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Did you choose a career or did it choose you?

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Bill Dawes12/03/2015 23:26:37
322 forum posts

I have often pondered on the circumstances that led up to the career that I have had for the last 57 years.

I was born and spent my childhood in Birmingham so I guess I was destined to go into manufacturing in some way. I lived up the road from the BSA, round the corner was James motorcycles and Watsonian sidecars.

My dad and many of my uncles worked at Rover, Land Rover, Austin, Girling etc.

I left school at Christmas and applied for an apprenticeship at Rover. Sadly (at the time) they had already filled their allocation with summer leavers.

Just after Christmas 1956 I literally stepped out of our front door and bumped into a school friend who had just got a job down the road and suggested I went there to try my luck. The rest, as they say, is history, the company was Alldays & Onions, a name known by many in the ME fraternity I guess.

The company at this time in their long history(established c1650) made industrial fans and that is what I have done since then. I had never heard of industrial fans before I went there, as it turned out my time in the car industry, had it gone that way would have been fairly short lived.

From my early days on the shop floor I have yearned to own my own lathe one day (marriage, mortgage, kids) and at last a few years ago bought one and duly graduated from necessary DIY to arrive on the ME scene.

Joined a bit late by many standards but trying to make up for lost time.

I have some old catalogues (19th/early 20the century) of various machines used in the smithy industry if anyone is interested in copies of the pictures. You don't know what is in there of course bu let me know if you have a particular interest.

I have regretted many times that I was not brave enough to ask an old fella I worked with if I could have some of the brochures he had gathering dust on the top of his cupboard, for various vehicles that A&O made at one stage in their history, cars, bikes, vans, hot pie trikes even.

Bill D.

Sam Stones13/03/2015 01:15:01
740 forum posts
296 photos

Hi Bill,

It would be easier for me to refer to my ME profile. I also wonder if this might encourage other ME members to write a profile about themselves.

I wrote mine despite feeling (perhaps like many), that I didn’t have a story to tell, or was too embarrassed. Then again there are many lights hidden under bushels.

A good idea, Bill.

Regards to all,


julian atkins13/03/2015 01:35:57
1235 forum posts
353 photos

hi sam,

what a wonderful (abbreviated) story... please do tell more!

at age 11 and 12 in 'TD' classes (technical drawing) i was given 'O' level exam papers to do due to a very good trainee teacher. did wordwork 'O' level as my only 'craft' exam, getting an A grade. ended up via 'A' levels and a degree in a professional office job (law) that i hated, and relieving the stress of the job in making bits in the shed/workshop in the evenings for my miniature locos with a very forgiving wife and then 2 daughters! all taught how to drive miniature locos!

still hankering after a job that satisfies!



martin perman13/03/2015 08:31:00
1828 forum posts
78 photos

Good morning all,

I think I picked engineering based on the fact that my Grandfather was a model engineer and taught my brother and I about his hobby, and how to use a lathe, my Father was a engineering Draftsman and what ever my Brother and I did involved making something or other, in the early 70's we both got engineering apprenticeships at a Lucas CAV factory and we both then found jobs installing, servicing, repairing machine tools etc and always by accident and never contrived we have both worked for the same companies including our current ones, I'm only a few years from retirement and my Brother is not far behind me, for me no regrets and I do engineering as a hobby smiley

Martin P

Bill Starling13/03/2015 09:13:01
97 forum posts

Thank you to all those who have given details of themselves here or in their profiles. Not only is it very interesting in itself, it also gives the less experienced - i.e. me - valuable clues when evaluating the advice given!

Still waiting for someone to ask a question I can offer a helpful answer to. Meanwhile you're all adding to my store of knowledge - thanks.


mechman4813/03/2015 09:20:32
2663 forum posts
410 photos

.. Wanted to be a brain surgeon but no vacancies at the time (60's).. laugh laugh LOL, so went for Mech Fitting apprenticeship.. dont know .. See my profile for short synopsis.. always willing to help where I can.


Oompa Lumpa13/03/2015 09:36:12
888 forum posts
36 photos

I started pipe fitting for my father when I was ten years old. Every spare moment of my youth was spent working. I could drive when I was eleven and learned to turn on a Ward Capstan lathe when I was thirteen.

I built the main octagonal roof in the YMCA in Mannheim along with two other friends back in the late seventies. It is all open beam construction with no nails used at all. I did lots of other stuff like this but this one isn't too far away you could go see it if you want.

By and large, I haven't had a "working life". Just one massive hobby.


I thought about my statement above and It sounds as if I have just had a whale of a time all my life. Far from it. Been nearly killed a few times and bear the scars. Some of the times were hard, really hard. But I have no regrets.

