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To avoid running off topic elsewhere, I thought we could move this to here...


 I worked in 'British industry' from the mid-70s until 1993, when I realised that, after years of 'outsourcing', I actually had better facilities for my 'home office' jobs at home.

Any refurbishment activity, particularly in production areas, was always viewed, and mostly correctly, with deep suspicion.

Shortly afterwards 'they' would often take a 'difficult decision'*.

I'm sure we must have actually knocked down places with the paint still wet...


* More difficult for those that were actually affected, of course.

5 hours ago, Gavin Hamilton said:

Sounds similar to my 35 years experience in the IT industry, India would demand a major change be done 'NOW' and if we read the email trail in full they had been planning the event for the last 6 months but just hadn't got round to informing us - I was very relieved to discover that I had put enough into my pension fund so I could afford to retire - no payoff of course, the bigwigs just wanted to save money which would go on their bonus and the unions were not interested in 'constructive dismissal' cases either - don't expect a long service award if your ultimate employer is a corporation based in the USA - just glad i'm not dependent on them anymore :)


I only did twenty years, but it was getting to the point where it was a matter of what colour uniform took me away.

I couldn't/wouldn't do it again, but it was (almost) worth it for some of the daily madness that I witnessed.


I remember being in a meeting and having to stand up to talk to someone on the other side of the table, because two blokes were fighting in between us - at the time, it just seemed a bit of an inconvenience.

I had an old pressure vessel that I used occasionally for tests - it was, like everything, a bit rough-looking. "We need to get rid of that!", I was told - I bet the Manufacturing Director ten quid that we would buy another one within one year - it was just over three weeks before they had to order a replacement, which took four months to arrive and cost around twenty grand - he's never paid up - yet.

I went into the stores, with a 'req' that had required six signatures - "Give me one of these, please" - "I can't, we have no stock" - "I can see two from here!" - "Yeah, but the system won't let me enter a negative stock value" - This developed into a meeting/argument with about eight people, trying to 'sort it out' - after an hour, I left, declaring that I was going to steal one, not that it officially existed, of course. I've no idea what they eventually did about it.

I had a morning and afternoon ritual of visiting the skips, for the gems that would be flung in - one day, I passed a friend trying to build a hydraulic pump from a box of rusty bits (always a feature of our stores) - when I got to the skip, there were eight fully assembled pumps in there, so I dragged one out and gave it to him, leaving him to explain how he had managed to paint it as well, and the paint was dry...



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I've failed to drag @Andy Cundick 's post about the Swindon roof glazing into here, but we had a sort of reverse issue along those lines.


For years, we had been getting hardened and tempered components from a long-established factory in Birmingham, without the slightest problem, but, all of a sudden, they started failing regularly. Investigations of the material suggested that the heat-treatment had been done incorrectly. Phone calls resulted in them claiming that everything was exactly the same as it had ever been, even down to the same chap doing them, as he always had. So, a visit to the factory was arranged, in the hope of resolving the issue.

In the 1980s, "long-established' in terms of factories in Birmingham usually meant something more like 'semi-derelict'.

Eventually, it was discovered what had changed. The business had been bought by a much larger company, the sort that had people in suits, and one of them had visited their new acquisition, to inspect the premises. He had been so horrified by the state of the place that he had ordered an immediate tidy-up, as these people usually do.

One of the things they did was to make an attempt at cleaning the windows. This had affected the lighting in the factory to such an extent that the chap doing the heat-treatment had to get things a good bit hotter to see the same colour that he had been judging the temperature by for the previous thirty years..

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I was working late one night, with one other person, in a large workshop, with an ancient gantry crane that had been converted to pendant control, but still retained the old cab.

I had been controlling the crane, to deliver stuff to the other chap, who was about twenty feet up on some scaffolding, when an old sodium floodlight bulb, about the size of a two-litre pop bottle, fell out of the disused cab and hit the floor next to me, exploding quite spectacularly, having been left in there after a bulb was changed and subsequently dislodged by the vibrations of me inching the crane.

We decided that, before we went home, we would investigate if any other "bombs" were still in the cab, so I drove the crane to the end and the other chap went up the access ladder to investigate. He had just shouted to me that there were none there when I heard the outside door to the workshop bang shut - I heard this a hundred times a day and didn't really register it, as I shouted back "Well, there's no point carrying on any more, we might as well just f--- off home now!"

I then found myself with a bloke who was a sort of half-my-boss putting his arm round me to comfort me in what he presumed was me having some sort of breakdown, as I had appeared to him to be standing in the middle of an empty workshop, shouting at the sky about the pointlessness of it all...


