Friday, 21 March 2008

#081 - 1967 - Scottish Milk Race

I found it hard to settle down to normal life after being away for so long, but seeing Kathleen again was a real bonus, and not able to see each other as often as we would like – the telephone became our life line. Honda motorcycles were selling well especially the smaller machines; Triumph, BSA and Norton were holding their own in the larger class and a possible reason may have been that they were doing well on the race tracks with a new Triumph 3 cylinder called ‘Trident’ and BSA ‘Rocket 3’, they did not hold this position long  though because Yamaha produced a water cooled 350cc twin with transistor ignition, which when ridden by the great Finnish rider Yano Saurian was unbeatable on most circuits.

The organiser of the Scottish Milk race, Len Rankin, had been over for the first four days of the Peace race (Czech section) to get idea’s for the smooth running of his race, we  got to know each other quite well and he gave me an invitation to do the “Blackboard” job in his forthcoming July event, he said he would write me on his return to Paisley in Scotland. I dismissed the thought but sure enough on my return to Long Eaton there was the invitation. Len also required a further motorcycle marshal and a general race mechanic.

Late July and the Scottish Milk race soon came along, I had asked my head motorcycle mechanic Robert Sandford to go as the additional race marshal that Len required, and invited a local journalist/cyclist Andy Marshall for the race mechanic job, (he was practising changing wheels for weeks, but little did he know what an exacting job he had undertaken). The race - a four day event - started on a Thursday. We had in the shop a BSA A65 twin carb ‘Lightening’ model with the new 12v alternator system, which we had just taken in part-exchange and I could use and Andy came on the pillion with me whilst Robert rode a Triumph he had borrowed from a pal of his. We left Long Eaton early Wednesday morning, Robert then lived in Bonsall Street, Long Eaton. Andy and I called for him, we had discussed the route to take the night before, (the M1 only being built as far as Alfreton), we then joined the A1 near Retford, up to Scotch corner, over the Pennines on the A66 to Penrith,  Carlisle and so on the A74 to Glasgow. We were stopping at the YMCA near the station in Glasgow.

Robert in his wisdom shot off and left us on the M1 - we were not see him again until later that night when my brother brought him up in our Ford van! It appeared he got lost near Mansfield, he waited for us but we had taken the arranged route. Unfortunately for him he blew the motor up on his Triumph and had to ring our shop for someone to fetch him in. On his return to the shop he stripped the Triumph down and fitted a service exchange cylinder with o/s pistons, two new inlet valves etc. He did well in the time he had and was brought up to Glasgow in the van by Ernie arriving at 9.30 p.m. Ernie had a quick meal then returned back to Long Eaton.

The Scottish Cycling Union had a meeting in the YMCA the evening before the start, we found that there would be only one more race marshal who would arrive the next morning. Robert and I were novices for the big ‘job’ we had volunteered for. The ceremonial start of the race left George Square with a police motorcycle escort, they then left us to our own devices at the city limits. Robert and I and this new young man had  discussed our tactics when we met up before the start. They were to cover obvious cross roads etc. I worked as an outrider getting traffic past the riders as well as taking time checks. There were no radio equipped team cars, so I worked hard to give each team car information on my blackboard. Usually the ‘blackboard’ man rides pillion on a motorcycle, but John Cooper a joiner friend of mine had made the blackboard  to be held on my back with a single elastic luggage strap captured at one end,  with a open hook at the other, enabling me to do the job solo.

This first stage went from Glasgow to Arbroath via Aberfoyle, Dukes Pass - quite a hill, then across to the east coast to finish on the seafront. The Dutch national team were very prominent (they were to win a gold medal the following year at Tokyo Olympics in 1968) Rene Pignen winning the stage. Andy Marshall had performed very well in the general service team car. He was complimented by the race director, a Pole from the Peace Race and I and the two marshals were also complimented on our particular jobs. The communal evening meal was a great success and our accommodation in a council flat with a young couple was excellent. We joined the early morning “routers” for a drink after dinner, we did this every day because without these gentlemen, who positioned the directional arrows, we as marshals would be lost.

This was the first stage race where I was free to walk the town in the evening, having on all previous tours been a hard working mechanic. My friends the Belgian, Dutch and French mechanics were on the race and I went along to see them, they were envious of my new job, but they could not say anything detrimental as I had done their type of work for some twelve years. 

The next day was a long stage from Arbroath to Aberdeen via the toll-bridge at Dundee. We had trouble with the bridge toll-collectors here, they wanted to stop the race to collect fees from the competitors (all following cars and motorcyclists were issued with the correct toll money by Len Rankin before the start) the queue to pay caused a bit of bother for us but we did get the riders through  without hold-up. To rousing cheers we passed through Aberdeen city centre to finish on the northern esplanade. I cannot remember the stage winner but the Dutchman was still leading overall. Accommodation  for the riders was at the University, the communal meal and accommodation for officials and us was at the magnificent “Tree Tops Hotel” easily the best on the tour. 

