Mr. HP Procurement Maverick-John Wastle
Stories of the HP work culture come from everywhere. We have published several HP memoirs by engineers who emigrated to the US early in their technical careers. Several others, like Carl Cottrell and Ray Smelek (To see those HP Memoirs, click HERE) involved assignments to overseas management for a period of few years.
This charming tale about the international aspects of HP, originates in Scotland, with the birth of John Wastle. His work path through the company fits an irreverent title that a few of us old timers at Palo Alto Intergalactic headquarters assigned to friends who moved among company divisions as "mercenaries." The term "Maverick" has some of the same connotations, less devoted to a particular product line, but devoted instead to cross-division processes and people. Neither are intended to be at all derogatory, but only to imply that the company needed him in a peripatetic role across the globe.
The other charming difference is our decision to NOT edit out the strange spellings of our Mother tongue, with terms like rumour and neighbour and aluminium (so unfamiliar sounding; al-u-minium, except for those of us who have dealt with Brits) appearing just like they belong there.
WARNING--John's narrative is stunning in his exceptional recall, of names and events. It reads like a novel, adapted for TV, with lots of warts and frank evaluations of managers' personalities, competences and/or incompetence's. For my part as editor, I hate to waste the honesty of an author, but to avoid any personal hurt feelings, in a few instances, I have urged John to assign pseudonym names for a few of the associates and managers he encountered in his work. We have also covered up some of the circumstances and locations to further scramble the personalities. Some (actually a lot) sincerely uttered swear words get the Nixon treatment, and are edit-inserted as (expletive).
Deciding just which personalities to disguise is a judgment call, and you'll just have to trust us with our decisions. Life comes with the good and the bad, the lazy and the personal aggrandizers, the stars and the flops.
John's life story brings us the inside revelations of a class society, in the UK nation, as well as in the industrial companies of post WWII. We have all watched the class society at work in Downton Abbey. His life in the tool-making apprentice programs, then into the actual factory tooling departments are fascinating, and well as sobering. Of course, our experiences within Hewlett Packard are mostly of a more egalitarian work culture, with Bill and Dave building a work society which by and large recognized the merit and hard work of individuals, not union organizers, nor very many selfish or arrogant managers. There were a few, and John calls them out in pretty unfriendly terms-one example, Dr.Death?
You can question his intrepid spirit when he and his wife decided to move to Edmonton, Canada, with next to nothing in resources and belongings. The weather is bitterly cold and the population an amazing mix of ethnic emigrants. His observations of his team and his managers and their work together is a tale which unfolds slowly, and you just keep wondering how this long life story is going to turn out. They ultimately move back to Scotland.
Then comes Hewlett Packard and the new factory in South Queensferry, Scotland. John has found a home, and his recounting of his rise to importance in International Procurement Operations comes as HP covers the globe with factories and research and solid growth. HP was literally EVERYWHERE.
I recall an incident when my wife was travelling in Europe with a neighbor who had bought a new Mercedes, and picked it up at the factory in Sindelfingen. They went sightseeing throughout Europe, but the car was stolen in Rome. Fortunately they had removed many of the purchases into their motel. When she called, highly distressed, I suggested she call the local HP office, who sent a person over to gather the boxes and ship them back through customs, to me at home. When my oldest daughter went to college in the Midwest, and flew home, usually with little cash, I always told her that if she ended in Denver or other emergency place, to call the local HP office, they would recognize my name. She never did.
So this story is different from our previous HP Memoirs, it is not about HP products. It is a human interest story, about the HP people around the world. It is about the HP Way, and how HP addressed the growing need to source commodities off-shore to remain competitive. That involved impacts on people and how they adjusted to it. Hence a lot of the people in the photos are dealing with challenges to the ways things were done before. Like Bill Hewlett before them, who was a dedicated internationalist, John's associates are creating a new interconnected world as they go. In their own way, their contributions are just as solid and meaningful as a brand new hardware product. Moreover, John and his team helped to take the HP Way outside of HP, leading many of his sub-contractors to change their management ways. His aim was to achieve quality and price satisfaction with the end customer, his HP divisions.
It also can be read as a travelogue, since John visited so many countries which contained the sub-contractors, or the countries of HP divisions which were procuring his outsourced components. He seemed to encounter more than usual highway patrolmen, who found him traveling beyond the posted speed limits. It is also a global review of eating cultures around the globe, discovering quaint foods to "enjoy" with his country hosts.
You're also going to run into many funny situations that come along in any human story. Except that when you mix in industrial management, it can get serious very quickly, because of the necessary personnel sensitivities a corporation must enforce. So the Spokane Division was receiving some parts which were wrapped in discarded paper from a printing company, starting with book pages of maps. But, imagine their surprise when the packing paper turned out to be pages from a girlie magazine, which ended up posted on the incoming receiving walls. Not such good judgment there.
Did John have a successful career? How about this statistic? Just before his early retirement in 1999, his IPO operation shipped $500 million dollars of outsourced and supported component parts to manufacturing divisions. Assuming his parts cost half of a division's internal fab costs, this put $250 million directly to bottom line profit. Even in a $75 billion revenue stream, that is significant.
My story starts when I left school in 1960. I probably should have gone on to University but back then my family was of the mindset, that this was not for working class folks like us and you had to go out and get a job and earn a wage. A wage was needed to come into the house, and you had to get a job in a different discipline from anyone else, so that the risk was reduced if there was a downturn. I took up an apprenticeship with a company called Ferranti, Ltd in Edinburgh. My pay for a 44 hour week, at the age of 15 years was twelve shillings and sixpence, prior to decimalisation, which in today's money was 62.5 Pence (95 cents)! I was to spend about 18 months at the Couper Street Apprentice Training School before I would be transferred up to the main factory on Ferry Road. Before that ever happened, there were some challenges I had to meet along the way.
I recall one winter, I was working in one of the out buildings at the side of the playground, you had to cross the playground to get into the main school building. Our Teacher Trainer was old Jock Corbett, I was to later meet his son when I moved up to the main factory, but old Jock was one of the best trainers, if not the best trainer at the apprentice training school. He was an engineering genius who took great pride in training his lads and teaching us some of the most difficult manufacturing machining processes.
On one occasion I was making my way across the playground to the main building. There was a good layer of snow on the ground that winter, and as I approached the building I was hit on the back of the neck by a snowball, thrown by another apprentice, Paddy (Peter) O'Neil. He was a friend who would get me into even more bother as time went by. I immediately bent down and returned the fire, only to be seen by one of the other Teacher Trainers, Kennedy! It would have to be that one! He, who was always full of his own self-importance and power mad, he who held top position for suspending apprentices. He immediately said to both of us, "Three days suspension."
I walked back into old Jock Corbett's machine shop to put on my jacket, which was hung beside his desk. Old Jock looked at me, "Where the (expletive) are you going?" He said. I told him what happened and that we had been suspended. "Hang your jacket back up now!" He shouted at me, and stormed off to have words with the other Trainer Teacher, who just at that very moment had started to make his entrance into old Jock's Machine Shop. Old Jock bellowed at him, "Were you never a (expletiving) laddie once? Don't you ever suspend any of my boys, I'll decide if punishment needs to be meted out, the laddie wasn't doing any harm, so he is not being suspended, right!" The other Teacher Trainer with red face turned about and left without uttering a word.
Old Jock used to keep tropical fish in a tank by his desk, if ever he saw one of the apprentices mucking about and not with his head down working, he had a long glass straw that he would suck up the fish shit from the bottom of the tank and immediately blow it onto the offending apprentice. That soon got the errant apprentice back on track.
Apprentices being suspended seemed to be the norm, I don't think there was one apprentice who got through his training period at the school without being suspended at least once, unfortunately that also included me. I was doing a stint in the Drawing Office, where Teacher Trainer Mr. Charlie Dawson was renowned for suspending apprentices for the slightest thing. I think there was a competition between him and the other guy for top spot. Paddy O'Neill, that same snow-balling friend of mine, lived in Gilmerton, and we would cycle up the road together after work, so we ended up becoming good pals. One fateful day Paddy was behind me and every now and then would prod me in the back with his Tee Square, mostly when the Teacher Trainer was out of the room. I got fed up with Paddy's prodding and turned around to prod him with my Tee Square, just as Dawson re-entered the Drawing Office, "Three Days!" he bellowed at us both, this was one suspension I couldn't work my way out off.