Edited By Oompa Lumpa on 13/03/2015 09:54:45

IanT13/03/2015 10:08:56
1532 forum posts
144 photos

My mate decided he wanted to become a motorcycle despatch rider in the Royal Signals. Getting paid to ride a motorcycle across country sounded pretty good to him but I was not so sure about the Army bit. I went along to the recruitment office with him anyway and was persuaded to do the joining exam ("You may as well have a go son - rather than just sit there and wait" - says Recruitment Sgt "Leafy" Lane).

Well, my mate had perforated eardrums and failed his medical, so never got to ride cross country for a living. There was nothing wrong with my hearing, so I didn't fail the medical and became a boy-soldier at 17 for 10 shillings (50p) a week.

Never got to ride that bike cross-country either but did learn to drive a 3-ton Bedford and finally passed my motorbike license in Hong Kong - but on my own bike !

Met the missus and decided to leave HM employment 10 years later, otherwise I would probably have done the full 22. Got made redundant three times in Civvy Street but each time this took me off in different directions that I wouldn't have taken otherwise. All in all, it worked out pretty well but no great career plan - just lot's small things that seemed to 'nudge' me this way or that..

Been retired now a while and that seems to suit too, in fact I'm not sure how I ever managed to squeeze work in.

Oopps - it's coffee time - got to go ! wink



Martin King 213/03/2015 10:19:48
684 forum posts
260 photos

Hi All,

Always wanted to be in the medical profession and was rather hacked off wjhen I found that not a single University offered the specialist course I wanted, namely Diseases of the Extremely Rich!

Did a degree in Metallurgy and went on to run the family used car business, did some motor racing and got to drive some of the worlds finest cars and somehow make a good living out of them!

Then one day got a job acting as safety diver (a long time passionate hobby) on a producer friend's commercial film shoot where I lounged around doing nothing for 5 days, got very well fed and watered and paid really well. Thus was born a 25 year + career in the film business as I went to work briefly for his camera rental company and learnt the ins and outs of the gear and became a freelance Video Assist operator. This was my first real contact with the world of engineering as all the studios have large machine shops for making the weird stuff that filming needs, particularly the effects houses and stuff for strange camera rigs.

Got to film all over the world on features, commercials and music videos and specialised in underwater filming to get the best of all worlds. I still have a piece of an underwater camera unit but as one of our main customers was the Syrian Tourist Board we are not too busy at the moment....

More or less retired now so have the time and resources to have a lathe and mill and get to learn anew. My wife and I have a small EBay presence where we buy, sell and restore old tools, instruments and anything weird etc which is great fun. We love poking around in car boots and often get to France for a nose round! Spend far too much money at auctions buying stuff.

Been very lucky as apart from being 'generous' in build have had good health so far and good friends. Really appreciate the help and kindness found on here and would love to help out anyone who I can in my own way.

Cheers, Martin

Daniel Fleming13/03/2015 10:32:10
4 forum posts

Its funny reading these stories as Engineering was never an option for me when leaving school, engineering was a dying industry and there was little future in it at the time. Dad was an electrical engineer and grandad had been in the Merchant Navy and then supervisor at London Tugs so engineering was in the family and I suppose that is where I got my interest.

I ended up in teaching, Geography bizarrely, which is odd seeing as I spend much of the summer running model and full sized steam engines!

Model engineering is purely a hobby and one that costs rather than makes money. now having a second child I have to crack on with a second traction engine to alleviate the future arguments between siblings..... well that is the excuse that I put to my wife!



Bill Dawes13/03/2015 11:05:13
322 forum posts

Oompa Lumpa's reference to a capstan lathe reminded me that the machine shop foreman gave me the task of learning how to use this machine, there were three Herbert's, quite new but the previous operator had left and the old guys weren't interested. So off I went, keen as mustard to see how fast I could machine some cast iron hubs, got it down to 4 minutes one side and 3 the other, all finished apart from keywaying.

My pride was short lived however as the works were on piece rates and I had a right ear bending as they usually booked two hours on each one!

Another job I had was drilling & tapping some blind holes in the gearbox casing for hand driven fans we made for the Army. The drill had one of those reversing tapping devices, trouble was even the lowest speed was too fast, the tap had smashed before you had time to react, talk about sweating blood I still have nightmares about it.

The foreman came along to see what the problem was, "never be frightened of your machine" he said, moving me over to show how its done. Bang! same happened, " ok, carry on you'll soon get the hang of it" not the slightest hint of a blush of embarrassment.

Happy days, only about 5 years actually on the shop floor but it has stood me in good stead for my following life both DIY and my career in tech sales finally as engineering director.

Still work 2 days a week, helps with my meager pension.

Bill D.

Hopper13/03/2015 11:06:06
4530 forum posts
94 photos

It was a bit of both for me -- I chose to do a Fitting and Turning/Toolmaking apprenticeship purely so I could learn how to fix/restore/hot up motorbikes using the skills I would learn. This despite parents being more keen on me going to university and becoming a teacher. But as I spent all my spare time restoring an old Harley instead of studying I never made the cut to uni. Dropped out a year short in fact.

