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Kynoch's I M I 1950s Onwards

Brassed Off

master brummie
3
Leaving the School; Upon leaving the apprentice school to go out into the factory, all those leaving had to line up with the toolboxes that we had made. The chief instructor Billy Y. used to go through each box to make sure that we had not “won” anything.
Whilst I was being trained in his area I found amongst one of his cupboards a “home made” milling tool holder. On it was stamped my Dads name! many year previously Dad and Billy had worked together. I decided to “repatriate” it to the Harper family.
The leaving inspection was carried out with the other instructors lining up to observe this ritual.
I was one of the first to be inspected, Dads tool was on the top of my other tools but the name was face down. Upon opening my box Billy leapt upon the “won” item. Holding aloft he proclaimed that it belonged to him. “It can’t be Billy, it’s got my Dads name on it”. The look of consternation on his face as he turned it over was a picture. The other instructors sniggered, he threw the tool back in my toolbox, and told us all to “bugger off”. Which we promptly did.
 

Brassed Off

master brummie
Apprentice Pranks
4
Box of sparks; One of the fitters was grinding a piece of brass on the grinder, he shouldn’t have been because it could clog up the wheel but, one of the observant lads noticed that there were no sparks being given off the wheel. To show how observant he was he mentioned it to the fitter, “ Good heavens” was the reply, “ it must have run out of sparks, run along to the stores and ask for a box of new sparks” The store man whose humour matched the fitters duly after much looking found and supplied a box of new sparks. These were duly presented to the fitter, who in the mean time had changed the brass for a piece of steel. The boxes contents were poured into the grinder with great care, and lo and behold when the steel was put on the wheel it duly gave off a great many sparks. The apprentice looked pleased with himself, and it was some time later that he found out that brass when
ground doesn’t give sparks whereas steel does!
Glass hammer; To rid himself of his apprentice for a while the tradesman decided to give his lad a task that should get rid of him for quite some time. He decided to send him off to get a glass hammer. The lad was given some cash to purchase the said hammer, and off he went. The lad realised what was being done to him and decided to teach the joker a lesson. Having caught the bus he went into the town and managed to actually purchase a glass hammer. He then returned and presented the hammer and the bill to cover its cost to the fitter, he had to pay up realising that his bit of fun had backfired badly.
 

Brassed Off

master brummie
5
Sky hooks; Another task was given to another lad who was told to go out of the factory and buy some sky hooks. Being an earnest lad and to save time he tried to leave via the companies reception, this was greatly frowned upon. Whilst trying to leave, one of the “gaffers” caught him, and asked him just what he thought he was up to. Having explained that he had been sent out on an important mission by his immediate superior. After a moments thought he took the lad into his office. The gaffer produced some paper bags and paper clips, he blew the bags up and tied a paper clip around each one, making a hook with the end of the clip. Now asked the director “how much were you given to get the sky hooks?” Having been told of the sum it was divided in half, the lad being given his share and the boss keeping the rest. “Now go and tell your fitter to accept these sky hooks with my compliments, and young man don’t let me catch you using the reception again for any reason”.
 

Brassed Off

master brummie
6
Altering the scales; Whilst working in the weights and lifting dept (they maintained all the cranes and weighing machines of which there were several hundred, all over the site), it was the habit of the office staff to weigh themselves on a daily basis. This amused the 3 apprentices no end, and a plan was hatched to mess this ritual up. To adjust the scales during calibration you could add or subtract small amounts of lead shot. To this end we decided to remove an excessive amount, and make people think that they had lost a lot of weight. The first couple of staff came in just after lunch, their favourite time, and left with big smiles, thinking that they had lost weight. We quickly replaced the shot, and sat back to watch. Both of the weight loss staff returned with their witnesses to view their losses on the scales, obviously the scales now showed no loss. Having boasted of their losses and having brought obviously dubious colleagues to witness the said losses, they were perplexed and unable to explain them. We decided to keep quiet about this prank as messing about with the scales would have upset our superiors.
 

