I was brought up on Rise Carr, in Westmoreland Street opposite the workshops. It was surrounded by a large wooden fence and you could see into the yard from our front bedroom window. A large crane ran on an overhead track, the full length of the yard. There were boilers and engine frames, large sheets of metal and all sorts of different parts for trains. You could see the old stripping shop where the engines were dismantled and hear the noise of the rivetters, hammering, the flashes from the welding and oxyacetylene burners and the crane going up and down. It was quite exciting but noisy as it went on day and night. I suppose we got used to it.
I went to Rise Carr primary school and then Albert Road school. Both are gone now. I left school at 15 in 1957. My father had put my name down at the workshops. He said it was a job for life.
I started my engineering apprenticeship aged 15 in the summer of 1957. My first six months were spent in the Main Stores Offices which is where the main entrance to Morrisons is on North Road. My job was to deliver the order forms for parts and mail to all department stores in the factory. I also had to deliver and collect mail from Stooperdale Offices on Brinkburn Road and North Road Station. It took some time and some miles on foot as the works covered all that retail area between North Road, Whessoe Road and up what used to be the railway crossing on Rise Carr. There is a scrapyard and car sales company there now.
They used to play a trick on the new boys in the office, that was to tell them that the record for stamping order form pads with the works address was 1,000 a day using a rubber stamp and ink pad. What a laugh the staff must have had watching us, we had no chance. The innocence of youth! It was time to move on now and start my apprenticeship in the factory.
The first thing I had to do was to get fitted for some overalls or boilersuit as it was called. I was only about 5 foot tall at the time so I had to roll the sleeves and legs up so they would fit. The backside hung down to my knees, the modern style nowadays. I also had to join the engineering union and I think it was about sixpence a month. I was a member for 44 years.
My first job in the works was fitting piston rings in the piston head assembly area. We also went to apprentice school for a day learning engineering practices. We attended night school three nights a week at the Technical College at the corner of Gladstone Street.
The apprentices were moved around different workshop areas every few months to learn different working practices. My next move was on to the coal and water tender rebuild. Being small I was given a bucket of bolts, spanner for the bolt head, washers, waterproof tar like sealant and a tallow candle. You climbed inside through the manhole that was used to fill the tender with water and you worked you way under and over the tank strengthening struts. You put bolts through holes in the body and wheel bogie for the fitter to put nuts on and tighten the tank down. Sometimes they banged on the side with a hammer to make you jump, and you knocked your candle over and you had to find it in the dark. After you were finished you got out covered in rust and dirt and the tender was filled with water and tested for leaks.
My next move was into the machine shop (shell shop during the war) which ran parallel with the Westmoreland Street side. You were taught drilling, milling, turning and we spent about a year in there. I also worked in the tinsmiths, brass shop, Stooperdale boiler shop and then back to North Road erecting shops. I worked on bogie assembly and then on to one of the steam engine assembly pits. It had a foreman, chargehand and works gang. You had a set amount of work to do each shift and you worked as a team to get it done. It was hard work and you had to keep your wits about you. Rivets were being thrown about the area and welders working. There were hot sparks from oxycetelyne burners. There wasn’t much health and safety them days, no hard hats or ear defenders.
It had its benefits as sometimes you were told to bring in some sandwiches the next day as you were going on a test run. The engine was all steamed up in the yard and three of us climbed into the cab and off we went with a couple of carriages behind going up into the Dales for the day on the old pre-Beeching lines. What a day out as long as there were no problems occurred with the engine.
On my time in the pits I got the chance to work on some of the great steam engines, which were brought to the works for servicing. There was the Mallard, Flying Scotsman, Sir Nigel Gresley and also Locomotion No.1 when it was brought from Bank Top station to be cleaned up.
I was moved into the new diesel engine shop for the last few months before finishing my apprenticeship in 1963. As there was no National Service then I transferred to Derby Loco Works, working in the diesel shop. At that time they were working on the prototype of the new Deltic diesel engine. In 1965 I transferred to Shildon Wagon Works where I worked on on the first prototype Merry Go Round wagon for the Coal Board. It was built with a galvanised steel body which was all riveted.We also built new wagons for Blue Circle cement and an Atomic Flask wagon. I left British Rail in 1977 to start work at Cummins Engine company until I retired in 2001.