Encounter Overland's mechanical hub, Wren Park
Encounter Overland’s workshop was located in rural Bedfordshire. The address was Wren Park Hitchin Road Shefford Bedfordshire SG17 5JD. Between trips this is where the trucks were stored, repaired and prepared for the next trip. There was a small permanent staff, headed up by Bill Wallace, managing the workshop, and the rest of the workforce was made up of drivers between trips.
Whilst looking for Encounter Overland’s Shefford address I found info on Working for an Adventure Travel Company.
It states;- What Will the Work Entail?
- Long hours.
- Mechanical knowledge required.
- Low pay but travel formalities are taken care of.
- Essential to get on with people in claustrophobic conditions.
- Stamina and endurance a must.
Not a lot has changed since ‘78/79 then.
The drivers based at the workshop used to stay in a communal house, about a 20 minute drive away in the small town of Hitchin. The house was near the town centre, in 23 Walsworth Road. How appropriate, a photo of the house with snow and the EO van, found here, just as I remember it.
Just as an aside, note the sign next door for Clare House Nursery, Google Maps now shows a road between the two properties, Clare Gardens, and a back garden infill development.
I do also remember, the cold winter nights. My bedroom was at the top of the house with a sloping skylight in the ceiling which would frequently have ice on the inside when I woke in the morning. Heating for the house consisted of a few electric storage heaters. That aside, it was a good to live there with the other drivers. We did a little decoration and maintenance in the short time we stayed between trips. Then other drivers returned and took our places.
Wren Park, Encounter Overlands workshop
This photo is of the Encounter Overland workshop in Hitchin circa 1980, according to the caption of the photo uploaded by David Hunter, one of the other drivers. I found this photo along with a number of others at the Spirit of Encounter web site but this has been replaced with a Facebook page and this new site.
Each weekday we would scramble into the company van and drive to the workshop. There we would clean the trucks from the previous trip and repair all manner of things as required. This could include a full engine rebuild with new big ends and piston rings if necessary. On one occasion I was asked to repair part of the exhaust of the KM. This involved welding of thin metal, a particularly difficult task. I heard months later that the repair failed in Turkey. The driver, a capable young lady sorted out the problem and continued on their way to Nepal. She told me off appropriately when we met later.
Once repaired of all reported faults the trucks were fully serviced. Servicing was always carried out thoroughly, as it is more difficult to repair a truck in deepest Asia, Africa, or South America than in the UK. Once mechanically sound we re-sprayed the trucks. All of this was done by the drivers in the workshop, based on the farm.
Then the preparation began. All the spares for servicing the trucks on the next trip were securely wrapped and waterproofed. The same happened for the more probable spares to repair breakdowns. The mechanics tools and equipment loaded, followed by the spare springs and sand mats.
Another photo of the workshop and some of the kit. Photo from here together with some more of Wren Park.
My truck was nearly ready by now. The tents, camp beds and the rest of the camping equipment was loaded aboard. Then it was time to do some shopping. We drove to Bedford, the county town, to shop in the cash and carry / supermarket. All the provisions necessary for the trip which could not be provided for locally on the trip. It is an interesting experience to buy quite so much in one go. It dwarfs the weekly shop in the local supermarket this week. Fuel and oils, and now all is ready for the trip ahead. The next morning I jumped into the truck at the workshop with all my kit for the next year away from home. I drove to London, parked up and stayed in the company’s London flat. The next morning it was a short drive to the company’s office at Old Brompton Road, Kensington, London SW5 9JA.