An essential element of the five-year engineering apprenticeship was assimilation of shopfloor culture and tradition. Every new apprentice attached to the metrology department was despatched to consumable stores to ask for a long weight. The storekeeper, straight-faced, would tell the lad to hang on for a moment, and disappear.
Each section had its own methods of assessing the nous of its apprentice. This was warm-hearted humour, most engineers having sons the same age as the apprentices they fostered. Indeed, it was not unknown for three generations of a family to be working on the same shop floor.
Programme-controlled machinery was a distant dream; dimensions and quality of finish depended entirely on the skill of each operator/setter. They would die rather than admit it, but most craftsmen took a pride in their skills. During a long machining cut or cycling operation, an operator could often be heard singing at the top of his voice. This produced either a cacophony of noise, as surrounding operators hammered on their benches in criticism, or an outbreak of choral singing in unusual keys.
Behind my small centre-lathe stood a girder, helping to hold the roof in position. Over one weekend the base of all such girders was sprayed to a height of four feet with a thick coating of fire-resistant foam, which slowly solidified.
A short length of industrial cabling was obtained, and with various large nuts and bolts attached, inserted into the soft foam such that three bare wires protruded from the top surface. A week was allowed to elapse during which the foam hardened to a concrete constituency.
The safety committee was then advised of my fears; working in close proximity to such naked wires. The monotony of my days was subsequently alleviated by frequent visits of white-coated technicians with electrical meters, various large-scale wiring diagrams, and much scratching of heads. The centre-lathe was relocated, several feet away. Eventually, Authority accepted defeat.
A terminal box was fitted to the cabling and firmly attached to the girder.
Score one for apprentices.
Smokey's apprenticeship continues: A New And Exciting Sensation!