My engineering training at Crewe Works continued. You can read about my earlier time there here. I was assigned to the Metallurgical Lab which involved spending time in the Steel Foundry.
It was the mid 1970s and they were making castings for the Mark 3 coach axle boxes. The metallurgist told me that the casting was extremely complex with numerous thin sections transitioning out into larger areas. As the molten casting cooled, stress fractures could occur and these would become obvious when the vehicles were in service. As a result, the wooden pattens had to be returned to the Pattern Shop for modification. The thinner sections were made stronger especially around the transitioning area. In these areas, the curves were also smoothed to give a more gradual transition.
The molten steel in the furnace is referred to as the cast. To check the composition of the cast, a sample is run off into a test mould. After cooling,the metallurgist makes various tests to ensure the cast is to the required specification. On one occasion, the metallurgist gave a tests piece from a cast for the Mark 3 axle boxes. It remains a great memento of my time in the lab.
Meanwhile the foundry men worked in such hot conditions that they were provided with ice creams especially during the summer!
Crewe Works Pattern Shop
I also spent time in the Pattern Shop where wooden patterns were made for the steel foundry. Three of the guys there kept themselves to themselves. At first, I found them reluctant to talk to me and show me how they went about producing patterns. Fortunately though they warmed towards me and we enjoyed some great banter. One of them, Roy, had a dry sense of humor and I enhanced the relatively short period I spent with them. I was eventually trusted to wash out the cups and make tea!
The Wheel Shop
The Wheel Shop was alongside the Steel Foundry. I spent time observing the manner in which steel tyres for wheel sets on locomotives were heated up by a gas ring. Wheel sets were lowered down by crane into the tyre and the whole assembly allowed to cool. Next, a circular band of steel called a Gibson ring was inserted between the tyre and the back of the wheel. To ensure it was driven fully home a small metal piece was inserted between a small a small gap between the ends of the Gibson ring. Next, the back of the wheelset was put into a machine to chamfer the down back of the tyre so that the Gibson ring was fully in place
Brass Finishing Shop
Across from the Wheel Shop was the Brass Finishing Shop was where one of my fellow lodgers, Dave Reynolds worked on drivers brake valves. He would completely strip, overhaul and test them.
One day he dropped a nut and as he searched the myriad of parts underneath his workbench he recognized a live steam injector from a steam locomotive. It was complete and he put in a request to purchase it as clearly British Rail Engineering were not interested in steam locomotives any more. He was successful and Dave took it to the Severn Valley Railway where he was a volunteer. It was put on one of the engines there possibly 80079 which I think was being restored at that time.
Electronic Repair Shop
Before I moved away from this part of the works, I spent some time in the Electronic Repair Workshop. Here electronic equipment from locomotives was repaired. Equipment came from locomotives in the works as well from Out Stations (as it was referred to). This really meant depots.
One of the most notorious pieces of electronic equipment they overhauled were the KV10 load regulator boards from the English Electric Class 50 locomotives. The overhaul of this fleet had moved to Doncaster Works but the expertise to repair these electronic circuit boards remained at Crewe Works so continued to be dealt with in the Electronic Repair Workshop. For those involved in the preservation of these Class 50 locomotives, the mere mention of KV10 bpardfs I’m sure sends shivers down their spines! KV10s are load regulators used to control the outputs from the generators. The guys in Crewe Works repair center weren’t keen on these KV10 boards either.
My engineering training was extensive. As such, it included time with the millwrights. These guys were employed to look after the works machinery in buildings. The main base for Millwrights was the workshop was located adjacent to the Pattern Shop. There was also another team of Millwrights located in the works powerhouse where I seem to remember there was a boiler to supply the works with steam for heating the workshops. I think there was also a compressor there to charge the air system which was for powering air tools etc about the works.
One of the guys there was a heavy smoker whose favorite brand of cigarettes was Capstan Full Strength. He would arrive to ‘clock on’ in the morning presumably having cycled to work and would begin to cough – a small one to start. This coughing would repeat in ever-increasing length and volume until after what seemed ages he would finally cough up ….. well I’ll leave this to your imagination.