Brassed Off

master brummie
7
A Bit of a Come Down; In the lifting and weights dept. one of the fitters used to race to where his chair was and literally leap onto it. This amused us apprentices a great deal, each time he did it, we expected him to go “base over apex” he never did. A plan was devised where we would saw off a couple of inches from each of his chair legs. It was then realized that he would be able to tell the difference in height because the table at which he sat would remain as it was. So the table legs also had the same amount sawn off. We also dirtied the saw cuts so that he would not be able to see what we had done, a good job because the first thing he did was to turn the chair up to look at the bottom of the legs.
The following day the fitters usual approach to his chair was carried out. Well after ,I don’t know how many years of doing this leap onto the chair, he almost fell off! He knew something was different but could not ascertain what. He sat and checked the relationship of the table and chair heights, and of course each was compatible with the other. After a few days we told him what we had done, fortunately he saw the funny side of it.
Go faster:- A form of transport for the Bond Trades was a small petrol three wheeled runabout. We were allowed to drive/ride this vehicle. To make it go faster we could lean over the engine and reach the carburettor, by this means we could pull on the control mechanism to get more speed (at least 2 mile an hour extra). The best time was during the Winter, on some of the car parks large puddles would freeze over leaving a skating rink. By going flat out, and slamming on the brakes the truck would spin quite rapidly. Those passengers on the back had to hang on otherwise they were flung off. No apprentices were damaged or hurt, we must have been able to “bounce” in those days!
 

Brassed Off

master brummie
8
Tree rope swing; at the rear of one of the mills that I worked in was the remains of an inlet from the nearby River Tame (at the time a filthy polluted piece of water). I think that this may have been put into place for George Kynoch the factory founder, because it ran from the river area to his house called Holford House. By the time I was there this water way had become silted up and much overgrown. A lot of willow trees had grown alongside the water course and leaned over what remained of the water. Ideal for a piece of rope to be attached and used for swinging from. Imagine our surprise and delight in finding such a rope ready and waiting for us. We all had a go at doing a Tarzan over the mud/water. It went quite well for several weeks, and then one of our heavier mates was in mid swing when the rope broke! He went in up to his waist, and came out smelling to high heaven. What to do about this? He had to get home to change, but this meant that he’d got to get permission from the foreman. The foreman was quite a tartar and had a reputation for being pretty strict, so with much trepidation he was approached for permission to go home and change. Upon seeing the lad covered in mud etc. he burst out laughing. He knew exactly where we had been, because many years earlier he had put up the first rope when he was younger! What a let off!
 

Brassed Off

master brummie
9
Part of our training meant that we had to attend a local technical college, I went to Erdington. Part of the course was in a classroom, in the afternoon we were in the workshop. During the lunch break, we used to go down the High Street, one day a bright spark suggested that we buy some mussels and cook them in the furnace in the workshop. We found an old tin put some water in it and put it in the furnace. Well they started to smoke and smell, upon which the instructor investigated. Locating the source he retrieved the tin and its contents, whereby he declared that the tin had previously been used for some heat treatment of metal. The ingredient for this has been cyanide!! A close shave that one, and the instructor wisely decided not to pursue the guilty.
Another prank carried out in the workshop was a flame throwing demonstration. One of the lads worked at a petrol station part time and reckoned he could throw flames. Much ridicule and derision was cast about this claim. Whereupon the lad agreed to perform the act for us but only if we had a “whip round”. Duly a few “bob” was gathered and the demonstration proceeded. Unfortunately the only flammable liquid turned out to be some paraffin. The theory was that this was near enough to petrol not to matter. Money and credibility was at stake! A mouthful of paraffin was taken, a lighted flame was held by the Flame thrower in front of his mouth and he blew! A great gush of flame went across the far end of the workshop and blackened the far wall. The instructor came racing up enquiring what had just occurred. Silence, again he didn’t delve too deeply into it. It was presumed that the furnace had had a blow back, it being an old gas one!
 

