The fever that's driven Derek through life

We all know about the driver shortages, but driver DD 32049 is not available to help out on this occasion.

The fleet lines up at Whitchurch at the time of the golden jubilee in 1965. From left: John Else, chairman of West Midland Traffic Commissioners; Harry Richards, managing director; and Tom Davies, general manager.
The fleet lines up at Whitchurch at the time of the golden jubilee in 1965. From left: John Else, chairman of West Midland Traffic Commissioners; Harry Richards, managing director; and Tom Davies, general manager.

"I'm too old, aren't I really?" says Derek Heath, who at 84 has many years of professional coach, bus, and HGV driving under his belt.

Driver Derek with his licences and driver's badge.

Not that the enthusiasm isn't still there.

"It's a fever. You never get rid of it. It's always nice to do it. And if I passed the medical, there's no reason I couldn't."

Derek, of Wem, was still doing local school runs in a mini bus up until he was 81, before calling it a day.

His own career was largely intertwined with one of Shropshire's major firms, the long-disappeared Salopia Saloon Coaches, of Green End, Whitchurch.

Derek at Salopia in 1965.

"They were brilliant – anybody round here will tell you that they were an absolutely brilliant firm."

Originating from Whixall, Derek served in the 1st Battalion of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry in Korea and then in Kenya.

"When I came out I decided to go driving and went to Salopia at Whitchurch. At the time they were operating older vehicles, vehicles with Foden engines, and then came the Bedford with a Duple body – a Duple body is a coach body.

"You did service and also then private hire. Service was stage carriage, taking people to Shrewsbury and runs like that."

And then there were the trips, runs to places like Blackpool, Llandudno, and Rhyl.

"It was a very popular firm and you would be full, with 41 or 35 passengers in those days, not like today where you have 57."

The offices in Whitchurch.

Derek started at Salopia in the 1959 to 1961 period, initially helping out at busy times and then joining full time, and was with the company for two stints, the first of about seven years, and then after doing some HGV driving for Hargreaves of Cannock, going back for another eight years.

It meant he was at Salopia in the year of the firm's golden jubilee in 1965 and has various mementoes from that occasion, and he and his wife also went to the celebratory dinner which was held at Morris's restaurant at Pride Hill, Shrewsbury, in March of that year.

The fleet lines up at Whitchurch at the time of the golden jubilee in 1965. From left: John Else, chairman of West Midland Traffic Commissioners; Harry Richards, managing director; and Tom Davies, general manager.

A bit about Salopia. It traced its foundations back to March 1915 when a 16-year-old Whitchurch boy, Harry Richards, sat behind the wheel of a 1907 Wolseley-Siddeley plying its first hire between Whitchurch and the vast military camp which was springing up at Prees Heath two miles away.

Young Harry had talked his dad into giving him £150 to buy the ramshackle vehicle from the Sun Motor Company of Llangollen.

From this one-man band grew a firm operating, in 1965, a fleet of 60 modern coaches and clocking up over a million miles a year, with Mr Richards as the chairman and managing director.

The company logo.

Derek has picked up memorabilia over the years, including a 1951 brochure for holiday tours by Salopia.

"On all tours passengers must bring their ration books, soap, and towels," it instructs.

The all-inclusive price of an eight-day tour to Ilfracombe, staying at the Collingwood Hotel and incorporating various day trips, was 14 guineas (£14.70).

A rare picture of a rare vehicle – an observation deck coach operated by Salopia Saloon Coaches of Whitchurch, seen here in 1953.

Derek's dual career means, he says, he is one of the few to have an operator's licence which covers him for both carrying goods and carrying passengers.

He did not stay at Salopia after it was bought by Shearings – information on the internet says this happened in 1979 – and went to drive lorries for F Lloyd of Penley. This was followed by a break from driving, working in the stores, followed by coach driving at Lakeside Coaches of Ellesmere, mostly doing school runs and days out, and ultimately becoming deputy transport manager for North Shropshire District Council at Wem, from where he retired aged 65.

It was not quite over.

"Then I helped D&A Sands, a local Wem firm, just doing schools in a mini bus, working for him until I was 81."

A varied career then, and one which has seen many changes.

"Driving coaches was very enjoyable, meeting a lot of people, and you made a lot of friends," he said.

"Today to go for a medical, sit the exams, and take your test, you are looking at about £5,000. In my day you went to your doctor who gave you a medical and your licence cost you three shillings (15p). This is the difference today."

His still drives – a Vauxhall Astra – although not at the moment having slipped and cut his foot, requiring stitches.

Staff, drivers, and directors in a group picture taken for the Salopia Saloon Coaches golden jubilee.
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