BEARDMORE'S - 1932
I have given you some idea of the end product in Harland & Wolff's, but I haven't written any details about Drysdale and Company, or William Beardmore's, where I started my machine shop career. To start at the chronological beginning, I started in Beardmore's Engine Shop around 1932 or 1933. At that time, Beardmore's was running down from its World War I production of ships, submarines and various kinds of armaments. When I started there, they were in the process of completing the last two marine engines -- 666 & 667 -- for ships being built elsewhere. They were also making Caprotti valve gear for reciprocating marine engines and a lot of odds and ends left over from previous jobs. The work that got me taken on was a big order for mine-sinkers for the Royal Navy and it kept the place busy for a year or two. Beardmore's Engine Shop had been built and fitted out at the beginning of World War I, along with the ship-building gantries and submarine sheds, and I suppose then it was relatively modern. But the machinery was positively ancient by present-day standards. I went to work on one of a line of milling machines, lathes, and radial drills, which were driven from an overhead line shaft. The line shaft was driven by a huge electric motor on the floor. Each machine had a belt that ran from the overhead shaft to a gearbox at the side of the machine. The speed was selected by flipping the belt from one pulley to the other, augmented by a gear change at the box. This was my introduction to the world of machines and I lived through the transition period from belt drives and line shafts to independent motors on machines. I started learning how to set up and operate an ancient "Tullis" radial arm drill, doing reaming, tapping, line boring, etc. From there, I progressed to milling machines, vertical and gang milling horizontal mills. When I left there nearly four years later, I had been around almost every machine there was. When Beardmore's started running down, many of us were laid off. I was lucky enough to get a start again in Drysdale's and Co. in Yoker, further up the Clyde towards Glasgow. I started there on a heavy horizontal boring machine and learned about Drysdale's Pumps. The company made pumps, varying in size from little boiler feed pumps about the size of a tea-kettle to huge power station circulating pumps. In the years I was there, I worked on all the various kinds of pumps for the Queen Mary, cargo pumps, oil pumps, circulating pumps, etc. I also worked on pumps for some of the big battleships that I'd later be engaged in making guns for. So I really gained a lot of experience and knowledge there, but I was also taking classes at night school for math and technical drawing, which broadened my scope quite a bit.
In the late summer of 1939, our night-shift foreman left to go to a job in Harland and Wolff's as head machine shop foreman. He told me to look him up there if I felt like a change. I didn't immediately take him up on his offer, but in August, I thought I'd go see him. He welcomed me with open arms, and said he had just the job for me, which turned out to be on a horizontal boring mill, which was one of the many used in the manufacture of naval guns. Before I could really get settled in there, the war broke out, with all the accompanying worry and stress, the blackout and shortages of everything. However, I was one of the few who could set and operate most of the machines in that shop and I made a nice little niche for myself. I drew the line at gear-cutting, which was a field unto itself, and I never really got into it until some years later, as I will tell in future chapters. The one man in Harland & Wolff's who really knew all there was to know about gear-cutting was my pal, Bobby Arthur, who came from Renfrew. We visited each other's homes for years. After the war, Bobby moved to Manchester and the English Electric Co., and I lost contact with him. But in wartime Scotland, we worked together, drank together and helped each other at work. Everything we worked on there was done to extremely fine limits and to Admiralty specs, so we worked with Matrix blocks, clock gauges, verniers, etc., every day, and I can safely say that our standards were very high. I was involved, at one time, in making jigs and some fixtures, which were too big to be handled in the Tool Room. This meant very careful measurements and calculations and was a great experience for me. Later, I was pushed into working on the roller paths for the guns. They had to be set in segments on the table (at floor level) of a 35-foot vertical borer (a bullard). Each segment had to be fitted together with its neighbour, then bolted firmly together for turning, facing and grinding and finally -- polishing. The surface of the roller path was 15 degrees off the base, which means that the path sloped down from the inside edge to the outside. I thought some of these little details might interest any of my male readers who may be mechanically knowledgeable. Strangely enough, Elizabeth is the only one of the family who was ever inside Harland's. One Saturday night, in 1960, when I was machine shop foreman, I had a squad working on an urgent repair for a hydro-electric job. Albert Mottershaw was the machine operator and we dropped in to check on the progress of the job while on our way home from one of the Masonic Club dances. Elizabeth and her mom came in with me and did the tour at about 1 a.m. on Sunday morning. We were attired in evening dress and tuxedo, which I'm sure impressed the workers!