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 The Wire Mill 

Memories of Bains by Gordon Hume

This chapter is rather out of place with regards the early chapters of my life.  I thought however since it expressed much of the life in the industrial times it would be good to put it here.  It also gives something of an indication of the wake up call which I had during this time and how it has in a most significant way allowed me to take the steps in life which were made easier through this experience. 

It must have been in early June 1962, at the age of fourteen, that I left school.  I wanted a job but not in the butcher shop.  A friend of my dads worked at the post office repairing and maintaining the vehicles (these were the Postman Pat vehicles of the television series), he got me a contact at a company called William Bain.  This was a factory which concentrated on wire and wire products.  I had the interview and in early June and I started the job. 

 First Job First Day
I can remember a number of details very clearly of my first day.  I had a piece (lunch) made up by my mother, four slices of bread with some meat in between, a medicine bottle with some milk and a few biscuits.  Finally a small container with tealeaves and a Billie can.  A Billie can was a simple can just like you would buy peas in at the supermarket.  This can had a wire handled looped across the open top.  The mill was not far from home and not on a convenient bus route so I had only one choice and that was to walk. 

Off I set early one Monday morning.  I looked like a real workman boots and dungarees but I had refused to wear the bunnet, which was offered.  A part of my kit which was different to most others was that I did not have any cigarettes (fags) with me.  From the age of 12 years I had often tried to learn to smoke but never managed (gladly) to master the puff.  The smoking saga I will leave for another story.   

No work gets done on the first day in any job that I have been involved.  The first day is designed for meeting people and looking to see what they are doing.  It all seemed easy and quite straightforward but I had no feeling for just how hard it was to become. 

 200 Meter Roll Of Galvanised Barbed Wire

Barb wire rolls, wire fencing, coated wire fencing, cables, twisted many strand cables and lots of other products were being produced.  I enjoyed reading the destination, which was painted on the large cable bobbins.  Nigeria, Uganda, Federation of Nyasaland, Australia and many others, we were supplying the whole world. 

First Job
Towards early afternoon I was introduced to the department where I would be working.  Hundreds of rolls of wire were stacked in a large alcove of the factory.  These rolls were then placed on a spinning table and as the previous roll was emptied a new one replaced it.  The purpose here was to get the wire in loose rolls onto large bobbins which were then mounted on a large wire twisting machine that produced seven core steel cables.  As each roll on the spinning table came to an end the new roll had to be joined to the previous one, this was done by a machine which had two vices into which the ends of each wire was connected. 

The ends were filed and cleaned and fluxed and current was applied to the vices and the cable ends heated bright red and welded themselves together.  And so separate rolls of wire became substantial lengths of wire rolled onto large bobbins.  Getting used to this process was painful.  In lifting the wire cables I knew that I had muscles and in welding the wire together, which used files cutters and hammers my hands were soon quite painful.  The second evening (Tuesday) when I got home I had dinner and went straight to bed exhausted. 

The following morning came just too soon.  On the Wednesday I started to realize that I was not bringing enough food with me.  By ten oclock I had consumed the food for the entire day so my pieces got bigger and bigger.  My mother could not understand how I could possibly eat so much and still come home ravenous.  Soon I got the hang of this new job and by the end of the week I was doing famously.  Payday came and I realized that I was earning a fortune.  I was being paid like everyone else and I was working as hard as everyone else, perhaps even a little harder for I was still naive. 

Week two as I walked to work even after two days rest I was already tired.  I sensed that something inside me was complaining about the strenuous physical work, which I was doing.  I was fourteen almost fifteen but as was explained to me many years later, my body had not developed sufficiently to cope easily with this work.  The money was great and I felt adult, so I continued. 

There were things at work, which I realized later were important to enduring the hard tasks.  Singing was a real encouragement sometime great gospel songs which everyone knew.  The war had created a great surge in singing hymns so often was heard a resounding How Great Thou art or What a friend we have in Jesus.  Other times more secular songs were enthusiastically given an airing.  One song I learned I later introduce when I began an apprenticeship at Honeywells.  This song was to the tune When your smiling 

When youre filing,

When youre filing,

The whole world files with you.


