, he couldn’t close the deal fast enough. Although. In fairness, when he was first approached about the sale, he intended giving the caller short shrift.

«I was really busy down the yard.» says Graham, «when my wife D e n i s e said someone was on the phone wondering if I was interested in buying a Scammell wrecker. I presumed it was something like an ex-military Scammell Explorer and I had no interest whatsoever in that. I didn’t really want to waste my time talking to them, but D e n i s e insisted.»

Graham was hurriedly giving the caller (Dave from Bury) details of a magazine that would run a for sale advert and was just about to put the phone down when he asked what model Scammell it was: «When he told me it was a Contractor, I could hardly believe my ears,” says Graham. “I’d long wanted a versatile crane wrecker mainly to work in the yard, but having one attached to a Scammell Contractor was like finding gold dust — I could hardly believe it.»

To see what was being talked about. Graham only had to drive across to Bolton — from his house near Southport — so he was there bright and early the next morning. And once the price was agreed, he insisted on immediately leaving a large, cash deposit as this was one vehicle he most certainly wanted to have.

«Of all the motors I’ve bought over the years.’ reckons Graham, «this one must have earned its keep many times over. And it’s still capable of doing all manner of recovery work.»

When you hear a little of what this particular Scammell has done, you won’t be surprised as to why it now has the name ‘Fearless’ proudly emblazoned on the front. But you’ll have to read on to see why it also has the names Hay ley Boo. Cyrus Jade and Dylan among the sign whiting. And why it is Stew McMaster (not Graham Booth) and his retinue of young helpers — Ross, Lewis and Leo — who give us the guided tour of Southport at the wheel of this head-turning Scammell classic.


As Scammell archivist George Baker will tell you. this part K S u l a r story starts on December 17.1969. when two Identical brand new 6×4 Scammell Contractors were delivered to the Chapel cross works of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority» (U K A E A — or Ukulele as some staff referred to it).

Chapel cross is located about two miles north of A n n a n In Dumfriesshire and was originally opened in 1959 to produce Plutonium as part of the UK’s nuclear weapons programme.

At that time, the production of electricity was simply considered a byproduct.

What made Chapel cross different to the growing network of nuclear power stations then being built around the country was that it had no link to the rail network. Other nuclear stations used the railways to deliver spent fuel to the Wind scale (now S e J i a f i e t d) plant In West Cumbria for reprocessing but Chapel cross had to rely on road-going vehicles to fill this transport requirement.

U K A E A had a quartet of 6×4 ERF arctic low loaders for this work which individually ran at close to 73 tons gross weight. But on January 13. 1970. the newly registered ballast box S e a m m e l l s — T S M 65 and 66H — took to the road, each hauling a four-axle. Crane F r u e h a u f drawbar trailer to replace the E R F s. All up train weight then was just under 100 tons although the actual amount of nuclear fuel in the strengthened flasks weighed only about four tons.

Originally powered by the 3O0bhp version of the 12.17-litre Rolls-Royce Eagle diesel engine, both S e a m m e l l s were also first fitted with the RV30 semi-automatic, eight-speed gearbox which dispensed with the need of a clutch pedal.

To Chapel cross drivers like Ian McArthur-Blair, the semi-auto box was particularly easy to drive: “At 96 tons gross, some of the little climbs on the roads in the Lake District could have caught you out with a manual gearbox,» says Ian, «but with this box it was easy to quickly drop a couple of gears and stay in control.”

Ian joined the Chapel cross driving staff in 1976 at the age of 22 and received training before taking out the S e a m m e l l s. But being a company driver then meant that as well as piloting ether of the two Scammell flask carriers, you drove everything from a normal 32 ton gross arctic. a company minibus or even chauffeur Ed the VIPs in a Humber Hawk or a Ford Granada salon car.

Ian spent the majority of his varied working life at Chapel cross (until early retirement) and rose up the management tree to be the plant’s transport manager. As well as himself. Ian recalls other Chapel cross Scammell drivers as James Hope, Raymond H e t h e r i n g t o n, Alex

Irvine, Alex Young, Peter Hannah, Alec Graham and Eddie M c Gilligan.

In 1971, the S e a m m e l l s — and the Chapel cross plant — were to pass to the newly created British Nuclear Fuels Ltd: but in practice, this meant business as usual for the Scammell crews. There we re normally two drivers in each Scammell plus an escort vehicle which carried all manner of equipment. The 73 mile trip to Wind scale (or back to Chapel cross) normally took a full day of 10 hours and these included three different stops to change drivers and check the vehicle over. Ian recalls that at first they used a route via Carlisle. Wigtown. A s p a t r i a and Mary port and down the coast to Wind scale; although in later days the route was generally south to P e n r i t h and then the A66 and A595 to the large Sellafield site.