Just when we thought our day couldn't get any worse, it did for Paddy. As we cycled on our way home, cursing, swearing and laughing at each other for being suspended, Paddy had been suspended before so it was old hat to him. I was cycling on the outside of the road and with Paddy looking and swearing at me, we pulled out to pass a parked car, at that moment the car door opened, Paddy was a big heavy lad and with the speed we had up, he hit that open car door, taking it right off its' hinges and ending up with Paddy lying on the car door with his bike on top of him. He was spouting even more expletives at the car driver. The car driver got out and asked Paddy if he was okay, then picked up his car door, threw it onto the back seat and drove off! I was helpless with laughter, after being suspended, it brightened up my (expletivey) day. Paddy did have some luck, his bike was un-damaged!
I did escape a suspension once, well actually I saved another apprentice from being sent home, but if he had been caught, I'd have copped it also for helping him. We were in the Fitting Room, this was an area where you had to make everything by hand, you only had access to a Drill Press, everything else you had to achieve by hacksaw and file. You had to learn how to use a file accurately in those days, as it was all checked by Andy Haggart, Teacher Trainer by use of an Engineer's Square, it had to be spot on before you could move onto the next part of the hand process. It was great experience and we got to make our own tools and keep them. The apprentices used to try and bribe Andy by offering a sweetie to him, fruit gums were his favourite. Andy had gone to Boroughmuir School when he was a boy and was a keen rugby player and a very strong man who also liked to dish out the suspensions.
The Fitting Room had wooden trap doors in the floor, one day an apprentice Jimmy Grayson, a friend, jumped down one of the trap doors between our bench vices, just as Andy Haggart walked back into the room. I closed the trap door quickly, quick enough that Andy didn't see it. Jimmy underneath the floor knew what was happening, so had to wait quietly in the dark for half an hour before Andy left the room again, then I let him out, a bit dusty, but glad he wasn't getting suspended!
The apprentices had a habit, on pay day to use the Off Hand Wheel Buff to open their pay packets to count the money inside. We were paid in cash in those days. I can still recall the brown ten shilling note and the half crown in the packet. The apprentices would switch on the Buff and run their pay packet edge along it to gain access to the monies inside. One pay day I was talking to Jimmy Grayson and I switched on the Buff not noticing he was leaning on the machine. The Buff immediately grabbed hold of Jimmy's dust-coat and brought the Buff to a sudden halt, with a big chunk of Jimmy's dust coat stuck inside. If Andy Haggart had to walked into the Fitting Room at that point, we would have all been in trouble. Try as we might we could not release Jimmy. The end solution was to use a hacksaw and cut his dust-coat and shirt free from the machine, leaving some extra sewing being required by his mother when he got home that day!
Andy Haggart always gave the impression he was destined for higher things in management circles. He eventually made his way from being a Teacher Trainer in the Apprentice School to being QA Manager right next to the Toolroom up in the factory, so I would bump into him on many occasions when in the QA department, but he never acknowledged the apprentices that he had taught at the Apprentice School. He was always a bit of a class snob as far as his education at Boroughmuir was concerned. I did meet him again in later years when I was with HP. He was employed at one of our subcontract suppliers, Fifab, as their Manufacturing Manager. I thought to myself, when I met him there, that there was no way he would last in that company, he believed in the class structure and that I knew would soon become self-evident to those who reported to him and his new company owner Bill Braid. I was right, he was gone inside six months. Bill Braid's answer to union negotiations was to go round the back of the building and take his jacket off and sort things out that way. Definitely not the way Mr. Andrew Haggart would operate!
One day I saw my first major industrial accident, we would use small paint brushes to wipe away the swarf (chips) cuttings to see the progress the cutter was making on the Milling Machine. On this occasion the apprentice, instead of using the brush to sweep the swarf away from the side and face cutter, he used his hand. The next minute I saw one of his fingers going round and round with the side and face cutter! It made me a bit wary in future.
There didn't seem to be the same level of Health and Safety at work being practiced at the Training School that abounds today, the use of goggles or protective glasses, never appeared to be used, pity really as one day I got a small piece of metal in my eye. Fortunately, Leith Hospital was no more than 200 yards from the training school, so I was sent along to have it removed. I can recall saying to the doctor who was treating me that it was a bit odd, as I was lying back in a treatment chair, I could see both the floor and the ceiling at the same time. "Very probable," he said "as I have your eye out and lying on your cheek".
Eventually, it was my turn to go up to the main factory, they had a place for me in the Toolroom. I hadn't a clue what a Toolroom was back then, but it was one of the best jobs a craft apprentice could ever get. I ended up being trained as a time served Toolmaker. I can remember going up to the main factory from the Training School, they took us up in the back of a Land Rover. I seemed to wait longer than others to get up to the factory, there were lads who started long after I had started and they went up to the factory before me, I was just told your turn will come, in hindsight I think they were streaming the apprentices for different departments.
My new Foreman came to meet me, Bob Robertson was his name. He wanted me to learn to become a Press Toolmaker, but I didn't know what that was. I told Bob I wanted to be a Turner. Little did I know that job would not come close to that of being a Toolmaker. Bob said, knowing full well I would change and he would get me where he wanted me to be, "Okay, you can work on that Lathe between Jimmy Rankin and Willie Garvie. There was another guy called Stan Coulson on the Lathes, he was the Union Shop Steward that would later send me to Union School, though later he moved on and Jackie Morris took his place. The Lathe I was given was an old cumbersome American South Bend beastie. It was heavy hard work to change the chuck head and I'm sure I was given a different job each time which involved changing that bloody heavy chuck. Although Jimmy Rankin was great and pointed me in the right direction, he told me more than once to get off the Lathes and get onto the Benches.
Willie Garvie just cussed and swore all day about Celtic and about his fight with the Rate Fixer in trying to earn his bonus. PBR was the norm, Payment By Results, and that it was not like working in British Leyland in Bathgate! I also had directly behind me the Milling Machine Section and a Kenny Madden, who could only best be described as an old temperamental (expletive) of the first order, who's very first words to me were, "Don't you touch any of that stuff, it's mine and I need it to make my bonus." He was the only person I knew who came to his work on a Sunday for overtime, dressed in a white shirt and tie, it turned out he didn't want his neighbours to think he was going to work on a Sunday, so he dressed to make them think he was going to church! There was only one apprentice that seemed to get on with him, Wee Bill Stewart! None of the other apprentices or some of the journeymen had any time for him.
Bob Robertson soon got me on the fitting bench to become a Toolmaker. To be honest, as I said, back then, I had no idea what a Toolmaker was, let alone a Press Toolmaker, but it was a fun job and I learned to make the full range of tools and not just Press Tools, that were required for manufacturing production, something that would hold me in good stead in the coming years. My Journeyman was George Davidson, a tall quiet red headed guy who I got on well with, I even ended up teaching George to drive, but to be fair, nearly all the other journeymen took me under their wings to help train me. Davie Buchan I thought was one of the best Toolmakers I would ever meet, an older guy, full of fun, a bachelor who lived with his sister and loved the horses. There was Alec Sutherland a wee guy from Leith who had to stand on a box to work the big Snow Plow Grinder, a nice wee guy who was always saying that I learned fast and that I was being given more difficult work than he was.
Then there was Bob Sutherland who in years to come would tell everyone I was his apprentice, when I never ever was. John Creighton was not much older than me, though time served and a member of the Young Communist League, he was forever off demonstrating against the Bomb or something else. The young Jock Corbett was also on the benches, along with Bobby Forbes, who would later join me in HP. John Blythe was a young Toolmaker who came from Fife but he kept mostly to himself, then there was John Kirkwood and Willie Pool, whom I can't recall much about at all. Bob Cassells was the Labourer who could always be found whistling away as he swept the floor and put on the big urn for making the tea. Bob's son Willie Cassells also worked in the Toolroom on the Tool & Cutter Grinding Section, he was nothing like his dad.
Inside the office area was Alan McIntosh (Tosh) who operated the Jig Borer. Bob Robertson had his desk there and right beside him was the Charge-Hand Willie Malcolm, who had a belief in himself that was way above his station and on what others thought of him! In front of Bob was Charlie Keddie, a senior engineer and a really good one too. Charlie was good at giving me help and pointers on making the parts. In front of Charlie was John Notman, another engineer who in no way even came close to matching Charlie's engineering abilities, in fact John Notman was previously on the Jig Borer. Stuck away in a corner facing a blank metal wall was the Rate Fixer Andre, he was a good pal of Davy Buchan as they both loved the horses. He also had a wicked sense of humour and gave me lots of people pointers. The last one in the office was Mick (James) McPherson the Progress Chaser. Mick, I think under Bob Robertson's inputs, always gave me the best and the most difficult of the jobs to do in order for me to learn from.