I had another similar event with the same chap. My office was at the top of a four-storey block and was served by an ancient lift that I rarely used, preferring the 'square-spiral' stairs that went around the lift-shaft. One day, I had been up the stairs that often, that I resolved to use the lift this time - as I pushed the button, the lift, which normally 'rested' on the ground floor, was called, a millisecond before me, by somebody on the top floor, and I heard it leave - you could hear the relays clicking as it went up and came down. I decided to wait the two minutes that I knew this would take - and to use this time to try to achieve a 'special effect' that was possible. If you hummed at a very low and steady frequency, you could get the 'organ tube' of the stairwell to resonate quite spectacularly. This involved getting the frequency absolutely exact and sustaining it for the several seconds that it took to build up the full resonant note.

So, I stood there, humming loudly, with my eyes shut in concentration and my fingers in my ears, trying to concentrate, but not ever quite getting the full note going. Eventually, I could hear the relays clicking and the lift arrived back down, so I opened my eyes and prepared to enter it, only to find that the chap mentioned above was standing there, also waiting for the lift, with two customers - we all got in the lift and nobody ever said any more about it...

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My father was a maintenance fitter who did contract maintenance work in Clondalkin Paper Mill during the summer holiday shut down.

The regular drill was to dismantle a machine to identify worn components, service and re-assemble the machine without replacing the worn components.

The accountants who ran the business were prepared to pay a premium for contract fitters,  but not a relatively small additional sum to replace worm components as it wasn't in the budget.

My father found it a highly paid but frustrating two weeks!

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My work van went in for a service. It appeared the hand brake cable needed tightened but this piece of work was not on that mileage service schedule. So the garage doing the service phoned the company I worked for about this "additional" work and subsequent cost. My company phoned the lease company who owned the van. They phoned the garage to tell them to tighten the handbrake cable and to add in the "additional" costs to the bill.

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1 hour ago, spudfan said:

My work van went in for a service. It appeared the hand brake cable needed tightened but this piece of work was not on that mileage service schedule. So the garage doing the service phoned the company I worked for about this "additional" work and subsequent cost. My company phoned the lease company who owned the van. They phoned the garage to tell them to tighten the handbrake cable and to add in the "additional" costs to the bill.

Factory vehicles is a whole sub-set of its own...

We had a yellow Escort estate that was used by anybody, and nobody seemed to be responsible for it. One day, waiting for some stuff to put in the back, we decided to give it a look over. It didn't have a legal tyre on it, and the 'spare' had a huge puncture in it.

I pulled the dip stick out and it was red rusty, worse than anything I ever saw in a scrap yard. So we got under and took the sump plug out, to see how much was in there. Nothing came out. Thinking the hole must be sludged up, we stuck a wire up, it came out dry, so we dropped the sump - it was lined with a thick, black, grease-like substance. The stuff arrived, so we put it back together and it was driven off - a search later found no records of it ever being serviced. 


Management cars were properly serviced and this was all organised by a chap in Purchasing. Over a period of time, we swapped over from Ford to Rover. By the purest chance, the chap whose car was the last to be changed had cause to go and see the accountant who was responsible for the car servicing contract and the current invoice was on his desk. The cars were recorded by Make, Model and Registration Number. It was noticed that there was a Ford on the list, but 'we' didn't have one any more...

Investigations finally revealed that it belonged to the Purchasing Officer. If he had swapped it for a Rover before the end of the changeover, he could still be doing it, nobody checked the registration numbers...


We had an old Bedford van that was only driven every few months between various substation sites. It was really a mobile workshop and only did a few hundred miles a year. Now and then, it would call into the factory as it went past. On one of these occasions, it was noted that the tax was over four years out of date and subsequent investigations then discovered that it had never had an MOT, despite the first one being due nearly twenty years earlier.


We had a manager who was famously stupid. One wet lunchtime, he drove his company car to the canteen. When he came back out, the weather was lovely and sunny. When he came to go home, he couldn't find his car, so he reported it stolen. He only realised where it was when the copper who had asked him "When did you last drive it?" then asked him, after being told that he had driven it to the canteen  "But, did you drive it back, Sir?".

Edited by Broithe
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We had an incident that was like something out of an Ealing Comedy when I was running the site development work for a new housing development in  County Dublin in the early 80s. I was working for a civil engineering contractor that unexpectedly picked up a fairly big earthwork job, just after exporting all our suitable plant to the States. At the time it was profitable to export Caterpillar plant from the Bathgate factory to the States and the boss was planning to move the business from Dublin to Atlanta.

Anyway faced with a big job and no suitable plant the boss found an extremely decrepit Cat Traxcavator (tracked loading shovel) from a land fill site much to the disgust of our dozer driver Harry, the machine was pressed immediately onto service without any attention apart possibly from an oil change and some cursory greasing. Our mobile fitter spent a hell of a lot of time on site replacing seals in awkward spots as the transmission and hydraulics came under sudden pressure from having to do some work. 

