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Delivering Horses to Portugal

Reminiscences by Keith Lewis(1) - Lambourn Horsebox Driver - Destination Lisbon

I was working for a tipper firm in Wantage which went bust and then moved to Lambourn and married a Lambourn girl - Patsy Owens. We are still together.

LRT Commander Horsebox

Anyway I got a job at Lambourn Engineering but soon transferred to Lambourn horse boxes as a driver. At the time we were based in Baydon Road under manager Eric Foster and I soon adapted to the job as my family were all from racing stock and handling horses came naturally to me as if by instinct. Most of my new colleagues were ex racing  employees and laughed at a "Tipper Driver" becoming a horsebox driver. After a short time the whole operation was moved up to the old railway station in Bockhampton Road and Jim Cramsie (1) was installed as manager. By this time Lambourn Horse Transport had acquired Ridgeway Transport and new signwriting displayed LRT on the front of the boxes.

Also we had contract horseboxes garaged there under the names of J.A. Peden and LEP the latter I believe was the logo of London Express Parcels and the Horsebox was painted bright red. The driver was Bob Reid. At the time the company formed a partnership with the Irish state haulier (CIE - Coras Iompar Eirran) and formed "Horse Ferries International" which led to a new logo being painted on the sides of the horseboxes featuring a sea horse. I must admit that the Irish side was not for me but became sort of jealous of the drivers who went to France and other destinations in Europe. At every opportunity I seized a chance to cross the Channel and enjoyed every minute.

Then came a day when funny funny things happened. I seem to remember that it was my day off when the manager rang me with news of a "special assignment" This was in 1974. A driver named John Hunter had been sent to France with 4 horses and 2 girl grooms for an onward journey to Portugal but realising that the job needed 2 drivers everything had stopped dead at a stud in Northern France where they were staying before taking the trip to Portugal.

I was sent to catch a train and ferry and a taxi on the other side with a fistful of LTR cash and to try to locate a stud farm in a remote area in the middle of the night.To his credit , the taxi driver was patient and delivered me to Haras de Bulbeck where I found the driver John Hunter and girl grooms shivering in a kind of conservatory.They all thanked God for my arrival and we got up early next day to start our journey. It was quite an experience! Most of it in France went well but at the border (Henday/ Irun) we got bogged down for hours and my fellow driver disappeared for hours after crossing the border on foot. We eventually got moving again but crossing the Pyrenees was scary as we drivers took turns driving and sleeping above the cab. Imagine lying in bed when descending steep hills and wondering if the brakes would hold up?

We made a huge mistake in arriving at the wrong border (Badajoz) when we should have been at Villaformosa where our agent would have been waiting for us to give us clearance. Unfortunately we had arrived in the middle of the Portuguese  revolution and we had to empty our pockets to be allowed through. In addition a guard had to travel with us all the way to Lisbon which suited him as his brother lived there. He toted a machine gun and repeatedly pointed at the speedometer telling us to slow down. When we arrived in Lisbon we had about 5 more miles to go to our destination but were kept on the dockside waiting for a vet who never came. The woman who owned the horses arrived and had words with the officials who eventually gave permission for us to go to our destination provided that we brought the horses back next day for vetting.

We then started to drive off but the guards had not been informed and pointed their guns at our tyres. We did get away but the woman who owned the horses did not comply with their demands and armed guards appeared the next day at the stables where we were resting in preparation for the journey home only to be told to take the horses back to the dockside in Lisbon . We did as we were told and the next day set off for home. We stopped for a brew in France and the engine would not start again. John said "What shall we do now"? I said"Drag our tow cable out into the middle of the road and pray"
A couple of old French boys towed us and the engine started. We gave them our duty free fags and were bloody grateful.

When we got home old Jim Cramsie said to me "Where have you been?"

(1) Keith Lewis
Keith Rodney Lewis Born Wallingford England May 20th 1944, Married Patricia Wendy Owens March 21st 1970
Driver at LRT 1970-74 Left to drive milk tankers for Milk Marketing Board
Drove horseboxes in France, Belgium, Holland,Germany, Switzerland  Portugal , and Ireland. Living in Cornwall since 1988.
Some of my workmates were Ken Hulse,Bob Reid, Geoff Nunn,Johnny Worral, Jimmy Senior, Bill Silk, John (Gunner) Hunter, Bill Cox,Mick Rees, Tommy Kirkham,
Clarence and Jerry Deacon,Neville Colburn, Paddy MacNally,Mick Mahony,Micky Flynn, "Loppy" Smailes, Johnny Boreham, Les White, Geoff  Hetherington, Pat Whelehan,
"Titch" Bryan, Wally Lough, Reg Langford, Marion Lang. Billy Rodbourne, Chris Follon and Tony Mooney with apologies to those I may have forgotten.

(2) James Arthur Cramsie
James ArthurCramsie was born on 24 May 1933. He is the son of James Randal Beresford Cramsie and Doris Champion.2 He married Rosemary Alison Pringle Brook, daughter of Stanley Gordon Brook, on 11 January 1964.
He was educated at Marlborough College, Marlborough, Wiltshire, England. He was educated in 1955 at Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, England. He was Director and General Manager of Lambourn Ridgeway Transport Ltd, bloodstock transporters. He lived in 1976 at Lower Valley Farm, Sheepdrove, Lamboum, Berkshire, England.