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Harry Sullivan's

Harry was the big boss who only came up to our site near Pickton clock tower in Wavertree once every Preston Guild, no doubt to the relief of his brother, Lesley Sullivan, our boss. Every year Harry would say he was going on holiday for three weeks and come back after two. Did he think no one would remember from one year to the next? Lesley Sullivan was nick-named Snuffy, not to his face though, on account he always seemed to have a blocked nose,. The Foreman was Jimmy Langton; he didn't have a nick-name, I guess nobody dared. He of course was the boss of all the lads, i.e. the apprentices. Then there was Ted he was the boss of the forecourt such as it was, just three old pumps even for those days, the old Texaco type with the top that had once lit up.

You drove in and pulled up in front of the desired pump under a low roof which had all sorts of rubbish just thrown on top, usually by Ted. This was in fact a false roof the main roof covering the lot. Ted used to do the tire repairs while there was no one on the front wanting petrol. It was not a big garage, with only about room for about 4 or 5 cars in the back to be worked on at any one time. Then there was the ramp at the back of the forecourt where I spent most of my days as an apprentice motor mechanic. This was a centre post ramp powered by compressed air. The type that you can turn through 360 degrees on the way up or down. There is a story about that that I will get to later. Then there was Nobby who was in effect just the clerk in the office in the old house next door, but to us he was a boss as well - in fact just about everybody was a boss to me.

The lads included apprentices and the qualified mechanics, going up the scale. First there was Davey, my mate, not the brightest light in the universe but a good lad all the same. He had left school at 15 so I guess he had been there a year before me at least. His nick-name was Mong but thankfully he rarely got called that. Then there was Tive ( real name Michel ) who was about 17 or 18 at the time. He had the look of a red Indian, dark completion, dark eyes and hair. His nick-name came from the little cartoon character that was used to advertise the TV Times magazine at the time, because he looked like it. Then there was Herman ( that's his nick-name, his real name was Graham ) - he was a pint sized little shit, pardon my French but it's an apt description. He would do his best to give you a hard time at every opportunity. Then there was John. He was a nice bloke, who would come out with things like, ‘Now meanwhile back in the bedroom’ and leave it at that. As I remember, that was the lot when I first started work there. There where others that came and went. I will tell you about them as they come into the stories.

I left school when I was sixteen, had got at least somewhere with my exams. Not that that ever did me any good, although I would not tell my kids that at least till they where about 40 anyway. My interview consisted of me talking and Snuffy and him listening as I remember. I told him of the exams I had passed and asked him did he want to see the certificates? No was the answer and so I never even went to pick them up. Anyway work began the next Monday some time in September 1968.

My grandfather on my father’s side had told me about things like long stands and left-handed screwdrivers, so I wasn't going to get caught out like that, was I? I think one of the first things I was told to go get was a long stand, I don't remember who by but I asked them if they would like a glass hammer while they where at it? This earned me a ‘gobbing’ as I remember, a ‘gobbing’ being a dig in the shoulder as hard as who ever it was could administer it. A real bad gobbing meant you where in the middle of a circle while all of them had a go in turn.

Now these stories are not necessarily in order of happening, more just as I remember them and put them down. When I first started I knew nothing about spanners or tools of any sort and even less about cars, as no one in my family had ever wheeled a spanner of any sort. My dad was a sailor so he was always away, and I grew up with my aged Grandfather and a house full of women,. It soon became my job to make the tea and go down the road for the lunch and break snacks. This was for sure promotion for Davey who did that job before me and was the ‘grease monkey’ at the time. So after about the first day I had to go down the road on my own. There were about six people to get orders for and it was frowned upon to write anything down.

Boy, were you in for a gobbing if you forgot something or got something wrong. In the mornings the Hicks bread van drivers would come in for petrol, so their vans were raided for loaves of bread and batches, a batche is like a flat round loaf about 2" thick and about 7 to 8" in diameter. They were great just toasted on the one gas fire that was over where we had our breaks, the only heat in the whole garage, then spread with 2oz. of butter, which was actually purchased from the Hicks shop down on Wavertree Road.