There were others working in the Toolroom area on specific tasks, the Tool and Cutter section also included Andre Laidlaw, he was a nice old guy who you could hear chuckling away to himself like Precious the Dog in the cartoon series 'Stop that Pigeon'. One Sunday at lunchtime Andre and Andy Sinclair nipped out for a quick pint. Tommy Coupe Tool Engineering Manager, spotted them and upon their return, he leant his elbows on a metal bench and watched Andre closely to see if he had too much to drink. Also in the Tool & Cutter Grinding section was Willie Abbott. He once made a mistake when setting about to sharpen a side and face cutter, the machine ran in with far too big an amount to grind off, next minute a huge bang was followed by bits of the side and face cutter flying through the air in all directions, everybody ducked! One piece of the cutter crossed the passageway, fortunately no one was passing, and it embedded itself in the brick block wall!
The Cylindrical Grinder Section was just outside the caged office, three machines but manned by two guys. Freddie Morris, it was his son Jackie that was on the Lathes, and on the end Cylindrical Grinder was Bobby Walker. Bobby had a bad limp, due I think to a club foot. They were both good guys who would take the time to tell me anything I asked. Freddie was also into the horses and always had a wallet full of pound notes, it was not often back then you'd find someone with £100 in their wallet, but Freddie always had. On the cutting tools were George Brooks, who eventually got fired for cheating on the bonus and Andy Sinclair, who also later joined Hewlett Packard. On the Milling Section beside Kenny Madden was Jimmy Hall. Prior to working on the Milling Machines, Jimmy also worked in the Grinding Section. I would later meet up with him in Edmonton Canada.
The Toolroom reported to the Tool Engineering Design Office, that was run by Tommy Coupe. He obviously never had enough to do as he was forever wandering into the Toolroom to stick his nose in and to spend time with the apprentices in trying to train them. Much to Bob Robertson's chagrin! I always remember Tommy Coupe saying to me, "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, Sonny!" I always felt that everyone, including Bob Robertson had this fear and resentment towards him, but he was never nasty towards me. On one occasion I had to deliver something to his house in Learmonth Crescent, a VERY upmarket area in Edinburgh, and both he and his wife were very hospitable towards me by offering me a drink and something to eat. Maybe everyone else knew something about him that I didn't.
In the Drawing Office was Ronnie Crowther who ran the office, John Dyce, excellent Tooling Engineer and Designer, also there was Alistair Campbell Tool Designer. Alistair would one day be my Manager for a spell in HP, but also he became a friend in the folk singing groups. Also in the Tool Design Office was an apprentice Drew Owens, he was a craft apprentice, so lucky to get that opportunity, and a secretary Netta Fotheringham and never to be forgotten a Clerk, Harry Davidson. Harry and I became firm friends and still are right up till today, Harry was also the Best Man at our wedding. We would go partying and when at his home I'd spend many a fun hour just sitting chatting with his Dad Archie, a great old guy full of stories. In my early days in the Toolroom, I didn't have much money, Harry on many occasions would take me across to the Social Club and buy me a bowl of soup. I'm sure Harry felt sorry for me back then. Funny how you never forget those simple acts of kind generosity towards you by others.
Bob Robertson had a habit of getting his words slightly mixed up. Every now and then you could see him stand up and peer out through the wire office cage to see if anything was amiss. One day he stood up and saw a bunch of us standing around Davie Buchan's desk. Bob came out of the office like a bat out of hell, straight across to us and shouted, "Don't corrugate around there, get on with your work." I and a few others had a hard job keeping a straight face at his word confusion.
I was forever up to all sorts of pranks, particularly against Bob Sutherland and wee Alec Sutherland as well as Davie Buchan. I would grease their drawers, but they would do the same back. Davie Buchan was forever using an magnifying eye glass in his work, and one day I put Micrometer Blue around the edge of his eye glass, he was soon wondering why folks were smiling at him. I played the same trick on the mail girls who would come through the departments delivering departmental mail. I would show one of the girls something small to look at, knowing full well she couldn't see it, so I offered the magnifying Eye Glass, she would say she still can't see it, I'd say try your other eye. Then she would set off to deliver mail to the other departments, with a blue ring around each eye. Fortunately she saw the funny side of it. She must have forgiven, as I dated her a couple of times. There were many of the occasion's though when I was on the receiving end, and had to accept it, you can't dish it out if you cannot take it in return. On one of those occasions, Bob Sutherland had wired my jacket to my chair and filled all the pockets with heavy scrap metal, at knocking off time I grabbed my jacket to leave, and left with only the sleeve in my hand!
Davie Buchan once organised a day out at the Kelso races, everything went according to plan, though most of the men had way more than they could hold in alcoholic beverages. On the way back they had to stop the bus, some were feeling a bit out of sorts and many needed to go for a pee. Then just as Davie was starting to get them all back on the bus, Andre Laidlaw, our Tool and Cutter King, threw up and came back to the bus, minus his teeth, everyone got off the bus to go look for his teeth. Davie was now getting a bit worried that he might lose a person in the fields, let alone a set of wallies. Eventually Davie did get them all aboard, including teeth.
I spent most of my apprenticeship working in Ferranti's on the tooling required for the manufacture of the TSR2, a state of the art tactical fighter bomber. There was so much work, we would work overtime two nights a week plus a Saturday morning and all day Sunday. We were supposed to work three weekends in a row and have the fourth one off. Being a teenager with money to spend in my pocket due to all the overtime, on many occasions I would turn out for work on the Saturday morning or Sunday morning, straight from Bungi's night club, dressed up in all my finery, and still suffering from the night before's drinking session and lack of sleep.
Because there was so much work and overtime, the three weekends on and one off fell by the wayside. On one occasion, Wee Bill Stuart, and I decided it was such a glorious summer's day, that we would just clock off at lunchtime and take off for the beach at Gullane. Which was exactly what we did. We both came back next morning looking like lobsters from our sunburn, Wee Bill could hardly walk as his feet were badly burned.
We were no sooner in the Toolroom, when Willie Malcolm, bossy boots Charge-Hand came storming over, "Where were you pair yesterday afternoon?" He knew full well where we were, the journey men had told him. "Well you're banned from overtime!" He said and strutted off smugly. Both Wee Bill and I said, "Fine, you can shove your overtime where the sun don't shine." We both agreed not to do any overtime, we both had been working weeks and weeks and weeks in a row without any time off. The next week Willie Malcolm came to both of us and said, "Two nights?" We both said "No thanks." On the Thursday Willie Malcolm came to us and said "Weekend?" We both replied "No Thanks." Wee Bill and I kept this up for week after week.
Finally Bob Robertson came to speak to us and said, "Enough of this nonsense, why are you not working overtime, we need to get the tools out!" Both Wee Bill and I said, "Sorry Bob, but Willie Malcolm banned us from overtime because we took a halfie." "We had worked loads of weekends in a row without a break and he was out of order, and besides we kind of got used to enjoying the punishment he dished out to us." Bob was staring at us and the smirk on our faces, "So what is required to get you two to work overtime?" To which we said, "Well, we would work overtime, but Willie has banned us and he needs to apologise for treating us in that way." Minutes later Willie Malcolm came to both of us and said, "Okay, I apologise, I shouldn't have banned your overtime for taking a half day off after all those weekends you have worked in a row, I was too heavy handed, so will you work this weekend please? " Both Wee Bill and I looked at each other, then nodded that we would work.
We recognised that Willie Malcolm was spineless as well as toothless and he did what Bob Robertson told him to do, and Willie knew that we knew it, which probably made his life a bit more unbearable as we could milk it any time we wanted to and did.
The Heat-Treatment facility was at the far end of the factory inside a separate building, probably to keep folks away from all the cyanide that was available there, it would not have been a problem if one was inclined to take some away! Two guys ran the heat-treat facility, George and Gideon, they never got many visitors down at that end of the factory, so I was always welcome for a chat and became friends with them. Gideon was built like Arnold Schwarzenegger as he used to pump iron. As I was friendly with both of them I would wander down to that end of the factory to have a blether with them. One day Willie Malcolm walked in and found me sitting having a cup of tea with them and having a natter about the football. Willie Malcolm said, "I've got you now, you've no right being here, I'll get Bob Robertson to suspend you!" At that point Gideon stood up walked across to Willie Malcolm, grabbed hold of his shoulder and said, "If I hear that John has been suspended, I'll snap you in two!" I wandered back to the Toolroom after Willie Malcolm had left, but heard nothing when I got back.
A while later big muscle bound Gideon had a run in with Phil Swan the Time Study Manager. In the end Gideon had had enough and decked him, but after patiently waiting for him to come off the phone. Then he walked back to the Heat-Treatment department to collect his jacket. He knew he would get fired. Not long after, two security men turned up and placed a hand on each of Gideon's arms to lead him to the exit. Gideon looked at each security guard in turn and said, "Hands off, unless you want what Swanee got!" They were astute enough to get the message and walked alongside Gideon as he headed towards the exit, receiving cheers from his buddies around the factory, as they walked towards the exit door.