The defining moment came when the starting motor packed up and no suitable spares were to be found in the country. The fitter removed the motor made a blanking plate with a piece of ply and tow started the Cat with the bosses brand new Nissan Patrol. The Patrol lifted off the ground spinning all four wheels when harry engaged the clutch on the trax,  (luckily it was manual).

For the next four weeks we had to park the trax on an earthwork ramp with the bucket raised so that she would run down and start by gravity when the driver engaged the clutch.

Nevertheless the bosses Patrol was called in more than once to pull start the trax when other machines failed including the combined efforts of two JCBs. I don't know if the boss noticed anything odd with his Patrol he was a pretty hard driver. We wern't going to tell him his brother had been using his car as a tractor.

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A friends dad had his job change at Westinghouse when on a Friday an order for castings dating back 40 odd years came in for a level crossing pedestal (IIRC) he could have left it to Monday but went to the stores to discover the pattern going into a skip - he stopped it and then complained to the suits now in charge.   I think the Level crossing had been involved in an incident in NI. in the late 1970s - but that might wide of the mark so many years later. 

As suits had decreed any pattern not used in x years was scrap it was to go as an asset strip accountancy exercise. He kindly noted that items for LT underground had castings as a basis from the 1930s - standardisation  at its best  and throwing patterns away would cost the business contracts and thus profits if the supply was to fail.  he ended up been the pattern keeper archivist and go to guy as a result.  All as the result of diligence.   Bang went the Industry , I believe  now only offices in Chippenham such is the state of the signalling industry.    

Funnily said suit in chief was my General manager on the Ffestiniog Railway in the late 1980s.  Not a person person it has to be said but adept at getting the best out of the accounts- "difficult decisions" as  noted above costing friends their jobs. 

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There was consternation in Inchacore during a scrap drive during the early 1990s when when a number of bogies from withdrawn OO1 Class were cut before the class was finally withdrawn. An number of the bogies had been earmarked for bogie changes to keep the serviceable locos running.

There tend to be similar problems on most railways including asset strippers ordering the cutting wagons that were still in regular service and cutting the civil engineers stash of spare crossing vees and switches kept for emergency repairs at critical junctions.

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40 minutes ago, Galteemore said:

On instructions, there was an interesting debate on the Gauge O Guild Forum lately as to whether a kit designer was actually the best person to write them - a case could be made for a joint effort with someone who had never seen the etched before and could come up with potential pitfalls or ambiguities that the designer may have unconsciously overlooked.

Until it came to the attention of the people in authority who had no understanding of it, we had our maintenance manuals compiled by a chap whose title was Technical Author.

Geoff hadn't the slightest idea what we made or how they worked or what they did, but the manuals were as good as it was possible to be. We had to show him what was necessary and tell him what things were called, he would take some photographs and we might have to explain a few bits again, when he'd written what he thought we really meant, but that didn't happen very often. Also, he would not use the photographs directly - "They're just pictures of what you see, not what you should be looking at" - so, he did drawings, based on those photos and highlighting, very artistically, the parts that were pertinent to the task in hand.

'They' soon got rid of him, of course - then we had the usual sort of rubbish manuals where you really had to know what you were doing before you even bothered to read it...


Geoff was a very 'artistic' person, not at all suited to industrial life. His watch only had an hour hand, not because it was trendy, as they seem to be now, but because the minute hand had fallen off. His attitude to time did not suit the sort of people who liked to think that they had to 'manage' everything, however badly they did it. 

For Christmas 1978, he was given a digital watch. At first, he wasn't keen, but he soon became obsessed with it's accuracy - he kept a transistor radio in the desk drawer, so he could hear the pips every hour and see how it was doing. He went from thinking in hours to caring about every second...


He came from a family of eccentrics, though was certainly not the most far-out of them. His cousin, Derek, was famous for many stunts in his struggles with authority - trying to pay a fine for poaching with a cheque written on the side of a live pig, appearing in the dock on another charge covered in entrails, attending court dressed in a full frogman's outfit, climbing into Shrewsbury prison at Christmas and throwing cigarettes to the inmates from the roof and, most famously, nailing himself to a tree outside Stafford Crown Court, in protest against some other charge.

Derek may have been more 'exciting', but my two years sitting next to Geoff were, perhaps, more educational..?

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3 hours ago, Mayner said:

There was consternation in Inchacore during a scrap drive during the early 1990s when when a number of bogies from withdrawn OO1 Class were cut before the class was finally withdrawn. An number of the bogies had been earmarked for bogie changes to keep the serviceable locos running.

There tend to be similar problems on most railways including asset strippers ordering the cutting wagons that were still in regular service and cutting the civil engineers stash of spare crossing vees and switches kept for emergency repairs at critical junctions.