When youre drilling,

Oh! when your drilling,

The sun comes shining through.


But when your skiving (dodging work),

Youll bring out the rain,

So stop your skiving,

Get filing again


When youre filing,

When youre filing,

The whole world files with you. 


Skiving was in reality voluntary rest periods.  Most often this took the form of stuffing a newspaper down your shirt or trousers and going to the bathroom for a quick read.  Sometimes a check at the details about the race meetings and some decision making in terms of which horses to place a bet on.  A runner was an official unofficial person, which the management sort of recognized as the person to lay the bets with.  Once the bets were collected the slips and money were handed to someone at the factory gates to take to the bookies.  Often the runner was the shop steward as these folks got all sorts of time off to attend union meetings. 

 New Job
It must have been around the beginning of week four that I was assigned a new job.  This job was to be the start of a wake up call.  I have heard it also called a moment of truth.  The new task was in the barb wire shop.  Here there were two machines which manufactured barb wire which was wound onto wooden bobbins each weighing about 30 pounds.  My function was to load these bobbins onto four wheeled bogie, about 25 at a time.  Push the loaded bogie to the other end of the factory and out to the railway-shunting yard.  Here a chain of covered railway carriages awaited my filling of them.  I was instructed to load the wagons equally on both sides so that the springs would not be stressed or at least stressed evenly. 

 200 Meter Roll Of Galvanised Barbed Wire

This all worked fine but it was back and arm breaking work.  I reasoned that I should completely fill the bogie get it to the carriages, fill them, and on returning I could take a break waiting for the next bobbins to be ready for loading.  Fully ladened the bogies were heavy.  I discovered a direct relationship between the weight in the bogie and the effort required to push them.  The wheels had no bearings so the force required depended on the amount of grease on the axle.  Believing that the easiest method was a full bogie I stuck to my decision and got going. 

All was just dandy early in the morning, but by sandwich time I was completely finished.  By the afternoon the bogie was heading to the yard only half full.  This was as much as I could manage.  The job and the money became a nightmare.  That Saturday and Sunday I worked overtime and had no weekend break.  Dinner I had in the morning, at night I was exhausted and too tired to sleep.  Even having a bath was hard work and I am sure that I went to bed dirtier each night. 

Moment of truth
One day the wake up call come moment of truth arrived.  The bogie was loaded and I was planning as I had done many times for the dip in the rail line.  This was a section about half way down the track.  The ground had subsided and the line took a dip downwards.  Some six yards later the ground returned to its normal or intended level and up went the rail.  To get past this obstacle the trick was to at about twenty five yards speed up and the momentum of the bogie would take it through the dip.  In this instance just as I got to the dip the top layer of bobbins shifted to the side and with this the whole bogie fell on its side.  I crashed over the bobbins and fell spread-eagled on top of them twisting my ankle.  Getting myself off the scattered bobbins was a mission of pain and much puncturing of the palm of my hands and my knees.  Great roars of laughter were all around.  Someone helped me to the bathroom where I washed my wounds.  I think it was more of a case of spreading the dirt and grime over the wounds than actually washing them.  There was no medical kit in the whole factory.  The only compensation was that the cold water was taking the sting out of the punctures. 

That day I slowed down dramatically and became absorbed in further education.  Do this for the rest of my life, NO! I must do something else.  For months even after I had finished at the wire mill my only conversation was about further education.  I did however for the rest of my stay learn a number of worthwhile jobs.  I always found it strange that the same person who had got me the job in the wire mill was responsible for getting me an application for an apprenticeship with Honeywells. 

I am sure to this day that either God had a firm hand of me at this time or somehow my dad was fully aware of what was needed to give direction to his son.  I have always been able to confidently take major decisions about what I should be doing with my life and I attribute this confidence very definitely to the day the bogie overturned at the wire mill.  I often wonder when I travel around South Africa, if the wire on some of the fences was not personally loaded onto a railway carriage by yours truly.