Operating nationwide over the years we have provided attractions and services at a multitude of different events and venues. Some we visit once then never see again. Others we seem to turn up at regularly. Some we find to be awkward venues that we would rather not be at. Others like Bert’s Barrow quickly become favourites. Usually it’s down to the people in charge. They can make a venue welcoming, easy for us to operate at and make us want to return.
Bert’s is a family run farm, that has been turned into an events venue. Usable for smaller events such as weddings. Or equally lending itself to larger corporate events, with full funfair rides etc.
We have provided attractions for family fun days at a few events there and found Charlotte, Jason and the team to be accomodating and made the events just so easy for us. Definitely worth a look if you want to run a corporate function in the West Yorkshire area.
They also offer a great time around Halloween when you can go picking your own pumpkins. Pet dogs? No probs, take them with you. With funfair rides and other attractions it makes a great day out for the family.
December is usually our busiest month, by quite a margin. This year it got even bigger. We picked up a contract with Amazon to provide their Peak Treats service.
Basically it consisted of visiting 70 Amazon’s in 4 countries over 6 weeks, dispensing over 66000 Salted Pretzels and 15,000 litres of mulled wine (Non alcoholic sadly)
So how did it go. On the surface all serene and everyone happy.
Underneath, our usual paddling madly like ducks to make it look all serene.
Last Minute As Usual
We were notified that we had won the tender for the event. However we had to provide a sample of the food and drink for a company tasting. So obviously we didn’t want to start spending money on stock etc until after the tasting just in case it all went Pete Tong.
Happily they loved the items on the tasting and everything was finally signed off, 8 days before we were due to begin. This meant we have roughly a week to design and build 6 new mini Christmas huts for the job. To buy and take delivery of high capacity boilers and pretzel warming cabinets, new mains, obtain enough stock and and sort out freezer facilities for tens of thousands of pretzels.
Building The Stalls
Luckily the local fabricator we use was a bit quiet on the work front. So we nipped some spare steel we had up to him and talked him through fabricating the frame we needed. This took best part of a day. Fortunately the cover guy we had found was in the vicinity that afternoon so he called and measured up for the covers we needed and promised to have them ready for Sunday teatime (The job started Monday morning gulp).
A quick trip to the woodyard to have the counters made, and then the paint shop to pick up our new favourite product Raptor with which to coat the steel. Nigel promised to have all the steel work ready for mid week so things were on track. Our resident wood guy measured up for the wooden panels we needed and promised to have them by Sunday as well.
We priced up a freezer trailer hire for the pretzels, but quickly worked out we could buy a second hand unit cheaper than hiring one, so that’s what we did. It was delivered about an hour before our first delivery of pretzels, so just in time, but hey, it was there. This proved to be a godsend. Not just for the pretzels, but a number of other jobs where we usually ended up disposing of stock, we suddenly found we had the storage capacity to keep it, so win win all around.
The pretzels came from a company we have used in the past who import them directly from Germany. The mulled wine was sourced initially from a localish company, which was handy, the problem was they only did them in bottles. So for the initial batch I ordered a thousand bottles. We went in one of our vans to collect the order. 2 pallets worth. The fork lift driver rubbed his beard, “Whats the payload of this van”.
“About a 1.2 tonne I think”, I replied.
“Ahh well 2 pallets is 1.2 tonne mate, and you too will take it a little over”
Oh FFS. “It’ll be OK, stick them in”
Only it wasn’t, once they were in the van towbar was touching the floor. Turns out that particular van was only a 1 tonne payload. We had to take one out and make another sodding trip. After that we sourced an alternative that came in 10 litre drums and was delivered direct to our yard.
The equipment we sourced started out pretty well. And worked pretty well for about a fortnight. Then the warming cabinets started blowing the electric at random times. Turns out they have a design fault. The U shaped heating element in the bottom expands as it heats up. As it expands it rubs against the ide of the cabinet. Luckily it is insulated. Unluckily continued rubbing removes the insulation and then blows the electric. Quick work bending the ends of the element sorted that out.