On such a run like this for the afternoon break, Herman, the little S***, asked for a pink elephant cake from Cousin's bakery just opposite the clock tower. Of course, I asked him what he really wanted but he said that they would know what I meant and not to come back without it. So being a little ‘so-n-so’ I didn't, i.e., I didn't go back I just stayed in the shop demanding a pink elephant. Then Jimy came running in to the shop saying words that, roughly translated, meant where have you been and what was I doing? There was a great deal of Anglo Saxon mixed in with the few words that could not be uttered in polite society. Herman got the stand in a circle gobbing because everyone’s break was held up till nearly going home time. The little bastard deserved it.  

 

Doing the break run and making the tea was something of an art form. You also had to collect the milk money on pay-day and look after it. The milk money was two shillings from everyone, with this you had to get the milk, tea and sugar for at least 132 cups of tea each week that was, unless Jimy’s friends or someone else just happened to drop in at break time then it was more. If you couldn't, you would have to put in the extra, try getting 24 cups of tea out of one pint of milk some time you will see what I mean.

 

For the first few months I had a hard time being called all the No marks under the sun every five minutes. Going down the road was a blessing, at least there was peace meeting relatively normal people. I know I considered throwing in the towel many times in the first six months or so but I had done that with my previous job as a food porter in a big shop in town so considered that I wouldn't be able to do anything if I gave this one up. As well as doing the tea break job it was my job to help Davy on the ramp i.e., all the lubrication jobs plus checking all the bulbs and everything underneath the car. I guess I had all this off to something of a fine art after the first six to nine months or so and Davy was promoted to the back.

 

But things would always go wrong, like the time I snapped the thread of a Hillman Imp oil filter. I guess there are few people who would read this won't know what a Hillman Imp was. Hillman was the trade name in England of the Rootes group. The Imp was in many ways well ahead of it's time. It was a rear engined small car, 847cc aluminum block, and cylinder head OHC that leant over at about 45 degrees to make it fit into a low engine compartment. They were light and very nippy for their year. OK so back to the oil filter bowl; it had a ¼”dia. thread with a 9/16th AF nut on top of the housing to release it. Well you can put a tremendous amount of pressure on that size of nut without really trying so consequently it snapped. It could of course have been strained on the previous lube job, just waiting for me to come along. Not only that the main agents had them in stock so it was obviously something that was always happening. It's my guess that it was deliberately designed in to promote sales of parts. Well that's my story and I'm sticking to it - it never happen to me again. 

Then there was the Morris Oxford, part of the BMC group. Its oil filter was a pig too, on the 1800cc B series engine. As I recall it there was an oil feed pipe leading to the oil filter head. Now the filter head was only connected to the block by the long bolt that ran right through the filter pan. So this meant that when you took off the filter pan the head was only held in place by the pipe that was connected higher up and to the side on the engine block. This meant that having poked around trying to get the old sealing ring out of the head you could easily disturb the head, the result of which was oil all over the floor of the lube bay as soon as the engine was started.  

That was just about OK as you knew what the problem was and fixed it. Snuffy would have gone even more hairless if he had of known with the waste of the oil though. Now on one particular occasion it didn't leak on the ramp or when it went into the back for the rest of it's service nor when it was taken for a test drive afterwards. But it did leak on its way home from the garage. Explain that one. Just one of those thing's I suppose. OK I got the bollocking off Snuffy etc, but how could anybody know it was going to happen? 

Then there was the oxy-bottle incident one Saturday morning getting on for going home time. I was given the job of putting a new silencer on the back of this car, I don't remember what it was probably an HB Viva. This is an easy job but whoever had fitted it in the first place had put the clamp on so tight that it had deformed and crushed the pipe, not only on the back end but on the front as well. This meant it was a pig to get the old one off. Hammers whacking screwdriver later and it was still in place. So with that, Jimmy came out to find out what the hold up was. Saying things like this should have been done hours ago, or a rough translation anyway. So because it's very nearly time to go home he had a go. This was a very rare occasion but he couldn't shift it either.  

So I was ordered to run and get the gas bottles. They were up the slight incline to the back workshop on a three-wheeled trolley, set about 30 degrees off vertical with the single wheel being at the back. So quickly pushing this contraption down the ramp the bottom on the carrier dropped out. This was due to rust corrosion, the result of which was putting the brakes on as the bottles fell the inch or two to the floor. Well I tried to hold them back but my weight was about one quarter of the weight of the bottles which where chained to the carrier in the middle. This sent me right over the top of the carrier at about 5'-0” off the ground and landing feet first on my back having flown me some 20' through the air finishing up inside the store doorway landing, with my legs either side of a table leg. Now before the men reading this wince at the thought, I stopped just an inch or so before actually coming into contact with the table leg.  

