Andrew Kibler – Apprenticeship Memories – The First Twelve Months

For me it really started the year I was leaving school. The careers officer, if you could call him that, took a basic look at your qualifications and father’s employment, then told me I should be an engineer. I can’t ever remember being asked what I wanted to do. So that set the stage for me.

My first interview was at my father’s place of work, (West Yorkshire Foundries off Hunslet Road) where I was offered a position of “core maker”. Basically making wooden moulds for casting.
I pretty much had an idea of what the factory was like from the things dad talked about but did not comprehend the noise, dirt and working conditions as I was shown around. There was no way I was ever going to work here.
My second interview came by way of an auntie, who worked as a secretary at Crabtree-Vickers in Leeds. Here was a company with a very high reputation for good apprenticeships. Having looked around at the vast array of engineering skills I had made my mind up where I was going.
There was one other engineering company in Gildersome, whose name I forget, that I was interviewed at and although I was impressed and verbally offered a position, they never came back to me.

So in September 1972 I began work at Crabtree-Vickers. For those of you not familiar with this company they made roll-fed printing machinery for the large newspaper industry and were based at Water Lane in Leeds. The apprentice shop was in fact a separate building on the corner of David Street.
The first day was largely an introduction into the apprentice shop, where there were four separate sections. Fitting, Milling, Turning and Sheet Metalwork. We would spend three months on each section making tools of our trade to use later on.
My first section was to be fitting. The thing that has always come to mind when I think back at my first day of work was how much my bloody feet ached. My other memory of this section was of the instructor, whose name I believe was George Laycock, an old guy who was just about ready for retirement. George smoked a pipe and once sent me to the top shop to pick up his snuff, which he then mixed with his tobacco and proceeded to light. It produced this huge ball of blue/grey smoke that gripped everyone’s throat within ten feet, causing coughing fits lasting several minutes. George on the other hand was not affected.
I can’t honestly remember in what order I did the other sections but there were a couple of memories I’d like to share.
Turning was where I very nearly lost my life. After being shown the fundamentals of a centre lathe, we had a little play and were put to work. Now the one thing you learn very quickly is not to leave the chuck key in the chuck when you start the machine. Bet you already know where I’m going. Before I tell you what happened you have to know the layout of the apprentice shop. The lathes and milling machines were all on the lower level, whereas the fitting area and offices were above, with a large open area in the middle, such that you could see all the machines below.

If you had not already guessed it, yep, I started the lathe with the chuck key still in the chuck. It hit the lathe bed, broke the 1/2 inch tang and flew passed my ear literally just flicking it. But my embarrassment didn’t stop there. The manager’s office was right above my lathe and it smashed through his window at some speed. Well, I looked up only to see the manager (Mr. John Barras) staring down, so I raised my hand in confession. With a finger, he motioned me to come up to his office. Gingerly I approached and the first thing he said was “sit down you look like a ghost”. After 5 minutes or so he asked if I was ok and politely told me off.

The other incident I remember was in the Milling section. Can anyone remember what a shaper is? Well it is probably the most boring machine ever to work on. It monotonously shaves across a lump of metal, with a rhythmical thump sending all and sundry to sleep. No, I didn’t fall asleep, as you may have thought, it was worse. These things have a three-quarter drive on the side that spins constantly when the machine is running. In my slumber I thought it would be a good idea to press my leg against it, upon which it grabbed my boiler suit. Let me tell you, it woke me from my slumber pretty quickly, and I frantically fought to pull away. Thankfully, with no harm done, or so I thought, only to look up and see Mr. Barras wagging his finger at me again.

Mr. Barras, the apprentice shop manager, was one of the nicest managers I have ever known. He once asked me to go to the stores, which was in the main factory. Seeing the puzzled look on my face, he asked if I knew where it was, to which I replied no. He simply said let’s take a walk. It was while walking to the stores he said something to me that I have always lived by since. He told me, if you ever want something from someone always ask if they can help you. Sure enough when we got to the stores he greeted the storeman as a friend and did just that. The storeman immediately went off and came back within seconds with his request.
On the way back he also told me that should he have simply told the storeman what he wanted, it was likely we would have been waiting several minutes. Has this ever happened to you I wonder?

Before I finish up there is one other memorable thing to mention, dinner times. As you will recall the apprentice shop was not part of the main factory but the canteen was and like most canteens of that time, if you wanted a good meal you got there early. So at 12 o’clock fifty three apprentices made a mad dash two hundred yards up the road. I really don’t know why as we rarely beat the factory workers but it must have been a sight for any onlookers.

It was a fantastic apprentice shop at Crabtree-Vickers and I was very fortunate to be awarded “apprentice of the year.” I was a bit peeved when I received my 0-25mm Starrett Micrometer, only to learn that the two runners up got two weeks on an outward bound course.
Que sera, sera. Hope you enjoyed reading.

Andrew Kibler – January 2021