by Brian Allison
Wow ! What a contrast Trinity was compared to Atkinson's. The impression Pete had given me turned out to be true in all respects, the biggest difference being the attitude of Eric, the service manager. Totally approachable , unlike the pompous prat I was used to.
One of the first things he asked me was whether I had applied for a provisional licence, and when I said no, he arranged for Pete to take me in the shop van at lunch time to get it sorted. Talk about making a good impression! Before the day was out I'd got a volunteer to give me driving lessons as well. Pete Schofield was one of the mechanics, known to everyone as Shufty, due to his catchphrase. "I'll just have a shufty at that for you", "Come and have a shufty at this" etc. For our foreign readers I should explain that taking a shufty in England means having a look.
A little background to the staff at Trinity would probably be a good idea about here. There were four apprentices. Harold was a year older than me, Dicky was a year younger, and Pete, known to everyone as Bev, and myself, both eighteen. There were already two mechanics named Brian but I was fortunate that they both already had nicknames, one being Bootsy, after the character in a popular TV show of that time,"Bootsie and Snudge". The other Brian's nickname was rather derogatory and only used when he was not present.
The foreman, Tommy, was an Irishman and prone to lapsing into a broad accent when hassled by us apprentices, which I must admit was quite a lot of the time. One abiding memory of Tommy occurred when I was working under a car over one of the pits. I saw Tommy, who was quite short, well padded, and quite flat footed walking towards me muttering to himself. As he walked down the side of the pit I was able to hear him say " I don't know what we're going to do with that Bev me old dear, I just don't know." It must be said that we really did give him a lot to put up with.
I became a victim of one of the favourite tricks within hours of starting work. I was happily setting the tappets on a car, head down under the bonnet when I received an almighty electric shock, causing me to bang my head on the bonnet. When I looked round young Dicky was almost falling over laughing and pointing to the back of the car.The older one's reading this will remember the plug cleaning machines of those days. Briefly these were a means of grit blasting the deposits from the spark plug and then testing them.
The connection for testing was a wire fitted with a crocodile clip which you connected to the plug, then pressing the test button actuated a high tension transformer which, if the plug was ok, caused a visible spark across the plug electrodes. There was a wire leading from the plug tester to the rear bumper and he'd pressed the test button. Much more effective than pushing the horn button, which also happened frequently. This was a regular prank and some days the floor had so many lengths of wire trailing across it ,it looked like someone had spilt a bowl of spaghetti on it.
The high jinks were yet another reason to enjoy my new workplace and I quickly became as bad as the others for it. The management of course frowned on it officially, but as long as it didn't actually harm anyone a blind eye was more often than not turned. Today's HSE would have had a field day.
The change from working on Austins and Rovers to the various Rootes brands was surprisingly seamless by today's standards where it seems necessary to have a tuition course for every new model. Almost all cars of that time were relatively simple with pretty straightforward electrics rather than lots of modules and computer controls.
I started my driving lessons on my third day, Shufty making good on his promise. As I said previously I had a little experience in moving cars around the garage, so already knew about clutch control and steering. The shop van was a Commer Cob and when we'd put the L plates on and were both sat in it,rather than the lecture on where everything was and what it did, Shufti simply said, "Off you go then".
I managed to pull away without any kangarooing and crawled down the road to the T junction which met the main Huddersfield - Leeds road. After a couple of false starts there was a big enough gap for me to successfully turn onto the main road. I was mentally patting myself on the back at how well I was doing when Shufty said, "Don't you think it might be a good idea to change up a gear rather than doing 10 m.p.h. holding up all the traffic." Yea, great idea, but I'd never needed to change gear before. Oh, I knew all about it in theory, but practise was something else again. Thank the Lord for whoever invented synchromesh! I soon got the hang of it and we were bowling merrily along at a steady 30 in top gear.
That's when I felt a sharp pain in my left leg. Shufty had kicked me. "Get your foot off the bloody clutch pedal". Not exactly BSM but very effective. We'd gone about a mile when Shufty told me to take the next left. He got rather agitated when I did as I was told, apparently I was expected to slow and change gear rather than just turn the steering wheel. Not his exact words you understand, but that was the gist of it. Taking notice of his advice I managed to get us back in one piece, and was amazed when he said we'd go out again the following day. True to his word we went out most days and he reckoned I was doing great.