I read there was a last of class loco in the UK, forget which one, intended for preservation. Cutting gang didn't see the painted-on reprieve as they approached it from the 'wrong' side.

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Thankfully officialdom can work the other way too! BCDR No 30 at Cultra had a lucky escape after the UTA noticed a major surge in the value of copper, and intensified their loco scrapping efforts. No 30 was a prime candidate for the torch until the late Harold Houston at York Road had her sent to the isolated shed at Cookstown Junction until the market settled again! 

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3 hours ago, NIR said:

How about a coach jacked up on three jacks that fell into an inspection pit, was crash repaired and no one noticed.

Mmm, "gravity events" would be another complete sub-genre.


My immediate boss was an odd bloke, everything was black and white, good or bad, with no graduation along the way. It was hard to predict which way he would go on anything.

I was once banned from using an electric kettle to boil water for a cup of tea, because it hadn't been PAT-tested. I had just come back from doing a test which involved applying 750,000 volts in the open air, in an 'enclosure' whose gate interlocks hadn't worked for twenty years.

Anyway, the point is that he, a few days later, walked under an eighty ton stator frame about thirty seconds before it fell thirty feet to the floor.


In a quiet spell, we decided to train a new chap to 'take the swing out' of a load that was being moved with a pendant-controlled crane. It's a simple thing, once you have the knack of just poking the right button at the right moment.

Unfortunately, he was a little hesitant and always delayed slightly too long, then hit the button at exactly the wrong moment. Things escalated quite quickly and the load, which was about a ton, was soon swinging almost up to the horizontal - nearly hitting the roof trusses.

Even more unfortunately. there was a bit of a maze of obstacles on the floor and we were all on the opposite side of the path of the swing from him and it was only about a foot off the floor, at the lowest point. He was ordered to 'just leave it alone!', whilst I went out of the building, round the side and back in through a fire exit that you could rely on the smokers leaving open...

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I think that some of you know that I retired aged fifty and three months from a well-known British communications firm. Like Gavin, I was in IT. You got Brownie Points if you participated in outsourcing to India. Having spent years making profitable work for people, I spent the last few "working" years retiring people or bribing them to leave.  The moment I could, I did the same thing and breathed a sigh of relief to get away from the accountants.

So now we have this dyed blonde in London telling us that he'll make Britain great and sell our products overseas - what products? Can't even ORDER things properly from suppliers overseas, never mind making them. However, as we celebrate eighty years from Dunkirk (I have VERY good reason to be thankful for that - it's a long story ....)  maybe this new "Dunkirk" moment will wake the country up before Ireland loses a major customer forever.

Oh, I haven't stopped working either. After the two years working in Hong Kong, I've worked twenty one years in a well-known travel company, albeit part time.

Now, where's me bricks and mortar - got to lay the Up Platform at Richhill.........


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1 hour ago, leslie10646 said:

So now we have this dyed blonde in London telling us that he'll make Britain great and sell our products overseas - what products? Can't even ORDER things properly from suppliers overseas, never mind making them.

Many things convinced me in the last few years before I gave up trying.

We had a half-million pound item, already late (as everything always was), waiting for three components before it could be tested. These items were about as simple as it could be, but we had "outsourced" all component manufacture by this stage. They were just a 100mm of 20mm diameter stainless bar, with a slight chamfer on each end and a 5mm hole just in from each end, for split-pins, not a 'difficult' item.

"Give me a bit of bar and I can bring them in in the morning" I said.
"You can really make them?"
"Yes, I've had to get my own facilities, as you keep destroying the factory."
"You can really do it?"
"OK - go and get him some bar!"

Then, I said, half in jest, "But I'm not an Approved Supplier?"

This resulted in a few suits arguing for ten minutes and finally deciding that they had to refuse my offer....

It was three weeks before the parts came.


Ordering things properly...

We were in desperate need of about a foot of 50mm brass bar. The supplier had a minimum order of a metre, but, because of our rather poor history on actually paying for stuff, they would only supply it if they had documentary evidence of the order, word of mouth no longer counted. We had just had a new computer system which required to use of only certain units for orders. This meant that we had to order 1,000mm of bar, rather than a metre. No great problem...

...until the typist missed one of the "m"s off.

"I've got your brass bar outside, where do you want it?"
"Just leave it under my desk, ta."
Blank look...
"I've got two lorry-loads..."

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Talk of things being late reminded me of the most effective and efficient job interview I've ever heard in progress...

As I say, everything was late all the time, and painting was the final process, being done with brushes and then taking time to dry, of course. The painters were always under undue pressure - it wasn't their fault, they could have had it finished on time if it had been available when it should have been, but they were always the ones working on stuff when it was under extra lateness pressure.

