David John Whitfield is a retired lorry driver, and his 2015 autobiographical work tells the story of the years he spent in delivery work beginning in the early sixties. Whitfield left school when he was 15, then worked in farming for over a year before going into haulage. He began working short-haul jobs on the docks, until he then became a long distance HGV driver. |
“Lorries Were My First Love...”
In The Smell of Diesel: A Personal Account of the Working Life of a Lorry Driver from the 1960’s Onwards, Whitfield tells us that lorries were his first love, but that he first went into farming due to his young age. He tells us about the unreasonable conditions imposed at his farming job, which ultimately drove him to leave and start training as a lorry driver. At first he’d work as an assistant to the existing drivers, before driving small haulage vehicles. When he was 21 he started taking delivery work on the Preston docks, until he took to the road and became a long-distance driver.
Accounts like Whitfield’s are a valuable thing: whatever we can learn from statistics and overviews, there is no substitute for the lived experience of individuals working in an industry during a certain time period. Whitfield’s style is engaging and personable, charting the daily workings, friendships and anecdotes of working lorry drivers. Older drivers, or those with family in the business, may find Whitfield’s stories pleasantly familiar, while younger drivers will be interested to know how the business has changed over the past few decades.
A Personal Account
David John Whitfield’s account is highly personal however, and as such does not serve as an overview of the state of delivery work at the time. Attempting to judge it by this would be unfair, as it was never intended as such. The Smell of Diesel is a work as human and nostalgic as its title, and its value (to both causal readers and those with a more intense interest in the haulage industry) lies in its individual, personal approach. It teaches you about the day-to-day of being a lorry driver: the concerns, hopes and fears that were shared by drivers in this particular time period.
This book will be most appreciated by those working in the haulage industry, or who have in the past enjoyed a career in delivery work. While Whitfield’s style and narrative will appeal to laypeople and drivers alike, those with personal experience driving a lorry will feel a special connection with the experiences, feelings and characters Whitfield describes. Older drivers may find old memories come back to them, while newer drivers will relish the chance to learn what their predecessors’ job was like, and how it differed from today’s haulage.
Norman Dulwich is a Correspondent for Haulage Exchange, the leading online trade network for the road transport industry. Connecting logistics professionals across the UK and Europe through their website, Haulage Exchange provides services for matching delivery work with available drivers. Over 4,000 transport exchange businesses are networked together through their website, trading jobs and capacity in a safe 'wholesale' environment.
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