Introduction to the Real World


A Thames Trader truck with the same engine as the Fordson Major tractors of the mid 1950’s was the ‘potato truck’  Tim Hughes drove 100 miles south to Bulawayo

Introduction to the Real World 

At the end of 1956 seventeen years old Tim Hughes passed his Cambridge School Certificate, bade farewell to his Plumtree School friends and commenced work for his father, Gervas, on the farm outside Que Que. As a trainee assistant manager, he was paid thirty shillings a month (the same as the lowest African employee). He received free board and lodging, clothing and use of the family car as he had a girlfriend in town.

Introduction to the Real World

Tim applied to enter Gwebi Agriculture College near Salisbury but there was a four year waiting list. Gervas decided he should work for a progressive young farmer, so he persuaded Ronny McLean in the lower Gwelo district to teach his son.  Ronny and Mrs. McLean were kind to Tim and provided the same conditions as Gervas. He was able to go home on Sundays in his ’39 Chev pick-up, via the back roads, to Melrose farm. The Chev, still not registered for the road, had number plates and the police did not stop him.

However, Ronny’s father-in-law, Albert, also lived on the farm.  Anything that went wrong with a tractor or vehicle that Tim had driven, even days later, was his fault. Ronny had an excellent Friesian dairy herd producing one hundred gallons of fresh milk every day. Tim and Albert took turns to drive the American Ford pick-up, full of ten gallon milk cans, to the Gwelo milk depot. Ronny drove the Ford at 80 mph so Tim also drove it at 80.  Once he overtook Albert who made a great story about reckless driving. Ronny didn’t say anything, instead he told Tim to take his heavy truck license as he wanted him to take loads of potatoes to Bulawayo in his Thames Trader truck.

So, having turned eighteen, Tim drove the big truck to the Gwelo testing station, passed the written test and failed the driving test. He was not able to double-de-clutch well enough to satisfy the testing officer, to simulate stopping after a brake failure. There was no one waiting when they returned to the testing station, so Tim produced a second ten shilling fee and applied for another test. The testing officer had never been asked for a second test immediately but couldn’t find any rules against it. Tim explained that he needed the license to take a load of potatoes to Bulawayo at 3am the next morning. He knew where he had gone wrong with the double-de-clutch. The officer didn’t bother with the written test and was amazed that he carried out the driving test perfectly the second time; Tim had realized that he hadn’t revved the engine sufficiently to change down through the gears on the first test. On the second test the change down was perfect.

Tim transported many loads to Bulawayo, 100 miles to the south.  One day, Ronny told him to use a neighbour’s Bedford tip truck. The day started badly. He didn’t hear the alarm and only woke when his African assistant told him it was 5 am. He had to be in Bulawayo by 8, so he had the accelerator flat on the floor all the way. Going up a long hill, the overloaded truck was painfully slow. Going down, he still kept his foot flat. The gear box started to vibrate. Bolts popped off the top cover. He took his foot off.  The engine acted as a brake but the heavy load, forcing the engine, broke the prop shaft.  He could hear it beating the underside of the cab.  He managed to keep the truck on the road and stop it. His African assistant’s face had turned grey. The brakes weren’t holding. The hand brake cable had been severed. Tim was out of the truck in a flash.  He put a rock behind a back wheel.

Tim left his assistant to guard the truck. He hitch hiked to a phone.  Ronny took it well, brought a truck and a gang of Africans who transferred the potatoes. Tim delivered them to Bulawayo. Ronny organized the Bedford repairs.

Albert, of course, was delighted.  Tim told Ronny he was leaving.  Despite being asked to stay, he explained that he had decided to visit his Uncle Brian and beloved Aunt Joanie who farmed on the slopes of Kilimanjaro.

Many thanks to Tim Hughes of Queensland, Australia for the excerpts from his unpublished manuscript Matambega and Son written in the 1980’s. Picture courtesy of the internet.