The head of the painters was a remarkable placid Sikh who was known as No, due to his name being Surinder...

As I walked past one day, he was being berated by the Manufacturing Director about how long it was taking. A friend, Norman, was walking towards me from the other side. Norman liked to be 'involved' in everything and would offer an opinion about whatever was going on.

As Norman walked past, he stated "My Dad can paint faster than that, and he's only got one arm!"

"Well, bring him in with you on Monday!", was the instant decision.

Norman's Dad worked there for the next four years. He actually had 1¾ arms, his left having been severed half-way up the forearm, but that was still OK for holding the paint tin.

It remains the only time I ever saw anybody successful in a job interview when he wasn't there, or even aware that it was happening...

The Manufacturing Director above was pretty much the only senior manager who was any use at all. He was involved in many of the extraordinary events that went on.

My favourite was the time he nearly caused me to sustain cracked ribs.

One of my "skills" was an ability to get into tight spaces. This was useful, as the stuff we made ended up as large assemblies and, should things fail on final test, it could mean days of dismantling, unless someone could get far enough in to do the work required to fix something.

We had a few large assemblies of the same contract failing all around the factory floor at the same time. One of them looked like I could access it and save a day or two's work, but it was just a tiny bit too tight. My entry was via a pressure vessel with three aluminium busbars running in a triangular formation along it.

I thought that I could make it up there, if we used the gantry crane to strain the two bars at the bottom upwards a bit. This proved to be possible and I inched up the tube on my back, having to breathe in a very shallow manner, due to the presence of the busbars pressing on my chest.

I was aware that I needed to be sure that the strain on the busbars remained, or I would be in some trouble, having my chest movements insufficient for the necessary breathing - so I had appointed a rather laconic, but very trustworthy, chap to hang on to the pendant control of the crane for the quarter of an hour that this was going to take.

I had just about reached to point where I could start to rectify the failure, the space getting tighter all the way there and was almost having to pant to breathe with the limited chest movement that I had available, when Cyril, the Manufacturing Director came running over to Whitey, holding the controls.

"I want that crane and I want it now!", he demanded, expecting instant obedience.

"You sound just like my ex-girlfriend" was the response that completely disarmed him, and nearly broke my ribs....

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  • 3 months later...

Mention in "Exhibition Memories" of Sidro's allotment has reminded me of another thing about him.

Strange traditions could become very important, yet remain mysterious to outsiders.

In those days, smoking in the workshops was still normal and Sidro, being the elegant Spaniard that he was, always used a cigarette holder, to avoid possible nicotine stains.

These holders were hand-carved by himself, from a suitable branch - he kept a small supply seasoning for future use.

He had a new one every year and it would appear about half-way through Lent.

The day of Sidro's new cigarette holder was defined to be The First Day of Spring and word would soon get round when it appeared.

One year, I happened to mention to someone that the Great Event had been witnessed earlier that day (it was the chap with the hydraulic pump above) and he seemed very disappointed and depressed by this news.

I asked him why and he told me that he still had to finish fixing his lawn mower.

This confused me until he told me that he was obliged to cut his grass on The First Day of Spring - actually obliged to, although he couldn't really explain why...

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My two most effective and efficient job interviews were approximately a year apart in the Mid-80s when when I worked as an "engineer" manager in construction.

I was out scouting around for work possibly trainspotting around Donabate and called into a site where the contractors had recently broke ground. A couple of the workers recognised  me and asked if I was looking for work. It turned out the contractor was former client of mine and were looking for someone to run the job, the contracts manager "Dennis" offered me the job straight away, but I was not happy about the rate of pay, I met the big Boss the following day who put me on a bonus but told me not to say anything to Dennis.

We had a very enjoyable summer/autumn in Donabate developing a housing subdivision beside the main line (I never brought my camera to work!) pretty much left to our own devices, the economy and construction was going through a tough time the boss closed the business and moved to Atlanta Georgia and I headed for Holyhead!

The second interview was on my first day in London in between visits to W & H Models in New Cavendish St. and Victors of Islington, I spotted an add for an engineer with an Irish owned Civil contracting company in the Evening Standard and asked to immediately report for an interview in the companies Wembley Office.

I was interviewed for a completely different but better paying role by one of the Directors most likely because they needed someone for that role immediately. The company was very good to work for in terms of pay and conditions, paying a retention bonus to its Irish migrant workers, the downside was the people were locked into particular roles because of very rigid senior management thinking.

I ended the day with a job and parts to complete a J15 and a copy of Model Railway Journal.


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  • 5 months later...

Talk of Chinese manufacturing elsewhere has reminded me of this.

We had noticeboards all over the place and many spoofs would appear on those.

