When The Car and Lorry Changed Logistics For Building Materials

Written by LetsBuild

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Well, I suppose this change must have started very earlier in the 20th. Century not long after the first lorries were manufactured. Change takes time though.

As a kid they were building a huge new Council Estate at the rear of our house. This was to fill in nearly a mile of green space between us and the local Park and Grammar School. Now remember that this was the Post War Regeneration Period and the houses were urgently needed. Ours, being a ship-building town, got heavily Blitzed. There were actually more tonnes of bombs dropped on it per head of population than there were on Coventry! Many people were left effectively homeless so there wasn’t the fuss about this building that there would be today. We weren’t NIMBYs back then!

Anyway, as a kid I use to see some material deliveries to the site being made by horse and cart! As the build, and time, progressed the horses and carts disappeared and were replaced by lorries. Never a car, though! They were only for the rich in those days!


The only lorries there were then were 10 ton – yes, the old British ton – flat beds. Now the skilled trades worked just as fast in those days as they do today and needed materials! That meant the queue of lorries waiting to be unloaded was endless! The unloading was a pretty slow job, too! There were no fork lift trucks or pallets! Everything had to be hand-balled off the lorries and walked to where the stuff was needed. If it was aggregates it had to be shovelled off. That’s the way material deliveries stayed until that whole site was completed.

It was probably during the 1960’s that tipper wagons started to become a common sight. They saved a lot of shovelling. During this decade the lorries, flat-bed or tipper, started to increase in size from the 10 ton varieties up to 15 tons. We also saw 20 ton articulated wagons beginning to make site deliveries. These meant there was altogether too much hard work humping! Towards the end of the 60’s and in the early 70’s we got fork lift trucks to do it for us and deliveries came in on pallets! Personally I wish it had happened earlier! If material was bagged it came in 50kg bags (actually they were still hundredweight bags then) and it was unloading those which has left me with a wrecked, painful back these days!

Since that time we’ve seen lorry capacity go up to maximum of 32 tonnes for the rigid vehicles and 41 tonnes for articulated lorries, although these limits are governed by the number of axles the vehicle has. A good job we have those fork-lifts!

One effect these increased delivery weights had on construction is that more time and effort had to start going into planning the pre-start site layout. There had to be somewhere to store these large loads! It would take an awful lot of plasterers to get through 41 tonnes of plaster in a day!

It was during the same era, the late-60’s, early 70’s, that we started to get cars parking on construction sites. They had become more easily available and also more affordable and reliable. It wasn’t just the site management who had them, but also many of the tradesmen. This has meant that people can now work further away from home without having to go into B&Bs and it has also allowed both management and trades to move between sites during the day, if that is what their optimum work output requires. Their cars also gave the site management somewhere to do their paperwork if their offices had disappeared off site.

So back to the changes that cars and lorries have made to construction logistics! That comes down to fewer deliveries of bigger loads of materials delivered and the ability to get labour on site has been improved. Those two things mean that, in effect, construction speeds have been increased and costs reduced! When I say “costs reduced” that totally ignores inflation! Why Governments and economists think inflation is a good thing is a total mystery to me!