Mike Hand Books

Ontario Industrial Histories

Category: manufacturing

Factory Working Conditions

Over the last century, great steps forward have been made in the working conditions in factories. In the latter part of the 1800’s, safety concerns were virtually non existent with hazards like high speed belts and pulleys all over the place, no ear, hand or eye protection and poor heating in winter. In one of my books, From Wagon to Trailer, I recount an interview with a man who started work in the factory in the early 1930’s when conditions still did not seem to have improved too much. He told of a man fatally injured when his coat got caught in a line shaft driving the belt pulleys and was spun round and round until the drive could be shut off. And of the painters who worked all day over large paint tanks dipping the finished product with no fumes protection.

Working conditions

Belt driven machines

In the mid twentieth century a well-known novel writer, Thomas B Costain, wrote about a young man growing up in an industrial city in his book “Son of a Hundred Kings”. It is well accepted that the city he based it on was Brantford and the young man’s experiences when first working at a foundry, also accepted as that of the Buck Stove Company, described graphically the conditions under which they worked in the latter part of the 1800’s.

Even in the 1940’s, when I served a five year engineering apprenticeship with a large engine manufacturer, many of the working conditions encountered would be totally unacceptable today. One machine on which I worked doing finish machining on compressor crankshafts, required a constant stream of cutting oil to run on to the workpiece. At the end of the shift, the full height leather apron I had to wear would be soaked in oil to the extent that every night, it was cleaned with trichlorethylene to remove the oil before the next day’s use.

In the forge adjacent to that machine shop, so much soot covered the windows,lights and floor that it was very difficult to see what was going on until one’s eyes adjusted to the dim light. Minimal eye protection was used and hearing protection was zero.

working conditions

Forge department – 1940’s

Even in a relatively clean place, as in this 1880 factory building steam engines, most times the work area would be so crowded that it became hazardous.

working conditions

Engine assembly shop – 1880

Today, health and worker legislation is such that one could no longer find such conditions in most of the advanced nations. In contrast, one factory that I recently wrote about had some of the best working conditions that I have ever seen, and I have been through hundreds of plants in my time. The plant was fully air conditioned, most of the machinery was computer controlled, and the walls and floors one could literally eat off. No, this was not an electronics manufacturer, but a company machining metals and making special assembly machines and tools.

A big step from the “good old days”.

DCI Steel Statue

 

At the front entrance to a modern factory in New Jersey stand three statues. These are unusual in that they are made of a special steel that forms a rust colored coating that protects them with no further treatment. These were cut by a computer controlled plasma cutter with the images downloaded from photos to the computer. They depict one of the founders, recently retired Frank Fisher, a view of the truck container transfer unit, and the system equipment designer, Mike Hand.

container equipment


statues outside DCI plant

Through the 1960’s, I was involved in the early development of containerisation, first as Chief Engineer and subsequently as General Manager, of Steadman Containers Ltd. The company was a leader in Canada in manufacture of ISO containers and of container handling equipment, with systems for use in trucking and for road-rail transfer of containers.

The Trucktainer system was licensed into the USA through General American Corp. and built and sold by Truck Container Systems of New Jersey. When the owner, Carl Winston died, the company was run by his son for a few years and closed. The plant manager of that company, Frank Fisher, partnered with a young marketing graduate, Rustin Cassway and formed a new company to carry on the business in 1989 under the name Demountable Concepts Inc. headquartered in Glassboro, NJ.

DCI

Mike in Steel

This company successfully builds and markets the Trucktainer system equipment, originally designed in the early 1960’s, throughout North America and Mexico. Following the company’s twenty fifth anniversary, the president, Rustin, had these statues made and installed to honor the occasion. Visiting the plant at that time, I was present when the statue of myself was cut when I pressed the switch to start the machine.

It was one of the greatest honors of my career and life, to be recognised in this way as the “father” of their equipment and to see it still made and used internationally after 50 years.