A regular poster was quite a good cartoonist. One of his, which I may still have a copy of, appeared as digital watches were starting to become popular.

We were still using relays for control systems and were probably about thirty years behind the rest of the world by then.

He put up a drawing of "The GEC Digital Watch".

This was a chap struggling along with a wooden pallet tied to his left arm. This pallet had 100 watt bulbs arranged in a grid, to form the numbers as they lit up, as an LED watch did back then.

With his right arm, he was pulling a fully laden hand-truck behind him - on this trailer were a couple of dozen car batteries to drive the bulbs and a grandfather clock with a nest of wires coming from the face and hands to control which ones were illuminated at the time.

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  • 5 months later...


1 hour ago, Mike 84C said:

Its sad to see the T&D so neglected and run down but it has an atmosphere about it. Also shows the amount of neglect a railway will stand and keep operating. I have seen worse on BR in the 1960's   :trains:

This has reminded me of an event in the mid 80s, just as China was starting to really modernise and open up.

We were due a visit from a delegation interested in power station equipment and, on the day they arrived, I was a bit late myself, so witnessed their actual arrival. There was a lot of them - two coach-loads. in fact.

I arrived just as the coaches were disembarking, having passed the really quite pleasant Main Office building, a nice Edwardian-style edifice (now demolished).

Having passed the end of that, the coaches stopped and 70 or 80 Chinese engineers got off, able to see the actual factory for the first time.

We knew that the place was not very futuristic or well-maintained, but, seeing it every day did rather make us immune to the actual state of the place.

The Chinese were clearly shocked, stunned and amused at what they saw, lining up for pictures in front of the apparent devastation that was the reality of what had been promoted to them as a world-renowned factory.

They were also amazed to see that we still had air raid shelters.

When you looked it it with fresh eyes, it did look like the end scenes of a war film.

In fact, it was still camouflaged, having been last painted in the 1940s with the free left-over paint from the war.


'They' did have the arrival area cleaned up and painted a little bit less embarrassingly after that, but the rest of it was left to decay steadily.


It's a housing estate now.

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Like the Chinese Engineers visiting a world-renowned factory (in Staffordshire) I got to see behind the scenes in all sorts of interesting places and to meet equally interesting people while working as a health and safety inspector in both Ireland and New Zealand.

One of the more interesting was a heavy engineering works and former Locomotive builder continues to operate from its original 1868 premises complete with timber framed Foundry & Machine Shop.


The business was originally established to produce mining machinery during a Gold Rush rush later became a major locomotive builder and continues to support the rail industry.


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  • 1 month later...

I, with two others, run a Facebook page about the old factory. I was there for twenty years, 74-93, one of the others did 1965-2005, but might not have been as 'widespread' as I was, the third started in 1986 and is still there, after various mergers/downsizes/dismemberments. Between us, we generally know most people - this is necessary as Facebook produces a few "trawlers", people who probably hope that they might get a job from their 'involvement', so we need to weed them out from applicants.

The youngest of us three came across a load of old company magazine articles, usually with photos, so she stuck them in. They're always interesting.

One of these was a retirement presentation, with the happy escapee smiling for the camera. It was a newsprint picture, subsequently photographed for inclusion on the Facebook page, and the chap was named in the caption, but I didn't recognise the name at all. I was about to comment, using the chap's "work name", but was put off by the facts that - A, He was smiling* & B, I didn't recognise his real name. I could have been wrong and upset somebody, so I left it.

* The person I had in mind was noted for being exceptionally dour - as we shall see.

A few days later, somebody else, with less trepidation than I, posted "Is that Captain Concrete?" This, indeed, was who I thought it was. 

The oldest of 'us three' doubted that Ken Wells was his real name - "I'm sure it was Cyril Something". There was some, inconclusive, discussion on the page - with one person stating that 'three named people' would actually know what his real name was'.

Eventually, one of them arrived and confirmed it was him.

It is remarkable that you can work with someone for decades and not know his real name. I had proper work interactions with him, but I don't think I ever heard the name Ken Wells until it was in the caption of that picture.

Edited by Broithe
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Another photo has reminded me me of this magnificent event - luckily, I was not involved, as it could easily have killed me.

We had a chap called Bob - he seemed very upright and 'straight', quite posh, but he could be remarkably 'forthright', once he was sure about your attitude. His language could suddenly change from 'professional' to 'dockyard'. A lot of people didn't know this, because he kept his guard up with them.

Bob could talk continuously - so much so that several of us had a scheme where we would let another one of us know that we were going to see him and, if we weren't back in fifteen minutes, someone should ring him and declare that a 'boss' wanted us now.

We had a giant explosion in a substation in London and Bob was delegated to go down and inspect the devastation, recording it on a video camera, for a subsequent meeting at the factory, between the National Grid, the CEGB and the 'defending' management.