The second week I was there they took a Landrover in part exchange and decided it would be ideal for use as a shop van. The only snag was that the gear box would only select 1st and 2nd gear and was noisy too. Having come from the Rover agency it was decided I'd be the ideal candidate to repair it, so out the box came. I stripped the box completely, laying everything out in order on the bench, found the wrecked synchro hub that caused the lost gears and some very dodgy bearings. I made a list of parts which the stores said they would sort for me.
As it turned out this took them over a week to do, during which time people walked past the bench, picked up and examined various parts, pronounced them totally unusable ( again not their exact words), and then put them back down anywhere but where they were originally. It took me a long time to get that box back together. But the upside of it was that I used a few words in the process that I didn't even know I knew. This much to the disgust of Harold, a country lad who had never been known to utter a single swear word. When the box was refitted the Commer Cob was transferred to the body shop over in Halifax and the Landrover became my learner vehicle and shop van. This had the advantage of teaching me to double declutch as their was no synchro on 1st and 2nd.
Within a month I was due to take my driving test and felt confident of passing first time. The day of the test rolled round and Murphy's law struck again. At the time I was due to leave for the test centre the Land Rover was not back from a breakdown. No problem said Eric we'll get a car from the sales dept. for you. So instead of driving the familiar Land Rover I found myself in a Hillman Minx with just a couple of miles to get used to it. Whether it was me or the unfamiliar car I don't know, but I failed. To say I was sick was an understatement. Fortunately at that time there was no long waiting list for driving tests and I got a new date within two weeks. This time I was determined to pass.
The day of my second test couldn't have been better, Wednesday afternoon, half day closing in Huddersfield then so less traffic than usual. As we set off on the test I felt totally confident, until the tester told me to take a right turn and the indicators decided they wanted a half day too. " Don't worry about it, just use hand signals", easy for him to say, the one thing I hadn't practised! As it turned out it didn't matter anyway and I was the proud possessor of a pink sheet of paper saying I was fit to drive solo. Much back slapping and a drink after work were in order.
If you've read my earlier blogs you'll know all about my love affair with the Rover engine, and it was about this time that I developed an abiding crush on yet another. The famed TS3. This Tilling Stevens 3 cyl., 6 piston,2 stroke, blown, diesel really grabbed my attention. Never more so than when I was stood underneath one having removed the sump. Looking up was like looking at the architecture of a cathedral with beautifully formed supporting ribs, the rocker arms too were sheer engineering art. And the sound they produced was like no other engine I've ever heard.
For anyone interested I've added this link which explains more about this magnificent beast - or just click on the image.
After I passed my test I determined to save hard to buy my first car - easier said than done on the wages we got then - but my fairy Godfather was about to put in an appearance. I've written previously about the youth club and it's leader, David, and how helpful he'd been to the lads with motor bikes, now it was my turn.
I'd often admired David's car, it wasn't new by any means but it had that indefinable thing called character. It was a 1934 Morris 10/4, blue over black, and apart from a patch on the nearside rear quarter where over zealous polishing had rendered the paint almost transparent was in exceptional condition. I'd passed comment on how much I liked it on a few occasions and knew that it had been in David's family from new.
His uncle had been a chauffeur for one of the local mill owners and had been given the Morris as a retirement present, his father had then used it before passing it down to him. About 2 months after I passed my test I turned up at the youth club and was surprised to see David there but no sign of the Morris. When I asked him if he had sold it he said," No, but the back axle's gone and they don't have parts for it so I'll probably have to scrap it."
I hated the thought of an otherwise perfectly good car being scrapped for the sake of a back axle and on the spur of the moment said "I'll have it, I'm sure I can find an axle off something I can fit to it." David liked the idea of the car being kept on the road and said he would give it to me but his father would go mad if he thought he'd given it away so I'd have to buy it. " How much?" "Just enough to be able to truthfully tell him I sold it, shall we say sixpence?" " You're joking." "Not at all, I can look him in the eye and tell him I've sold it, I don't have to tell him how much for."
So for sixpence (two and a half new pence) I became the proud owner of a car eight years older than myself. I arranged with Eric to borrow the works Land Rover, towed the Morris down to Trinity, and again with Eric's blessing put it in the basement where I could work towards getting it back on the road.
Next time :- Will I get the Morris back on the road? And if I do, how?
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