Generally speaking, the Scammell gave little trouble: «I suppose the small cab was a bit cramped but as we were limited to Special Types speed limits, it meant you could see all manner of things as life passed by more slowly.»

Ian recalls over the years giving assistance to various people and even attending to vehicles on fire on the motorway (the escort vehicle carried fire fighting equipment) but the only mechanical hiccups on their outfit was the odd tyre failure on the trailer. You certainly knew when a tyre blew out but Ian says having three guys on the job, it was easy enough to change the wheel.

One slightly different problem was during the hot summer days when the tar might melt on the road: “You don’t see it often now,” says Ian, «but I can remember one climb we did where we had to stop the traffic at the top so we could come up on the wrong side of the road as the normal lane was worn and we would have just spun the wheels on the sticky tar.»

Once at Sellafield, the Chapel cross drivers would spend the night at B N F L ‘s hostel at

Green garth and do the return trip the following day: “Empty or loaded,” says Ian, “the Scammell still had to move more than 90 tons and I’m sure we always carried something like 20 tons of ballast weight in the box.»

Sellafield also looked after any repairs servicing on the S c a m m e l l s as the vehicle workshops there were open 24 hours a day. However, one job carried out on both vehicles was done by M i l b u r n Motors at Carlisle and is recalled by a Heritage Commercials reader, Says John: ‘I was a mechanic at M i l b u r n s and I can recall those two big green S c a m m e l l s coming in to have all the springs replaced. I don’t know why it was done but the work being done over two different weekends meant it was overtime for us.»


By 1981, the Contractors were both retired and with Scammell yet to launch the Contractor replacement (the S24/S26) B N F L had opted to buy a brace of more modern -and more powerful — MAN Jumbo 6×4 ballast box tractors to haul the same Crane F r u e h a u f trailers.

Graham believes T S M 65H went to Kidderminster Recovery, where it was painted black, while T S M 66H was bought by L T R at Stoke-on-Trent: «We didn’t pay much for it.» says Lawrence Colton (senior), “as it didn’t have an engine. But we got a big Cummins 335 for it from a smashed motor down in South Wales and we also fitted the nine-speed Fuller manual gearbox.”

The original Scammell ballast box was cut down to make access better while a hydraulically driven, 10-ton capacity slewing crane from a Mk. A E C Militant was mounted directly behind the cab.

At this time, large wreckers were often operated on trade plates so the original registration was allowed to lapse. But when the law was later changed, requiring recovery vehicles to be fully registered, for some reason it was given the ‘O’ plate of Q827 F V T.

LTR (the three partners being Lawrence, Terence and Ronald) originally worked out of the Forte’s service area on the M6 (now known as Keele). The business is now in the hands of Lawrence Colton’s son (also called Lawrence) and even he has fond memories of the ok Scammell. «It never refused to do anything,» both father and son agree.

Lawrence (senior) recalls recovering a vehicle loaded with paving slabs that was down the side of the motorway: “I couldn’t believe the way the Scammell just pulled it out. It made it look so easy.

Perhaps the hardest recovery was when Mike Lawrence’s Mack broke a half shaft on a 1-in-4 hill near Leek while delivering a 90*ton locomotive. The police insisted the Mack should be toy Ed off the hill to a safer place before repairs were done but Lawrence Colton said it would have been impossible to move from a standing start as gross train weight was about 140 tons. “After taking the outfit’s wheel chocks out/ he says, “we slowly inched the Mack down to the bottom of the hill. We also had a Foden six wheeler then, with low reduction hubs, and both it and the Scammell headed up the Mack to get it up the hill. It must have taken half an hour to clear the hill as I can recall slowly walking alongside giving instructions to the drivers but I never had any doubts the Scammell would do it about 1991. the Contractor was sold on to Chris Smith Recovery. Although based in the Bolton area, the company did a lot of standby work around the UK when motorways were being repaired. Just prior to Graham Booth buying the Scammell in 2001, It had been up in Scotland on contract work there. And it was only because the business was apparently being closed down that the Contractor was offered for sale.


In the last 40 years, TSM has been adorned with a variety of liveries, although Graham didn’t fancy putting it back into its original BNFL green. Instead — like one or two vehicles he’s restored in the past — this Scammell was to be given the striking (but fictitious) William Booth livery in memory of Graham’s father.

