Friday, July 09, 2010

Sepia Saturday : Pride And The Machine


My father was a fitter. I have never been quite sure what a fitter is (my brother inherited all the mechanical aptitude in our family), but it was a skilled job that gave him the right to full membership of the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU) once he had served "his time" as an apprentice. Most of his working life was spent in building, repairing and maintaining wrapping and packaging machines, first at a printing and packaging firm in Bradford and later at the Halifax factory of the toffee and sweet manufacturer, John Mackintosh and Sons (the makers of the celebrated "Quality Street" selection). My photograph shows my father and a group of his colleagues at, what looks like, the launch of a new machine. The machine is a splendid 1950s affair with gear levers, push buttons and important looking dials. It has the look of a prop from one of those 1950s low-budget science fiction films - "The Invasion Of The Sweet Wrappers"  perhaps. But however silly the machine may look from the lofty heights of the micro-computer age, there is an almost palpable pride amongst that group of people : pride in the creative process, pride in industry. Maybe these days twenty or thirty fellow workers gather around the photocopying machine and have similar photographs taken. Maybe they pile up volumes of reports, project proposals and database print-outs and proudly sit alongside them like a mother hen showing off her eggs. Maybe. But, somehow, I doubt it.


As a bonus, I found my fathers' old Union Card. The fact that it had been carefully saved again signified something - a pride of achievement at the launch of a career. Maybe those lucky enough to be starting jobs in these difficult times will preserve a similar token, a similar document - whatever it may be. Maybe, but somehow I doubt it.

Take a look at all the other wonderful Sepia Saturday posts which are listed on the Sepia Saturday Blog.

20 comments:

  1. Fascinating machine - it could be anything! It's a wonderful picture too; your father, in particular, looks very personable.

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  2. I don't know about you, but I'm impressed with all those dials and wheels! I'm a diehard Thomas Dolby fan, and like TD I like vintage equipment; if I had the money I'd own a room-sized modular Moog synthesizer or one of those marvelous Serge Modular Music Systems (I lust after Kevin Braheney's 15-panel The Mighty Serge!) to me wheels, gears, dials, and blinking lights say "Science!" big and loud. Says the guy who works most of his music on software synth and sequencer programs (although I do still own an old Yamaha QX3 16-channel MIDI sequencer).

    By the way, according to the Collins English Dictionary, the secondary definition of "fitter" is: "(Miscellaneous Technologies / Building) a person who is skilled in the assembly and adjustment of machinery, esp of a specified sort; an electrical fitter." In case you were wondering, the primary definition is a person who fits a garment, especially for a particular person.

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  3. Can't say I've ever had my photograph taken beside the photocopier (nor on it, I hasten to add!) Someone did once send me a snap taken when I was teaching a group - head on one side, mouth open! Anyway, yes, bit more pride at work might not come amiss.

    Loved your comment on my blog - perhaps you are bonkers, but in the nicest possible way!

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  4. PS: Just looked at that group photo again and got one of those unmistakeable voice-overs from Pathe News... you know the ones, upper middle class English male voice - "The workforce at the Halifax factory of John Mackintosh and Sons are justly proud of their brand new sweetwrapping machine.. etc etc."

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  5. Wouldn't it be nice if youngsters today could serve an apprenticeship, like we did?

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  6. On First Inspection, I Dont Recognise Any Of The Crew.But, Halifax being a smallish Place I bet I have some slight connection with them.
    Have you show this photo on The Old Halifax Pagebook Page? I bet they could come up with a few names!
    I pity the poor bloke (or Lass)who had to polish that contraption!

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  7. Your dad is handsome. He was probably treated well by employers, something that tends to spur one to both pride of job and loyalty. Sadly, the employers of today behave as if we're all cogs, and most are simply trying to hang on to their shirts.

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  8. A wonderful photo and story to go with it. Great to preserve the memory and keep it alive. The machinery looked so complicated back them so he was a clever man to learn it. I feel he was also quite proud of his accomplishment.You should be proud, as I am sure you are.
    Well done.

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  9. Oh to hear that machine turn on and begin it's beeping and buzzing with lights all a dazzle on the panel. And now to think what that does fits in something the size of a grain of sand.

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  10. My father in law was a 'fitter and turner' I never really knew what that meant. Love that you've still got his old Union card tho. @ Chairman Bill . . you don't have apprenticeships where ever you are? Can't become a tradie without doing an apprenticeship in Australia.

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  11. hi alan,
    my brother finished his trade, i think 17 years ago and his trade certificate is framed, he also takes that old style pride in good workmanship, so it's not dead yet!

    i work for a small company that has been grown from a one man operation, our 2 labelling machines are old and second hand and there is not a day that passes that i dont wish we had a fitter to adjust it. the managers think that if they stare at it closely for a long time and fiddle about with a few allen keys and screwdrivers they can get the same result as an experienced fitter.

    what bollocks!

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  12. Your father looks a bit modest and very kind. Is this true? Yes, I do believe that is a cardboard drop in the back... -j

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  13. Once again a great post, historical. I am familiar with that brand of candies from my eastern growing up days! I had never heard of a fitter before, but apprenticeship and trades seem to be work of a long ago time, an era when as you say there was pride in a job well done. I think you are right on, no one today takes photos of accomplishments at work. For myself,I think how irrelevant my 34 year career of analyses, policy reviews,legialative testimonies, budgets, etc. in state government seem now. I have my grandfather's union card too, both as a coal miner and glass worker in the last days of his working time.

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  14. This is all very interesting, Alan, but bottom-line here for me is, did you get any MacIntosh's toffee or Quality Street Chocolates out of the deal?
    Both of these sweets played a big role in my childhood over here in Canada. My dad used to buy those flat packets of Mac's toffee and there wasn't a Christmas where the large tin of QS didn't make an appearance.

    (Love your speculations on these photos and the mother-hen with eggs analogy is spot on!)

    Kat

    P.S. My book is now published and available. Please visit my blog for details.

    P.P.S. What are you quaffing for the Spain/Netherlands final - a Grolsch perhaps?

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  15. My father was a design engineer. I never quite knew what that was, either. At one time he worked for a box (or packaging) company in Chicago in the early 40's. Maybe he designed those kinds of machines. Later we moved to San Diego where he worked for an big aircraft manufacturer. He probably found that more interesting but it was "top secret" so we still didn't know exactly what he did.
    I think our fathers would have liked each other.

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  16. How nice that you have things like these - I know our fathers' lives were more about providing for the family and the bonds in the workforce were much stronger.

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  17. Your father looks pleased. It's interesting to see this photo of him and the results of his work and remember the photo of him in his van and how he had to save to buy it. In this photo did you notice that there are some men who are wearing what might be called lab coats or overalls? I wonder if they were the hands-on fellows and the others were the "supporting cast" in the offices. I think it's rare to find work photos among family photographs. This one and the union card are treasures.

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  18. Great family history. When I was very young, my father was a millwright in a paper mill--it wasn't until I spent a few years working in a paper mill in my early 20s that I ever understood what a millwright does!

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  19. That union card really was carefully saved away...it looks like it is in perfect condition!

    So funny about that machine! It really does look like lolly wrappers could come rolling out of it! :)

    What a handsome man your dad was...love his hair!

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  20. surely it was for them a sign of progress, and for us, a stepping stone to what we know now. one should be grateful for that.
    :)~
    HUGZ

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