The last day before we would break off for the New Year three day break, was always a bit of a wild time in the factory. All the apprentices made sure they went nowhere near the Transformer Shop on that last day. That department was full of man eating women and it would not have been the first time they got hold of an apprentice and have him leave the department in humiliation minus his trousers, to all their laughs and giggles. I always made sure I gave it a wide berth! None of the management ever seemed to be around on that last day, with the exception of Tommie Coupe who would suddenly appear and disappear just as quickly. Harry Davidson would always have a fair amount of booze on hand that last day and I, plus a few others, would join Harry in the toilets for a snifter or two. Management would never enter the shop floor toilets, they had toilets of their own for the different staff levels, so wouldn't be seen dead in the lower class toilets!
There was a job grinding and lapping Pivot Punches that everyone hated to do, basically because it was boring and that the Pivot Punches required extreme accuracy of form and finish. Those Pivot Punches were used to create the indents which the gyros would spin around in the gyro gun-sights, so they had to be extremely accurate. The job required each individual Pivot Punch being lapped on a Tool & Cutter Grinder, then checked out on the Shadow-graph in the QA department, with only the QA Inspector being allowed to pass the finished ground and lapped Pivot Punch. Bob Robertson would say to me that any weekend I was going out on a bender, which was most weekends when I was a teenager, I could do those Pivot Punches on a Sunday overtime as it didn't require me to do hard thinking work! It was a deal that suited both of us, I had a cushy overtime job when I was feeling like (expletive), and Bob Robertson had someone who would do the job that everyone else hated. I became quite adept at it. It was money for old rope as they say.
Stan Coulson was our Shop Steward, one day he came to both Wee Bill Stewart and myself and asked if we would like to go to Union School. I wasn't that interested in the Union, but the Union was offering us an all-inclusive weekend in the Bellevue Hotel in Dunbar. It seemed like a good free weekend to Wee Bill and me, so we signed up for it. It turned out to be a fun drink filled weekend.
A bus was organised and we and some other apprentices traveled down to Dunbar on the Friday after work. It kicked off with an early evening Union meeting then dinner. The schedule was to have meetings on the Saturday morning and afternoon and another meeting on the Sunday morning and home after Sunday lunch. The meetings were all about the fear of Communism taking over the Union and the benefits the Union can bring to the workers. I was even less interested in the Union after their brainwashing attempts.
That Friday night all the apprentices stayed in the hotel and we got to know those from other companies. As the night wore on, card schools soon started up with the employees of the hotel joining in and the bar stayed open longer. The Saturday evening we found out there was a dance in the Dunbar Corn Exchange, which meant that nearly all the apprentices were headed to the bars in Dunbar and the Corn Exchange afterwards. I don't think Dunbar knew what had arrived in town. All the apprentices would recognise each other and say "Hi Brother!" every time we bumped into each other. We moved from pub to pub and on into the Corn Exchange. There were so many apprentices there, it guaranteed there would be no trouble from the local lads, who were all wandering around with their Rangers scarfs on around their necks. It was easy to spot us union apprentices, we were all the ones who turned out in their best Saturday night clothes.
The local girls were happy to see all this new talent turn up. Wee Bill and I got off with two Dunbar girls and we were walking them home around by Dunbar harbour, still the worse for wear with the Belhaven beer. Wee Bill was worse than me, he lost his footing and slipped into the harbour, fortunately the tide was out and the knee deep mud helped to break his fall. But he stank to high heavens and was covered in mud. It ended any idea of a romantic evening we may have had. We got him hosed down at one of the girls homes and I had to walk him back to the hotel. On arrival Wee Bill had his fair share of ribbing, but a card school caught his eye and he was soon joining in.
Ferranti's was a great learning ground for me, it was run along military lines where everyone was placed in their own box and it had a 'We and Them' environment, the type of environment that Andy Haggart thrived in, but which I disliked intensely, many a time I kicked back in resistance.
I was just about at the end of my apprenticeship, when this new American Company called Hewlett Packard set up in South Queensferry. What I started to hear about it intrigued me, so I sent off an application for a job as a Toolmaker. I received an interview and was impressed by the way I was treated, even though there was not much equipment within the building, as it was a green field start up site. I was shown all around the plant by Meyer Averbuch who explained the type of tooling work I'd be required to build. I was introduced to Jim Peachey, "the gentleman?" who managed the Machine shop. Even then I recognised this guy as similar to the old Ferranti types and in future years he and I would have a few head to heads, which he never ever won. I was also introduced to the top managers including the Managing Director David Simpson, who eventually became President of Gould Electronics. I left that day thinking; this company is really different, and hoped I could be part of it, as it was in its infancy.
On return from my summer holiday, a fun time with some old work pals, Fat (Terry) Brown and Jonas (John) Bold, up north. That could be another story about those crazy guys. There was a letter awaiting me from HP offering me a job. However the salary of £76 per month was lower than the £83 per month I was now earning at Ferranti's. I had made the magic £1,000 a year without overtime. At that time with that level of pay you would consider yourself as having made the grade. The following Monday I tendered my week's notice to Bob Robertson, which in a way was hard for me as Bob Robertson as the Department Foreman had taken me under his wing and made sure I got special treatment in learning the skills of a Toolmaker. His reply to me was... "I knew this was going to happen!" He stormed off to have a go at the Wages Time Study Manager Phil Swan who had previously refused to upgrade my pay. Two days later Bob Robertson was back at me asking why I had decided to leave the company for a less paying job, he understood my response and handed me a bunch of blank requisitions, saying get what you need out of the stores. I'll never forget him, only the once had we had a serious run in and he sorted that out within a day. He was a good mentor who taught me much and I'll never forget what he did for me. Unfortunately I was never to meet up with Bob again to thank him personally.
I joined HP, it was strange to go to work that first day by train from the Waverly Station, I had been so used to getting on a No. 19 bus to take me to Crewe Toll and work in Ferranti's. I arrived at South Queensferry right on the button, but had forgotten to take my P45, (government document to move from one job to another), which worried me, but it needn't have as I took it in the next day. There were two other people joining HP that day, Bill Scott whom I knew from Ferranti, he was hired to work in the Maintenance Department, and Derek Muir who was going to work in the Toolroom alongside me. Alan Watts was the Machine-shop Manufacturing Manager and he came out to welcome us. A nice guy was Alan full of the HP Way.
The "Hairy Toolroom" bunch. Back row:Tam Cranston, Jim Rooney, Bobby Forbes,
Dave Green, John Glyde, Front row: Tam Lambie, Groege Lunn, Me, Gordon Brechin.
I spent the next twenty months working in the Toolroom, it was greatly varied and interesting work which gave me a chance to show what I could do. All the folks were really friendly, even the Managing Director would come and join us on a Saturday morning when we were working overtime, he'd come and have his coffee break with us, he even had a sausage roll that one of the guys would bring in for our break. Most of the HP employees at that time where English, they had worked for the company when it was first set up in Bedford, I actually found it quite a change to work with so many English folks. There were some Scots too who worked for HP in Bedford and were only too happy to come back to Scotland again.
Some of the English guys that were involved in the Fabrication area were John Chennels, Bert Burton, Jim Peachey, Frank Houghton, Derek Wilson, Ray and Pauline Powell, Mike and Judy Farrell, Neville Martin (Our black crooner.), Alan Watts, John Anthony, Vic Thomas Ken King and Ralph Banks. Nearly all of them got put up in a Scottish Special Housing development right next to the HP plant.
Ray Powell was as blind as a bat, he had spectacles with lenses like the bottoms of milk bottles. On one occasion he almost demolished the internal bank with the fork-lift truck because he couldn't see where he was going! On another occasion he put Mike Farrell in hospital. He was handing Mike a battery which he had pulled out of the fork lift truck. Ray thought Mike had hold of it, he didn't and it dropped straight onto his foot and broke a bone or two in the process. On yet another occasion, Ray was standing outside the plant waiting for his lift home. A car pulled up and he got in, the car was halfway down the street when Ray suddenly recognised the drivers voice as not the one he should have been getting a lift home from!!
Ralph Banks was an interesting chap, he was originally from Canada, a very quiet and peaceful man, until, that is, he walked onto a golf course. He was like Jekyll & Hyde, his personality did a complete 180 degree flip! Whenever he missed a shot he would start to rage at himself. On one occasion after missing a shot he was seen walking up to the nearest tree and then swinging his club and wrapping it around that tree. On yet another occasion, after a stressful battle around the golf course, he was again seen pulling his golf cart alongside the lake, stopping, picking up his cart and bag of clubs, and heaving them into the lake, before storming off!
