Interview with Industry Legend—Tommy Gibb

Gibbs of Fraserburgh was started by two brothers Thomas Gibb, & Jimmy Gibb in the late 19th century. At the turn of the century, the Gibbs were farmers in the Fraserburgh area, but the family branched into carting and in the summer season carried herring from the harbour to the curing yards. In due course, they moved on to motor trucks, and in the 1950s decided to go into business as general hauliers, chasing the fishing fleets for loads of fresh fish. At this point, the business was being run by Jimmy before Thomas’ son Tommy took over the management of the business alongside his brother James Gibb.

At that time, much of the long-distance fish traffic between Aberdeen and the South was by rail, using crudely insulated vans. Tommy saw the gradual development of fridge vans and saw an opportunity to specialise.

“We started with insulated demountable containers carrying meat to Smithfield market. We were one of the first into containers, carrying loads of fresh herring, and using demountables allowed us to continue offering flats for other types of loads.”

But the Gibb’s mix of fridge and general haulage work was creating backload problems and the brothers decided to specialise in operating refrigerated vans.

Each unit would have carried perishables for around half a dozen customers with few loads being for a single customer. The goods were made up on pallets, with most of Gibb’s vans carrying 22 or 24 pallets. Some of the later reefers were built to run at the maximum 13.6m length and carry 26 pallets apiece. The extra space was a bonus, as weight was not a problem with fish and meat, at times hanging 400 lambs in a van. Typically, a driver was away for five days with a load of fresh-hung meat making up to 30 drops, mostly around the London area. Fresh meat accounted for about 40% of Gibb’s business. Scotch beef was collected or delivered from slaughterhouses at the end of each week, and the driver would set off on Saturday to deliver to shops, restaurants and hotels.

Fraserburgh being more than 930km (580 miles) from London, Tommy Gibb required a reliable fleet that was capable of the hard work put in to cover the mileage. In Gibbs’ prime, the company was purchasing five new tractors and three new containers a year. Gibb purchased his trailers from Gray & Adams, which was next door to them in Fraserburgh. Tommy notes, “They were always the most reliable. They built them to our specification—creating 26-pallet vans that contained rearsteering axles to cut down on tyre wear.”

“Mr Jim Gray & Mr Jim Adams were more or less the same age, we were brought up in the same area, in the same era—we ran our businesses at the same time. Jim Gray & Jim Adams went into fridges and their business grew from there. In the 1960’s Gray & Adams built us our first tipper wagon, shortly after they evolved into insulated vans where they built 2 or 3 for us and when they built their first fridges we were there to take supply. The first fridges we took were originally Petter, we then used Thermoking fridges, before moving to Carrier fridges. We found Carrier refrigeration units to be the best with virtually no troubles—and that is essential with perishables. With so much natural concern about fresh food, we required strict temperature control. Living and working in the same area, it was convenient to get our refrigerated trailers serviced. It also allowed us to develop a strong relationship with Gray & Adams, which maintained and grew throughout the years.”

Tommy retired in 2002 and Gibbs concluded business, but it commenced again in 2016 and was headed up by Jimmy Gibb’s son James, before concluding business again just before Covid-19 hit in 2020. During their reopening, Gibb’s continued their loyalties to Gray & Adams, by purchasing their trailers again, knowing the quality they would receive would meet their specifications.

“The strength of the relationship between Gibbs and Gray & Adams from the years prior, allowed James to jump back into business with Jim Gray Senior’s sons, James & Peter Gray, with ease”.

“I have had a lot of fun since my retirement in 2002. In my earlier retirement, I bought a timeshare in Spain, which I went out to quite a lot, and I went on a few cruises. I have also enjoyed golfing with my grandson, although the practice hasn’t helped me get any better at it. I still enjoy football, my team is Fraserburgh FC and attend every home match. I turn 87 in May and luckily myself and my wife Barbara are in good health which allows us to spend a lot of time with our 3 daughters, 7 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren.”