I heard an interesting anecdote about a Crewe Works Fitter’s bicycle. Apparently, it was the most dangerous thing on the road! The brakes didn’t work, it was rusty and falling to bits yet the standard of workmanship of these same skilled craftsman on locomotives was exemplary.
Whilst with the millwrights, I accompanied a couple of electricians over to The Melts to fix a defective overhead crane. The Melts was a massive workshop with a very high roof. It was where, for many years, locomotives were dismantled and scrapped. To get up to the overhead cranes required climbing fixed ladders which generally was fine unless you suffer from vertigo.
Of course, inconveniently, the defective crane had broken down a short distance away from these ladders. This would entail walking along the cross beams. Now I am not a fan of heights. I did follow the guys up the ladder with the intention of going with them all the way to the crane. They were impressed that I’d climbed the ladder but told me firmly to stay where I was and they would check the crane out. Eventually, the crane moved but we still needed further examination and I was allowed to help. I remember the crane beams being very dusty.
Crewe Works Bogie Shop
I also spent a period in the Bogie Shop which in steam days was referred to as the Tender Shop where they overhauled steam locomotive tenders. I can always remember the smell of the bosh where they cleaned heavily soiled bogie frames after stripping them of wheel sets and brake cylinders.
One day I was sitting having a brew when someone mentioned a former colleague who had retired a few years previously. They pointed out that his tool locker still had a padlock on. Several rushed over to it. The padlock was cut off at which point chaos ensued as tools were pulled out all over the workshop floor. There were all sorts, including claw spanners and a number of tools embossed with ‘LMS’. The free-for-all continued until finally just a few unwanted tools remained. I don’t know what happened to them. It’s possible they went into the scrap bin.
The Pump House
After my time in the Bogies Shop my training continued at the Pump House. This workshop was located within the machine shop complex. Its purpose was the overhaul of diesel engine fuel pumps and injectors. Again, a great set of guys worked there one of whom had the tendency to use the ‘F’ word after every other word. He wasn’t angry and perhaps today would have been diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome.
Initially I was put with a chap called Jack Hart. I remember him well. He was a big guy who wore a blue dust coat. He took the time to explain not only how fuel pumps and injectors worked but how they were tested. When looking through a selection of needle valves for Sulzer engine injectors, he found one that was slightly longer than the rest. He explained that the longer type was from the Sulzer Vee engine injector that had been installed on six Brush type four locomotive numbered D1702 to D1706, classified under the TOPS system as Class 48’s. By early 1971, these engines were removed when the locomotives were fitted with the twin in line 6 cylinder Sulzer engine Class 47. The Sulzer Vee engines were sold to the French State Railways for further use. Jack offered me the ‘Class 48’ needle valve as a souvenir and I still have it.
On my return to the Works one Monday, I learnt the sad news that Jack had died. I was shocked as this was the second sudden death of a colleague after Frank Jones from the Welding Shop whom I’d worked with some months before.
Getting a Car
Another guy in the Pump House mentioned that he had a car in his garden that had been there for some time. His wife had been telling him to sell it. It was an Austin Mini reg. number 7961KV.
I expressed interest as I was hoping to buy a cheap car. I went to view it. The colour was very familiar but not related to cars. It sported BR blue undercoat!! No wonder his wife wanted rid of it!
The guy explained that the Works had sold off some old paint and he had bought a tin of this undercoat. Unfortunately, the cellulose paint gloss wouldn’t adhere to this BR undercoat. It was agreed that if I bought the car we would work together to remove the undercoat layer using wet and dry papers. We succeeded and shortly afterwards painted the car in British Leyland Black Tulip which was at the time a fashionable colour.
The time I had spent in these various Workshops provided me with an excellent foundation to supplement my college work. During this period I successfully passed my Ordinary National Certificate in Electrical and Electronic Engineering and continued on to the Higher National Certificate.