The Pickfords Express

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Pickfords lorries crisscrossing the length and the breath of the country from Scotland to Cornwall, Aberystwyth to Ipswich are a common sight on our roads today. However, using lorries to move furniture over long distances is a fairly modern phenomenon. From the beginning of the twentieth century to the early 1960’s long distance removals often used an entirely different mode of transport – namely the railway container or lift van as it was also called.

Pickfords became frequent users of these containers for long distance removals, even having some Liveried in the Pickfords name and colours. The concept was simple. A lift van was essentially a wooden container that was not permanently attached to the railway truck underneath. Therefore it could be lifted off the railway truck onto a truck or trailer, taken to the point of loading (a customer’s house or a Pickfords warehouse) where Pickfords staff would be waiting to pack and load it ready for shipment to the customer’s new house.

It would be taken back to the rail depot, loaded back onto the railway truck, and travel by rail to the railway yard nearest to the customer’s new home. Here the lift van would be unloaded, taken to the Pickfords customer’s new home where another Pickfords crew would be ready to unload it.

In the early Sixties, all long distance moves used railway lift vans. Over a period of months, Pickfords Hawick began to experience a series of damages on every removal that went by rail. No-one could find the cause. The Pickfords staff had an excellent reputation for being careful with a customer’s belongings, so these damages were a complete mystery.

Until one day a Pickfords employee witnessed exactly what was happening. Madge, was at the station collecting some post for the branch when she saw a liftvan on a truck coming at some speed on its own from the goods yard across the bridges and embankment. It was due to be attached to the express waiting in the station to take it to Edinburgh. The truck hit the back of the express with a bang, everything shuddering with the impact. Madge now knew what was causing the damages.

A complaint was duly made and it was discovered that the goods yard foreman wasn't attaching the liftvan and truck to the shunting engine and bring use the shunting engine bring them to the main station as he should do. He was giving the truck an almighty push and allowing it travel under its own momentum down to the station. The only thing was that from the line from South to North across the valley was on a downhill gradient so the truck would gather speed as it travelled hence the impact when it hit the express. As a result of the complaint, the foreman was ordered to bring all liftvans and trucks to the main station using the shunter and not just push them out of the yard. When this involved a Pickfords liftvan, the shunter and its load became known as the Pickfords Express.

Pickfords express
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