My late father Jim Drew had been a machine operator for as long as I can remember and as such I was exposed to plant and machinery from a very young age. I first started to go to work with him when I was 8 years old for the odd Saturday morning shift and for the last hour I was always allowed to sit on a heap somewhere and practice my skills on the JCB he drove for Southampton based Marsh Plant Hire and from that day on I was hooked. This shot shows my father at the controls of a JCB 3CII.
My big break came in 1973 when my father was put on hire to John Laing's, who were just starting to construct the M27 south coast motorway from Bursledon to Portsmouth. At that time my father was working 7 days a week on the job and he used to come home telling me all about the massive Terex TS24 motor scrapers and Cat D9G's that were working for muckshifter Mickey Pierce on site - this I just had to see!
So for the next 3 years I accompanied him to work on the weekends and never missed one day. They were great times and I became well known with all the lads on site who would always offer me the chance of some seat time in a whole host of machines which enabled me to gain a lot of experience on different types of kit at an early age, something that sadly can't happen these days, due to, in my opinion the completely over the top health and safety regulations that are in force.
Here is a poor quality photo of me with a Cat 941 that I used to spend time in.
One morning I remember the earthworks foreman pulling up to my dads machine and him asking "can I borrow Nick for the morning" when my dad asked why, he replied that the D6 driver was still "steamed up" in the caravan and he needed me to drive the dozer on the tip for the morning! Well I didn't need to be asked twice and jumped in the Land Rover to head for the tip.
Can you imagine how excited I was at the prospect of driving a Cat D6C for the morning? I spent my time pushing out loads that were being tipped by Laing's fleet of Guy Big J6 trucks all morning and when the regular driver, Tommy O'Sullivan, turned up still looking rough he gave me a crisp tenner for my troubles! No photos left of the D6 sadly but here is one of a D5 on the same tip at a later date.
And so it went on, weekend after weekend, driving a wide variety of machines but already I was starting to lean towards my favourite machine of all the 360 degree excvavator and of course in those days the Hymac 580C was king and Laing's had a lot of them on site. This one was a particular favourite of mine, as the driver John Cochran, was always keen to let me drive it.
On my last day on the site and with completion of the job almost done the lads had a whip round for me and I had nearly £100 pounds in an envelope that they gave me which I thought was a really nice gesture. By that time it was 1975 and in 2 years time I would be leaving school and heading for my first fulltime job with Wimpey's but more of that next time...