In January 1980 a well known servant of CUCC finally passed away to that great car park in the sky. Doug's Yellow Van, also known as WLF126G, 'The Yelow Peril', and other things not fit to print, finally succumbed to a severe attack of MOT failure, having fought off several previous attacks. No doubt many cavers will shed a tear in memory of their having slowly frozen on many tedious journeys back down the A1.
The van was bought from a Mr. Smith (nudge nudge know what I mean), whose garage is somewhere behind the Tate Gallery, for the mighty sum of £200 in December 1976. It quickly became an accepted part of the Cambridge Caving scene, giving a considerable reduction in both the cost and comfort of the meets. First class accomodation was in the front for three. Fourth class accomodation without seating was in the rear for seven with all rucksacks and tackle.
When purchased the van had only one door handle which led to the cry "Famous composers No. 1" echoing around the Dales as it was passed from door to door. Another cry much heard was "Not so fast!" uttered by the driver once everyone was sitting expectantly inside waiting to set off, having forgotten that the starter motor was broken and a push start was required. The van was not known for mechanical reliability, but owing to a very comprehensive spares and tool kit it never failed to return under its own power. Innumerable instances spring to mind. On one occasion the throttle cable broke at 23:00 on a fog-bound A1. No spare cable was on hand so eventually the engine cover was removed and a piece of string with a krab on the end as a handle was used. This left the driver with only one free hand, so the front passaenger had to work the gears. On another occasion a day meet to Derbyshire was planned. Unfortunately a rather obscure fault limited the van's speed to 20 mph and there was only time for a chip butty at Eric's before it was time to return.
Possibly most famed was the simulated alternator failure. A red light came on during an evening trip to the Dales. We decided that the battery alone would not run the lights for very long, so an uncomfortable beerless night was spent in the back. On arrival at Greenclose we were annoyed to find that the red light had been misinterpreted; the alternator was fine but no oil was visible on the dipstick.
A concept made possible by the Peril was the one and a half day meet to Derbyshire, ideal for the studious. After Saturday lectures and a couple of pints, a party would set off and bash an easy cave on Saturday evening before hitting the Monsal Head and eventually kipping in the van in a layby down the valley.
Seven people sleeping in one van is generally fairly sordid since the condensed sweat drips off the roof. On one occasion this sordidity was increased considerably by John Bowers who had consumed a cheese and onion flan on top of five rather swift pints. At about 01:00 honking sounds were heard. It was assumed by all that this was occurring out of the side door as was the usual practice. However, the next morning it was discovered that Joh had been trying to open the wrong side of the van and had actually thrown up close to Simon Farrow's head. Fortunately Simon is not a restless sleeper.
The climax of the van's career was undoubtedly the 1978 CUCC expedition to Austria. There were some fears about the van's suitability for this trip, but with a new engine that was run in on the day before departure and a very comprehensive spares kit we felt we were well prepared. On the way to the ferry the alternator seized. This was one of the few spares we had not thought to bring, so an early start was made the next morning and by 09:30 a new alternator had been bought and fitted, only causing a three hour delay. Thereafter performance was exemplary with 3000 miles of trouble free motoring, apart from the exhaust pipe falling off twice which doesn't really count. The 10km, 1 in 10 hill, with 16 hairpins, that leads up to the plateau caused no problems, although it took 20 mins in 1st gear. The trusty van had obviously been bottling up failures, because on the way home from Ramsgate the voltage regulator failed, the starter stopped and the indicators didn't.
The MOT expired shortly after the expedition and it took until Christmas to pass it again. Hope was nearly lost when even a funeral directors in Lancaster failed it. Shortly before the next MOT, the water pump seized, and with the steering and brakes needing replacement, a realistic, humane and economic decision had to be made.
No doubt many will be saddened by the passaing of the Yellow Peril, a fairly well loved and fairly trusty friend.
Since the passing of the Peril, Doug has obtained new transport - the Fartburg. Rumour has it that the petrol tank is a large oildrum situated on the passenger seat. The petrol guage is a torch. The Fartburg too, has exhaust pipe problems, and a spare half shaft is carried on the back seat just in case...
There is a picture of the Peril on the expedition section of the website.