It wasn't really his problem and he tried every excuse to get out of going, but 'they' removed all the obstacles that he could think up - his final ploy was that he couldn't operate a video camera, this being the early 80s and not many people had experience of them. They declared that they would send an apprentice with him, one who could operate the camera.

Bob was snookered and the trip was now unavoidable.

Cameras then were VHS-C - a compact cassette in the camera, to keep the size down, that needed to be put in a full-size adaptor to be played in a 'proper' machine. The camera would play the compact cassette back for you, but with some limitations - as we shall see - or hear.

The apprentice drove the car and Bob spent the whole journey down to London comprehensively and very bluntly slagging off everybody else involved, both within the company and the customers.

They spent a couple of hours at the site, videoing the aftermath, eventually filling up the 45 minutes they had on the tape. All the time, Bob kept up a barrage of abuse about everybody else.

When it was full, they rewound the tape and checked what it had recorded - of course, it was only a black and white screen back then, and Bob wasn't happy about that, but he was assured that it would play in colour when adapted to play in the 'proper' machine - OK, so they drove back up to the factory.

There was something else that the camera didn't present, but the 'proper' machine would, but nobody thought of that...

This only became evident when everybody involved, including Bob, was sat down in the meeting room to watch the video, shown via the 'proper' machine. 

The video was not only in colour, but it had sound - the sound of Bob systematically insulting everybody who was in the room, with the most basic of language.

This was before we had a TV with a remote control, so turning the sound off would have involved getting up, going to the TV and turning the volume knob - this would have involved acknowledging what was actually happening, so it seems that it was felt better to just pretend that nothing untoward was going on.

They all sat there for the forty five minutes and nobody ever mentioned anything about it - ever.


If I had been there, I would probably have laughed myself to death.


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  • 4 weeks later...

Talk elsewhere of "suspect devices" reminded me of a couple of events of that nature in the factory.

The 'Tank Shop' where the tanks for the transformers were fabricated had made actual military tanks during the war - hiding in plain view. The lads to the east clearly knew about this, though, and the factory was recorded, along with the adjacent RAF sites.


The factory was subjected to one attack by a lone aircraft - whether it was deliberate or a fluke as somebody dumped his bombs having been 'jumped' on his way to Liverpool, or wherever, was not ever established.

Three bombs went off, causing some damage and considerable excitement - also one bomb came to rest gently enough to not detonate itself, and was subsequently defused.

However, it was never established if this four was the entire delivery - the ground was notoriously 'soft' - and we actually lost quite large items ejected by our own explosions in the 1970s and 80s.

Not having a delivery note from the pilot, there has always been a possibility that the consignment may still have one or two unrecorded items...

Anyway, one day, excavating a pit in a part of the building that went back to 1917 an 'unknown cylindrical metal object' was exposed by the digger. This caused some consternation and it was proposed to call the Bomb Squad in. Whilst a posse of suits discussed this and the potential for further damage and disruption that this might cause, someone had the presence of mind to get one of our endoscopes and gingerly shove it in through a crack in the casing. This revealed it to be an empty cylinder, about four feet long - so, it was dug out and revealed to be just a short section of broken cast-iron pipe, possibly just buried there after being broken - but not recorded anywhere - Phew!


We also got the odd bomb scare in 'those days' and on one occasion we were all out by the railway, being recorded as 'safe', when it was realised that one person was missing - "Where's Harry?" - "He's definitely in, I've seen him!".

So, the delegated Fire Warden was sent back into our shed to see if he could be located and brought to safety.

Harry was found, determinedly sitting at his desk, wearing ear plugs, a WW2 gas mask and a genuine WW2 ARP* helmet.                         *Air Raid Precautions.

I never really worked with Harry much, but he was my 'mentor', I learned all my scavenging and scrounging from him.

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Reminds me of a fire drill during the construction of a large Watford shopping center during the late 80s. Although there was relatively little of a flammable nature on site we were constructing the concrete frame the company recently had major fires on two of its most prestigious London sites and an order went out from head office for a fire drill on every site.

Anyway to get to the heart of the story, my job was to physically check that the site was clear after our trade contractors managers and foremen had completed a head count that the site was clear.

Like Harry a concrete finisher was diligently chipping away with his hammer and chisel wearing ear defenders inside a plant room.

At the time apart from safety helmets and steel toe capped boots construction workers seldom wore ppe, our concrete finisher was probably the only one of the over 100 workers on site to wear hearing protection, being already a bit deaf he did not hear the klaxon and preferring to work apart from breaks he was invisible to his work mates and his boss forgot to check. 

The look of surprise when he realised that he was the only one on site was something else, al those were the days!