But the old man worked as an engineer at the local Chrysler Australia car factory and in the time honored manner arranged an apprenticeship for me there so the job sort of chose me. Although, I passed the exam to do one at the railways too if I wanted. But car factory was closer to home. So did my apprenticeship there and went on to work in the trade all over various outback mines, Africa and the US.

Ironically ended up going to uni in the US as a mature age student and became, among other things, a teacher.

Back to working in the trade -- on motorbikes -- out of my back shed these days and loving it.

Both my brothers served their times at the car factory, one as a sparky the other as a motor mechanic and worked in the trade up to the present time at various places. I suppose they would call that nepotism these days and some bloke with a clipboard would put the kybosh on it. But it was the norm back then and worked well in having a workforce with some committment to the works.

Bazyle13/03/2015 12:38:21
5215 forum posts
201 photos

Despite graduating in metallurgy (another one!) I applied to Marconi based on my hobby interest in electronics. Got offered an interview and job in a completely different one of their locations so built some satellites, bits of which must still be up there. Eventually decided to jump ship when a company moved within cycling distance though they then moved me 40 miles away. Last year was made redundant but moved internally to a department I had worked for before, Company procedures meant I had to be interviewed and my two earstwhile mates delighted in giving me a hard time to impress the manager. So only 3 job interviews in my life and I will never ever have to bother again. Unfortunately current post looks too much in demand to get another chance at a redundancy package so may work until I die.

Steve Pavey13/03/2015 13:05:19
280 forum posts
32 photos

Father and both grandfathers were involved in engineering, including working at Woolwich Arsenal and Vickers. Highlights of mine include working at the RR tech training school in Bristol for a while, at the time of Concorde and Vulcan bombers, and living at Filton Aerodrome. Then veering off into agricultural engineering, including development work on specialised seed drilling equipment. A short and disasterous stint working for the Electricity Council (a really boring job) sort of forced me into self-employment for as a furniture maker for many years, built my own house and spent far too much on tools and workshop equipment. Trying to find time to get back into more engineering stuff now.

just realised on reading this thread that a micrometer I bought on eBay last week was probably sold to me by one Martin King, and a very fine mic it is too!

Edited By Steve Pavey on 13/03/2015 13:08:00

Mark P.13/03/2015 13:52:38
612 forum posts
8 photos

I always had an interest in mechanical things,did my apprenticeship at Ruston Gas Turbines in Lincoln. At the end of it there were no jobs for some of us so I went off and joined the RAF as an airframe technician. When I left I went into civil airlines as an engine/airframe tech. Now semi retired I still "play" with machines.

Mark P.

Peter G. Shaw13/03/2015 17:55:40
1098 forum posts
44 photos

For me, life has been one set of circumstances after another. At school, I was doing pretty badly and apparently it was only my headmaster's persuasive efforts to my parents that kept me on in to the 5th form where I managed to scrape Maths, Physics & Geography. At Christmas I had no idea what I was going to do so applied to the Police as they were offering places as a Police Cadet. I failed, being told that I had the maths ability of an 11 year old. Probably true at that time, but certainly not true 4 or 5 months later.

In June of that same year, my mother noticed an advert for the posts of Youths-in-Training with the Telephones Division of the GPO. I didn't want to apply, but mother, who at that time was somewhat larger than me, ordered me to get on with it. Much to my surprise, I was offered a job 3 or 4 weeks later having passed both their exam and the interview, however, in between I saw the Schools Advisory Service who suggested also applying to the local electricity board (failed outright) and the CEGB as it was then. I passed the CEGB conditional upon obtaining 4 O levels including Maths & English. And so I ended up at the GPO.

And 35 years later took early retirement having gone from Y-i-T (apprentice in reality) to 1st line manager. Along the way I learned to maintain exchanges, and later became heavily involved in planning for all analogue exchanges. So all in all, dear old mother, accidently I think, hit upon the right career for me.

Also, along the way, one of my managers offered to buy a Sinclair Mk14 kit to play with - I jumped at it and that led to an interest in computers: on another occasion, another manager deliberately accused me of being scared that I couldn't complete the C&G Telecoms Technicians course - to prove him wrong I went back to Technical College and 2 years later came out with A Full Technological Certificate. One specialist job I applied for, and got, resulted in me having to teach myself how to design electronic circuits using transistors: that in turn led onto other electronic projects.

So all in all, my career was interesting, and as someone else stated, looking back I think it was as much a hobby as anything, a hobby which also gave me a decent salary.