Brassed Off

master brummie
Daft Doings
10
Titanium blast; Another of the departments that I passed through was the Titanium Plant. Each lunchtime at the back of the melting furnaces there was an open space that we utilised for a game of football. The only time that play didn’t take place was if it rained. One such rainy lunchtime one of the 3 main furnaces decide to blow out! These furnaces were operated with a vacuum system, and were designed so that should they ever explode, then the blast would go away from the building. This was achieved by making the outer wall very flimsy, while the other 3 walls were steel reinforced concrete. Had it not been raining we would have been in the direct path of the explosion! It was a major explosion but because of the design, there were no injuries with the exception of one unlucky soul. He happened to be sitting below a light fitting, and the bulb fell out hitting him on the head.
Following this explosion the company decided to compensate households in the vicinity for any damage that had been caused. This opened a “Pandora’s box” for many around the Witton site. A great many more repairs were carried out than had been anticipated, quite a few were of questionable origin! But they were done anyway.
Burning the evidence; Each Friday was pay day, in those days you were paid cash in a little envelope. In the envelope was a pay slip saying how much there should be and how it had been calculated. It was noted that in a strict order several of the men would go up to a small stove (used to heat soldering irons) it was usually left on all day, you could also do toast in it! Each man would put the pay slip into oven and watch it burn, this was so that their wives would not know how much they were earning. Being inquisitive lads we wanted to know how much these craftsmen were paid, after burning, the paper could still be read unless it was crushed. Imagine their horror when we told them we knew how much they were earning, the real fear was what if their wives ever found out! After that the ritual included vigorous raking and stirring of the paper ashes.
 

Brassed Off

master brummie
11
Betting in the mills; In some of the mills/depts. there was a tendency amongst the men to either discuss drinking or gambling etc. having just left the apprentice school and being very green, this came as quite a culture shock. The laying of bets in company time was against the rules, this did not slow the practise down at all. One of the mill operatives had a large steel cupboard with a slot in the top of it. It was just tall enough to be able to see the slot into which were posted the betting slips and cash. This was before mobile phones or any other means of communication with outside of the factory. The cupboard owner was a bookies runner, he was provided with a leather satchel that could be locked with a time key, when turned it stamped the time on a card inside the satchel. The bookmaker knew that all the bets inside, with the cash, were deposited prior to the time on the card. The runner used to get a commission from the bookie, as well as a bung from the lucky winners. This system was greatly used and appreciated by most of the men. However the manager was a bit of a miserable sod, and I asked the runner how he managed not to incur the wroth of the manager. He gave me a wry smile and suggested that around 10 o’clock, I hide myself up the mill but be able to keep an eye on the cupboard. A short while before 10 o’clock the manager strolls down the mill with an envelope in his hand, he heads straight for the cupboard, and pops the envelope into the slot, he gives the top of the cupboard a couple of lucky taps and continues down the mill! The runner having observed this waits for the manager to go on his way, and with a big smile and a thumbs up to me opens the cupboard to carry on his bookmaking duties. I should have realised what would happen. On my first day in the mill I presented myself to the foreman’s office, on knocking the door and opening it, I found half a dozen men on their hands and knees studying every available sporting paper. Every surface was covered with them, the senior foreman was in the middle of them on the floor. His greeting to me was “do you like a bet”, my reply was non committal.
 

Brassed Off

master brummie
12
Means of transport; Because of the size of the factory site, several means of transport were available. I worked in the Central Millwrights which meant that we had to work throughout the whole site. This involved the installation of heavy machines and equipment, for this we had a very low diesel truck that could carry several tons in weight. At the end of day, if the job was one that involved a team of men, then the easiest way back to our dept. was on this truck. Up to 20 men would cling onto the truck and each other, with those on the outer edge barely having enough foot room, the truck couldn’t go too fast but it was quicker than walking. This mode of transport would give modern day H & Safety people nightmares, but it was just taken as a normal days occurrence, and a few minutes fun.
Roll on Roll off; I had to use this vehicle to transport an old roll from Holford Sheet Mill to the Metal Recovery at the other end of the factory, it weighed over a ton.
An easy job, get it loaded by overhead crane and strap it down for the journey. Having got to my destination all I had to do was remove the straps and take off the retaining device, reverse into the bay available, stop suddenly to get the roll to actually roll into the bay. The platform on the back of the truck was hinged so that it tipped, this helped to slide off any load that could be unloaded this way.
A few days later another of the millwrights was given an identical job to shift another roll down to Metal Recovery.
He asked how I had done it, as he had heard how easy it had been for me.
Having duly explained how to do it, away he went. Imagine my surprise when he came back and roundly cursed me.
I ha forgotten to tell him to remove the retaining device, this meant that instead of tilting and allowing the roll to roll down the tilt, it had lifted the front of the truck several feet into the air, with him clinging on for dear life.
 