The sound of the impact of the bottles on the concrete floor was deafening but, thank God, the bottle didn't fracture. For some reason there was no bollocking or gobbing attached to this incident. In fact everyone just keeled over laughing, I guess just relieved the bottle's had not gone up. As I realized later I could have made a very serious case against the garage for negligence.

I had little to do with the customers as I was just the grease monkey. To be honest this suited me I was very much not the one to be putting on airs & graces to suit them. But one day when I was about 18 I guess I was ordered by Nobby to do what amounted to a small service to a bloke called Silverbeck's Humber Super Snipe on the forecourt while he was filling up with petrol. There was a fair amount of Brown Noseing like this went on. The car was something of an old wreck anyway but he was something of a solicitor or you may say Lawyer. Anyway I did the job with out problem or complaint while Nobby was Brown Noseing. When I had finished Silverbeck called me over & placed a tanner in my hand ie, six pence. Now I hadn't expected it & was very much unaccustomed to receiving tips but a tanner. I still had to keep up with all my other duties or I was in for a gobbing of Jimmy in the back. So I looked at it and then at him and said something like you must need this more than me, giving it back to him. For some reason this apparently upset him and he stormed of into the office to give Snuffy down the banks about my attitude. To my great surprise that was the last I had heard of this as Snuffy apparently turned round & said something much along the same lines. In those days I hadn't considered using charm to get ahead. I don't remember seeing a lot more of Silverbeck after that incident.

My seventeenth birthday came along and with that came my provisional driving license, so it was driving lessons with Johnny Birkenhead. Johnny was a regular visitor to the garage sometimes for some service but more often than not just to pick Jimmy's brains while saving the cost and doing the job himself. He had a HB Viva with duel controls. Eleven lessons latter I had passed my test first time. The test had not gone without me making any mistakes but I recon that in them days it was more just based on how the examiner felt sitting in the passenger seat than anything else, and may even be the same today. That was around the summer of that year the previous year on Xmas eve when I was sixteen I had passed my motorcycle test on a browed bike because mine was off the road due to accident damage. Now that was a truly ridicules test with an even more ridicules examiner. If you want to know about that just give me a shout and I will add it in. I didn't have a car at this time but the license got you the cabbying jobs, going out for parts and that sort of thing. These where much sort after as not only did you get to practice your driving but it was freedom, escape from the garage in the old HA Viva van. This was a rocket ship it had slightly over sized slightly low profiled cross ply tires on the back and when like a bomb taking all the stick you could possible give without complaint, that where I really learned to drive.

One day around the same sort of time an old Ford Anglia pulled into the garage along side the ramp as I was working on another car. I didn't take a lot of notice of it at the time but I know the bloke who was driving it had driven it in under power got out closed the door as one normally would. I also over heard the conversation he had with Jimmy. He had told Jimmy the brakes where shot and it needed an M.O.T. Motor Organization Test. At that time Jimmy had been on the front probable skiving as usual talking to someone else. Anyway a little while latter when the owner had gone I saw Jimmy jump in the car quickly reverse back and without touching the brake's using the clutch slipping it into first gear and tear assing up the ramp and into the back. I might add at this point that this was at a some what quicker pace than usual. Now I don't know whether Jimmy had forgotten that the bloke had said that the brakes where shot or he just reckoned that it had to have a hand brake as the bloke had driven the thing in there. It was then that I first saw one of Indiana Jones's stunts long before the film's had ever been thought of. There was Jimmy with his foot out of the door trying to use it as a brake. Other than him getting a hot foot this had no effect on the momentum of the car. At the top of the garage over the car wash area there was a Humber Super Snipe which had appeared there about a week before, probable something that had been taken in a part ex, to my deep regret it's wasn't Silverbeck's car. Jimmy had little choice and the Anglia plowed into this Super Snip, well as you  can imagine we all went to have a look at the damage the Super Snip sat there with a smile on it's grille while the Anglia was a wreck the normal concave front of the Anglia was now well and truly convex. After lot's uming and arring it was decided that it should go on the ramp to see what else was wrong with it to prevent it passing the M.O.T. and so the list of fault's was put together multiple rust holes where discovered in the chasse along with a whole load of other stuff. Management apparently rang the bloke up and explained that the cost of repairs where far more than the car was worth. Apparently the bloke excepted an offer of a few quid for the car as scrap without ever knowing what had really happened to his car. The moral of this story is what ever they tell you is wrong with the car make sure you go and have a look for your self.