Prior to painting, Neil Andrews did the shot blasting while among the mechanical modifications earned out, the steering was sorted and Steve McMaster got to work on the Cummins engine.

Steve is something of an expert when it comes to Cummins engines and has been involved with Graham since about 1997: “Graham rang me up and asked if I could repair a diesel leak he had problems with,” says Steve, “and once I was given the chance to drive one of his old Diamond Ts, I just got hooked on the whole preservation scene. And now I love the chance to go to any rally or show — especially if I can drive the Contractor wrecker

Steve identifies the current Scammell engine as being a 14-litre Cummins 320 that had started life in 1987 in an ERF ‘F’ Series: «I can tell because of the brackets,” he says, “although its big turbo-charger comes from the 335 Cummins it had prior to this one.» As well as tweaking the engine to give it a bit more go. Steve also fitted a Jacobs engine brake which is operated by a press button on the floor.

Modifications were made to allow the ex-AFC Militant crane to slew again while a hydraulically driven Turner winch (with about 600ft of rope) was also fitted to enhance its all-round recovery abilities. And of course, Graham was soon on to the D V L A to rescue the original T S M 66H registration number: “As soon as I sent them documentary proof explains Graham, “Swansea was more than willing to reallocate the original number.»

Graham acknowledges he couldn’t do as much with the ok stuff if it wasn’t for the time and consideration given to him by a lot of friends. And so far as the Contractor is concerned, he’d like to record his thanks to Walsh & Dearden which sponsored a set of tyres for the vehicle.

As we illustrated in the July 2010 issue of Heritage Commercials (Classic Truck supplement) Graham isn’t the only Booth Involved in the restoration scene, as his youngest daughter Leanne has won huge praise with her Volvo F12 eight wheeler. However, over the years, all the B c o t h family» have had some sort of involvement with different veh» class of dad’s and when it comes to the Contractor, then Hayley B c o t h has closest links. T S M is one of Hayley’s favourites.» says her sister Leanne. “as she’s a lot like it. She’s fearless, throws herself into things and gives it all she’s got.”

At school, Hayley picked up the nickname of Hayley Boo (after Betty Bco) and that’s why that name is on the Scammell’s bonnet. Over the years, her children, Cerys Jade and Dylan Michael (born three days before our visit), have been added to the Scammell’s roll call.

Getting youngsters involved in the preservation scene has long been a Broth trait so it was great to see that Steve McMaster has encouraged his 12-year-okJ son Ross plus good friends lewis (15) and his nine-year-old brother Leo Dearden to get their hands dirty and help out.


No visit to the Booth household is complete without a ride and drive experience, but because of Steve’s long term affinity with this Contractor, he of course takes the hot seat to show me the ropes. Joining us in the cab is young Leo who is totally clued up In the action. In fact when we stop so I can drive. Leo asks me: -Rave you any experience of driving a vehicle of this size?» It’s great that Leo is concerned as to who will be driving him around so I assure him that I have driven a Contractor or two like this in my time.

The small Contractor cab (with a shell based on the LAD cab of the early 1960s) is easy enough to get into, and its Cummins engine sounds superb with the upright stack routed close to the dnver’s ear. I’m a big fan of the nine-speed Fuller ’box but shifts must be made fast although I can skip the odd gear as I weave through the Southport traffic.

When Steve was driving, he used the spinner knob on the steering wheel although I have never liked them. Instead, I find the huge wheel a bit cumbersome but steering is certainly light and spot on. Because the vehicle Is used so much, it has a lovely free moving style about It and I’d love just to point the bonnet forwards and keep driving -anywhere. It’s just great.

I obviously cannot comment about its ‘Fearless’ reputation but the next time you see it around the rally scene ask Graham cr Steve (or even Ross. Lewis cr Leo) to recount some of the recovery stories they’ve been involved with. You’ll love the tales (I like the ones of recovering 100 tons of stricken Scammell Commander tank transporter and also the story of using the crane to yank out a neighbour’s gatepost).

Like any family, the Booths have accrued all sorts of expressions and sayings to guide them through their days. One passed down from Denises late father Michael is how it can sometimes be a good idea to fall back and regroup. However, when it comes to T S M 66H. this seems to be an exception to the rule as this is one motor which is literally fearless in what it will tackle.

Of course, this comes as no surprise to all the Scam mall heavy haulage devotees in the land, it’s tales of experiences like this that have made their eyes mist over in pleasure and excitement.

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