One of the main differences between the HP Way and that of Ferranti's, was communications. Every month HP Management would tell us if the targets had been met and on many an occasion this led to a Beer Bust. This was free drink and food, usually a steak, after work finished on a Friday lunchtime. The Beer Bust was such a new concept to the UK, that at the very first one to be held at South Queensferry, the BBC turned up to film the event. As the evening wore on, the BBC were told to stop filming, as more and more people became the worse for wear with drink. It was not something HP wanted the media to get hold of. Mind you it's not a pretty sight to watch Jim Peachey eating a monstrous sized cream cake and washing it down with a pint of McEwans Export beer.
I can always remember one Saturday morning right after a Beer Bust, when we were working overtime. The lads, including Jim Peachey would disappear into the canteen, sorry cafeteria, and return at break time, with a plastic tote box containing a few pints of beer and some left over nibbles. Made a change from the usual coffee that was on the go!
The HP Way was about communication and socialising. Every year there would be a Christmas dance, usually held in the North British Hotel or the Assembly Rooms in George Street. It was a dressy occasion and an excellent full three course meal was served, by a bunch of ladies doing a purvey (catering). There were usually two dance halls, so all tastes could be catered for. George Forrest was an excellent dancer and year after year George would turn up in his black tie outfit. He had a Tuxedo that George Raft or Humphrey Bogart would have been proud of, with its long pointed winged lapels. It looked like something straight out of the Casablanca movie, but at least he did own his own tuxedo, the rest of us Hoi Palloi had to hire ours.
At those Christmas dances, Neville Martin was always badgered to get up and sing. He was our own black version of Bing Crosby, and would sing White Christmas, much to the pleasure of everyone else. On one occasion, Neville was followed on the stage by Ray Smelek, who was a USA Manager over here during the startup phase, to set up the production lines. Ray loved it in Scotland and soon cottoned on to the Scottish sense of humour, which helped a lot. As soon as he took over the stage from Neville, he was greeted with an outburst of the song, "Go home ya bum!" Ben Reilly was the ring leader that year. Ben was paralytic and he was eventually put on the bus, for home, by his wife Pat and stuck in the back row of the bus up against the corner window, which happened to be the emergency exit. As I left the Assembly Rooms I saw Ben leaning against the window and I opened the emergency door to shout abuse at him for being so drunk. At that point Ben almost fell out onto the street. Just as well I wasn't as (expletived) as he was and able to break his fall and to push him back in.
There was a guy in HP called Harry Mushett. Harry was never known for working hard, and he always did as little as possible. Harry had come back from Canada to the old country, but he was never really happy and had made up his mind to go back to Calgary again. I had always wanted to work abroad and already had Canada in my sights. After listening to Harry Mushett, both Sheila and I decided that when we got married we would emigrate to Canada. We did get married on the 30th September 1967 and by the next April we were on the first ship out of Greenock, The Empress of Canada bound for the port of Montreal in the new world.
Were we ever so young? Sheila and I on our wedding day.
I had never ever been out of the UK, though Sheila had been to Norway, so it was quite an experience and an adventure for us both to emigrate to Canada. So, in 1968, we traveled, by ship, the Empress of Canada, from Greenock to Montreal. From there we went on overland to Edmonton by train. We were accompanied by Harry Mushett junior, he and his girlfriend Kathy were heading back ahead of Harry senior. The trip by ship was fantastic, we had never experienced such luxury before, there were a lot of children onboard, other families were emigrating also. It got a bit noisy at meal times, until that is we hit a bad storm. They had to tie up ropes for everyone to hold onto as the boat rolled from side to side. Although it was difficult to walk upstairs and stop at our cabin door without the ship tilting and forcing us to run past our aimed destination, it did mean the restaurants were empty and we had peace to enjoy our sumptuous meals.
My daughter's wedding party gathers, years later, in a more formal Scottish
setting(kilts): (L-R) My son Grant, Bridegroom Son-in-law, Craig, Bride,
Faye, Grandson, Harris, me and my wife Sheila.
The sights we saw as we sailed towards Canada and up the St Lawrence Seaway were unbelievable to us. We saw our first ever icebergs and whales breaking the surface alongside the ship. The ship's Captain had been nicknamed Captain Ahab, as the year before he had hit a whale. As we entered the St Lawrence Seaway the ice was breaking up ahead of us, as we were the first ship up the St Lawrence Seaway that Spring. Once the ship had docked, we had to wait till all the baggage was placed in the terminal. I recall seeing our baggage coming off on the conveyor belt. Amongst which was my large wooden toolbox, which was somewhat on the heavy side. A big longshoreman moved forward to grab my toolbox, unaware of just how heavy it was, he almost fell over with the weight of it. Needless to say we had a good laugh at this, Of course Harry junior had to go and drop his bottle of malt that he had been painstakingly carrying in his arms, smack in the middle of the terminal building! The stench of whisky was everywhere.
We had a few hours to kill before the train left for Edmonton, so we got to see a little of Montreal all lit up in the dark. Even the train ride to Edmonton was fun. Sheila got her guitar out one evening and the four of us were singing songs. At that moment a big railway attendant stuck his head around the corner with a big smile on his face and started to sing with us. We were singing Swing Low at the time. As the train moved inland, it was getting colder, winter still had its grip on the land. The train stopped for an hour or so at the top of Lake Superior, allowing us time to get off and stretch our legs. The big carriage attendant said, "Watch your back, I'm coming through." and then proceeded to place a stool type box on the ground to help us off the train, it was like something out of "Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid movie. The train however had stopped in the middle of nowhere. There was a Hudson Bay Company store, which we trundled to across the snowy ground. The inside of the store was like something out of a Northwest Mountie Police movie. There were animal pelts, animal traps and snow shoes hanging up and native Indians wandering around. I was beginning to wonder if we had done the right thing.
On our arrival in Edmonton we were met by Kathy's uncle. He took us to St Albert, just outside Edmonton to stay with them for a few days. It was he who managed to get us an apartment in the Avord Arms in downtown Edmonton. First we had to spend a week in a seedy hotel before we could move in. A week after we left that hotel, someone was found murdered in it! We basically had nothing, back then there were financial restrictions on the amount of money you could take out of the UK. We had to get work quickly. I went to the Manpower Center, but they were no help, they said why on earth did you come to Edmonton, there were no jobs for Toolmakers here. I got hold of the Yellow Pages and looked for companies and phoned around.
I got an interview with Krause Engineering. They were doing work for the Oil Industry, and they took me on that very day. It was rough work and hard, I had to sharpen milling cutters on the off-hand buff grinder. It was staffed by Germans and one Dutchman, who was the Foreman. He was good towards me and said that I should keep looking for another job and get out of here. I soon took his advice.
Krause Engineering was way over on the far south side of the city, a long bus ride and then a walk of about half a mile. On that walk one day, I found a $10 bill on the ground. I always remember that, as we were pretty short of cash, so it came in handy. The Germans in Krause were not that friendly towards me, they would always speak in German and try to wind me up and insult me at every turn. I would start Goose-stepping around to shut them up, it worked too! The Dutch Foreman would smile away to himself as I gave as good as I got.
Our apartment was wonderful with a fantastic view over the city. It had a swimming pool, gym and laundry on the top floor. There were sun-beds on the roof outside. On the ground floor were shops and a restaurant, which could be accessed from the inside by the tenants.
Unfortunately we had no furniture apart from our travel trunks, which we covered with tartan travel blankets. We had no credit history in Canada and we found out that it was hard to buy anything without references. The department store, Eatons, took all our details and where I was working. Fortunately, when they phoned, they spoke to the Dutchman and he vouched for me. So we were then able to buy a bed settee and two rocking chairs. I was indebted to that man and I can't even remember his name. Also Kathy's uncle loaned us a small table and some chairs.
Then one day my Krause pay check bounced! The Dutch Foreman said to me quietly, that they had more tied up in the company than I did, so they would not stir things up, but I could, he knew I was short of cash, and told me of the Canadian Law that states the employees must get paid first before anything else and if necessary the local authorities would step in and sell company assets. I got hold of the Company owner and told him, "I wanted paid by the next day or I was going to invoke the law on employee payment." He said, "There is no such law", thinking I wouldn't know about it. I said, "Try me." When I got home that evening, there was a letter offering me a job in North West Industries. They wanted Toolmakers as they were building parts for the Handley Page Jetstream and the Lockheed TriStar 1011. They wanted me to start as soon as possible. The next day I got my pay from Krause and left the company that same day. The Dutch Foreman smiled and said he would take my toolbox home with him and I could collect it there.
