Brian Dye's field memories Part 16

When I was a young man I never really liked the taste or smell of beer or lager, whiskey and all spirits also leave me cold. It is simply that I do not like the taste. On evenings out with my friends and colleagues I always was the driver because at the end of an evening, I was the one that was sober. This did not mean that I did not enjoy a drink, it was just that my favourite tipple was not always available in the local pubs. Some sold watery fizzy versions of it but on the whole, the real stuff was not always on sale.

What do I mean?


At that time, the King of ALL ciders, “Gaymers Olde English Cider”, was made locally at Attleborough in Norfolk. In later years I began to drink a little lager but prefer the proper stuff as sold in the Handelshoff Hotel in Harsewinkel, Western Germany. It was here, whilst working with Claas, that I found a head, if not a liking, for schnapps. But more of that in future stories.

The main cider-producing area in England is in the west of the country, in Somerset and Devon. Here are large apple orchards specially grown for cider production. But in Norfolk we also grew the apples and had a famous cider producer quite close to us. Gaymers of Attleborough had large orchards and grew the apples that were pressed to produce the smoothest cider I have ever drunk.

In another part of the county at a little village called Banham, another cider producer made his brew. This started out as a farmer who made the cider and sold it at weekends from his barn by the side of the road. It came in gallon bottles and was a lethal brew. On Sunday afternoons in the early 1960’s, I used to take my parents for a drive around the countryside. Although father owned a car, a 1954 Hillman, he did not have a full licence so when I passed my driving test I became family chauffeur. Many an afternoon we ended up at Banham purchasing a few gallon bottles of the brew for workmates and for our selves.

It was what is known here as “Rough” cider, with a kick like a horse but absolutely beautiful to drink on a hot summer's day, after work, ice cold and with ice floating in it. Rough cider has numerous myths told about it, how if you throw a side of beef into the mix it dissolves and adds strength to the brew and how rats in the brew house fall into the vats and are never seen again. I think most of these are stories to put people off drinking it and leave more for the locals.

In the 1950’s my company had developed a tractor servicing deal for farmers. For a fixed sum, three or four times a year, a mechanic would come to your farm and carry out an extensive service on your tractor, changing all the oils and carrying out adjustments to clutch and brakes, injector and filter changes and keep a record of what was done that could be presented at the time of trade-in for a new machine. This showed potential buyers how well the tractor had been maintained. To have our company's name on the service history, backed by its reputation, always insured that the new customer got a good buy.

Also, in the early days of mechanisation on farms, operator servicing could be a little haphazard and to be checked by a mechanic every three or four months ensured that servicing was up to scratch. It saved the farmer money because problems were sorted out before they caused major breakdowns. It was good for our company too. Not only did we have an excellent product to sell when the tractor was traded in but we had a constant supply of work in the workshop and in field service. The servicemen would see and report problems such as clutches at the end of their life, so the service mechanics would be called out to replace it. In the case of a live clutch, this would be returned for service in the workshop as the field service mechanics would have used a clutch that had already been repaired, as a replacement.

We held vast numbers of serviced items in stock, from dynamo and starter units to injectors and fuel pumps, clutches and flywheels, cranks and cylinder heads, water pumps and hydraulic pumps, auxiliary service chests and hydraulic valve chests, steering boxes and stub axles. In fact every wearing part on the tractor was on the shelf. So when you were given your jobs for the day each morning, you went into the stores and drew out all the service parts you needed. With nine service fitters you can get some idea of the number of parts held in stock because you were rarely unable to get parts.

This would tend to make the uninitiated think that our field service staff did nothing but change parts but this was far from true. When the rush slowed down, the service mechanics overhauled the service parts, or you might get finished early in the day and so you would overhaul the clutch or hydraulic pump when you got back to base, ready for the next day.

All the apprentices spent time in the diesel shop overhauling injectors and pumps under the strict supervision of Jock, an ex aircraft service engineer who was very quality-minded. He was also in charge of the electrical shop where dynamos and starters were serviced. This was a lucrative service for both the company and the farmer, because our service units were cheaper than the main companies like Lucas and still guaranteed for a year, parts and labour.

George looked after the hydraulic side of the service parts business. He was fast approaching retirement when I joined the company but he was an engineer of the old school. Everything had to be just right for George. He was a friendlier version of Jack, who I have written about before in these tales. They both were heavy smokers; George smoked roll-ups or Woodbines rather than Jack's evil-smelling pipe.

George had charge of the 40-ton press, and the valve facing machine, so he also serviced axle parts, steering boxes, water pumps and cylinder heads. Items that required parts to be press-fitted or lightly machined. Again he was assisted by an apprentice and by all the workshop and service staff as work loads changed throughout the year. The whole place ran like a well-oiled machine with everyone involved.

If service work slowed down there was always the manufacture of “Super Steel Wheels” for the export or home market. When Ford stopped producing tractors on steel wheels with spuds, our company took them over and manufactured them right up to the 1990’s for most makes of tractor. I have even seen a County Super Six on four of our steel wheels. A set of extra wide ones were made for Donald Campbell and shipped to Australia, to be used on the tractor that prepares the track for his attempt on the world land speed record in “Bluebird”, the jet powered super car.

If things got really slow in the workshop, then staff were given work in our own machine shop. This part of the company faced our cylinder heads and flywheels but also carried out machining work for Ford Motor Company, preparing all the hubs and steering components for the Ford Cortina, from rough cast to the finished product, machining parts for water heaters for industrial and home use for Heatray-Sadia. Components for Aveling-Barford for industrial and road making machines were also made here and for the sugar beet slicing industry.

