The sickening strong smell of Trichloroethylene could make you feel dizzy. We found out later that the fumes could be dangerous.
After working several years on the railway I decided to find another job nearer my home. Having to travel, granted free on the railway, I was becoming aware of the time it was taking me to get to and from work. This didn’t take long as not far from where I lived George Angus & Co were building a factory on the Coast Road, only five minutes from my home. This provided the incentive to approach the Employment Officer there, and ask if there was room for one more and, fortunately, they wanted someone to operate an impregnating machine and would I like to start as soon as possible?
Naturally, I agreed and promptly put in my notice to the yardmaster at the shunting yard. He wasn’t very happy I was leaving but could not disagree; I was doing the right thing. Now I would start my new job the following week.
Starting my job at George Angus was a new learning experience because I was would be in an entirely different environment. For instance, the work would be indoors so a certain amount of protection, mainly from the weather, would not be a problem. However, the atmosphere inside a factory is not always the best to work in. I found it very noisy, and during the summer months very hot.
We had what they call steam-pans; these were as it suggests pans full of high-pressure steam. The steam-pans were needed to vulcanise the synthetic rubber made in the Fabric Department. It was, relatively, a sweatshop, but now that I was in it I decided to make a go of it. I was now part of a team in the Fabric Department.
In the department, lots of items were made from cotton fabric which must first be impregnated with a black rubber solution; this was my job. Next door to my machine was what they called the double impregnator. This took two operators to handle it. There were two steam pans; four extruders to produce Pyrotenax, with two operators for each extrude, a female for wrapping the tubing and a male to handle the machine. Other extruders were used to make tubing for the cotton mills. There was a large hydraulic press to make large sheets of rubber and a three-bowl calendar that produced very thin sheets of rubber.
Now that I was part of the department I was assigned to the beast of a machine, the single impregnator. It was a very difficult machine to run continuously. The sickening strong smell of Trichloroethylene could make you feel dizzy. We found out later that the fumes could be dangerous. I found myself saying that I have got to get myself out of here. It was becoming very stressful and was wishing I had never set foot in the factory. Realising that to work the machine on my own and make it pay would be a daunting task, one I felt I could not achieve. Remember, every job had a target number of parts to produce before you could make real money. This is what piece work is all about, you had to go as quick as you could to make it pay.
After a probationary period, I achieved some minor skills and started to make money but it was hard work. Most of the products made in the factory were destined for the motor trade. The fabric I produced would eventually be made into ram shields for hydraulics and small presses. In the press shop, there were hundreds of presses each making oil-seals for the motor industry, which was expanding every year so the demand for parts was increasing all the time.
Overtime was expected of you if you wanted to keep your job and at one time working a Sunday was a must. I have to say these were the boom years for the factory. Irrevocably, shift work would be the order of the day; it was impossible to keep up with the orders we had. Progress chasers were forever looking for orders not yet fulfilled. We just could not make the parts quick enough for the customers’ satisfaction so we were continually under pressure to meet the deadlines for the goods.
The particular machine I was to operate was, as I have said before, a beast of a machine. It towered all of thirty feet high, which housed the heat-producing electric bulbs needed to dry out the already impregnated fabric. It all started with a 36-inch width of rough Egyptian cotton fabric hoisted onto the back of the machine and carefully threaded around the first roller inside a large tank. Then between the blades of a spreader following onto another roller at the top of the tower, then down again onto another roller where it came to rest on a long table where it could be cut into strips by a hand-operated guillotine, which I also operated.
This, it seems, is a very simple procedure, which it was, but consider the operator who after eight hours had endured heavy vapours of Trichloroethylene pervading the air, it had the similar effects that petrol would have on sniffing it all day. Often I would sit down by the fire after my tea and instantly fall asleep. It was potent stuff. Fortunately, what production I made in one day could keep other workers occupied for a whole week so thankfully I did not have to operate it every day, sometimes not for another fortnight. It was like that for a good while when I first started.
When there was no work for my machine, I would be called upon to assist another worker who had run out of work and share the job between us. Fortunately, these jobs were very well paid, so I didn’t mind going along with Steve to help out, plus it was a chance to get away from the department and see other places in the factory.
One such place was the chemical laboratory where we would use their small rolling mill to refine rubbers for the fabric industry. Our job was to put all of the rubber allocated through the mill on a tight nip, it was then said to be refined. This method was used also for making rubber solutions; instead of rolling the rubber in a ball it would be carefully plunged into a metal bin half full of tren. This could be a hazardous operation because of the fumes coming up from the bins caused by the fairly warm rubber plunging into the Trichloroethylene (tren).
The best job I had was working with the Double Impregnator next door to my machine. There was times when the demands for this machine’s output was tremendous. We just could not make enough of it so it was agreed to put two shifts on, guess who was on the other shift – yes me. Working with a mate was good and we got on very well with each other, his name was Matthew – Matty for short. We worked together for quite a long time, exactly how long I just can’t remember. It was the best money I ever had.
As much as I liked working with Matty I knew my days working together were numbered; duty called opposite on the single impregnator. There was an order for a big firm called English Electric and it would require two shifts to make the quantity they required. I would train a new recruit to work opposite me on the other shift. So I was back on night shift again.
About this time a fellow worker decided to leave the factory for another place of employment, and this would create a vacancy on a machine known as the three-bowl calendar. Rather than get someone from the Labour Exchange the foreman decided to choose a worker who already knew something about this particular machine, and to my surprise he chose me.
In those days I would have been called the Foreman’s blue-eyed boy but this was not the case. He picked the right man, that is how I got the job on the calendar. It was known that I had worked with the operator who left helping him to produce what was called take-up strip on that machine, so I did know a little about the job. It wasn’t long before I was working the machine on my own; I took to it like a duck to water. Very soon, I was providing work for those like myself who had no work, help me make take-up strip.
The three-bowl calendar machine was a very versatile one. It could make rubber tubes of limited lengths, it could make calendar sheet, which was its primary function, along with the previous mentioned take-up strip. That was used a great deal in the textile industry. Every machine in the factory was pounding away as fast as it could go. In the press shop, it was so noisy that at times it could be overwhelming. To experience the volume and the din of dies being withdrawn then dropped onto the steel bench, then opened and seals taken out thousands of times a day, would eventually take its toll.
I continued to work in the Fabric Department for many years until I felt that my job had become a rat-race and that I wanted out. When the chance came to apply for a more relaxed environment in the chemical laboratory I took the option to work there. I got the job. Here, regardless if there was work for me or not, I will always have the same money but without the hassle of having to get the job done as quickly as possible. Therefore, less stress and that is what I now wanted. All but one of my children had grown up, so the demands for more money was not a priority. The job meant I was part of the staff with a superannuated pension which I was expected to contribute to every pay-day.
Working with the chemists was certainly different, they were often finicky in the way they wanted things done and I knew that everything I did for them would be tested so I had to be accurate when weighing to the nearest gram.
My job was to replicate in miniature what was being made on the shop-floor in the black-hole where all of the synthetic rubber is made. Granted it was a dirty job, and as they say, someone has to do it, so I don’t mind. I had the use of a shower every day and I liked that. This job allowed me to liaise with workers in the black-hole when I needed to replenish my stocks of ingredients. This gave me the chance to renew acquaintances with many of them every time I came downstairs; it certainly helped break the monotony.
I stayed in that job until aged 56 when financial advisors decided to deliver staff redundancy notices. This would save the Company a lot of money. I was now redundant and out of a job.