I started the next day at NWI, it was closer to our apartment on the Industrial Airport. Although this was the turning point for us, the work was plentiful and I could make money working twelve hour shifts seven days a week, but the company was run along Ferranti lines. I didn't care, we needed the money, we soon even bought a proper bed and a car. Depending on what shift I was on, Sheila and I would meet for a short period as we both set off to and from work. Sheila had a job with Crown Zellerbach, a paper company. Her boss was a Scotsman called Baxter and a bastard towards Sheila, as she came from Scotland, so he expected her to do more than anyone else. To try and prove some obscure point.
At NWI I was soon earning an hourly rate much more than guys who had been there for years. That was not my problem. The Foreman would walk by as I was machining and quietly drop a note in amongst the metal box of parts, it would be a pay rise. It told me he was impressed at the amount of work I could get through, not like the other lazy (expletives) he would say and he had noticed that I had set up a work unit with me and a German guy called Herman Ergenzinger. We would cut up the job between us and slaughter the times to get the tools finished. I would often receive comments "that no one else ever made those machines remove metal like I did." I was frequently hidden in the smoke from the hot cuttings and coolant oil.
The staff at NWI were a rich mixture from all countries, there was a Turk called Essau, who arrived straight from Turkey, he couldn't believe what he could buy, at one point he had spent more money on goods than he was earning! There was another Dutch guy in the Toolroom by the name of Leo Evers, he had a finger missing from one hand, a big brusque man who had fought in the underground resistance against the Germans during the war. He hated the Germans and let them know it, so they all kept well away from him. He and I became great pals. He was always shouting and swearing in Dutch. He had a great sense of humour and I could always get him laughing.
For a number of days Big Leo kept tapping his watch, as it kept stopping, shouting "Gott fur doma" at it. The watch was obviously now passed its best, so I said, "Leo, give me that watch, I'll fix the bloody thing once and for all." He took it off, handed it to me, I laid it in a big steel anvil and as quick as a flash, I picked up a heavy lead mallet and smashed it down on the watch. All the cog wheels were embedded in the lead mallet face. Big Leo looked up and stared at me, then let out a huge roar of laughter and shouted, "Crazy (expletiving) Scotsman!"
That same Big Leo on night shift would go up to the canteen, which was closed, go across to the ice box where the cokes were stored in a chest type cooler cabinet where you would lift the lid to gain access. To free a coke you entered a quarter, not Big Leo, he took a straw with him, opened the coke bottle at the far end still in the ice box and drank the coke via the straw, then removed the straw, leaving the empty coke bottle in the ice box, they never ever twigged (caught on) onto who was doing this! He was some man, he didn't sleep in a bed at home, he slept on the hard floor beside his bed, he said if you ever met his wife you'd know why!! He smiled when he said that, so it was a wind up. Leo had a foul temper and would have floored anyone who got on the wrong side of him. We ended up with a Polish guy as our manager, Leo hated him and was forever bellowing at him. The Polish Manager would always give him a wide berth or shout at him from a distance, I can still see Big Leo get up and go after him, but the Pole would dart out a door and disappear until Leo cooled down.
Our previous Manager that the Pole replaced had moved to a Toolroom not far from where Krause Engineering was, and he gave me a call offering me a job, I went over to have a look and see what was on offer, I would have taken the job as it looked like good prospects and I got on well with my old English Manager.Then the owner walked in and joined the meeting, he was Jewish and the first thing he said in broken English to me was, "How much pay you want?" I said I was earning a certain amount, and he replied, "You tell me lies" as he opened the union book and pointed to the union rate. He wouldn't listen to me saying that was the minimum rate. I stood up and told him to "Stuff his job up his (expletive)." And walked out. That evening I got a call from my old Manager apologising and saying he came in at the wrong time, and that he was going to offer me a higher rate than that at NWI as he knew what I was actually earning. I replied that I was sorry that it turned out like that, but there was no way I could work for that company, I didn't need (expletive) like that.
Winters in Edmonton were hell, we had six weeks where the temperature never rose above zero degrees Fahrenheit. On one occasion, the tyres on my car were frozen with flats on them where the car had been standing, you had to plug your car in to stop the oil freezing, as I turned to head off for home you could feel and hear the tyres going bump bump as the frozen flats came around, but this time the tyre came right off the car! On another occasion I was driving down the Kingsway Avenue on my way home stamped on the brake and it blew the four master brake cylinders because the brake fluid had frozen!
Any short distance you walked, your face was white with ice as your breathing settled on you. Before we got our car I would take the bus to NWI and walk the quarter mile to the hanger, usually with an young guy from England. I recall saying to him he should wear a hat, you'll get frostbite, he wouldn't listen, one day he came to work, he had one ear that was more than twice the size of the other ear, it had been frost bitten.
I hated the winters, they were deceiving, beautiful sunny days but cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey. One day it was so nice, Sheila and I decided to drive to Fort McMurray, north of Edmonton. We set off but the roads started to get icier and icier and we decided to turn back. I stopped the car, to do a U-turn, nothing coming, I turned the wheel, but the car kept going in a straight line. It was so icy, the tungsten studs in my rear tyres where pushing the car straight, the front wheels were useless at turning the car. I had to put the hand brake on, get out of the car and push the car around on the ice to point in the direction I wanted to go, then gingerly drive back!
Experiencing such a harsh winter meant we couldn't wait for spring to come, the change from winter to spring took about two weeks! The first weekend we felt that warmth in the sun, we both took off to visit Elk Island National Park for a quick BBQ. Elk Island lay a few miles to the east of Edmonton, a nice spot with a lake. What we hadn't taken account of was all that snow that lay around and it was thawing fast! We made it fine to Elk Island, although the lake was still frozen, the snow was in a rapid thaw and the roads in and around the park were soon a quagmire of slippery mud. Needless to say, we got stuck in the mud. Sheila jumped out of the car to give me a push, it worked, the car shot forward, Sheila fell forward, just as the rear wheels kicked up the mud behind. What a picture she was, covered in mud from head to toe, both of us laughing at what had happened.
There was no way she was getting in our car in that state! I rummaged around in the boot and found a North West Industries boiler suit. So Sheila made off for the public toilets to change. She had to change everything as she was soaked to the skin as well as being covered in mud. Out she comes, looking like a plumber in her boiler suit, shouting, "Pipes, Bogs and Drains are my specialty!" We laughed and joked about it all the way home, I do like a woman in uniform!
It was only about a month earlier I had gone ice fishing with Ken, Paddy Crawley's fiancée. I had never been Eskimo fishing like that before. Ken just drove his car straight onto the frozen lake, I wasn't so sure about that. It held the weight fine, and we drilled a hole through the ice with an auger, the ice was about three feet thick. You pulled a blanket over your head to look down the hole and you could see the fish swimming around below. That was the only fish we saw that day, we caught nowt (nothing)! It was a super experience though.
The next weekend we set off for another picnic to Pembina River Park, which was west of Edmonton on the road to Jasper. We were more prepared this time and we took extra bodies with us, the Lindsey's joined us. That extra week made a huge difference, the river was breaking up and the ice was like floes traveling down it, you could hear all the creaking and crunching as it flowed along.
Willie Lindsey and I set off to explore, we climbed up the surrounding hills and around the tree line where we had found a path, an animal track more like. We had a great view down over the river area. Then we came across some animal tracks on the muddy path. I looked at Willie and he looked at me and said," Those are big paw tracks, look at the size of those claw marks!" Being the gutsy Scotsmen that we were, we decided that they might be from a hungry Mountain Lion or Grizzly Bear and that perhaps we should meander back to from whence we came. Besides, the sausages and the hamburgers would be ready by the time we got back.
The local High School, close to North West Industries, challenged the company to put a team up to play them Ice-Hockey. Sheila and I went along to give the NWI team some moral support. The NWI guys turned out in their normal attire, jeans and parka, the High School kids turned out in full body armour attire and promptly got stuck in about the NWI team, literally beating the (expletive) out of them in the process. What a humiliation, taken to the cleaners by a bunch of school kids, they would never live that down!
Both Sheila and I had good friends from work and we would have parties, it was like the United Nations with friends from Germany, Hungary, Italy, France, Czechoslovakia, Turkey, Canada and even England. Hermann Ergenzinger, his wife Marika and their kids were great friends, he drove an Oldsmobile Cutlass, it was a flying machine. But we had a great relationship with them, they would later invite us to have Christmas Eve with him and all his extended family, we did likewise at New Year. I will always remember phoning Hermann and saying to him, "Are you watching the war movie on Channel 10," he would say, "yeah", to which I would reply, "You see we are beating you (expletives) again!" and quickly hang up. Minutes later you could hear his Oldsmobile Cutlass roaring up the street, a bang on my door and in he would come, shouting, "Vastel you (expletive)!" Then he would go to the fridge and grab a beer and sit down and watch the rest of the movie with us!