Parts were also made for guided missiles, tanks and practice ammunition, on government contracts. We had a group of highly skilled and specialist welders to call on if needed. They repaired worn plough parts and manufactured items for the farmer. They also welded special parts for “Blue Streak” one of Britain’s guided missiles.

So as you can see we were a large company, not only servicing a wide range of cars, trucks and tractors but were also involved in their manufacture.

Two specialist servicemen carried out 98% of the “contract service” work for our farmer customers. Fred had a Ford Thames 15cwt van equipped with power greasing equipment and power oil changing cabinets. Oil was stored in bulk at the dealership and Fred used to fill the cabinets every morning before setting out for his daily jobs. When you changed the oils on a tractor with this equipment, there were no messy cans to clean, just stick the hose in wherever and start the air pump. “Tinker”, on the other hand, had a smaller Thames 5cwt van and he carried out the more routine service work, changing engine oil and filters, injectors etc. but leaving Fred to handle the total tractor oil changes. Tinker was another heavy smoker who had worked for the company for years. He rarely had an assistant but when one was needed, the passenger seat of the van used to have to be resurrected from under a heap of dog ends from, again, rollups or Woodbines.

Each of the service men had a “round” of customers that they had been working for many years. Some customers were small and only had a couple of tractors while others had up to thirty, so the service men were sometimes on the same farm for weeks at a time. Gaymers of Attleborough was one of Tinker’s customers and a highly prized one at that. Highly prized that is by the whole of the field service staff. There was always a queue of people when a service job came up at Gaymers.

They only had one tractor, a little Dexta and that spent most of its life doing light work cutting short grass in the apple orchards close to the factory. Occasionally it would take a load of waste apple pulp to a local cattle or pig farmer but that was all. But it was certainly one of the best-serviced tractors in Norfolk at the time.

"Why?", you ask.

Well, Gaymers operated this policy of hospitality to all who came on the site. You were treated as one of their workforce and had the full use of their canteen. The tractor was also housed in their clean, heated workshop, not in an open cart shed where a lot of our jobs took place. I digress for a moment, but only to tell you that today, as we ride around the countryside looking at the high priced properties and hotels that now populate this part of Norfolk, made from converted farm buildings, Ann is getting a little tired of me saying “ I wonder what the new owners would say if I told them I have had a six cylinder combine engine hanging from their prized exposed beams”.

Back to Gaymers! So, what more can you ask for? A clean warm workshop and a canteen in which to take your frequent breaks. This is Gaymers! Breaks seem to come on the hour, every hour. The constant problem with the Dexta was carbon forming in the ports and around the valves. With no hard work to do layers of thick oily carbon would build up and block the ports on the head and exhaust manifold. I have removed and decarbonised the head when there was no more than a 13mm hole in the carbon for the exhaust gasses. Let me take you through a decarbonise process on the Gaymers Dexta.

We arrive on site at about 8.30 am to find the tractor cleaned and in the workshop. We reverse the van into the workshop, open the rear doors to get to the tools, take off the bonnet, the valve cover, valve rockers, drain water, disconnect all hoses, wires and pipes then remove the head nuts, lift off the head and take it to the workbench. Then Peter, the Gaymers driver comes in, “Time for a break lads”. We wash up in lovely warm water with a good quality soap and make our way to the canteen. In the corner of the large room is a wooden cask with a tap surrounded by pint mugs. Gaymers Olde English. On tap and free!! You fill your mug and settle down for about a quarter of an hour then its back to work.

We strip the head and start to clean the carbon from the ports and valves. We use scrapers and electric drill-powered wire brushes and soon the head and valves are clean and shining. I re-cut the valve seats and grind in the valves. While I do this, Roger, my assistant cleans the cylinder block and all the ancillary parts in TVO. All this in a warm, cider generated glow.

Peter returns “Lunch time lads”. We clean up and return to the canteen to eat our packed lunch, accompanied (of course) by another couple of pints of Olde English. We return to the workshop, only now there seems to be a happy atmosphere about the place. We find little things causing vast amusement and as we reassemble the engine we sing our way through our repertoire of popular songs. The head is back on and everything tightened down by about 3.30 pm. Peter returns. “Time for the afternoon break lads”, repeat of washing etc. Back to the canteen. More cider!

This time returning to the workshop takes a little longer. Perhaps it’s the weaving path we walk between there and the canteen. We fill up the radiator with water and fire up the engine. She runs very smoky at first and lumps of carbon clear from the silencer. Through the smoke in the workshop I notice Roger is an interesting shade of pea green. I rush him outside into the air and get him a cup of strong coffee from a thermos that seems unusually full. By this time in the afternoon our thermoses are usually nearly empty. But I suppose we have been getting our liquid refreshment from other sources. Whilst I have been ministering to my slightly inebriated assistant, the smoke has cleared and the Dexta has warmed up nicely. The head is re-torqued and the tappets re-set. The valve cover and bonnet go back on and the water and oil levels re-checked. Tools are cleaned and re-loaded and the workshop swept and tidied. We found it clean so we leave it clean.

Peter returns “All done lads? Right. How about a swift pint of Olde English before you get away? You’ve got time.” Roger starts to sway and sits down quickly in the van. “No thanks Peter, I’m going out tonight” I say, make my farewells and drive slowly out of the yard leaving Peter rosy cheeked and laughing at the workshop door. Some times I wonder if all the cider breaks were a way for Peter and his friends to have a joke on us, but this was the routine of every visit. You always came away a little merry.

An abnormally (for us) slow journey home to base and then back to home for a meal. In those days traffic was light so slightly drunken driving, although an offence, was only a problem if you had an accident. Olde English had a kick in it and four or five pints over the day was certainly felt.

Roger had a headache next day.


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