by Brian Allison
My second day as an apprentice started with a surprise. The normal routine was that my mother would call me at least three times before I’d actually manage to crawl out of bed, but, to her surprise I was up and about before she had got to the bottom of the stairs.
I looked out on a typical Yorkshire spring day, yes, it was pouring down. Normally that would have been my cue to invent some reason why I shouldn’t go to school , and yet I found myself eager to get to work. This turned out to be a purely temporary aberration, normal service and waking habits returned within a week or two. However this morning was different, I could still hear Dennis’s words in my head, “ Tomorrow we’re working on a Rover “.
So out into the rain, get soaked, catch the bus to town, get soaked walking to Atkinson’s, clock in, and like an over excited puppy await further orders.
“Which one are we working on Dennis, is it that one? “, pointing to a shiny Rover 105R parked just inside the doors.
“No, that one is Mr Atkinson’s, ours is over here”
I felt totally cheated. I didn’t expect for a moment that the old motor with the running boards would have the object of my fascination under it’s bonnet. I was right too. When Dennis opened the bonnet it revealed what to my eyes was just an ordinary engine. If I’d known how at that time ,I’d have described it as a 6cyl. OHV , not the work of art I was itching to get my hands on. Anyway I soon got over my disappointment, watching attentively everything that Dennis did as he fitted new plugs and points, cleaned the fuel and air filters, all the while giving me a running commentary. Then he took off the rocker cover and handed it to me. My appreciation knew no bounds. Joy of joys, back to the paraffin bath. To be fair, Dennis did show me how he set the tappet clearances and why .
That morning was also my introduction to that most important part of any apprentices education at that time – where and how to make the tea !
That afternoon I took the list that Dennis gave me and went to buy my first toolkit, to be paid for weekly from my wages. ( I almost wrote pittance there.) I’m not sure, but if I remember correctly it was just over £2 p.w. The shop was an engineers supplier by the name of Gregory and Sutcliffe and very conveniently was right next door to and sharing the block with us. I duly returned bearing a shiny new toolbox containing :- 1 set each open ended WW/BSF and AF spanners, 1 set of each ring spanners, 2 or 3 screwdrivers, set of feeler gauges, normal and split pin pliers, and a dinky little set of magneto spanners which were riveted together in the form of a fan. I also got a socket set in it’s own metal case.
A short history lesson here for our younger readers. Up until about the mid 50’s all British cars used nuts and bolts with either Whitworth ( WW ) or British standard fine ( BSF ) threads. These correspond to the UNC and UNF threads used up to the adoption of the metric threads found on todays cars and which AF or across flats spanners fit. The magneto spanners were small ( think BA sizes) and meant for small connections such as those on distributor points. An interesting point about the socket sets at that time was that instead of the 1/2 inch square drive we know now the ones we used were hexagon drive and unlike most sets nowadays included a speed brace.
I now felt like a real mechanic, all those shiny tools, I couldn’t wait to use them. I didn’t have to, I was soon busy removing and refitting various parts of the braking system of the Rover 16, (for that was what we were working on ), all under the constant education/supervision/ assistance and often amused eyes of Dennis.
One of my jobs was to go to the stores for any parts we needed and I soon learned an invaluable lesson ; DO NOT upset the stores staff. They can make your life a living nightmare. As I mentioned previously the manager’s name was Arthur. He was an ex R.E.M.E. Sgt. Major and looked it. His presence was such that he demanded the respect due his rank although once you got to know him he was as nice a man as you could wish to meet. While I was waiting behind him at the hatch one of the older apprentices who’s name if I remember correctly was Rodney made the mistake of complaining about how long it was taking to get his parts. He was still waiting when I left with my parts.
Over the course of the next few days I at last got to see, in the flesh as it were, the thing that started it all. THAT engine. To me it really was a thing of beauty . The graceful curves of the polished aluminium rocker cover, the SU carburettor, the exhaust manifold, the way it filled the engine bay. How to describe it ? Only one word sprang to mind. Sexy !! Even now after seeing more shapes and sizes of engine than I care to remember I still think of it as beautiful.
It was to be a while before I actually got to see inside one but that and many more are tales for another day.
to be continued
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