There were lots of other Scots folks we became friends with. Dave and Ina Lindsay, they had three young kids. Willie, who slept all day and was up all night, plus two daughters, Lynn the youngest and Kathy, who was a teenager, would spend as much time as she could with us. Back home in Scotland they had another son and daughter. They were from the Hamilton area, Dave loved it in Canada, but Ina would have gone home in a minute, she missed her family. There was also Bill and Maureen Williams and son Glynn from Wales. We took them out to see the Rockies one day in our Vauxhall Viva, At one point the hills were so steep and we were so high up, it could only manage 30 miles an hour. They loved the scenery though, it was startling. Everywhere we saw Elk and Big Horned Mountain Sheep, unlike today, where very few wild animals can be seen.
We had a couple of parties at our apartment, as I said, it was a bit like the United Nations with our friends from both our work places. There was little Joe Franco from Italy and his girlfriend Eleanor, who I think was a French-Czechoslovakian mix. Paddy Crawley who was Canadian and her guy Ken from England. Then there was Herman and his wife Marika, he was German and she was Hungarian and also from Sheila's work place was Janette Rudd, who was Norwegian. Ken couldn't handle all the alcohol and was soon lying asleep in our bed. Much to Herman's disdain, he went to prod him awake and shout, "Wake up you limey (expletive)!"
They were all a fun crowd, nearly all had emigrated from their home country, so there was a certain affinity amongst us. I recall one evening after finishing our shift at midnight, we all went back to Joe's apartment, he had some home brew wine on the go and wanted us to taste it. How I managed to drive home afterwards I'll never know, but make it I did!
On our first Christmas in Canada, Herman invited us to join his family at his brother's house. The Germans celebrate Christmas Eve more than Christmas Day. Their family dinner and gathering was at Herman's brother Paul's family house. Everyone there made us most welcome and spoke English to make sure we were not left out of any discussion. Herman had made it his cause to get me drunk on Schnapps, after me doing likewise to him on Scotch whisky! It was thirty below outside, I had so much to drink, I was out in that cold in my shirt sleeves, I never felt a thing. Fortunately they noticed I was not around and folks came to find me. Lucky really, had I fallen asleep in those temperatures, I'd have ended up with serious frostbite.
You'd think I would have learned from my first time out in the cold unprotected, but I was to do it again. This time at a party at Herman and Marika's home. Herman had got me well and truly plastered, I had gone outside to throw up. It was Baltic outside, minus forty or something in that order. Again it was noticed I was missing and folks came looking for me, they found me lying in the snow. It was the Crème de Menthe that did it. I was lucky they found me so quickly, at those low temperatures, frostbite would have been the least of my worries, you could die in a short time span. Ken took us home, three of us in his two seater sports car. Sheila had to prop me up in the lift to hit the floor button, that evening must have been the Mounties (RCMP) Ball, they all had their dress uniform on. I vaguely recall them passing a comment to Sheila about her legless husband, who was slowly sliding down the wall of the elevator, where Sheila had propped me up, to hit the floor button.
Sheila and I took off for a holiday in Vancouver, Sheila had a friend there, Maureen Killorn, so we would pay her a visit. The scenery traveling over was spectacular especially the Fraser River, en-route we even saw a Moose, at which Sheila shouted "Here Moosie, Moosie..." As if it would come close to us. Vancouver was impressive, it still is a beautiful city, we should have gone there instead of Edmonton. As we were driving past Vancouver City Hall, all the hippies from the Flower Power were sitting around the water fountains, they had emptied bubble bath into the fountains and all the soapy bubbles were drifting out and down the main street. We even got to see out first Orca in the Sea Aquarium in Stanley Park, In fact we got a private demonstration from Shamu the Killer Whale, until some tourist saw us and came running across with his camera, only for the whale to jump out off the water and soak him.
After visiting Vancouver we headed south into the USA and Seattle, we didn't expect those packed freeways so turned left and headed in land and back up the Okanagan trail through all the fruit orchards, we had never seen so much fruit growing beside the road.
It eventually all turned nasty at work, we were all out on strike for more pay when the current pay contract expired. We were members of the AIM Union, American Aero Institute of Machinists. I got a job with another Tool Company, Midget Tool & Die, to fill in and earn some money, this enabled others to get more strike pay. I had never been on strike before and the weather was nice, it all felt like a bit of fun, though I sat on the bonnet of my car with my strike placard and welded the bonnet to the battery. Best ever bit of spot welding I've ever done!
North West Industries brought in scab labour from Eastern Canada, French Canadians to do the work. This move incensed the workers on strike and when union members went around to the mobile trailer homes of those scab workers and smashed them up with baseball bats, I decided it was time for me to leave, I didn't like Unions before and I disliked them even more after that. I got a job with Douglas Aircraft Corporation in Toronto. We packed up and headed east again.
The job would have been fine, but the nearest place we could get to live was fifty miles from the factory. Sheila and I decided we should go home for a holiday and think what we should do next, so caught a flight out of Toronto for Prestwick. Sheila's family didn't know we were on our way despite us sending a telegram, it confused them, but a big surprise awaited them when we walked in, Jean was still in her bed, so got a rude awakening. The family boxer dog Bobby seemed to sense we were there as he pulled Sheila's Mum all the way home from his daily walk.
One day I popped out to South Queensferry to say hello to all the folks in the HP Toolroom. Meyer Averbuch said, you don't fancy a job do you, we're about to advertise for a Toolmaker, I said,"Could you hold that off for a day till I talk with Sheila?" That evening we decided to stay and bring all our stuff home, it was already all boxed up so easy to ship home with a phone call. I started back working at HP two weeks later. So, in the year 1970, I was back to HP for good.
I worked for HP for just under 33 years, but it was over two stints, which I must admit were the best years of my working life, the company was a breath of fresh air when compared to the old fashioned working policies of the vast majority of other companies throughout the UK, and, as I also found out, those in Canada.
Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard were visionaries, well ahead of their time and decades ahead of the other Captains of Industry. They ploughed a path that, for years to come, that led other companies to follow. It was truly successful even despite coming across some in management positions that for some reason known only to themselves, appeared to bring some of the old outside ways into HP. I think that those types felt insecure at giving others the freedom to be responsible for their own actions. They liked to command respect for their management position, whilst they might actually get found out that they were not as good as they thought of themselves. Their biggest failing being, they failed to recognize that you earn respect, you can't demand it.
The Toolmaking work at HP was always varied and interesting, with someone like Meyer Averbuch at the helm, it was always going to be that way. Meyer would try anything. He got us into Gravity Die-Casting, though it didn't last long! He made a Die-cast tool that would produce the End Struts for a Front Frame. It was a dangerous business having molten aluminium around. On one occasion trying out the new Die-Cast tool, Meyer ladled out the molten metal and poured it into the mould. Then he dropped the extremely hot ladle into a bucket of cold water. An immediate explosion ensued, the hot ladle still with some molten metal came in contact with the cold water and it erupted skywards. Meyer could be seen jumping around patting his head as the hot droplets rained down on him from above. Needless to say the rest of the department was helpless with laughter.
Meyer had this thing about the Shaper Machine, everyone hated it, he loved it, he even made a grinding attachment for it to grind huge plates. One day Tom Cranston was on the large Okuma Lathe, he had the large faceplate on and a huge lump of steel attached that was to be bored out. Being such a large work piece, the boring had to take to place at a slow speed to keep the work in balance. Tom by accident pushed the speed lever to high speed without noticing and when he switched the Lathe on, centrifugal force immediately took effect, shaking the machine and everything around it violently and sending the large metal work piece sailing through the air, with everyone scattering and ducking. The work piece came to a sudden stop when it met the Shaping Machine and in doing so cracked the Shaping Machine right down the middle. Everybody was happy about that, except Meyer. The Shaper had finally come to its end.
Even in HP, tricks would get played against the apprentices. One Saturday morning, one of the guys placed a paper coffee cup on the floor and tried to kick it over the glass partition, this time he placed two cups side by side and said to the apprentice, try and kick the cup over the partition, he let fly at one of the cups, but it didn't go the distance. The apprentice stood up and took a kick at the cup, what he didn't know was that beneath that cup was a lump of steel, which promptly went straight through the glass partition, fortunately no one was on the other side!
It was so easy for accidents to happen in a Machine-shop environment. Ken King had the misfortune to lose an eye when a box die burst under the load and a sliver of the metal shot into his eye. One day I was cutting out the centre of a die on the band-saw and should have been paying more attention than I was, when the die slipped forward and took my left thumb straight into the band-saw blade, it was a nasty one. I closed my thumb inside my fist and set off to see the nurse. It was going to be a hospital job as the nurse wouldn't stitch it up. As she was making arrangements to organise transport to take me to hospital, Colin Wintrup entered the First Aid Room, "Is that you up for a plaster for a scratch?" He said. I opened my hand and he could see the bone in my thumb, at this point, Colin promptly fainted and fell on the floor.