Friday morning saw the race moving south to Edinburgh, a tough hilly stage passing through Banchory to Ballater, Blairgowie to Perth then down the very busy A9. Our two marshals had quite a job on. I also had difficulty getting heavy traffic to pass the main group, and especially marshalling cars etc past any breakaway groups. It was more important to keep the traffic down at the rear of the break as any chasers could latch on to the cars.

Between Perth  and Edinburgh and ‘off the back’ I came across the race leader, Rene Pignen, on his own and on an unfamiliar bike, Rene speaks English very well and he told me that he had crashed and a bystander had handed him this bike, only two gears worked and he was losing time. Against all rules  I pushed him  up to the tail end bunch team cars, then rode up to his Dutch car and explained to the manager where Rene was. They stopped and gave him a team bike (I was not to know that he would win the stage). 

On approaching the Forth Bridge I went ahead to the other side and there at the island stood two police motorcyclists, I stopped to discuss the race’s progress through Edinburgh and they said that they had been told the race finished at the Forth Bridge! According to the race manual the event finished at the site of the new stadium for the 1970 Commonwealth Games which was under construction. Good job that I had gone  ahead of the race and was able to put them wise! These two policeman were terrific, they  said ‘leave it to us’ -, meanwhile a break by Billy Bilsland and Rene Pignen had occurred with the main group in hot pursuit, we careered  along the Edinburgh main road  with these two mad coppers stopping all the traffic and shutting off the traffic lights they were absolutely wonderful. Our two marshals helped and I stopped traffic coming towards the race. The finish was hilarious, the riders had to bump up  a kerb and finish in the middle of a building site, chaos reigned when the main bunch arrived. Rene Pignen beat Billy Bilsland in the sprint and held on to his yellow jersey. We all stayed at the University at Pollock Halls, where we had dinner too. Rene came over to thank me for helping him, he eventually won the race. (After the Tokyo Olympics he turned professional and became a prolific six-day bike rider) His  team mate Zoop Zoutemelk also won gold in Tokyo and was to win the “Tour de France in the future.

The next stage started in Princess St, processional until we hit the de-regulation speed sign on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The two Scottish policemen were there again, we had chatted with them the night before, the race organiser inviting them to the Dinner and Prize presentation, Len mentioning them in his speech. These traffic policeman  were very interested in my BSA ‘Lightening’, they were on BSA’s but when their radio was in operation neither the lights nor the horn worked, they had noticed that my horn and lights were brilliant. I explained to them that my bike had a 12volt alternator fitted whereas they only had six volt. They challenged me to a race to the official start and we were doing nearly 90mph on the main road out of Edinburgh, they were great men. (We were to meet them in several races in Scotland in the future, and as a result of my bike demo, the Scottish Police Authority ordered new BSA motorcycles).

We left Edinburgh en route for Dumfries via Biggar to Moffat and through Lockerbie lovely country. I do not remember any major happenings on the way to Dumfries, apart from a breakaway that  had over ten minutes, and I had a job with time checks and traffic. The race finished on the quayside with many twists before the finish, our two marshal’s did a great job there.

The dinner in the evening was  taken in two sittings as no place in Dumfries was big enough to feed the whole race. Riders were fed first, then the officials. The venue was a restaurant above a cinema, we had come on our bikes as the accommodation was quite a good way off.  A  queue had formed on the  top of the stairs, when one bright spark said quite casually “there’s a motor bike on fire down there” – Robert’s dual seat had slipped down causing  the battery to short - hence the fire, he soon rushed down and sorted things out with no damage.

It was a lovely evening so after dinner we sauntered down the road to view Robby Burns cottage, quite interesting. There were two Milk race girls on the race doing a PR job, Rene Pignen fell for one and they eventually married after his return from Tokyo. Doug Dailey courted the other one for  some time, (talk about romance on Tour).

The final day arrived, the race route passing through New Galloway and its (then) coal mines to Dalmellington finishing on the sea front at Ayr. The prize giving and dinner was held at the Ice Rink, we three motor bike men and Andy were given  a standing ovation. We did not stay in Ayr but decided  to start our journey home, we stayed at Mrs Edmondson’s at Penruddock in the Lake District, then a nice steady ride home on the Sunday.

We, Robert and I were back at work Monday, a big rush was on because this was the first time that new registration numbers came out on August 1st luckily we had sold a lot of new bikes. Kathleen and family were on holiday in Cornwall it was lovely to see her when they came home some ten days later with a magnificent tan, she looked super. 

Late in 1967 my brother-in-law Keith came round to our Toton house about 2 pm, he wanted me to play football for a team he had challenged but he was three men short. Owing to my clubfeet I had never played football but he had seen me playing five-a-side in the gym. After much persuading I succumbed and played centre forward. My right foot is turned outwards due to many operations, but I could kick with the inside of this foot quite accurately and hard, so long as the ball came to me directly about a yard in front I could shoot, I scored three goals. I played for four years after that and practised shooting at a wall with both feet, also trained in dribbling skills. I quite enjoyed it until I damaged my knee again, that put paid to that.

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