My brother Michael joined the company in April 1980; his role was generally in transport, keeping an eye on things, ensuring productivity, later to incorporate the management and maintenance of plant and equipment.
The 1980`s continued to see many changes within the Coleman organisation, although the activities remained mainly as they were. In 1982/3 the winter was very severe, diesel waxed up in the plant and vehicles causing engines to stop or fail to start. Many days it would be mid morning before we could get everything running. During this period we secured another contract from West Midlands County Council for the advanced works in preparation for a major road widening scheme at Stafford Road Wolverhampton.
The site was inaccessible due to high rock faces that were to be removed as part of the contract. It was agreed that we could create an entrance onto the site at 4:00am on a Sunday morning. We met in the Depot at 3:00, the morning was bitterly cold -18c, our fears of fuel freezing were to be true, nothing would start. We realised that all the petrol engines fired up without a problem, so it was decided to put some petrol into the diesel tanks, after a few minutes the diesel had de-waxed then started to flow, the engines were bled and fired up. We were on site a little late but got the job for the day done. From then on, during that winter, we used put a measure of petrol into the diesel tanks – another problem solved. Thankfully modern diesel fuels are now pre treated to prevent the fuel from waxing.
The projects continued to get larger and more intricate; we had been successful in securing work for the scrapers in Brickworks `winning clay` in the summer months to ensure winter brick production when the clay could not be readily won, in the winter months we would have work for other machines carrying out small jobs in and about the quarries, it all helped to pay the Bills.
Then the real big one came along Birmingham Airport Redevelopment, in our eyes a tremendous project five miles from base. The pencil`s were sharpened worn out and re sharpened many times over. We had priced for John Laing Construction and Wimpey. Both had used Coleman`s excavation rates and both were neck and neck to securing the project. Pre-tender agreements had been reached with both companies in that the other had not got preferential rates whereby, in return, who so ever won the project would award the earthmoving contract to Coleman. With this agreement in mind, we then set about looking for the additional plant and equipment that we would require to do the work. We were delighted when the announcement was made that Laing had been successful, we were about to be awarded our largest contract to date or so we thought. We had been true to our “word” both Laing and Wimpey did have the same rates, we had shook hands on a deal, the deal was done!
We had sourced and arranged finance for six scrapers in Belgium, ready to bring over in anticipation of the Airport work; we had turned down a years’ work in the Brickworks because we would not have coped with both – good work that we never got back. Laing then had a “re-organisation” and would not return our calls or respond to us in any way, people who we had dealt with pre-tender were “no longer available”. My father and me had always believed that a man’s word is his bond; we could not or would not believe that Laing of all companies, after all the years of working together on many successful projects would not be true to their “word or bond”. I refused to sign the finance papers for the 637`s, I felt that something was very wrong. We soon were to discover that Laing had been double dealing they had placed an Order with West Midlands Excavations. Whose price was about £500,000:00 below that of Coleman, we knew it was far too low and so did Laing, West Midlands Excavations did not complete the works before going into receivership. We tried to recover our work in the Brickworks, but were unsuccessful. The day Birmingham Airport started every man and machine that Coleman had in its fleet was standing due to no work. My father, nor anyone of us could not believe what had happened, I was so pleased that the finance papers for the 637`s had not been signed otherwise Coleman would have been in severe financial difficulties.
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This is great reading. Well done to Dave for remembering all this.
I remember the snow.
Thanks for getting in touch Dave. Yes, that was a bitterly cold winter. The lads these days don’t know what cold is in their heated cabs! Best, David