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In 1938, Fred started at Witheridge Garage. Bill Cox had taken the garage over from Doble's; he stayed until 1945, when Batten and Thorne took over. Mr Humphries, followed by Mr and Mrs James, succeeded them. In the thirties, most cars you saw were Fords, Austin's, Morris's and Standards, there was a Hispano Suiza at Knowstone Manor, and also a Daimler Tourer, whose brakes Fred relined by cutting off a length of brake lining, drilling holes in it and fitting it. When Fred first started work at the Garage, he told Bill Cox that he was not going to do motorbikes, and he never did.

The Garage shop was also the tobacconist. Bill Cox was a wholesale tobacconist as well as retail, and did his round once a fortnight delivering orders and taking new ones. He would go out past Bradford to the shop and The Stag at Rackenford and to the baker, Wilf Crocker. From there it was on to the Stores at Gibbet, followed by Nomansland, with Bob Drew at the stores and Post Office, and Gordon Greenslade in the pub. Puddington Post Office was the next stop, followed by Black Dog pub and the pub at Thelbridge Cross. From there it was on down to Drayford and the Stucley Arms at West Worlington. The last call was at the Gidleigh Arms. In the village Bill Cox supplied Churchill's bakery, Jim Buckingham's shop, the Post Office, Bill Vernon's, Percy Holloway's grocery shop, Jack Stone in the Hare and Hounds, and Bill and Ruby Buchanan in The Angel.

Bill Cox was also a great wholesale/retail bicycle man, especially for the 3-speed and dynamo-hub Raleigh and the cheaper Hercules, there were even a few ladies bicycles were sold. He also stocked a range of bike accessories which included bicycle clips.

Among those who worked at the Garage was Gibbs, who went in the Army. Bill Mann was the expert on Fordson tractors: if you had the spade-lug version, you could buy curved pieces of wood to attach between the spade lugs for driving on the road, to save buying a separate set of wheels. Harry Boundy at Rowden had one and drove it once with salt water in the tubes. Fordsons were usually driven standing up. In the fifties, the Ferguson changed all that.

In the thirties and forties Austin Tens were popular, and the Austin Heavy Twelve Four used to be fitted with haysweep and tended to boil when a load of hay blocked the air from the radiator. By 1939, two farmers had ex-London Beardmore taxis. Some locals were reluctant to adopt the motorcar, and preferred to use taxis to go to market, or out on the Moor to follow the hunt. For example, it was not until 1955 that West Yeo acquired a car of their own, a black Austin A70 from Lock's of North Molton, registration number MXL 740.

Fred recalls Ernest Cutcliffe walking up from Coombe in his "plus-twos" to have a whisky in the Angel with Ernie Hutchings. They were two of the few who drank whisky. Fred serviced Ernest's Triumph 2000. His daughter Sarah Cutcliffe brought her car in and worked on it herself, accompanied by colourful language. Dick Cox owned a Riley, and Notts had a Bristol, which Fred believes they still have. Cedric Nott had a sports car; his father Archie had an Austin 12, and then a Rover.

Repairs of farm implements were usually done by the blacksmith. The Garage had three pumps, one for paraffin and two for petrol (could have been Texaco). Oil was either Pratt's or ROP (Russian Oil Product). The Angel had a petrol pump, Drayford Garage had two, Nomansland pub had one, so did the Bradford's at Blackdog, and Alf Pincombe at Rackenford, and Tidballs had a pump too. There was one at Thelbridge, and Tom Pike had one at Three Hammers.

Bert Matthews of Rackenford had an Austin 7, until he met a milk lorry in a narrow lane and "that was the end of the Austin Seven". On his veterinary visits had had the habit of starting by pointing at the sick animal and saying "He'm going to die, Mister". One Christmas time Bert backed his Morris 12 into a hedge and punctured the tank, he sent for Fred who went out with his tools and a couple of gallons of petrol, and mended it. Mrs Matthews gave him tea and a pound note. Bert comes back and says "You're a ripping good chap, come in." In he goes, and Bert cuts a big Christmas cake in half, and gives half to Fred to take home to his wife and son (who was three months old at the time). He also gives him a pound note. Fred says, "The missus has already paid", but Bert says "Never mind that, that' nothing to do with me".

Fred recalls the office in the Square being the Notts Coombe Quarry office, occupied by Bill Vernon, before Devon General used it.

In wartime, headlamp glasses had to be removed completely and replaced by masks and low-powered bulbs. The edges of the mudguards had to be painted white. About this time, most cars had no brake lights, and rules were brought in that brake light kits had to be fitted, with precise instructions on height from the road and distance apart. Petrol was rationed, but a number of people seemed to get by without using coupons at all. Some farmers used to carry a piece of machinery in their cars in case they were stopped, so they could say their journey was essential war work. Cox the Garage proprietor used to put a 5-gallon drum of oil in his car if he was going out for social reasons. Eggs, butter, and rabbits, were supplied to the Police Station to ensure a blind eye being turned.

Originally, "dipped lights," meant cutting out the offside headlight altogether, but later both had to be dipped, and for this all lights had to be rewired.

In the fifties, there were "bowler-hatted Colonels" around, Colonel Edds was at Lakelands, and there were other Colonels at Rose Ash and at Thelbridge.

Fred recalls one Ford Popular whose windscreen wiper worked off the exhaust, and stopped when you went up hill.

Once, Charlie Bock at Grendon brought his rotovator in late in the day for a new chain. In spite of an offer of £5, Bill Mann refused the work, as it was 5 o'clock, so Fred did the job and got the £5.