Edited by Mayner
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24 minutes ago, Broithe said:

I never really worked with Harry much, but he was my 'mentor', I learned all my scavenging and scrounging from him.

Mmm, I'm sat here thinking about him now...

He was a man who actually understood everything, to the point of being able to 'abuse' his knowledge, when it was necessary.

They bought a house, but the only means of heating the water was by a back-boiler behind the sitting room fireplace. The hot tank had no fitting for an immersion heater and any modification meant destroying a lot of the bathroom - so, it could wait. For kitchen matters, boiling a large kettle was OK in the summer months, but heating enough water for a bath was an issue during the summer months. So, Harry devised a plan to suspend copper plates in the cold bath and pass fairly large currents directly through the water to heat it up. He made an insulated frame with the means to raise and lower the plates, to control the current, measured on his trusty AVOmeter. This could be achieved in 'reasonable' safety as the plates would 'gas up' as things progressed, reducing the current - the main risk was blowing the main supply fuse, so he kept the current well below that. There were no earth leakage devices back then, so blowing wire fuses was the only real issue - as long as he didn't blow the 'supply fuse' then he could just replace any wire as necessary. Sixty amps through the water soon heated it up...



He built some really superb speakers, occupying the alcoves either side of the chimney breast. Things were designed with great regard to resonances, bass-reflex tube lengths, etc - and some regard to reducing noise through to next door. He wanted to experiment with different quantities and arrangements of wadding for damping purposes. He discovered a marvellous source of wadding, in small equal-sized quantities, that would allow him to create various arrangements and tweak the layout to achieve optimum acoustic performance. He negotiated with the manufacturer of this product and they agreed to deliver a consignment direct to him, so he didn't have to purchase large quantities in retail shops - there was quite a cost advantage to doing it this way, too.

As much as Harry would understand everything, he would sometimes miss a small detail, that might be of no immediate concern to him - this is what led to him and his (long-suffering) wife carrying industrial quantities of 'sanitary items' into the house, from a lorry emblazoned with a "Tampax" logo - in front of all the neighbours out washing their cars on a Saturday morning.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Talk elsewhere of consultants reminded me of an event in the mid 1980s. 

The mob I worked for were what would be termed "vulture capitalists" these days - they traded on the (once justified) reputations of companies that they had taken over and were strangling to death. They generally employed consultants as a way of advertising how serious they were about an issue that they had no intention of actually addressing at all.

We were once treated to a chap who was going to refine our design processes, but without the slightest understanding of the peculiar difficulties that our products presented.

One lecture took place (for added importance) in the oak-panelled boardroom. After a couple of hours of irrelevant, patronising nonsense, I became aware that Les, the design drawing office manager, sitting next to me, was becoming more and more angry. Normally, he was a very dour and professional man and, whilst the rest of us were happy enough with 'two hours rest', he had proper work to do. Les was actually gripping the table, in an effort to contain his anger. We were coming towards the end and I decided to 'keep an eye on him' until we could escape back to reality.

But my scheme failed - a bit, but not as much as I thought it was going to.

On the table (this was the 80s!) was an ashtray - it was a disposable foil ashtray, but, as the company never spent anything on anything, it was probably about fifteen years old, as no replacement would ever be available.

Our mentor  picked it up and held it aloft -"Can anybody tell me what this is?", he bellowed.

There were about twenty of us in the room and nobody was going to answer, as whatever we said would be wrong - by this stage, the veins on Les's neck were standing out and I, lounging back in my seat, put my leg behind his chair, as I was getting concerned that he might genuinely attack the lecturer.

"Come on! Tell me what this is - Come on, tell me. Tell me!"

Les could hold it no longer - "It's a bloody* ashtray"

"Ah, no, it isn't!"

"Yes it bloody* well is!"

"No, it isn't - it's whatever you want it to be"

"It's a bloody* ashtray! It's got bloody* dog-ends in it!"

By this stage, Les had, by the sheer grip of his hands on the table, raised himself from his seat - and I was preparing to try to impede him, if he made a lunge at his tormentor.

The engineering director had spotted the feeling in the room by this point, and we were approaching the end of the session anyway, so ""I think we'll call it a day now - and thank you for your most interesting talk".


For those who didn't know Les - it was all the more shocking as he never swore - and he didn't say "bloody", in fact...

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My father was a fitter turner by trade and picked up annual shutdown maintenance work with a contract shop following his retirement.

One of his last jobs was an August Holiday shutdown at the Clondalkin Paper Mills, which was quite well paid not too physically demanding for a 70 year old but turned out quite frustrating

Typically he spent the first week of the Shutdown dismantling sections of plant and sending in requisitions for parts which required replacement.

He spent the second week re-assembling the plant without replacing the majority of the worn parts as few of his requisitions were approved.


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