Brassed Off

master brummie
13
Showing Off ; There were always a lot of visitors around the Witton Site, looking back it was obviously thought to be good publicity for the Company. There was an operative of a fly press that used to show off to the visitors A fly press has a large handle that is swung around to operate it. On top of this handle were a couple of heavy weights in the shape of balls to give it momentum. To facilitate the different strokes that may be required the position of the handle could be moved. The “party piece” of our show off was to spin the handle around with it stopping just short of his head, much to the concern of his audience. Not realising that the fly press had been “adjusted”, and with his audience in place the handle was swung with the show of bravado. The result was that he received a knockout blow to the head, and a trip to the ambulance room. No guilty party was ever found, and the showing off stopped.
Holford House; The house was mainly used for company training, and was felt to be untouchable with regards to it being demolished.
Nearby the house was a piece of water that in the 1960’s was quite mucky, it was not improved by what the apprentices put into it! If a test piece had been messed up then you couldn’t just throw it into the scrap bin because the instructors would find it and you were in trouble. The remedy for this was to nip round the corner and dispose of the said piece into the water. Later on we followed the route of this water and it led (much overgrown and filled in over the years) towards the River Tame. I have often wondered if it been channelled this way to provide the Kynoch family with somewhere to relax and possibly boat along, before the area became industrialised?
 

Brassed Off

master brummie
14
The Mint; a department that I never worked in was this one. It was a high security area because of the products. Most were for Commonwealth countries, although I know that the UK 50 pence blank pieces were done there, and finished off at the Royal Mint. With the foreign currencies many were of the same size as ours. This led to a problem, at this time most shops had a 1 penny slot machine outside their premises. Some enterprising soul found out that an African penny fitted them. On many a Monday morning several shopkeepers would present themselves to the works police at Witton gate with bags of foreign coins. These were cashed into UK coin, with no questions or complaint from our company. The loop hole was eventually closed.
 

Brassed Off

master brummie
15
Goings on at Witton Gate; Some little points of interest/amusement that occurred within site of the main gate at Witton may remind some of you of other “incidents”.
The first occurred during the “Winter of discontent”, as you may well remember Kynochs was in the enviable state of not having to lay it workers off during this time. This was due entirely to them having their own power station to generate its electricity. The power station at that time was able to switch from coal, to gas and also to oil. Because of this unlike, virtually every other company in the City they were almost unaffected by the various national strikes going on at that time.
Their lights “blazed” across that area of Brum. Such were the feelings of the residents of the Witton area who were having to go without heating and lighting that many of the “ladies” from there gathered outside the gate and threatened to riot if the company did not turn off the sites lights, as well as the large IMI sign that shown on the side of the ten story office block. The lighting and signs were duly switched off.
One of the jobs areas that Central Millwrights covered was the Witton main office block.
Access to the roof was up a fire escape ladder, no problem unless you did not like heights.
One of the supervisors had to go up to show us what needed doing and where. Unfortunately the chap was nervous of heights, he managed to get up there, showed us the job and was on his way down, when an ambulance went speeding past the gate with its bell sounding off. The result of this was that he “froze” and could not go up or down, it took a great deal of talking and cajoling to get him back onto the ground.
 

Brassed Off

master brummie
16
In Hot Water; At one time IMI (Kynoch) were interested in solar panels, those that heated water, rather than produce electricity.
As part of the scheme a director was allowed to have some panels fitted around his swimming pool. All went well until an unusually hot spell had taken place!
The director was delighted that he was able to get a nice free warm pool, ( as part of his helping the company, of course).
However the system did not have thermostat fitted, this meant that the water was extremely hot when the director, as was his want, dived straight in!!!
I understand that “sympathetic noises” were delivered to him!!!
Growth Underground; Many of those employed in the Research Dept. were very keen gardeners, most concentrated on growing vegetables.
Great discussions took place on which were the best vegetables and the ways that would produce the best results.
We were all keen on freezing the produce, so that a bumper crop could be saved.
One crop that was giving a problem with regards to freezing were strawberry’s. The best method, again because it was the Research and liquid nitrogen (minus 300f) was available, proved to be a very good way of freezing. Very slow because each individual fruit had to be frozen separately.
Around this time there were many mushroom growing kits on the market, again discussions took place, after all most were quite expensive.
Temperature, humidity and darkness seemed to be important to get a good crop.
It transpired that the underground service tunnels beneath the buildings would be very suitable to grow mushrooms. We gathered quite a number of wooden boxes in which to grow some. We were about to start filling the boxes with compost, when we realised that the occasional rats and mice also lived there. Another “fine idea” was still born!
 

