On the 23rd September 1974, I started my railway career which was to last for over 40 years. It was only a week since I had had my successful interview the works general offices (GO) Crewe Works. I was now an Engineering Apprentice. Travel was on the East Coast Main Line from my family home in Stevenage into King’s Cross. Next, I walked past St Pancras to Euston station. Here I caught the 09:00 service to Carlisle. Arrival at Crewe was just after 11 o’clock and around fifteen minutes later, I arrived at the general offices. After being introduced John Evans, the Works Training Manager, I was taken to the apprentice training school. Here I was welcomed by Ernest Cope, the chief instructor and head of the training school. I was kitted out with green Apprentice overalls and shown around the school.
The Crewe Works Apprentice Training School was built in 1951 following the success of the first training school at Derby Locomotive Works in 1946. In the early 1930s, the railways realized that overhauling locomotives required a high level of skill. They needed skilled craftsman and thus appropriate apprentice training facilities. The Crewe Works Apprentice Training School was built on the site of the old railway carriage works. The main line to Holyhead separated it from the main Works site. Some years later, the Crewe Electric Traction Depot was built on the other side of the Apprentice Training School.
The main workshop area inside the school was huge and a single span roof covered the whole area. Sections included fitting workstations lathes milling and shaping machines. For the first six months, all apprentices spent time at each section learning the different skills and helping to guide them towards a craft they enjoyed.
My first section was sheet metal fabrication section. The instructor was Mr Wright. The task was to produce a toolbox with cantilevered top sections. I still use it today!
This was my first foray into measuring and cutting sheet steel following an engineering drawing. The instructors emphasized the old guiding principle of measure twice cut once. Incorrect cutting was clearly a waste. We also had to learn how to fold metal and drill and rivet together. It was certainly a great introduction to fabrication skills that I’ve used many times over the years.
A little rant!
Now I have to have a little rant so please bear with me. In society, there exists a snobbery that I detest. Some people those who work with their hands are in some way of a lower order. I have known someone to proudly show off an item of furniture made by Chesterfield and state how fine it is yet they look down on the craftsmen who made it! They seem to think they are superior in some way yet they don’t have the skill to work with their own hands. Very muddled thinking in my view!! There are places in this world for all with different skills be they practical, academic or a mixture of both.
Back to the main story.
Once all of our section had completed their toolbox, we made a shovel. a tundish and an oil jug before we moved on to the fitting section. We were presented with a rusty square section of bar and a drawing of a hand clamp. Tools provided were a metal file, a micrometer, flat plate, engineers blue and a set square.
We were told to file the rusty bar until all surfaces were 80% flat and within so many thousands of an inch of the dimensions shown in the drawing. Of course, the size also had to be a perfect right angle. The idea was that you would file it and then at certain point you would apply engineers blue. Next we would rub it on the perfect metal surface to identify the highlights then file accordingly. Once this had been achieved, ends had to be bevelled before the bar was cut to length to make up the actual vice jaws.
The picture below shows the finished work but you will note it has a handle along with other items.
Next, we moved to the lathe section where the handle was machined. While on the lathe we also produced punches and a small cold chisel. When a sufficient batch of the chisels and punches had been made, two apprentices took them into the main Works where they were heat treated to harden them off. Wearing green overalls that clearly singled you out as an apprentice or rookie in the Works made you ‘fair game’. Apart from friendly banter, you would get nuts and washers thrown at you if you strayed into a workshop.
As well as practical training in the school there were lectures in the. Classrooms. On a number of occasions, we had a great guy called Bob Shilton. Bob owned an ancient Series One Landrover which had done many thousands of miles yet was immaculate and ran smoothly. Bob was an engineer after all! For those railway people reading this, Bob was a professional and technical Grade C which was the forward runner what became a Senior Technical Officer (SDO). He was appointed during the 1960s when the Grade came with the benefit of First Class travel.
Bob taught me about the principles of diesel locomotive engineering. I remember him saying that an English Electric Class 40 engine is in a V formation with each piston having a one-foot diameter and a one-foot stroke. Class 40s are a comparatively simple Loco which is not a criticism. They were, and indeed in the heritage section still remain, a reliable Loco which because of its simplicity allows a young engineer to learn the basics quickly. This helped enormously when I went on to acquaint myself with the more complex Class 47 with all its subclass variance.
After six months in the training school, it was time for the craft apprentices to decide which trade they wish to pursue.
The five engineering apprentices, namely Phil Robinson Mike Taylor Graham Morgan Stephen Chadwick and myself, worked with an instructor called Norman Powell. Our project was to build a scale model of the high-speed train power car. The erecting shop in the main Works had just started building full-sized versions. The cab was considered too complex for the apprentices so this was made by Norman’s expert hands. It was even painted. Originally the colour scheme was black over yellow, the colours of the production version. Some of you may not be aware but the first production power car was painted in this scheme. It never left the Works instead it was repainted in the more familiar blue over yellow. I remember seeing it in the Works yard outside of the traction shop probably when I was taking punches and chisels for heat treatment.
There were strict rules when walking through the main Works to and from the training school. You weren’t allowed to go into the workshops without authority. I remember the superintendent of the fabrication shop Dennis Dooley being particularly stern with unauthorised entry to his workshop. He was best avoided!
The first year in the training school appeared to whizz by. There was day release on Wednesdays and two night classes during the week. I was studying for an Ordinary National Certificate in engineering as well as an O level in technical drawing. I hadn’t been able to do TD at school because it clashed with my other subjects. Fortunately, I only had to do this for a year so I dropped back to one night class in my second year.
In the 1980s, Crewe Locomotive Works Training School was demolished and the site is now barren. I still retain happy memories of the time and friends I made along with the skills I learnt. My next move was into the main Works where I had to somehow ditch those green overalls!
Did you work at Crewe Works or the Apprentice School? I’d love to hear your memories.