Brian Dye's field memories Part 11

The Nuffield dealer where I worked was also involved in servicing cars and lorries. We kept a model “N” Fordson for heavy recovery should a lorry leave the road and get in the ditch in the local area. It had to be in the local area as “Henrietta” had a top speed of 6mph downhill with a following wind.

She was equipped with a large winch that made it impossible to get to the seat without climbing in over the wire rope on its drum. This rope was about a 1” hawser and really heavy to drag out. The winch was driven from the belt pulley position and the drive chains in their guard passed close to the seat.

Why we called tractors and other machinery after women I cannot guess. I have been happily married for 25 years on the 31st of December 1999 and I really do not understand the reason. (Can you tell when I write with a little bit of tongue in cheek?)

Henrietta was used to recover the local refuse lorries from the rubbish tips when they had reversed in and got stuck when unloading. It was the job of the young trainee mechanics to fire up the tractor and speed off to their aid.

Henrietta had single rim steel front wheels and rubber rear wheels. With a winch weighing her down at the back and the steel steering wheels not getting too good a grip for turning on the tarmac roads. It was perhaps a good thing that she was a little slow. She was also used to pull down trees for local builders, remove hedges for local farmers and perform any task that required a heavy pull.

When I first got to know her she had been kept outside for some time. I was given the job to remove a hedge for a local farmer so off I went to find Henrietta in the nettles. After cleaning the plugs and points, making sure I had plenty of petrol I started to swing. After a few pulls of the handle Henrietta went “chuff-chuff” and threw smoke out of the exhaust pipe. “That’s my beauty,” I said, patting her on her radiator cap.

Two hours later and many plug cleanings, points settings, cleaning the carburettor and heating the magneto with a blow lamp, Henrietta finally burst into life and a very tired driver who swore he had one arm longer than the other went of to start his day’s work.

All through the hours trying to start her, Henrietta would keep you interested by going “chuff-chuff”. If you stopped her when she was hot it was virtually impossible to get her going. Then we discovered her weakness. You could surprise her!!

If after a few fruitless attempts to get her going and just being rewarded with her “chuff-chuff”, you threw the handle round in its housing, swore loudly and stormed away making a lot of noise, then quietly crept around the back of her, ran around the front and swung the handle, she would start first pull.

Don’t ask me why, but it is true, I have done it myself dozens of times. It is when things like this happen that you start to believe inanimate objects have a mind of their own. We even got to talking nicely to her as we filled her with fuel, oil and water. But to get her started the performance was always the same. Get mad, storm away, creep up on her from behind, a quick pull on the handle and away she would go.

There was also another, more dangerous way to get her to start. Accidentally leave her in gear. If you did that she would start with half a turn of the crank. Just as you were turning it to get a good pull over compression off she would go and chase you around the yard.

It was decided to keep her in a lean-to shed to see if this would improve her temperament. So Henrietta was parked in a nice warm shed out of the weather behind which the farmer, who was our neighbour, kept hens in battery cages. The hen’s cages were end on to Henrietta’s shed.

One day Frank, the farmer, came into the office and asked if he could borrow Henrietta to remove a couple of tree stumps from a field. My boss agreed and Frank went down to get the tractor from the shed. In the workshop we were all surprised to hear Henrietta start with a thunderous roar a few minutes later, followed by a loud shout, followed by the sound of splintering wood, followed by a further crash then just the sound of a model “N” under load. We rushed round to the tractor shed. There stood Frank watching Henrietta pushing the hens in their battery cages through the end of their shed.

She had performed her usual party piece. Frank had climbed into the driving area, over the winch to set the controls for starting. Some how, either on the way in or out of the confined space, he had knocked the gear lever into reverse and of course, Henrietta had started on half a turn of the handle, reversing through the end of the lean-to, through the end of Franks’ chicken shed and pushed the cages and chickens out of the far end.

It was decided, during our slack time, to grind in Henrietta’s valves. To give me some experience on engine overhaul I was given the job. I removed the fuel tank that was situated over the engine, took off the cylinder head, manifold, side covers and got to work.

I cut the seats of the valves with our seat cutting grinders, carefully cleaned and re-faced the valves at the correct angle with our Van Dorm valve facer. Then proceeded to carefully grind them in, first with coarse grinding paste, then with fine, then with paraffin to clean them, finally finishing off with “Mechanics Blue” a special substance that enabled you to see the valve seating and ensure that you had ground a nice fine unbroken line all the way around the valve and its seat.

I really spent some time on these valves. I was determined to make a good job and impress my boss.

The grinding in took time and my hands and forearms really ached with the constant back, forward, lift, and turn of the grinding stick. There was no way that you put the stick in a drill and spun the valves to get the seating in this garage. It was all done by hand, backwards and forwards for hours (at least it seemed like hours).

Then along would come Jack. Just as you thought you had finished. A small drop of “Mechanics Blue”, a few twirls of the grinding stick, then a verdict “I suppose they are all right” or the thunderous frown, the throwing down of the valve and stick and the “Call that a seat!!! Do the whole lot again and get them right this time!! And hurry up about it”.

From this and the previous memory you may get the impression that Jack was a real tyrant. Well perhaps he was but you learnt from him and you did things right and with care. The farmers loved him. When Jack had completed a job it was done and there were no comebacks. He set himself high standards and expected the same from those who worked with him. But he certainly generated a lot of respect from me and, even now, after forty years, I still get a warm glow when I remember his words of praise for a job well done.

Even if they sounded grudging at the time.

Henrietta’s valves passed Jack’s inspection first time!! Now could begin the job of rebuilding. I refitted the valve springs, carefully cleaned the gasket surface, put a good squirt of “Redex”, an upper cylinder lubricant, in each bore. Put on the head gasket and the cylinder head, tightened it all down with a torque wrench, and then checked it a second time. All OK.

Then I refitted the manifold, plugs and leads. Steps came down the corridor connecting the office to the workshop and there stood the “Big Boss” in the doorway.

“How’s it going Brian”?

Nothing could stop the pride in my voice, I had passed Jack’s inspection and no one else mattered. Not even Mr. Joe!! “ Really well Mr. Joe. Jacks OK’ed it, the heads back on and she’s really got some compression now”.

To demonstrate I fitted the handle and pulled her over compression. With no fuel tank fitted, the carburettor still in pieces, and just on the upper cylinder lubricant in each cylinder, Henrietta fired up and ran for a few seconds, filling the whole workshop with thick white smoke.

I do not know who was the most startled, the big boss or I. He turned and with no further comment, walked back up the corridor to the office. I finished off Henrietta fitting the fuel tank and all the other parts. A few swings and she started and went back to her (repaired) shed.

Some days later I was given my first real job to do on my own for a customer. It was to grind in the valves of a big MM for a local farmer who had got it under the lend - lease agreement. The valves in this overhead valve engine were like dinner plates compared with Henrietta’s. I often wonder about Henrietta and whether firing up like that was her way of telling the big boss that I had really finished my apprenticeship and was ready to be given full responsibility in the workshop.


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