by Brian Allison
After the launch of the Mini, and the subsequent excitement it generated, life at Atkinson's settled down into a familiar pattern. Work four and a half days, Wednesday at tech.
Monday and Wednesday evenings at Tech. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Friday evenings at the youth club continuing my education into the mysteries of the fairer sex.
Saturday lunchtime was occupied by the now almost obligatory couple of pints in the Sportsman's Arms opposite the garage. The rest of the weekend usually consisting of sleep and further research as per the youth club.
As I mentioned, I was now 17, and a fair number of the lads I knew had bought motor bikes which they rode to the club. I personally had never been tempted down that road, having had enough experience with push bikes and playing rugby to know just how vulnerable the human body is to collision damage. Four wheels and a bit of sheet metal to offer some protection seemed a much safer bet to me.
The Huddersfield Corporation at that time was well known for it's progressive thinking re. youth clubs, and was willing to provide funds for any scheme they deemed worthwhile. They also had a number of full time youth workers who acted as youth club leaders, the one at mine being David Brook. David noticed the activity with the bikes and suggested, if I was willing to take on the job of supervising it, that he would approach his bosses with the idea of setting up a workshop so we could work on the bikes indoors.
All the lads thought this was a great idea, and thinking it stood little chance of success, I told David to go ahead. I was absolutely amazed when about a week later David asked me to make a list of what tools I thought would be needed, and would I take on the job of writing to the various bike makers to see if we could get them to supply some service sheets, posters etc. I agreed to do that while he saw about getting my list filled.
Within a matter of a few weeks we had everything we needed to work with, a designated workshop area, tools, literature from all the makers I'd written to, and enough posters to fill most of the wall space. I look at how things have changed and can't help feeling sad that this sort of thing would never happen today. Lack of funds, and 'elf and safety alone would probably prevent it, let alone the lack of interest shown by the vast majority of todays youth.
" Enough of the moaning, you miserable old so and so ", I can hear you all saying, " Get on with the story."
The workshop idea was a great success and my only regret was that it was almost unknown at that time for girls to have motor bikes, certainly none of our members had one. Apart from that it was very satisfying to be doing something I enjoyed and knowing that it was helping other cash-strapped lads to keep their pride and joy on the road.
I mentioned 'elf and safety earlier and although we tried to keep it as safe as possible accidents, thankfully mainly minor one's did happen occasionally. The only one that required hospital attention was an attempted finger tip amputation. This came about as we were rebuilding a Francis Barnett after a fitting new piston rings.
All was going well until some idiot decided to have a feel into the exhaust port at the exact same time that someone else decided to lean his elbow on the kick start lever. The new piston rings did a very fair impression of a scalpel removing a slice from the finger tip, fortunately not far enough up to hit the bone. David took the unfortunate victim to the hospital, which fortunately was only about a mile down the road, while the owner of the bike asked me if the blood would do any damage to his engine.
I fully expected the workshop to be shut down but in the event, presumably because there was no lasting damage to either the victim's finger or the bike, the incident went completely unmentioned from any official quarter.
I found Tech. to be quite entertaining at times too. One incident was brought back to mind recently when someone posted a photograph on the Facebook page showing him using a Dial Guage. Precision stuff !
One of the classes at Tech was entitled Workshop Practice and was taken by a chap called Dave Ainsworth. Dave was a typical Yorkshireman, with no airs and graces, told it like it was with no messing about. One of the projects was to make a set square out of a square sheet of steel. When we'd all finished sawing, filing and riveting Dave inspected each in turn, making appropriate comments.
"Not bad" meant nigh on perfect, "Could be better ", meant near enough, and the odd "Rubbish" got thrown in for good measure. One unfortunate got the "Rubbish " comment and asked why that was. Dave said the edge of the blade was miles out, to which the lad objected, " It's nobbut a cock hair out". Surprisingly Dave didn't reply, instead walking over to a bench and picking up a micrometer, then walking back to where the lad stood. Unzipping his fly he reached in and produced a pubic hair which he then measured with the micrometer. " That son is what a cock hair measures and that square's a good fifty out by my reckoning."
At work I was still unhappy about not being able to use the shop van for driving lessons despite repeated requests, and my appeal for a transfer to the commercial workshop where I could do some practical work on diesels also fell on deaf ears. Then just after my 18th birthday in April 1960, fate took a hand.
I was on the bus going to work one Saturday morning when I got talking to a lad I vaguely knew who was also an apprentice mechanic. Pete was about the same age as me and told me he had passed his driving test a few months ago and was hoping to buy a car very soon. This prompted me to tell him my tale of woe. I'd be banned from here if I repeated what he actually said, but in essence he considered it ridiculous.
This led to us comparing our respective conditions, Trinity Garage itself was a purpose built workshop and showroom facility with a Rootes agency, unlike Atkinson's which had just evolved over the 50 years or so they had been trading, hence the one pit, one hoist layout. That was one tick in the plus box for it. The staff worked alternate Saturdays, not every Saturday as we did. Pete was paid more than me, not a lot, but more. They supplied and laundered your overalls. They worked on both cars and commercials, so gaining experience on diesels. And most important of all they actively encouraged the apprentices to learn to drive using the shop van at lunch time.
Pete also said that the service manager, Eric, was a great boss to work for, and that the foreman Tommy, though a pain in the a..e at times, was OK really. All in all it sounded like paradise to me, and I told Pete just what a jammy so and so I thought he was. His response was to suggest that instead of going in to work, why didn't I go with him, have a word with Eric, and see if I could get a job with him.
As I said previously I was now 18, and as such classed as an "Improver", basically meaning I was capable of doing routine work on my own, not requiring the full time supervision of a mechanic. I was not an indentured apprentice so there was nothing to stop me moving employment.
When we arrived at Trinity, Pete took me to the workshop office and introduced me to Eric, who then introduced me to Tommy. Eric especially couldn't have been nicer, totally different from his priggish counterpart at Atkinson's. He seemed genuinely interested in why I wanted to move and understood my reasons for wanting to. He was quick to point out that I would be required to attend Tech; no problem, I was already doing so. After showing me round the shop and me being delighted with what I saw, he then asked me if I'd like to start there in a fortnight's time ? Would I !!!
So it was with a definite spring in my step that I walked into Atkinson's almost an hour late. And who should be stood by the clock when I walked in but my pet hate. "What's this. You're an hour late and walk in like you own the place.", "I had to go somewhere before I came in.", "Well, it's just not good enough and it had better not happen again", "Oh, it won't, I'm giving two weeks notice." The look on his face was priceless as I walked to the bench and got my toolbox out.
I lost count of the number of times during the next two weeks that Norman asked me if I was sure about it, until, having explained my reasons for the umpteenth time I finally said with all the cockiness of youth, "Well, if you don't know why by now you're even dafter than I thought you were.", with which I walked away. I quickly regretted saying that, he was alright really, he just had a total pain for a boss.
So before I left Atkinson's I made sure he understood that it wasn't him I had a problem with. He even came for a drink on my last Saturday morning there and we parted on good terms.
So I left Atkinson's behind me and started at Trinity the following Monday. Nice clean airy workshop with painted floor with lined out bays down each side, go down the steps in the bottom right corner to an open area with a bench along the wall and then simply walk into one of three pits.
Down another flight to the basement used for parking the tow truck and any other vehicles as need be, and a proper little canteen. The contrast with what I was used to was immense. I knew I was going to be happy here.
Next time :- I'm let lose on the road to terrify the other drivers, develop a love for another engine, and get my very first car.
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