I had all 3 of our vans serviced before we started thinking this would ensure everything was OK. Only true to form Murphy bit us twice.
On the very first day the van i was driving suddenly flashed up a warning that it was no longer charging the battery half way to the site at Rugeley. Now having owned Citroen Dispatches for a number of years I know that a failed alternator or snapped fan belt doesn’t damage the engine. I also knew from past experience that as the battery voltage dropped the van computer would start to shut systems down.
Sure enough ten mile from the destination, just as I hit twisty windy country roads, the electrically assisted power steering shut down. Followed by brake assistance, lights, indicators etc.
I actually got to the venue, pulled into the usual parking bay and applied the handbrake just as the engine shut down, phew.
Now the important thing was we had got there. Getting home should have been a problem, but one of our staff, Fred, had been late getting to work. So in temper he was told he was going to have to drive his own van and meet me at the job. So we had a spare van to tow me back.
The same sodding thing happened a week later with a totally different van. Only this time it was at Dunfermline in Scotland. This resulted in us having to call at Halfords and buy 2 new batteries so that we could keep changing them on the way home to keep the engine running.
Mentioning Fred, one of our regular staff members, we have officially changed his name to Frank Spencer (If you are too young to remember Frank, check him out here) . He left a trail of destruction throughout the duration of the contract. including;
Putting the plastic chocolate sauce bottles in the electric pretzel oven to warm them up. Cue an aroma of melted chocolate and plastic!
Faffing about with the gel packs in one of our ethanol gel pretzel warmers, managing to set his hand on fire, shaking it to get the burning gel off, and successfully setting fire to one of the brand new covers on our Christmas huts.
Deciding to move the fully loaded pretzel ovens on a job and forgetting to plug them back into the electric. Resulting in a panic to get everything warmed up in time of opening.
The only other real hiccup we had, was the fact that we would do an afternoon shift at Amazon, then go back for the evening shift. But for some reason, the night security never seemed to have been notified that we had been booked to do the job. Cue most evening trying to convince security to actually let us on site.
A few year back, about 15 to be precise. We launched an initiative to become the most environmentally friendly funfair operator on the circuit. We switched to running on bio diesel. Swapped all of our catering consumables to bio friendly alternatives. Started switching to the then, new technology of LED lighting. Even looked at adding solar panels and a mini wind turbine to our helter skelter to run the lights. We even purchased a set of Swedish designed compost tumblers to dispose of our food waste.
Armed with the glow of the righteous, we set about marketing our new environmentally friendly catering services, and took pains to explain in detail what we were doing. And it went down a storm. People loved it. BUT, and it was a big BUT.
The reply we got when sending quotes in for our services was along the lines of;
“Wow, what you guys are doing is fabulous, we really love it, hope you keep it up, unfortunately the non environmentally friendly operators are just a little bit cheaper than you, so I am afraid we will have to go with them!”
It quickly became apparent that we were going to end up as the most environmentally friendly bankrupt funfair operators out there.
Back To The Drawing Board
In truth, we pretty much went back to operating like everyone else. The fact was that saving the world was just too expensive at that time. If no one else was going to do it, putting ourselves out of business wasn’t really a sound business plan. You didn’t need an MBA from Harvard to suss that one.
So, what has that got to do with the price of bacon?
Well, we think the time is right to re launch our aims. The environment is suddenly a mainstream topic. It beginning to reach the stage where being enviro conscious is no longer the exception, rather you are expected to take it into account.
It does help that items such as drinks cups and plates etc are dropping in price for the biodegradable versions. So mush so that there is now only a slight premium in using them. Most items, such as cutlery ,plates, bowls, cups etc are widely available in various ‘plastics’ made from plant matter, or sugar cane.
The one hold out is bloody straws, the awful paper things we have been saddled with are useless. Three sucks of any liquid and the things collapse. So if you know of an alternative we would be happy to hear from you.
Keep checking back, as we will be launching a new environmentally friendly catering initiative in the coming months.
