Made in Ardrishaig – Ferguson’s celebrates 60 years

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Today the Lochaber-based company employs 200 people, has a turnover of £18 million and has interests in road, rail and sea transport – with plans for further expansion.

But Ferguson Transport and Shipping began with a husband and wife team 60 years ago in Ardrishaig.

‘I can remember exactly when the company was started’, explained Anne Ferguson, ‘because it was the day Archie and I got married – June 27, 1959.’

As the company celebrates its 60th anniversary, Anne and her son, group managing director Alasdair – better known as Ally – reflected on their Argyll roots.

The Argyllshire Advertiser took the opportunity to chat to them in Ferguson’s impressive head office at Corpach, Fort William, in a boardroom lined with photographs charting the firm’s history from Ardrishaig onwards.

The Ferguson family’s link with haulage, though, goes well beyond 60 years.

Archie’s  family was in the hotel trade, but on returning from National Service in 1956 he went to work with his uncle, Andrew Grinlaw, who had set up his own Ardrishaig haulage business in the 1920s while operating his famous horse-drawn coach tours.

Archie’s first depot was the recently-demolished tin shed at Ardrishaig swing bridge, and his lorries would be parked at the pier.

‘We had about five or six lorries by the 1970s,’ said Alasdair. ‘My memories as a kid are of leaving Ardrishaig in the timber lorries early in the morning and heading for the pulp and paper mill. I remember heating pies up on the engine block, and by the time you reached Glen Coe they were nice and warm.’

He explained: ‘After the big storm in 1968, a lot of wind blown timber from Argyll was taken to the new pulp and paper mill at Corpach. After it was cleared by about 1974, the timber work moved north.

Archie and Anne made the bold decision to up sticks and move north to where the work was, doing that in October 1974.

With five children aged between four and 15 – and the cat and budgie – they set off, as Anne recalled: ‘I remember we were going through Glen Coe and there was a bright moon. It was about midnight, and Archie and I just looked at one another and burst out laughing. It was like a moonlight flit.’

Spean Bridge filling station was their destination. While Archie worked seven days a week, Anne was raising the five children in two small caravans while running the filling station and keeping the books.

Archie sadly died in 1997 as the result of a forestry accident, but his hard work and ingenuity had set the family business on solid foundations.

‘If you look back to the family with five kids who moved from Ardrishaig in 1974, it’s been quite a phenomenal journey,’ said Alasdair.

The company has effectively doubled in size over the past decade.

Now based out of Corpach, specialist road haulage – with around 70 lorries – remains at the heart of the business, but Ferguson Transport and Shipping now incorporates rail and sea transport, with a recent venture regenerating Kishorn dock to supply the oil and gas, as well as aquaculture and offshore renewable industries.

‘We have a simple management structure including myself, my sisters Lesley and Carol and brother Jack as directors, with 13 senior managers across the departments reporting to the board,’ explained Alasdair.

‘We’ve got excellent staff, a great management team and we are very proud to celebrate our 60th anniversary this year. It is important we don’t forget where we came from.’