George, one of the labourers from Maintenance, took me to the Western General Hospital. The treatment was worse than the accident. I watched them stick a needle straight into either side of the open wound in order to freeze it before they stitched it up, I was a damn sight more careful in future.
There were two other occasions I got very lucky. One was when I was operating a Milling Machine, the table was on automatic feed and the end handle started to wrap my dust-coat around it, by the time I realised what was happening, it was so tight I could hardly breathe and it was pulling me in even tighter, so I couldn't reach the off switch. I managed to lift my leg up and with a heave kicked the feed handle into the opposite direction, so unwinding my dust-coat and freeing me, I got away with just sore ribs for a day or so.
The other occasion still makes me shudder at the thought of how nasty it could have been. This time I was setting up a plastic injection mould tool to test out the plastic moulding. I slipped the tool in beneath the nozzle that would inject under high pressure, 100 pounds per square inch, the molten plastic of about 350 degrees centigrade into the mould tool. I had been down at eye level to make sure the nozzle was above the die opening, at that point I stretched up a bit to see if there were enough plastic granules to fill the chamber, once the plastic had been injected, and pulled the lever to inject. At that instant, molten plastic shot out the front of the mould tool and landed on my shirt. I had the immediate presence of mind to pull my shirt away from my body, had I not done so, my chest would have been badly burned. But only minutes earlier that would have been my face!
One Saturday morning during overtime a small fire broke out in a bin, due to the red hot cuttings, no problem, we had Jim Peachey run to the rescue, he grabbed a bucket full of what he thought was water, and dumped the bucketful on the small fire. The bucket was standing next to the Spark Eroding Machine and that machine used paraffin, a bucket of which Jim Peachey had dumped on the small fire. Needless to say he was shouting at every one for leaving a bucket of paraffin lying there.
There was one occasion where one of my staff said to me," There's a funny light coming out of that goods-in, entrance." I walked up to see, the area was on fire, I grabbed an extinguisher to fight the fire and told my staff to set off the fire alarm. I ended up with my picture in the works Readout newsletter fighting the fire. But I needn't have bothered, once the flames reached the sprinkler system it soon doused the flames. I was told, next time vacate the building. I still feel I did what every other person would have done when they come across a fire, fight it.
With the impending birth of our son Grant, it formed the catalyst that spurred me to make changes in my work-life. I decided it was time for me to go back to college. Despite it being a really interesting and satisfying job, I didn't want to be a Toolmaker all my days, for the next nine years I worked my way to attaining further qualifications. I completed my Full Technological Certificate, gaining not only the College Medal, but also the UK City & Guilds Country Medal. This success encouraged me to work to attain the National Certificates in Engineering, first the Ordinary National Certificate, and then the Higher National Certificate, both with Distinctions. Finally I also attended the Higher National Certificate in Business Study, but by then I was also attended numerous internal HP courses in People Management and Finance, as well as many other development courses. Eventually I moved off the making of tools to designing them, and onto managing the whole Tool Engineering Department.
The Toolroom squad was a wild bunch, especially when out on the town. Many of the boys lived in South Queensferry, which included me, but we moved to live in Dunfermline. On one party night out in Edinburgh, we would all get on the train at Dalmeny and head into town, after an especially heavy drinking night out. Those of us would head for Haymarket Station to catch the last train home. The train pulled into Dalmeny Station and the lads quietly tip toed off the train, a rather unusual departure for such a noisy bunch. Then as the train started to leave the station, they started to bang on one of the windows. Ronnie Davidson was fast asleep in his seat, he lived in South Queensferry and should have got off with the rest of the mob. But they did the dirty on him. It meant that Ronnie had to cross the Forth Railway Bridge and as there was no transport home at that time of night, he had to walk the three miles back across the Forth Road Bridge. What a rotten trick to play on Ronnie, they were all laughing their heads off at his misfortune. It took months before Ronnie would speak to those involved.
I thrived in the HP environment, or, as it was frequently called and known as back then "The HP Way." Dave Packard eventually wrote a book called "The HP Way", which covered the way the company was run. Despite some managers who seemed against "The HP Way", they would never admit that of course. They were well outnumbered by other managers within HP who also saw the full benefits of operating under the umbrella of "The HP Way." Throughout my 32+ years with HP, I still came across managers who always sought to control and restrict the freedom of others to express themselves for the benefit of the company and that of their own personal growth.
Over the years I quickly learned to harness those managers to my benefit and that of my IPO (International Procurement Operation.) Team. I think some top level managers also noticed those negative types as they set up a training programme for the staff called "Managing your Manager", where I picked up a few good tips from...HP was tops on training, there were courses for everything and I still to this day have a bookshelf full of training material.
Of my 32+ years in HP, I spent 22 of them in a Procurement/Materials Engineering environment. But my opening opportunity to change into that new career path only became available when I was operating as the Tool Engineering Manager for HP's Queensferry Telecoms Division (QTD). At that time I was reporting to the Manufacturing Manager Jimmy Queen. I have nothing but praise for Jimmy Queen's management style, I can best describe him as one of the best bosses I have had. Jimmy, fell right into "The HP Way" of doing things, as Tool Engineering Manager. He cut me lose to organize and do things the way I wanted. If I did something wrong, he didn't punish me in any way or threaten to cut my next salary increase, he would sit me down and say,"Well what was wrong with that decision?"
One of those occasions was when the company was under tight expense controls, we needed drafting paper and I issued a requisition to Purchasing to order some, which they duly did. Trouble was, the buyer because of a discount bought about 5 years supply. Unfortunately, even though we received a discount, the total purchase was of such an amount, it caught Jimmy Queen's attention as he was looking over expenses for the month. I was duly summoned to his office. In his usual way Jimmy asked if we needed so much drawing paper, no, had to be the response. Then why so much, to which my response was that I left it up to the buyer in Purchasing, who thought she was getting a good deal. "Ahh a blank cheque" said Jimmy... I knew what was coming, I should have checked out the price but didn't. "Has a lesson been learned here?" He asked. "Oh yes" came my reply. The matter was then never ever mentioned again.
As Tool Engineering Manager I decided the department needed brightening up to get away from all the battleship gray colours that every machine was painted. So we set about a change to try and get away from the standard Machine Shop drab colouring. I had every machine painted a different colour, we had blue, green, yellow and lilac machines, and we added plants all around the department. It raised some comments from those stuck in the same old rut, but it raised more positive comments than bad ones. It also created an unexpected side, with the machines those bright colours, they would show up the grime more, which meant they were cleaned better after use. I also think it improved everyone's mindset in the department, as they could see the smiles from visitors as they passed through.
I always remember when I first started to report to Jimmy Queen, he said to me, "John, don't come asking for permission to do something you think is right, just come and ask for forgiveness if it goes badly!" Jimmy Queen's approach instilled confidence in me on numerous occasions. In my mind he just stood out head and shoulders above other managers. There was one decision he made that sealed it for me, which I will cover later, in which he put his own decision on the line in support of mine, I shall never forget that day.
In the startup days of 1966, HP at South Queensferry was part of the Microwave Communication Group (MCG). The HP Computer Company of today was a far off event, it was Instrumentation Test & Measurement that made HP what it was back then. Computers were a thing of the future and still to come, even when computers started to be developed, the Instrument Group which covered many disciplines was always recognised as the Revenue Jewel in the Crown. It was of such importance to HP's new company officers that once Bill and Dave had gone, it was hived (spun) off around 1998 to survive on its own as Agilent Technologies, whilst HP focused its direction towards being the huge computer company that it is today and the world's largest electronics company, taking over that mantle from IBM.
As South Queensferry grew, mainly from its own internal Research & Development products, there was a need for other divisions inside the MCG organisation to expand their markets and manufacture their products nearer to their European customers. Though this was not something new as some of those USA Divisions were already having some of their products built in South Queensferry under the in-house section called Transferred Products. That resulted in the split from QTD (Queensferry Telecommunication Division) and the creation of a new operation called QMO (Queensferry Microwave Operation.).
One of the main objectives in starting this website five years ago was (and still is today) to get in touch with people who have worked at hp from the birth of the company up to today. We are interested in hearing your memories no matter what division or country you worked in, or whether you were in engineering, marketing, finance, administration, or worked in a factory. This is because all of you have contributed to the story of this unique and successful enterprise.
Your memories are treasure for this website. While product and technology are our main concern, other writings related to the company life are highly welcome, as far as they stay inside the hp Way guidelines.
Anybody Else? Please get in touch by emailing the webmaster on the Contact US link at http://www.hpmemoryproject.org