Is it a peculiarly British thing?
There’s trainspotting, which I could understand when there were gleaming Thomas-style tank engines huffing and puffing and spitting out sparks. It’s harder to see the fascination in a dirty diesel with a serial number. But still they stand, men and boys (mostly), at the ends of station platforms, notebooks in hand, butties in bags and a flask of tea to keep out the chill.
But now we have lorry spotting. Have had for a while, in fact.
[I refuse, by the way, to call them trucks. I mean, who can’t twist their tongue around red truck yellow truck red truck yellow truck? It has to be lorry.]
It began with the Stobbies (though I’m sure a nerd somewhere will disagree – there seem to be 750,000 of them visiting lorryspotting.com).
Gleaming green and red machines rolling along the motorways. Eddie Stobart in large letters blazoned on the side and – to those in the know – the name of a woman, in small letters, on the front.
The tradition started with Eddie, who called his first ones after famous women – Twiggy, Dolly (Parton), Tammy (Wynette) and Suzi (Quatro) – but soon lorry drivers’ wives and other names joined the fleet.
Today Stobart is big business – as in BIG – trains, planes and refrigeration and crikey who knows what – but I admit there was a time when I was a bit hooked.
I was doing a lot of driving around as part of my job. A team of us was on the road doing presentations and community PR as part of – well, you don’t need to know that – but we started spotting Stobbies.
Soon one thing led to another and we bought membership of the spotters’ club – and a Corgi model of a lorry – for one lucky team member.
We never got into Nobbies – Norbert Dentressangle – the continental European rival. Which suggests none of us would have made serious lorry nerds.
And many years have passed since I stopped cricking my neck to see whose name was on the front of a passing Stobby.
But it all came flooding back this week on our holiday. We’re in the far north of Yorkshire, staying in a quiet village not far from a place called Potto.
I’ll confess, when I saw the Potto signpost I was actually excited. Because for years I’ve noticed the super-smart gleaming red-and-gold vehicles that bore the words, ‘Prestons of Potto’ on their doors. And wondered – where on earth is Potto?
Well, now I know. I also know that the company started with steam engines – not the railway kind, the traction kind.
It began, in 1936, as an agricultural contracting business set up by Richard Preston Senior. He used steam engines for threshing and wood sawing.
The transport business took off when they began delivering bricks during the Suez crisis of the 1950s. Diesel was in short supply so a Prestons’ traction engine – called Lightning II – hauled 20 tonnes of bricks between Darlington and Ampleforth, a distance of 28.6 miles, every day for 3 months. When diesel became readily available again Richard Preston bought a lorry so he could keep the contract – and thus the haulage company was founded.
I know that Anne Preston MBE and Richard Preston are Chairman (both of them it seems from their website) and that their gleaming lorries gleam just as much when they’re asleep in Potto as they do on the road.
Not only that, but the company has taken part in ‘Yorkshire in bloom’. And their offices are in the former Potto railway station. Where steam engines used to huff and puff.
I’m dangerously close to becoming a Prestons of Potto nerd. A Prestons of Potto spotter. But that carries with it a serious linguistic dilemma.
Pottie spotting? No, no.
Pressie spotting? Doesn’t sound right.
Tonny spotting? Hmm.
Maybe I’ll stick to birds.