August was always a slow time if you where not on holiday it was an awful time to be in the garage because there was very little work on, so work got invented, like scraping the year's worth of goo of the garage floor then washing it. Anyway this particular day Jimmy etc, where out side in the front messing with the weeds in front of the old house that was used as the office, well it was a nice day and he wanted to catch a few ray's I guess. I was doing the brakes on the only car that was in there for service that day, towards the back of the garage while Davy was cleaning the engine down on an old Hillman Hunter that had been take in in part ex. Now normally this would have been the others way around as Davy was the senior bloke and it was me who got all the shitty jobs but for some reason this is the way it was on that day. Well there I was working on the brakes, I was sitting in between two cars with my back towards one of them just a little bit down the garage from where Davy was working, when I heard a whimper "Jimmy" I took know notice of this as it was not directed at me. Then it came again "Jimmy" a bit louder with more panic. Then the third time "Jimmy" in absolute panic and as loud as it could possibly be uttered. With this I thought I had better get up and see what he was shouting about. Having got to my feet I could see the whole engine compartment of the car that Davy was working on was engulfed in flames with Dave just about standing in the middle of the flame's that where lapping around his feet and up the side of the gunk bath. (A gunk bath is much like it sounds about 3' by 1 1/2' filled with cleaning agents i.e., flammable and years of muck dead rats and just about anything else really horrible sounding that you can think of) With this I ran for the fire extinguisher the one on the side of the store room door. It had lot's of very nice pictures explaining how it was to be removed from it's hanger and started which I had read many times over the years. However just yanking it off the wall seemed to work quite well too. I got back to where Davy was still standing in the middle of the flames and I concentrated on putting the flames out that where nearest to the gunk bath, thinking that if that goes up we will really have a problem. Davy was intent on me concentrating on the car so I was working around in circles from the inside out. Eventually the fire was out with a little smoke damage to the inside of the car's engine compartment and some singed overall's. It was nothing very serious I guess but could have been if not attended to in a hurry. As I was sitting on the floor spluttering putting it on a lot thinking that I might get a trip to the hospital out of this being the hero and all, Nobby comes along puts his are around Davy's shoulder and saying go and have a drink in the pub next door when it opens. It was at that time I promised myself that if there was ever another fire there I would let the dammed place burn. It became obvious latter that Nobby had thought I had started the fire and Davy had put the thing out but I did get my own back see the next bit.

It was getting on for home time this day when Nobby come though the side door of the garage and shouts to me to turn the car that I was working on sitting on the ramp around as I was letting it down. I explained to him at the time that I couldn't do this as the car was very much to one end of the ramp with the hand brake off and the centrifugal force would thought the car off the ramp. To this Nobby screamed at me using a lot of Anglo-Saxon word that I will not repeat here. To do what he had requested with out further argument, so I did making sure the my prediction would come true and it did. There it was a virtually new HB Viva hanging there about 5' off the ground half on and half off the ramp like the bus on the film the Italian Job. Nobby was running around like the proverbial head less chicken turning knobs and no doubt praying that it would not slip further. While I walked into the back to wash my hands as by this time it was past knocking off time. On getting to the one sink in the whole place at the side of the gunk bath and getting a handful of soap Jimmy who was already there said what was all the shouting about out there. So very calmly I said the Viva I was working on had just fallen of the ramp. At this he went running down the garage a very rare site and began panicking along with Nobby. Nobody said a word to me what could they say I told him what would happen and it did. The ramp came down after what to them must have seemed like an eternity and the car was promptly sent back up to inspect the damage. There was very little, where the sill meets floor pan there is a lip that was bent up this is well underneath the care and was probably never noticed by the poor customer. The proverb here is don't shout at me, you may get far more than you bargained for.

Over the next few month's I will continue with these stories unless you find them so mind numbingly boring so let me know and if so I will stop. 

If you think this is a load of old bull & you don't like it or want it just let me know & I will drop it. On the other hand if you like reading about my exploit's please also let me know & I will continue to add more as they come along & time allows.

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