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Three Lorries used to bring prisoners out from Exeter to the Prison Farm every morning about 9am. A "milking van" would come at 6.30 with a few prisoners to do the milking. Once near Christmas one of the Lorries stopped at the Garage on its way home at 5pm with a blocked filter. Fred cleared the filter and off they went. A short time later there was a phone call from Withleigh where the lorry had broken down again. When Fred got there he heard carols being beautifully sung by the prisoners. The cause of the breakdowns was that someone had put mud in the fuel tank.

Barry may have a carnival photo of an Austin Twelve Tourer, driven by Bill Cox and converted to an aeroplane, with a propeller made by Bill Gold, with Fred Rippon and Ted King completing the crew. Ted King was handy man to Dr Price. If a farmer sent for Dr Price and he knew it would be down a long rough lane, Dr Price would drive his car to the start of the lane, accompanied by Ted King on horseback. Dr Price would then ride the horse down the farm lane, make his call, ride back up, get in his car and drive home, leaving Ted to ride the horse back. Many of the longer farm lanes were rough, such as North Coombe, Malson, Wilson and Grendons.

In the sixties, the Garage had a small breakdown truck and a Bedford van. Frankie Kingdom had his Ford 8, and Marie Gloyn and Mrs Culhene at the Post Office had a van. Touts the butchers had several, one day Frank Gowan was delivering for Touts in Puddington when the engine stopped. A phone call was made to the Garage, and Fred said he would be on his way, but in the meantime would Frank please get the bonnet up. When Fred arrived, Frank still had not worked out how to undo the bonnet. Before Touts, butcher Masters had two Bedford vans. Percy Holloway had an Austin. In earlier days, Whitfields the bakers in West Street had a horse and cart, driven by Frankie Kingdom, who one time tipped it over down Worlington.

Frank Holmes at the Gidleigh Arms kept a Morris Cowley in a shed on blocks in the winter. Each spring Fred would go up there, put its wheels on, let it down onto the ground and saw that it was still running. In the summer, it was used about the fields, sometimes with a haysweep fitted. In the autumn, Fred would go out again, put it up on blocks and take its wheels off for the winter. There was a petrol pump at Gidleigh Arms, probably National Benzol. Margaret Holmes was a skilled electric welder and worked at John Leach's.

In the late thirties Cummings Bowden and Arthur Buckingham worked in the bus depot next door to the Garage. In the Garage was a single-post raised ramp, but no pit. There were drills and grinders, and over the office was the tyre department. Avon was the only make of tyre stocked, with the Avon Dualtread the top of the range. Beside the office was the store. There was an airline out by the pumps, but it was taken in at night. To take an engine out a tripod was fixed up, or it was lifted out manually. There were no regular car services then and tyres were changed when they were bald. There was a warning picture above the bench, showing a woman and two children at a table with an empty chair; the caption read, "that chair would have been filled if only he'd replaced his worn tyres". Spare wheels were mounted on the running board (with a petrol can bolted on) or at the back.

When Fred was at Stag's Head, Filleigh, he sometimes saw Henry Williamson, author of "Tarka", who was a Fortescue tenant at Shillingford. He drove past in his Alvis Tourer.

Snow and Freeze-up 1963

Many bought and fitted snow chains, but John Malseed, the Vet, went for snow tyres. It was soon realised that in these extremely low temperatures diesel could freeze. Once Fred went out to Mr Ashelfords, whose Bedford lorry's diesel tank had frozen? His solution was to put a straw bale under the tank and set light to it. This worked, without harm done, as diesel, on its own, would not burn. Swift's lorry froze solid at Newbridge. There was very little antifreeze about then. The roads were treacherous, but Courtney Thorne drove his mini back from South Molton without mishap. Bill Hill of Foxdon also drove back from South Molton, but when he reached Witheridge garage and tried to back into the yard, he found he had no steering as the track rod was missing. Fred went out as far as Meshaw but could not find it. Eventually a Nott's lorry picked it up on Alswear Straight. How Bill Hill had steered his vehicle from Alswear to Witheridge with no track rod remained a mystery. On a visit to Ashelford's Fred found the road blocked with snow, and took to Hayes's fields to get round the blockage, easy because the wind had swept the fields clear of snow and they shone like mirrors. Bill Buchanan of The Angel got his car stuck at Stretchdown, and by the time he had walked down to Fred at the garage and back up again, the snow had drifted and the car was invisible. The man from Morchard Bishop who brought the daily papers used to mix oil with water in his car's tank to stop it freezing.

Hay sweeps were fitted to the fronts of cars, Mr Beer at Stourton fitted them to his two-second hand Beardmore London taxis others favoured cars like the Austin Heavy Twelve. The chassis of cars then were immensely strong.

Witheridge Garage tanks held 1000 gallons. The village Exe Valley Electricity Company put in electricity into the garage in 1937. In the same year, a vehicle ramp was installed, powered by oil and compressed air. Once when Fred was working under a car, the ramp began jerking downwards, and they found that the seals were leaking, and had to be replaced, and refilled with 30 gallons of liquid. There was an airline for tyres, and air powered a tyre removing device. There were two lifting jacks, an axle stand, vices, drills, a valve grinder, and the original semi-rotary pump for inflating tyres.

In 1939, all vehicles had their lamp glasses replaced with lamp masks. Garage hours were 6am to 6pm; Mr Cox was keen to build up his business. Rivals were Bill Radford at Nomansland, and the bus garage next to Cox's did some car work. Once Cox told Fred to go down to Notts depot to do a lorry's gears, Frank Lawrence's job it was, but he agreed Fred could go, but tipped him off that that particular gearbox would only come off if it was put in second gear. One day a Coombe Quarry lorry stopped outside the baker's for a loaf. Unknown to the driver Fred Davey's young son had crawled in under, and when it moved off, he was killed.

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Last Edited 03/07/2006    Copyright © 2000-2006 Witheridge

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