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Familiar Penzance sight retired from the streets after 46 years

By The Cornishman  |  Posted: March 30, 2013

  • John Skewes with his work companion of 40 years – the trusty Ford D500. Pictures courtesy of Amy Michael

  • Air conditioning WR Skewes style – an open window and an arm on the sill.

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AN ICONIC Penzance "sight" has disappeared in the past couple of weeks to the consternation of people around the town.

It was a classic example of 1960s' design, part of the Penwith landscape, and the visible embodiment of one of west Cornwall's longest-running businesses.

But this was no building, no shop front or architectural façade.

What has set tongues wagging is the disappearance of a blue and red 1967 Ford D500.

The lorry was brought to Penzance new as one of a pair with registrations JAF 27E and JAF 28E by long-since defunct business Cornish Produce, of Jennings Street.

Six years later it was bought by fruit and vegetable growers and wholesalers WR Skewes and Sons for £400.

And for the 40 years since the same blue lorry has trundled around Penzance delivering fruit and veg every day.

Owner John Skewes, of St Hilary, has driven his faithful wagon seven days a week (and more recently six days a week under pressure from wife Leonie), for all of those 40 years.

John and his lorry have become part of the west Cornwall landscape and in that time WR Skewes' D500 diesel has clocked up an estimated 700,000 miles – all on the same V6 engine.

And for 40 years John – branded "a treasure" by one customer – has been the smiling face that many townsfolk look out for on the street – but also the scourge of traffic wardens.

John, who runs WR Skewes with brother Roger, nephew Timothy and eldest son Richard, developed "understandings" with generations of Penzance traffic wardens.

His blue wagon is often double parked or on yellow lines around the town as he does his rounds, to this day carrying 25kg bags of potatoes on his shoulder.

John, 69, said: "I was once sat in the chair at the dentist next door [the former Queen Street Dental Practice] and Perran Zair had my mouth wide open when Jeremy Taylor, the traffic warden, came in and told me to move my van because I'd just parked it in the street outside. I told him I couldn't."

Rumour has it that Mr Skewes actually told his long-time adversary to "move it yourself – the keys are in it" but he refuses to confirm this. He said: "I stop where I need to stop but you can't blame the traffic wardens, they're only doing their job. They are quite good with delivery drivers, even now we don't have local ones any more."

John remembers a time when there were 25 shops and seven post offices and general stores that all needed supplying with fruit and vegetables, before the days of supermarkets. And that is without the trips to take a tonne of potatoes out to Sennen chip shop every week throughout the summer, and the annual run up to Falmouth to collect the Queen's Hotel's Christmas tree in the winter.

John still gets up at 6.30am to do his rounds – it is just his lorry that has retired. He said: "There used to be lots of us doing this years ago. We were all well-known around town. I'm the only one left.

"I could give up if I wanted but what am I going to do? I shall go on until something goes bang and I'm not able to lift 25 kilos."

In the meantime, John drives his new steed – a silver Ford Transit with power steering and air-conditioning.

But he still misses his 1967 Ford D500.

He said: "You get used to driving without power steering, you just build your forearms up. And if you want air-conditioning you open your window.

"I miss the old lorry. People still ask me where my lorry is when they see me in the street – even holidaymakers come up to me. But everything has to come to an end and you have to move on. It was getting too expensive to run with MoTs and emissions tests."

But the D500 is still in the family. John's middle son Edward has vowed to buy and restore one of the first vehicles he and brothers William and Richard drove when they were still teenagers, and show her at vintage rallies.

In the meantime Penzance's traffic wardens have a new van to look out for – but the same face behind the wheel.

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3 comments

  • rt1379  |  March 30 2013, 11:47AM

    ...nice... hope the boys restore the old truck ...

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  • rt1379  |  March 30 2013, 11:47AM

    ...nice... hope the boys restore the old truck ...

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  • Lafrowda  |  March 30 2013, 9:12AM

    The man should be Knighted. An example of old fashioned work values. But we will give it to some self seeking druggie who makes a million out of cheating at sport.

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