The 1969 summer holidays were over. My return to work on the “proper shop floor” didn’t start well. I walked from the bus station to Water Lane as I had done for the previous 12 months, but this time I went under the large archway which was where you clocked in. A few lads where in front of me getting their new clock cards from the time keeper who had an office between the In and Out boards section so that he could watch for any skulduggery by the workers. As I approached him again a little nervous not knowing where I would be sent he asked for my name and looked for my clock card. “What’s your name again” came the reply, following a further check he said “I don’t have a card for you, let me go check” Getting on the phone with a few words and nods he returned and said “You don’t work here, you’re a George Mann employee.”
By the look on my face he realised I hadn’t a clue what he was saying. ”Come in the office and I’ll make a call for you.” To cut a long story short I should have been at the George Mann works on Accommodation Road which I had never seen and always though I was a Water Lane apprentice but that works was Crabtree’s.
George Mann’s sent a car to pick me up and I didn’t have a clue where I was going. But not a lot of apprentices can say they were chauffer driven to work on their first day.
I reported to Mr. Skinner and he explained I would start my shop floor apprenticeship in their milling section under Wilf Hewson. I was also told I would be doing my T1 (not T2) as promised, at Kitson College in a couple of weeks as my results were all Distinctions.
“Where’s your tool box you made at Water lane?” was the next question I faced? “I haven’t brought it” “Well you better bring it tomorrow with a lock on it” was Mr. Skinner’s response.
Foreman Wilf was to say the least a good teacher. You started off just saw cutting pieces from a bar on a Horizontal Mill. This is when you learnt not to put a key in a circular saw to prevent it smashing if it jammed. I was introduced to the bonus system straight away where first years were allowed 75% of the time allowed on the card. This would be reduced by 25% each year you progressed. I seem to remember I was allowed 50min setup and 4min each to cut through a section ½”x 1.1/2” (12mm x 38mm).
We always had to submit our first off to the inspector (Tony) who sat in the middle of the bay watching every move you made. His favourite saying having checked your work was “bring it back when it’s right” no help given. It was generally the deburring that wasn’t good enough. But it was these little things that turned you into an engineer. During my time I worked on Horizontal & Vertical milling machines and occasionally I was sent to the punishment machine. This had two joined heads, one carried the milling cutter and the second carried a series of changeable followers, with the final one matching the cutter size to replicate the template. The function of the machine was to use two handles on a table, one for X axis and one for the Y axis and apply pressure to keep the follower in contact with the template to produce what we called pawls. As bonus was involved you tried to skip a follower and take a bigger cut, this was fine with larger followers but once you got close to the finish cut the cutter on occasion would grab and try to rip the handles from you when your pressure was going from one axis to the other. Hence, your arms ached after a couple of hours on this pig of a machine.
Starting day release at college on T1, which again was a lot of what I had done at school so it wasn’t too different from the Craft 1 & 2 course of the previous year.
On my third week while in a college workshop a member of staff asked for my name.
Taking me out of class he said I had to be taken off my T1 course because one or two lads had heard (from me at college) that I was on T1 while they were on Craft PT3. Crabtree personnel pressured the college and I ended up on Craft PT3. I learnt two lessons that day, that life wasn’t always fair and to keep your mouth shut. Another year past with Distinctions I was now on + 50% T.A. so a knock on Mr. Skinners door about college saw me placed back on T1 and I think it was this year that apprenticeships were reduced from 5 years to 4 years. I continued towards gaining my Full Technicians Certificate (T5) in 1974 at Leeds Polytechnic. I was married in 1972 lived in a flat in Whinmoor for 18 months, then moved to Birstall, having saved a deposit, bought our first house together. I did attempt to take my HNC for 3 evenings a week but getting to January I found it too much, and to be honest it was affecting my work, which wasn’t fair on the company as Mr. Skinner had allowed me those extra years at college.
At work I did 18 months on the milling section before moving to the Cylindrical Grinding bay. This was where I made a lot of bonus as it was a key area for the accuracy of the parts on the presses. I always remember watching a machine that ground what we nicknamed “piccolo tubes”. These were 1.1/2” dia’ x 160in long (approx). They carried the blower nozzles placed across the press to keep the paper down, so every 4in a slot had been machined across the tube which had been stress relieved but was never quite straight. A steady was placed between each second slot and adjusted as the grinding wheel pasted each one until the tube cleaned-up. Jack the operator walked miles up and down following the wheel adjusting the steadies every time a few thou’ was removed.
Although grinders in the trade were regarded as semi- skilled, Jack, in my eyes, was super skilled. While in the grinding section I was called to the “office” where I was offered a position in the planning and ratefixing department under Mr. Bancroft. My starting time changed from 7.30am to 8.00 am, which was a great help as I was doing one evening class a week at college. I started gumming planning cards onto the back of the A4 drawings (3-off) and sealing them through a heated film machine. There were four other people in the office, Mr. Bancroft, Tom Martin and John Craddock, the fourth name escapes me (any help out there?). Gradually I was introduced to planning the route cards and later putting times on the operations. This was followed up much later with going out to watch the operator who objected to the time allowed, which I was not comfortable with. All the details were calculated from historic records and on one occasion I was told to go and watch a bearing block been turned from a casting. Checking the casting surplus material to make sure I’d allowed enough cuts he proceeded to turn the casting to the recommendations, initially breaking under the skin which was intermittent and once he cleaned the casting he proceeded to take the bigger cuts where the machine nearly ground to a halt. “There you are this machine won’t take that depth of cut with that feed”, “I’ll need to go and check my figures was my reply”. Having done the check I needed a wiser head so Tom went out and soon returned smiling.
“You’ve been had, next time check the number of belts on the pulley driving the chuck”. Lesson learnt.
George Mann’s became Crabtree Mann then finally Crabtree Vickers, who introduced “Cell Manufacturing.” This involved placing groups of machines together that followed the same operations e.g. turn, mill, drill, to reduce movement. This is the time a Vero 2 axis N.C machine was introduced and I didn’t realise at the time this would change my career path. The machine required punched tape to control the X & Y axes. This was punched by hand at first on 3in. then later reduced to 1in. tape which was typed on a machine, but small modifications still needed the old hand punch and needle.
John Craddock was the N.C man and I would assist if needed. The next step was for John to go on a MDSI training course which allowed you to convert a drawing into elements e.g. lines, circles and points and drive the tool in 3 axes following your commands. This was then typed out and sent to a main frame computer in the USA by telephone modem and a machine tape was returned to suit any machine you wished to manufacture the part on. This was a massive step forward in allowing the same part to manufactured on various C.N.C machines just by providing the control and machine type before running your programme.
John Craddock left to join Joseph Rhodes in Wakefield, I had finished my apprenticeship and I stepped into his shoes with little training but it led me to further engineering adventures.
Malcolm Murray – May 2021