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Arabian White


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Peter Minnis, Truck Magazine  /  1985

Just about everyone, it seems, has a cousin, brother-in-law or friend who has run out to the Middle East. But the great days are over, and far fewer trucks now drive out to Turkey and beyond. One small company still in the game is Stanway Transport, based in East London.

The great days of the Middle East run are long over. Back in the seventies, when the ports of the Arabian Peninsular were chock-a-block with Western imports, shippers were desperate for trucks to make the trip.

Throughout most of Europe, there can have been very few haulage companies, from one-man bands to the largest fleets, which didn’t at least consider putting Tehran, Baghdad, Riyadh and Jeddah onto their schedules.

The rates seemed attractive, but profit was easily wiped out by delays and difficulties. The work seemed glamorous, but drivers used to Europe’s motorways were often reduced to pathetic helplessness when hit by minor problems beyond the Turkish border.

Some people made a lot of money. Many more lost the few thousand pounds they’d invested in trucks that weren’t up to the job. And in between the two extremes, others, through common sense and professionalism, made a steady if unspectacular living.

Kenny Snooks from Purfleet, Essex made his first run to Tehran, the capital of Iran, back in 1972. He’s still on Middle East work today, 13 years later.  

He currently drives a big Cat-engined White Road Commander 2 for East London-based Stanway Transport. He’s seen the wild enthusiasm of the gold-rush days give way to the quiet, get-on-with-the-job attitude that is the hallmark of the successful Mid-East haulier in the mid-eighties.

The volume of freight traffic heading east has declined considerably, and the notorious, miles-long queues of trucks waiting to get through border crossings have vanished. But in their place, other delays have appeared, caused, particularly, by security arrangements introduced in the wake of the Iran/Iraq war.

On balance, Kenny thinks, the job hasn’t got any easier.

“A lot of effort has been put into improving roads, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t seem to have made a lot of difference. Okay, the roads in Yugoslavia are better, a lot better. And they’re building some good roads in Turkey now, but they take so long to do it. And meanwhile, their older roads are just falling apart.”

“There’s a 300 kilometer stretch in Turkey heading for Iraq that I used to be able to do in six hours. Now it takes me 14.”

“Last winter, there was a lot of snow and rain. It just ruined a lot of the roads.”

There are several reasons for the falloff in Middle East road freight traffic; the drop in the price of oil, the improvements to ports in the area (particularly in their ability to turn round big container ships quickly), and, of course, the Gulf war.

When the war began, there was something of an overland mini-boom when shipping in the Gulf was threatened, but the overall effect has been negative.

Money that used to be spent on a vast range of Western imports is now being squandered in trench warfare that everyone loses.

Iraq is full of part-completed, cancelled development projects. The sudden diversion of funds into the war effort nearly ruined Stanway Transport. A lot of their work used to be for a company supplying water treatment equipment to Iraq. Overnight, the Iraqis stopped paying, the project ground to a halt, and most of Stanway’s work dried up.

The boss, Dave Stanway, has weathered setbacks before though, and with a lot of hard work he managed to find other work to take up the slack.

“You’d think the war would have sharpened the Iraqis up a bit,” says Kenny. “But they seem to be as disorganized as ever.”

“If you’re tipping in Baghdad, they stick you in a park out in the desert till they’ve cleared the paperwork. There’s absolutely nothing there and it’s miles from anywhere. No facilities, nothing.”

“You drive all that way to their country, and they just don’t seem to want to know. I can’t understand it.”

Other countries in the area have obviously become a lot more security-conscious because of the war.

“If you’re tipping in Saudi.” Explains Kenny, “you drive straight in once you’ve cleared customs. But if you’re going through to Qatar or the Emirates, they take you in convoy.”

“They just hold you there till there’s enough trucks to make up a convoy. I can usually clear the Kuwait border in 12 hours, but last time I was there six days waiting for a convoy to build up. And then they only took us 180 kilometers to the TAPline road, where we had to wait two more days for another convoy to join us from the Jordanian border. There’s nothing you can do about it - they’ve got your papers.”

 “The thing is, the whole convoy idea is a farce. Once it gets going, everyone just puts their foot down and the whole thing gets strung out. By the time I reached the Qatar border, the slowest trucks were about six hours behind the leaders. And we all had to wait till the tail-enders arrived before they would let us through.”

Kenny’s White is not the most luxurious to drive over bad roads. The springs are short and the ride is harsh, although the air suspension seat does help.

It does, however, have one big advantage: the aerodyne-style sleeping compartment. Adequate space makes all the difference on a long run.

The sleeper, in fact, is the only one of its kind. When boss Dave Stanway ordered it back in 1979, he specified a factory-built aerodyne sleeper, together with items like red leather upholstery, aluminium wheels (“We had to get rid of them – they broke up”) and stainless steel stacks.

At that stage, Dave was out on the road himself. He’d only been going a few years (he started by hauling cages of racing pigeons with a Ford D1000), and he wanted a truck that was both sturdy and comfortable to do Middle East work.

He was furious was the White arrived from the States – minus all the extras he had ordered. So he went to Locomotors of Andover, who built the aerodyne sleeper for him to his design.

It wasn’t a cheap job, but the results have lasted well. And in other respects, Dave still has reason to be pleased with his purchase. The Cat 3406 engine (280 bhp) and the Fuller nine-speed box have proved sturdy enough, and the aluminium cab has lasted far better than a steel one.

The one disappointment was the Eaton drive axle, which suffered from a spate of seized bearings. It’s now been replaced by a Volvo F89 axle – a common modification to European-based Whites.

According to Dave, rates on Middle East work are no better than they were half a dozen years ago, while expenses have increased dramatically. But he’s happy to carry on with the job, feeling that he can make it pay where others can’t.

“Any firm is only as good as its drivers, and my four are all first-rate. It’s only due to their hard work and professionalism that the job can pay.”

The heyday of the Middle East may be over, but there’s clearly still room for companies and drivers who have the right approach.





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