During the lock down, like many businesses we found our regular business model changing. We have always provided a large number of catering services, but usually what we called fun catering, doughnuts, waffles that sort of thing. A number of our regular corporate clients started asking us for things like burgers, noodles, pasta pots, more of a main course sort of thing. We swiftly set all of that up, initially in a range of street food style satalls. Perfect as they could be set up inside or out. However we also came to realise that many of the clients wanted more than just the food, they wanted something of an impact from the serving vehicle. To this end we are in the process of adding a range of fun and quirky food trucks for hire.
Citroen Hy Catering Van
Based on the vintage Citroen HY van range, but built on a trailer chassis using modern materials this is a fabulous looking food truck for any occasion, perfect for high output corporate jobs, but equally at home at a high end wedding.
Vintage Horse Trailer
A fully refurbished, vintage Sinclair horse box, with a stunning black and copper paint scheme, and finished in a high end Sapele hardwood this fits many country themes and can be fitted with any of our range of catering options.
Citroen Acadiane Van
The newest member of our fleet, another vintage Citroen design, based on the iconic 2CV car, but with a van body. Designed for many of our smaller food offerings such as coffee, doughnuts etc. This also works well with our our other Citroen food trucks hire.
Only Fools And Horses 3 Wheeled Van
Probably our quirkiest food van, based on the legendary Del Boy Trotter’s 3 wheeled van, again designed to take smaller offerings, this is a real head turner at any event.
Mini Camper Van Food Truck
Next is a mini camper van replica. Great for summer parties and beach themed events. Perfect for drinks offerings, but equally suited to food offerings. Check out our food trucks for hire and add a touch of fun to your party or event.
Traditional Ice Cream Trike
Back to the simplest vehicle of all, a tricycle. Bought initially fo ice cream jobs, it is adaptable for many desserts such as strawberries and cream, waffles, poffertjes etc.
Another in a long line of distinguished British Marquees, that are now sadly defunct. Foden trucks was a major British heavy goods vehicle builder for almost 120 years, and a major presence on the British funfair scene.
Edwin Foden started out apprenticed to Plant & Hancock, a maker of agricultural equipment. Leaving for a spell at Crewe Railway Works he returned to Plant & Hancock at the age of 19, eventually becoming a partner in the business. On the retirement of its proprietor George Hancock in 1887 the company name was changed to Edwin Foden Sons & Co. Ltd. Initially building industrial engines, small steam engines and traction engines.
The firm moved from traction engines into Steam Lorries when restrictions governing road transport were eased in 1896 which allowed speeds over 12mph, and removed the requirements for a man to walk in front of the vehicle with a red flag.
By 1930, Edwin’s son, E.R. Foden left the company after a disagreement over the future direction of road transport, he feeling that the future lay in Diesel engined lorries. He founded the rival firm of ERF, (his initials) another firm favourite on British fairgrounds and subject of an additional article at a future time.
Foden eventually realised he had been right thereafter rapidly switching to diesel production with the launch of the Foden F1.
By 1948 Foden were producing a range of vehicles including buses. Launching their own 2 stroke diesel engine which powered many of their heavy models. They also began offering Gardner diesel engines as an option.
By 1958 glass reinforced plastic cabs were introduced, leading to the first mass produced tilting cab in 1962.
It was this combination of rugged construction, Gardner Diesel engine and rot proof cab which led to the Foden range becoming a major force on British fairgrounds. Most vehicles used in the industry were purchased used, and the cab being rust proof was a major plus point. This, along with the Gardner engine which had a legendary reputation for reliability, and the tough build quality was a perfect combination for vehicles expected to have a hard life on the funfair circuit.
Micky Mouse Cab
One of the most popular of the early Foden’s was the Micky Mouse Cab. So called due to its resemblance to the cartoon character.
Foden Trucks S108
Probably the most widely used type of Foden trucks on British fairgrounds was the 8 wheel S108. The usual rugged build quality, Gardner engines, now putting out upto 350HP and plastic cab.
Eventually with the downturn in the truck market, and economic woes in general, Foden fell into receivership in 1980. Subsequently being bought by the huge American firm Paccar, who manufactured amongst others, Kenworth and Peterbilt.
