I can remember these vehicles and I knew them as ‘mechanical horses’. The ones which I remember consisted of a three wheeled ‘tractor unit’ which pulled a small ‘flat back’ or ‘enclosed’ trailer. I came across these vehicles under slightly unusual circumstances. Firstly, I will set the scene.
There was a branch of the Bank of England situated at Park Row/South Parade/Headrow. Every week (I think on a Friday) a massive amount of money, which we called ‘The Bullion’, used to be sent by train from the Bank of England in London to the Bank of England in Leeds. The train used to arrive at the City Railway Station. The money was contained in large aluminium containers (similar to what were used for despatching school dinners to schools from a central kitchen, if you remember them). When the Bullion Train arrived, the money was unloaded manually from the train on to ‘mechanical horses’. The vehicles were then driven from the railway station to the bank.
Obviously this procedure posed a massive security risk and was supervised by the C.I.D. at Millgarth Police Station, who did it on a weekly basis. It was manpower intensive and involved detectives, uniform staff and traffic department staff to cover the station and the bank plus the route in between, which was mainly from City Square and then along Park Row. During the late 1960’s/early 1970’s, I worked as a detective in the Leeds City Crime Squad, based at Brotherton House Police Headquarters, and when Millgarth C.I.D. were short of staff, we were regularly asked to help out with security for the Bullion. All of the detectives and traffic officers were armed with hand guns.
On one occasion, one summer, I remember that the station platform, where the train arrived, had been dug up and had been resurfaced with tarmac, earlier in the week. On the day that the Bullion Train arrived at the platform, it was an extremely hot day and the tarmac was still soft. The small trailers were lined up on the platform and the railway staff and Bank of England staff started to load the money from the train on to the trailers. As they loaded more and more money, the ‘jockey wheels’ at the front of the trailers started to sink into the soft tarmac and they all became stuck. Attempts were made to get the rear of the tractor units under the trailers but they had sunk too far and were too low. If they tried to wind the trailers higher, they just sunk deeper into the tarmac. It was an absolute farce and the money was very vulnerable, as were the staff. All the money had to be unloaded on to the platform in order to release the trailers from the tarmac, and then moved by hand to a part of the platform that had not been resurfaced. The whole operation took hours instead of about half an hour.
On another occasion, I remember one of the vehicles jackknifing and tipping over as it turned at the top of Park Row. The money containers fell off the vehicle into the road and it was ‘panic stations’ again. Again, the situation was resolved but it was farcical.
Around 1971, the Bank of England moved premises to King Street. At this time, the arrangements for the Bullion were changed. By this time there was a Container Base, with railway links, constructed at Stourton and the Bullion train arrived there instead of at the City Station. The money was contained in one large container on a railway truck and was then transferred to a container vehicle at Stourton. The Bullion vehicle was then driven under Police escort to the new Bank of England building and I seem to remember that the building was constructed so that the whole vehicle could be driven into the building (like an underground car park). This system was much less labour intensive particularly as far as the Police were concerned. A couple of plain cars containing armed detectives, and a couple of marked Road Traffic cars containing armed traffic officers, was all that was required and I never knew of any problems with this system.
I still have a chuckle when I think of the ‘mechanical horses’. As far as I am aware, I don’t think that there was ever an attempt made to rob the Bullion vehicles at the railway stations or elsewhere.