Interest in engineering, as in Model Engineering, was actually kindled at secondary school in the craftwork classes, then I covered some bits on engineering on the Telecoms Technicians Course, and finally, I attempted to produce some new wheels for a 00 gauge locomotive which, of course, required a lathe, which in turn required me to understand and learn how to use it, and here I am almost 30 years later, still learning. I never did make the wheels!

I know this is mainly about engineering, but there is one other totally different hobby I have. When I was 17 or so, I moved allegiance from one church to another, just in time to become involved in a Youth W/E where the Youth Fellowship took over the choir stalls for the Sunday evening service and sang an anthem. That led to the discovery that I was a tenor and that I liked singing. Fiftyfive years later, I'm still singing and am currently a member of three choirs. Yet another example of an accidental circumstance.

So, that's me, stumbling along through life, and mostly enjoying what I've been involved in. It's not all been good, but then I doubt if many people do actually have a perfect life. But I'm proud of what I achieved, I've proven that I can learn new ideas - if I wish, mostly these days it's mostly a case of can't be bothered unless there's something in it for me. Finally, the major thing that I have learned over the years is just how much I don't know!


Peter G. Shaw

Phil Whitley13/03/2015 19:38:07
1194 forum posts
145 photos

Left school at 15 (1967) and started an apprenticeship as an Electrical Engineer, In the meantime my father started his own electrical engineering business, so after three fairly miserable years, and after supposedly joining the REME as an army apprentice, but never actually getting the "call" I went to work for my father (mistake) Passed three years at Tech college and came out with a C&G National Diploma in Electrical Engineering. Built a workshop in the meantime and started my own car repair business, started out doing everything but ended up seven years later building competition mini and Jaguar engines, racing rallycross and grass track, and maintaining and servicing a lot of "classics" for various customers. Fancied a complete change and with my cousin, started various businesses, including private investigation, debt collecting, buying and selling, all based around our selling service business (high street shop), which was one of the most exciting things I have ever done. No two days ever the same, and I managed to stay clean and in one piece! Moved on into a video production company, made several pop videos for breaking bands (who never actually broke, another story) Got into classic cars again, with an E type (always my absolute favourite) XK 150, rebuilt a Rover 14, rebuilt an Aston Martin DBS V8 twin cam engine (top end SCARY SCARY no timing marks!) Built and ran a village shop (in Wetwang!) bought and sold property and ended up becoming an assistant professional foster carer at the same time. Built a house as part of a consortium which went belly up! Got cataracts in both eyes, off work for three years and went on a computer engineering course as a way back to work. Was handed a file on Rural broadband by my brother, and started an ISP business in my home village which grew quickly due to the now defunct Yorkshire Forward, and today specialises in providing wireless broadband in remote rural areas like national parks (they do North york moors NP, Yorkshire Dales NP, Harewood house still going strong, though I am no longer involved) In order to get my brother out of MY workshop (he runs an aircraft cover/leather goods business) I spent three years working for him to convert our local disused chapel into a new workshop, and now at last I am working on the refurb of my own workshop. I got my first lathe (a DS&G 13Z) in the seventies for the garage business, but sold it on, and now have a Colchester Student Mk1, the now famous (infamous?) Covmac, a Harrison H mill which I have just got a V head for, a Raglan V mill, An Alba no1 shaper, and various drills, grinders, pol;ishers etc, a manchester rapidor saw, an Alfred Herbert precision drill, a forge, and a brazing hearth (thats all I can remember at the moment) I now feel like an absolute fraud, because I am not a model engineer! I like building, and rebuilding machines, inventing, modding, and anything to to with electro mechanical engineering of any type.Married at fifty and now have two wonderful girls 10 and 13. My eyes are still the windows of my soul, it's just that I now have them double glazed!


East Yorks

Sam Stones13/03/2015 20:26:25
740 forum posts
296 photos

How extraordinary that the career question posed by Bill has prompted a few members to write something which would be ideal for their (currently empty) profile. Why not drop a block-copy into the appropriate slot?

If your profile is still empty, stop hiding your light under a bushel.


Edited By Sam Stones on 13/03/2015 20:27:45

Oompa Lumpa13/03/2015 20:55:44
888 forum posts
36 photos

" I now feel like an absolute fraud, because I am not a model engineer! "

And why should that be? There are no real requirements for membership here. As long as you are mechanically sympathetic you will fit right in.


Peter G. Shaw13/03/2015 22:47:47
1098 forum posts
44 photos


The Model Engineering hobby covers anything and everything mechanical that exists under the Sun. I, for example, have graduated, no sorry not graduated 'cos that implies something else, so should I say, developed, a distinct interest in learning how to use the machines, trying to improve them, and making accessories as necessary for them. If, on the way, I happen to be able to use the tools to make something for the house, or my family, or to repair something, then that is an advantage, but mainly I'm in it for self-education.

Does that make me less of a Model Engineer?


Peter G. Shaw

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