The Daf Cab Years, Foden Alpha
After Paccar took over Leyland trucks in 1998, Foden use of the GRP cabs was stopped. Being switched to the steel cabs used on Paccar’s other European marquee, DAF. Which were being produced by Leyland for DAF.
Sadly the Alpha was to be Foden’s swansong. In 2005 Paccar announced that production was to cease. Ostensibly to allow the Leyland factory to concentrate on increasing DAF production. The final vehicle to roll off the production line being an 8 wheeler. Which was delivered to the British Commercial Vehicle Museum
Like many businesses, we changed course during the Covid pandemic. Only slightly admittedly, in fact more of a subtle swerve. I always used to say that we provided fun catering rather than full meals or the like. During the lockdown though a number of our biggest clients started asking for burgers and fries, Chinese noodles, rice pots and the like.
Not a problem, we can do that. What did crop up as a concern though was the fact that providing 900 burgers, meant we were having to transport far more stock than what we used to do with say candy floss, which at most would be a big tub of sugar. 900 buns take up a considerable amount of room.
So what to do, the obvious choice was buy bigger vans, trouble is, parking is a nightmare in places like London when you have a little van, so something long wheel base would be a nightmare. The other option was to acquire some box trailers. These could be used for things like stock, freezers, additional catering equipment etc. And when we didn’t need them could be left at base and we were back to our usual small vans.
The first of our new Debon C500 trailers has just arrived and been collected from the dealers. Pictured below this gives us a decent amount of additional carrying capacity, both in space and weight terms. It also looks the part being a modern construction, so will look great parked up at events.
The first thing we did on taking delivery, was to get it straight into our graphics people to have it lettered. Now this is a new thing for us. In the past because of the amount of jobs we did for other events companies we shied away from having the vans personalised. But with some young blood on the management team we have rethought that position and will be making sure our new Crazy & Co. brand is front and centre whenever possible.
Ziggy & Our New Branding
Pictured below is the current design for the trailer. Ziggy our zebra logo is prominent, along with details of what we do. Our web and social media, and a quirky saying for those following us to laugh about. The branding will be rolled out on our new equipment, and also gradually added to our existing fleet.
Next up in our new range of food trucks is our converted horse box. We looked at a wide range of converted horse trailers, but were never 100% happy with the design. We happened by chance upon a maker called Sinclair, long defunct, but their trailers were different as they had a curved front panel rather than the usual triangular style.
After much searching we located one at the other end of the country, a brief conversation and we were told that it is perfect, ready for the road.
Cue and early morning trip to Bournemouth. On arrival, the rather vacant sounding young man informed us that actually the lights don’t work. Hmm, so not quite road worthy then. Luckily I had the foresight to throw a lighboard in.
However upon examining the trailer we discovered that it had four different sized wheels.
“Tell you what mate, I’ll ring the boss and tell her about the trailer and let you know”
Luckily I had a back up plan, I had found another trailer at Knutsford, only about 100 miles out of our way on the return trip lol, and this one was described as ‘mint’.
We duly arrived at Knutsford. The trailer was far from mint, but it was suitable for what we wanted. We struck a deal, coupled up and discovered that a short on the trailer lights had blew the lights on the van. That turned into a whole other saga as changing the fuse necessitated a full strip down of the dash to reach the bloody thing.
But I digress, we set off home sans lights. On the way we did receive a text message from the first seller asking when we would be returning for the first trailer. FFS, we left there 7 hours ago.
The Initial Strip Down
After careful consideration we decided that rather than doing what most people seem to do, a quick coat of brush paint and throw some counters in, we decided to make it something nice.
So we started with a complete strip down to the bare frames, leaving my other half to retort, all you have actually bought is a bloody frame!
Taking it back to bare metal we primed everything with rustcoat, then coated the entire frame with black Raptor, one of our favourite products. This gives a hard wearing textured finish that protects everything and covers amazingly well.
One of the concerns the health inspector had was that the original floor would contain years of horse urine soaked into the wood. No probs, as we stripped and burned the original wood flooring and binned the rubber coating.
A new wood floor was fitted, two coats of stain to seal it, then a new rubber coating.