Brassed Off

master brummie
17
Head Scratching; The manager of the Research Dept. was a very keen golfer, so that when his retirement came up he obviously going to get a gift with a golf theme.
At the time a revolutionary method of casting titanium was being undertaken in the Research.
This was using a spinning method, it was in its infancy and therefore quite expensive at the time.
The gift to give him was decided to be a cast titanium golf club head!
After many attempts to produce this a good head was produced, obviously the golfing fraternity was involved at to the type of head that it should be.
When completed it was tried out by a golfer, who found out that because of its ultra light weight it was not suitable.
After much head scratching a solution was found, tungsten plugs would have to fitted into the head.
Again more cost was involved, by now the cost had become “a state secret”, the cost was never declared but those that could add up said that it ran into several thousands!
We never did find out if this one off head was any good or not!
Relief at Hand; The foreman of the tool room was a “big” chap who decided to improve his health and lifestyle, He managed to lose a lot of weight, and in this he was very successful. However he loved to smoke a small cigar while at his desk. This he found to be the hardest part of his new regime. On talking this over with the departmental glass blower an idea was conceived. A cigar was placed inside a sealed glass tube, and placed on a little stand, where it sat on the desk. The idea was that should he succumb to have a smoke then all that was needed, was to break the glass, like a fire alarm, and hey presto, relief was at hand!
 

Pedrocut

Master Barmy
13
Showing Off ; There were always a lot of visitors around the Witton Site, looking back it was obviously thought to be good publicity for the Company. There was an operative of a fly press that used to show off to the visitors A fly press has a large handle that is swung around to operate it. On top of this handle were a couple of heavy weights in the shape of balls to give it momentum. To facilitate the different strokes that may be required the position of the handle could be moved. The “party piece” of our show off was to spin the handle around with it stopping just short of his head, much to the concern of his audience. Not realising that the fly press had been “adjusted”, and with his audience in place the handle was swung with the show of bravado. The result was that he received a knockout blow to the head, and a trip to the ambulance room. No guilty party was ever found, and the showing off stopped.
Holford House; The house was mainly used for company training, and was felt to be untouchable with regards to it being demolished.
Nearby the house was a piece of water that in the 1960’s was quite mucky, it was not improved by what the apprentices put into it! If a test piece had been messed up then you couldn’t just throw it into the scrap bin because the instructors would find it and you were in trouble. The remedy for this was to nip round the corner and dispose of the said piece into the water. Later on we followed the route of this water and it led (much overgrown and filled in over the years) towards the River Tame. I have often wondered if it been channelled this way to provide the Kynoch family with somewhere to relax and possibly boat along, before the area became industrialised?
I think George Kynoch would not spend more time than was needed around the factory!

There is a thread for the River Tame, and Morturn made an interesting post concerning the works close to Kynoch, did you ever come across this?

 

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Excellent memoirs, Brassed Off, and thanks for the trouble you have taken to let us read them. Are there more?

Chris
 

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
....Metals/IMI Monitor......I'm putting up issue 246 - Summer 1995 as example.......
harryk was kind enough to post a sample issue of his collection of Metals/IMI Monitors for us to have a look at.

Any reactions from anyone who has accessed it? Useful? Interesting?

Chris
 

oldMohawk

master brummie
Although I did not work at Kynochs, relatives and many people I knew did, so I was interested. I had a look but pdf files are not the best files to post on the forum and I had to save the pdf files in my computer. This might put some members off viewing them. I did use Gimp to extract the images from one of the pdf files and inserted as a test here,
https://birminghamhistory.co.uk/forum/index.php?threads/just-trying-something.38017/post-417784
Maybe the images from all the pdfs could be extracted and inserted in the post here but obviously I cannot edit other members posts.
 
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