Neville John William Day 7 March 1922 - 26 November 1990
Dad and Fairstead
Fairstead Estate, King's Lynn, under construction circa 1965.Click image for 2022 view.
1962 and the needs of influential opportunists in London decided that what they considered below acceptable standard housing in East London should be liberated from six thousand or so of its occupants and redeveloped. Redeveloped that is for high rent value commercial use. The present occupants thus convinced, and bribed, into believing that life for them would be much enhanced by moving away from their roots, culture and relatives and relocating to King's Lynn in West Norfolk. Not that there is anything at all wrong with King's Lynn. On the contrary, a fine old market town with affable locals, situated in Norfolk's pleasant green and rolling countryside with copious amounts of fresh air, close to some of most spectacular beaches in the country.
Early '64 saw first soil cut. Compliments of Neville Day Plant Hire Ltd., amongst a handful of others. A great sprawling and not so pretty housing Estate named Fairstead after the great farm that once occupied the site was begun. The project, not well received by the 20,000 or so Lennensians of King's Lynn was though a blessing for Dad and his new business venture. Within eighteen months his fledgling company had grown quickly. From a single, battered JCB excavator, an even more battered old giant Fiat Bulldozer, a Bray and a Chaseside near worked out enormous front loaders of questionable viability or practicality, purchased for next to nothing from the country's National Coal Board, an ex army four wheel drive TK Bedford 7 ton tipper, hastily and rudely repainted bright yellow by Dad himself along with the help of a couple of his faithful crew, then lettered by me, and finally our sad but faithful little old 'Grey and Gold' Ferguson FE35 tractor. Who answered when called of course to her affectionate name Fergie. If and when she felt like it.
By the end of '65 Neville Day Plant Hire Ltd had a fleet of mostly new machines four times in number and employing forty men. King's Lynn's Fairstead housing Estate, the five mile A149 three lane town by-pass and King's Lynn's Alexandra Dock Roll-on, Roll-off upgrade, along with ceaseless hard work by Neville Day himself being the contributory factors.
My school holidays therefore embraced a level of excitement denied most teenagers of my age. One such including a couple of days sat astride a sadly under powered for the job Fergie, with an over sized 24 tine cultivator attached to her three point linkage. Hopelessly trying to pull down an adjacent farmer's tenaciously sticky blue Gault clay over a back filled major water main. The contract had stated in no uncertain terms that the landowner's land must be restored to 'as before' condition. A condition optimistically demanded by the temporarily requisitioned land owner and naively acceded to by clueless 'suits', undoubtedly with lots of letters after their names.
Dad improved my lot by attaching our 270HP 20 tonne bulldozer to the front of the one and a half ton 35HP Fergie. That helped. So much so that Fergie's wheels were rarely in contact with the oozing mud. Excitement would be a totally inadequate understatement. White Knuckle ride beginning to come close.
To this day I do not understand how Fergie wasn't torn in half. A testament to Irishman Harry Ferguson's astonishing engineering skills.
Job done and the quarter mile stretch of raped and abused field headland restored to at least a couple shades disgusting blue mud colour better than before and so time for home. I was sixteen and hence no driving licence, so the tarmac route was prohibited me.
"Easy." Says Dad. "We'll take her across the stream. Same way as I came in."
"On what?" I enquired, nervously looking around for a barge of some sort.
"Nothing. Follow me."
Following Dad wasn't difficult. Fergie and me were still attached to the dozer with a chain the size of which could probably have held the QEII at anchor. Or if not then certainly at least one of her tugs.
We arrived at the stream, as Dad described the twenty five foot wide river. The previous month had seen near ceaseless rain. The same rain contributing to the conditions that necessitated Dad towing Fergie and me in the first place. The water was high and running fast. Dad climbed down off the dozer, walked up to the edge of the bank and in an unusual moment of raising his surgically attached Harris Tweed flat cap to reveal a pale and rarely displayed forehead, scratched it and said "I think you'd better let me take Fergie across first son. You follow with the Fiat."
I did not contradict Dad often. I only very rarely thought I should do so. Doing so never raised ire though, because Dad had never discovered ire. Dad had no ire in his body. In all the years I knew him I never even once heard him raise his voice. Not even when I set fire to the farm!
I said. "I think it best if you take the Fiat across first Dad. Just in case."
"In case of what?" Said Dad. Naively.
"You'll see." Said I. Silently.
In the end Dad insisted I take the Fiat across first and that he follow me on Fergie.
Sensing danger from the complication of an underwater heavy chain attaching Fergie to the dozer we both agreed it would be best to disconnect. Had we not done so it might have spared Dad a full ducking. However neither of us wanted to ponder what might happen if both machines were marooned in the middle of a fast flowing river still attached by a heavy submerged chain with no way of uncoupling it. We would most probably both survive but one or both machines might not.
Water never got quite as far as the top of the Fiat's gearbox. Probably because that was five foot above the ground the giant machine stood upon.
The Fergie's gearbox is about twenty eight inches (actually I KNOW it's 28" so please don't try arguing!) above the ground it stands upon. You'll probably be ahead of me at this point in my story won't you?
Dad plunges* in. *right word.
Vertical exhaust stack so no problem with that. Oil bath air filter however not fitted with any snorkel. The resultant stalling of Fergie's protesting diesel (don't Fergie's with their four cylinder Coventry diesel make such a nice sound when they are working under load? Better than Led Zep, but I digress) impeded progress a tad. Of no real consequence really as by this time Fergie had sunk leaving just Dad and his Harris Tweed flat cap, sat, bolt upright, icy cold water up to mid chest, in the middle of the river.
We were fortunate that Fergie's brain, as Dad always maintained she possessed, had the good sense to stall before water got as far as her cylinders so as to 'hydraulic' herself. Thus wrecking her engine. Another testament perhaps though to her inventor Irishman Harry Ferguson's ingenuity and design brilliance.
"I see what you mean Chris." Shouted Dad. Back to the bankside.
"I'll throw you the rope Dad. Suggest you attach it astern, sorry, I mean at the back, to the three point and lead it forward, then somehow, sort of dive (snigger), to get it under the front axle. Throw the rope back and I'll pull you both out.
Everything went swimmingly. It usually did.
Footnote: Dad was the kindest man one could ever hope to meet. Bestowing care and affection upon all people and animals in equal measure. It must be said though that if there were ever to be a 'Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Fergies', then he would have been banished. Our poor, sad, little grey Fergie had been flipped over backwards, almost torn in half by a bullying powerful bulldozer, dunked into a river and totally immersed by two salt water tides. Finally, she was unceremoniously dragged from watery graves. Yet still she never protested. I think it was one of the saddest days for both of us when Dad eventually decided to sell her. My only consolation being that decades later, quite miraculously, out of quarter of a million built, I accidentally bought her immediate production line sister. Perhaps there is a God after all!
Chris Latham-Smith 2022.
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