Big Decision, Wooden Cladding
One of the major decisions was how we were going to finish the exterior. The original wood was a high grade hardwood, but because all the screws and bolts were seized in, we pretty much destroyed it taking it off. A trip to our local wood guys yard and a look through his collection of woods saw us settling on Sapele. A tropical hardwood that is related to mahogany, and is a fabulous colour, ranging from red to golden brown.
We used a soak in wood treatment on all the panels, then a number of coats of satin varnish, as we didn’t want an overly glossy look to the trailer.
We also settled on a satin black for the fibreglass roof and aluminium corner panels. Again, we wanted a less shiny look, though I admit the satin clearcoat was a nightmare to spray without it looking patchy. In the end after numerous attempts I gave up. But curiously, after a couple of weeks the patches disappeared and a uniform coating appeared????
The front corner panels were steel, they were overly heavy and badly rusted, so we replaced them with three mm aluminium. In retrospect two mm might have been sufficient as the three really took some bending.
Making It Different
We wanted a different look to the usual horse trailers, and I freely admit that we had seen an American horse trailer that we loved, so we used that for inspiration. One of the things we added to achieve this different look was a number of windows, both to let light into the trailer, and to add some visual appeal.
On To The Interior
Finally we got started with the interior. A number of steel frames were built in situ, with sapele front panels added and temporary countertops in MDF. A water tank, water heater and waste system, single and three phase electrics and a cooking fume extraction system. Also in common with our other food trucks we added a 42 inch display for menus and such.
The interior corners we added alternating sapele and idigbo strips to add some visual effect.
Another Of Our Food Trucks Almost Finished
Our programmable light panel.
We added decorative copper panels to the exterior and additional windows to the front. Just waiting on the production of our top sign at this point.
Continuing our look at some of the world’s ride manufacturers, we come to Wisdom Rides, one of, if not the largest ride manufacturer in the U.S.A.
Like many ride builders, Wisdom can trace it’s history back to being operators rather than builders. R.T. Dowis, the Great Grandfather of the current generation of the family originally purchased a ride to travel the carnival circuit in Colorado, Nebraska and the other Plains states, all by rail at the time. In an interview his Gt Granddaughter laughed when she said I would have loved to have seen his wife’s face when he walked in and said ‘Guess what I just bought honey!”
Moving To Manufacturing
Jerry Wisdom married Elaine Osborn, the founders granddaughter, giving up the chance to play professional football (Not what we and the rest of the world call football, but that strange American game where they use their hands more than their feet). Jerry being a handy engineer, was interested in the workings of the rides the family were travelling.
During some down time he stripped the ferris wheel down, redesigned it and created something that folded rather than disassembled. This resulted in the set up time going from five to six hours for five men, to around an hour and a half for two to three men. A massive saving when help is becoming scarcer.
Jerry took over the family carnival business in 1963 and set about updating and modernising the rides. A big part of this was trailer mounting making them easier and quicker to set up and tear down.
By 1969, manufacturing and mounting rides on trailers had become a bigger part of the business. Leading to the carnival side being sold off to concentrate on the manufacturing side of things.
From A Scrambler To A Sizzler
It was 1970 when things took off for Wisdom. They had bought the rights to a ride called the Scrambler, what we tend to call a twist. They redesigned it and produced a new version known as the Sizzler. Which was a major hit on the carnival circuit.
This successful ride helped fund Wisdom’s expansion into a catalogue of around 40 different attractions that they build today. One of their major claims to fame is that they have built more roller coaster type rides than any other company in the country.
Over the years, Citroen, the French Automobile manufacturer has stood out for doing things its own way. It has designed and utilised a number of systems for its cars different to anyone else. WIth it’s DS model in 1955 it gave the world a quirky hydraulic suspension system, swivelling headlights, a single spoke steering wheel, all wrapped up in a quirky streamlined body. Withs its 2CV, it gave something else.
A Legend Is Born
Post war France, like many nations was struggling with austerity, rebuilding, the after effects of that cataclysmic conflict. At the time in the Gallic nation, most people were still using horses and carts. The roads in most of the country were rural and unpaved.
