Richard Preston

Anne and Richard Preston with one of their familiar lorries, which turned his haulage company into one of the most recognisable in Britain.
Anne and Richard Preston with one of their familiar lorries, which turned his haulage company into one of the most recognisable in Britain.
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BUSINESSMAN, farmer, traction engine enthusiast and former motorcycle scrambler, Richard Henry Preston, who has died aged 81, developed the-now familiar Prestons of Potto haulage company with his wife Anne from a small-scale business begun by his father, also Richard.

Mr Richard Preston Snr ran a contract business with threshing machines powered by traction engines.

In 1957 when the Government introduced fuel rationing in the wake of the Suez crisis he still had a traction engine, Lightning II, in his yard beside the railway line in the village of Potto near Northallerton.

It was seen by a passing passenger, Mr Morgan, managing director of Crossleys Bricks who had won a contract to supply the bricks for an extension at Ampleforth Abbey from his Hurworth brickworks near Darlington.

Fuel being a problem, he tracked down Mr Preston and asked if he would use his engine to haul the bricks. It proved to be arduous operation, which led to Mr Preston Snr losing a stone and a half in weight.

Afterwards, a lorry was acquired, paving the way for today’s haulage business.

Mr Preston Snr and his wife Elsie had three children, Betsy, Jean and Richard, and in 1939 moved from Faceby, on the edge of the North York Moors, to the nearby village of Potto.

Their son went to school a mile or so away in Swainby. Leaving school, he worked in his father’s business, and when called up for National Service, joined the RAF at Padgate in Cheshire.

His talent for getting on with people meant he soon made friends with the person in charge of postings, with the happy result that he was sent to RAF Thornaby in Teesside, enabling him to work in the family business whenever his duty roster allowed, which was often.

Motorcycle scrambling had long been a powerful draw, and at 21 he acquired a scramble bike with which he had success riding in Europe and leading the North against the South. In the 50s and 60s scrambling was at the height of its popularity, and known as Dicky, he won a large following, always riding in number 50.

In 1957, the year of the Suez crisis and the start of the haulage business, the Prestons were invited to take Lightning II to the fair in Stokesley to power one of the major rides. And it was at the fair that the young Mr Preston met the woman he was to marry. Anne Wade had stopped to look at the gleaming machine and seeing him standing by one of its front wheels, asked if it were his.

He recognised her as the girl he had first met in 1952. Her father, Alf Wade, had a cattle haulage business which still operates under that name.

It was said later that the engine started the business and started the marriage. The pair were married at North Cowton Church in May 1960.

The new Mrs Preston joined the company, running it with her husband until ill-health prevented him from continuing.

Together they built up the business to become one of the largest family haulage companies in Great Britain, named as one of the five most recognisable companies in UK with Coca Cola, Tata, Tesco, Kelloggs and Tate & Lyle among its clients.

Employing 250 staff at its depots at Potto, Knottingley, on Teesside and the South East, it carried all the steel for Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, the Olympic Stadium and the Shard.

President of the Great Yorkshire Traction Engine Club, past president of the Fair Organ Preservation Society, and possibly the only non-titled patron of the National Traction Engine Trust, in later years Mr Preston had some of his happiest days at steam engine rallies and was in his element in the company of fairground showmen who delighted him by making him an honorary member of the Showman’s Guild.

Over the years he built up one of the finest collections of fairground organs and engines in North Yorkshire.

With farming in his and his wife’s families’ backgrounds, he purchased the village farm at Hutton Rudby in the 1970s, widening his interests even further.

Those extensive interests, combined with his friendly personality and lively sense of humour contributed to his popularity as an after-dinner speaker. But the easy-going exterior belied an extraordinary capacity for work. Active in the community, he was involved with the local school and village events – he provided the communal Christmas tree – and was a familiar sight as he greeted with a wave the numerous people he knew as he drove around in his well-recognised Range Rover.

Sartorially, he was a man of extremes, one day being in a boiler suit and the next in one of his hall-mark exotic jackets.

His funeral was attended by 800 people.

Mr Preston is survived by his wife Anne, their children David and Jayne and their grandchildren Jamie, Jake and Isabella,