On 1st July 1946, St Austell Brewery took delivery of one of the first post-war commercial vehicles off the old ERF assembly line in Sandbach, Cheshire - a state-of-the-art C15 flatbed truck, registration number HCV 857 - and put it to work delivering its ale far and wide across the county. Following the fire at the Brewery that had destroyed most of the original delivery line-up in 1939, the company had struggled to maintain its supply of morale-boosting ale across the county. Much of the remaining fleet had been requisitioned by the armed forces for troop training and movement during the war, so it was much to the management’s relief when ‘ERF-ie’ rolled up through the gates and signed in to work the following summer.

According to those who remember her, the standard runs made by the truck in its heyday involved a round trip from the Brewery up along the north coast to Bude, alongside return jaunts out west to the Hayle depot. Taking in the many tied and free trade customers along the way the former journey was a two-day affair, the latter a spritely one-day turnaround.

However, according to those same sources, the somewhat lengthy duration of these forays may not have been purely down to mechanics, as many recall that both driver and mate were liberally ‘refreshed’ before they had even passed through the old Brewery gates on the way out - not to mention the generous offerings they received from thankful landlords and ladies on receipt of their much needed stocks of St Austell’s finest along the way.

“I remember my first time out on the dray,” commented Brewery pensioner Ivor Minear. “It was full on and those journeys certainly weren’t dry runs! They got into plenty of scrapes, including losing the trailer coming down Truro Hill one time, but the beer always got where it needed to go on time.”

‘ERF-ie’, as she is fondly recalled by some, is a reminder of a different age: a world before health and safety in the workplace, where the roads were far emptier than they are today and a world buoyed by post war aspiration and the promise of the new. Not only was she a stalwart workhorse for the Brewery for many years, she was also the very visible public face of the company, appearing as she did for many years in the late 40s in local carnivals, bedecked with beauties from both the old Brewery flowerbeds and the shop floor!

After many years of service for St Austell Brewery, ERF-ie ran away to the fair, being sold to the Rowland family to act as a show wagon through the 1970s and 1980s, before being put out to pasture in a barn in Devon where she has spent the best part of 20 years slumbering.

“She was the first lorry I drove when I was 21,” recalls Joey Rowland. “That would have been around 1969 and I had to take her down to Falmouth. I remember staying in low gear all the way down and I was trembling all the way – as white as a sheet – but she got me there and she was always one of our most reliable vehicles.”

The story of how the old dray was found is a typical archivist’s dream: using the registration number to trawl through old documents, matching chassis numbers against official lists from the ERF archives, tracking down anecdotal stories of old photos and sightings and, inevitably, the donning of wellies for a walk down muddy lanes to find the object of the quest.

ERF-ie was eventually caught napping by Brewery archivist Chris Knight in the old garages at Dingle Steam Village at Lifton. “Catching a glimpse of her tucked away amongst all the other old vehicles for the first time was brilliant. She was completely boxed in with old junk and the number plate was obscured, so it was a matter of crawling through the dirt and using a torch to check that this really was our old ERF-ie. It was a truly wonderful feeling to know that we’d finally found her.”

Since then, with thanks to the Rowland family, St Austell Brewery has now completed the exchange of documents and the old dray was recently welcomed back home through the Brewery gates by staff and locals. Following her brief visit back to the Brewery, a full restoration program is scheduled with the aim of getting her back on the road sometime after her 70th birthday next summer. Meantime, keep watching her progress here.

According to Joey Rowland, the classic picture of Marilyn Monroe from the film poster advertising ‘The Seven Year Itch’ had adorned the back of the driver’s cab of the old ERF throughout its time at the Brewery and it stayed there all the while it on was funfair business, transporting the penny arcade up and down the West Country.

Marilyn has been adopted as a ‘working’ name for the time being, though we know that she was ‘ERFie’ to some of her contemporaries and we are keen to find out if she was officially known by any other names – though probably not those she was called as she struggled up Carclaze Hill out of St Austell under a full load!

AND SO THE JOURNEY STARTS...

Our old delivery truck Marilyn, after decades in a barn will soon be back on the road... and this is how it all started!