Citroën Vice-President Pierre Boulanger wanted to design a vehicle that would be suitable for the many French farmers. Legend has it that the car he came up with was designed to allow a farmer to cross a ploughed field with a basket full of eggs, without them breaking.
Whether that was true or just an apocryphal story is open to debate. Either way the car features an unusual suspension set up, with a single horizontally mounted spring connected to both front and back wheels via shock absorbers, also mounted horizontally.
The Tin Snail
The novel suspension system was wrapped up in a simple tin body, corrugated for strength, whilst keeping the weight down, the car had a full length canvas roof, and has received a number of less than flattering names. An Umbrella On Wheels, The Duck, Tin Snail. Powering this new Citroen, was an air cooled, two cylinder boxer engine. Initially around 375 with a stunning 9HP. This was increased first to 425cc with 12.5 HP and then to 602 and 32 horses.
To keep costs down it came with no locks on the doors, a single taillight and no heating or ventilation system. Subject to much derision by the motoring press at launch, Citroen was flooded with customer orders, indeed at one point a second hand 2CV was more expensive than a new one due to the waiting list.
The motoring press got it wrong. Citroen sold 3.8 million of these little quirky cars, and it kept selling for over 40 years.
The car gradually became more ‘luxurious’ over the years, receiving upgrades such as wing mirrors, and two headlights. There was even a 4×4 version called the Sahara. True to form whilst everyone else in the automobile universe added a transfer box to split power between the front and back wheels, Citroen added a second engine in the boot to drive the back wheels. The car could run on front or back engines, or both, with two keys and starter buttons in the cabin, but a single linked gearstick, and two petrol tanks, one under each front seat, with holes in the doors for the filler caps.
Now you might wonder why a blog about a catering company has an article on a primitive French car? It’s simple really, the French didn’t just make the 2CV as a car, they also made a van version called the Fourgonnette. This was rapidly adopted by everyone from the local florist, to the French Post Office.
It has also been adopted by us. Well, not technically a 2CV van, but rather an Acadiane van. Basically this is a 2CV running gear and engine, with a slightly modernised cabin added. So instead of the single round headlights, you get a more modern streamlined wing mounted light. It is also slightly more powerful, and is based on the Dyane car, itself basically a facelifted 2CV.
This, like the rest of our fleet of food trucks, will be designed for multi use. From an espresso coffee bar, to a frozen yoghurt dispensary. Over the coming weeks we will post some more details as it is fitted out ready for launch.
Gone are the days when people were happy to book a ‘burger van’ for their event. Nowadays it isn’t enough for the food to be first class, the serving unit has to look good too. Everyone from the bride to the company director wants something ‘Instagrammable’ as social media continues it’s relentless takeover of the world, so food trucks seem to be the way to go.
To this end we have commissioned and have added, or are adding, a number of fun and quirky vehicles to our portfolio of food trucks.
The first of these is the venerable Citroen HY van. Only it isn’t. We looked carefully at where we operate, which is pretty much nationwide. The Citroen HY vans were last produced in `1981, making the youngest of them 41 years old. Not bad to nip to a local event or two, but a bit taxing for charging up and down the highways and byeways of this green and pleasant land. The size of them also means they are too heavy for our fleet of car transport trailers, so initially we were a bit stuck.
Then we happened upon a Spanish manufacturer, that was creating fabulous copies of the HY, but built upon a trailer chassis, and made from fibreglass and stainless steel, so pretty rot proof.
We ordered one in the middle of last summer, but with the six month waiting list, it turned up in the winter and then had a round a three month fit out period before we actually launched it.
Some images of the construction phase below. In truth more of a fit out phase, as the actual structure was provided pre made to us.
This one we engaged Fairtrade Fabrications to fit out for us. A protracted build period ended up, with a fabulous piece of kit. We are a bit limited in signage and theming as what we do is different everyday, so it makes it harder to add signs and such, though it looks like it will be appearing at a Christmas Fayre for a protracted period this winter, so that is liable to see a full branding effort.