 

For more information about this company see Demountable Concepts Inc. web page

Early self propelled grader

 

The early pioneer equipment manufacturers were never short of ideas to incorporate into their products. Take, for example, this early 1920’s road grader made by the Sawyer Massey Company of Hamilton.

Prior to this, graders were primarily pulled by horses, or later by steam rollers, an arrangement that was not only cumbersome but limited in its capability. How to make one with its own power was their problem, unable to develop their own power unit, transmission and drive axle.

sawyer massey

Sawyer Massey grader with Fordson tractor power unit

What evolved was quite original and effective, and although the concept was only used for some ten years in production, it enabled them to take grader development to the next stage. A standard farm tractor, whose development had reached the stage where they were no longer huge gasoline engine conversions of a steam traction engine, was built into the rear portion of the grader. With the rear wheels and drive axle left in place to power the grader, the front axle of the tractor was removed and replaced with a supporting bracket.

Initially, a Fordson tractor was used, as shown above, and later a McCormick Deering tractor, a product of the International Harvester Company took its place.

sawyer massey, IHC

Sawyer Massey grader with McCormick Deering power unit

Bingo, a first for Ontario, a self-propelled grader

For more, see my book Steam Engines and Threshers

Ruston Industrial Gas Turbines

From 1947 to 1952, I served an engineering apprenticeship with Ruston & Hornsby Ltd., a major manufacturer of diesel engines. My last year was spent at the Anchor Street plant, (one of five plants the company had in Lincoln, England) where the newly formed gas turbine division was housed. There, I worked in the tool room, followed by six months in the tool design office. Spending one year as tool designer there after my apprenticeship, I then moved to Canada to work as a tool engineer at the jet engine plant of Avro. Here, the Orenda engines for the  CF100 fighter were built, and the huge Iroquois engine was being developed for the new supersonic delta wing fighter, CF105, under development at Avro’s nearby aircraft plant.
In 1946, the Ruston & Hornsby board decided that the future of industrial power would be with the use of jet engines, the first of which had been developed by Frank Whittle and his team during World War 2 and successfully applied to power an aircraft. The company recruited one of Whittle’s top engineers, Bob Fielden, to head up a new division to develop and produce an industrial gas turbine. Introducing kinematic design concepts to enable the product to withstand rapid changes in load and temperature without deformation or failure, and with a start up time goal of one minute for the engine, work was begun. When I was transferred to that plant, prototypes were already under test and tooling preparation was underway for production of the TA turbine. This engine was coupled to a 750 kw generator (approx. 1,000 hp) and was marketed for use in remote arid areas ( eg. Pipeline pumping) where a variety of basic fuels could be used.
Development was not without problems, of course, and I remember one day hearing the gas turbine engine whine, which was commonly in the background of our hearing, suddenly increase in volume and pitch. It kept climbing to everyone’s alarm until suddenly it was stopped by a large explosion. Rushing to the test pit area, we found that one of the turbines had sped out of control until the generator rotor flew apart and seized the drive shaft. The sudden stop resulted in the turbine blade rotors disintegrating, destroying the engine. It turned out that a drain in one of the burner housings had plugged and unspent fuel had accumulated and suddenly ignited, increasing the temperature and speeding up the turbine. Unable to stop it, the test engineers hurriedly ran to safety and had to watch, helplessly, the destruction of the engine. Needless to say, a design modification cured the potential for any repeat.

Current turbine plant in Lincoln

Current turbine plant in Lincoln

The TA sold successfully in substantial quantities and today, with the diesel engine production long gone, the gas turbine division is the only part of the once huge company remaining. Larger and larger turbines have been developed over the following fifty years until the largest ones now in production have a capacity for 50 MW (approx. 55,000 hp). First produced under the name Ruston Gas Turbine, the operation is now, after several changes in ownership, the gas turbine division of Siemens, a huge power generation conglomerate.
Production occupies what was formerly the main diesel engine plant in Lincoln.

Former Anchor Street plant

Former Anchor Street plant

The Anchor Street plant where it began life was razed some years ago and is now the site of a housing development.

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