Back to Reality and a technical traineeship with Rheem at Bulimba
It was good to see our families and friends again, but soon we had to get back to reality and suburbia. We were made welcome at my family home in Henry Street and also at Betty’s home, 91 Charlotte Street. We decided to stay temporarily at 91 Charlotte Street where our accommodation was a small flat downstairs; we had a bed-room, small kitchen and shower which suited our needs, especially after the facilities in Kavieng. Here at ‘91’ Betty had the piano and got back to her practice to fulfil that force, or desire, which was driving her; though I did not feel she had missed this part of her life over the past two year, but such natural talent or gifts should not be wasted.
There was a need for transport. A motor-bike was now considered inappropriate so we settled on a second-hand car. It was a toss-up between an MG TC or a Singer 9 roadster. The MG was the one which took our fancy but it had the disadvantage of being a two seater with a cramped space in the back for a third person. The Singer 9 roadster was a four seater with the front seats folding forward for access to the rear seats. Both were sporty looking so we settled on a black 1948 Singer 9 with folding canvas hood and detachable side screens. It was a four cylinder engine with overhead cam shaft, with an aluminium body built on a timber frame and it suited our needs. We could take our parents out in this car and it was economic to run.
I enrolled at the University to do second year Engineering and in hindsight can’t see what made me do this. Betty got a position as secretary to the Manager of a large company and we again settled into a routine. I can’t remember much of that year. Ian, my brother, was at Gatton College and was having problems with some of the staff apparently due to his attitude. He would not ‘kow-tow’ to anyone and there was a particular nasty incident where a staff member struck him as I found out later. Mum and Dad had to go to the College to see the head so Betty and I drove them up one afternoon. We were not told the details and did not ask, but Ian left the College soon afterwards and returned home.
Occasionally we would have a meal in town and would go to a restaurant in Elizabeth Street called ‘Santa Lucia’ run by Fred Vortachek. We used to go there on our motor cycle days and enjoyed his chicken catchitore, reasonably priced and enjoyable. Fred remembered us after being away two years. Nick’s café across the road and upstairs was the favourite haunt of public servants and students with his renowned steak and the works…in competition with the Postal Institute for a meal before evening lectures.
The time passed quickly and I could not settle down to study although so much depended on it, consequently for the end of year exams I got several posts, i.e. supplementary exams in January. I had enough by now so decided to get a job instead of wasting more money and time. There was no recrimination from Betty on this situation. I was obviously not the academic type and found it difficult to apply myself to the extent necessary and could not commit us to another two years studying full-time at the University.
At this time Rheem Australia Pty. Ltd., at Bulimba advertised for a Technical Trainee for their Bulimba plant. I applied for the position and was appointed on 28th November, 1955. Rheem was an American based company known for working their staff, but also looking after them. You were expected to become a company man and there were good prospects for advancement. The Bulimba plant produced drums, 44 gallon, 12 gallon, 5 gallon, and 4 gallon and any other capacity, for industry and other needs. That was the Brisbane plant’s basic product at the time. There was also a galvanising kettle, a drafting office and a comprehensive machine shop which made the tools and dies for the drum making machines as well as those for interstate branches.
Rheem was also well known, or better known, for making hot water systems and gas heaters at their appliance division in Sydney. The company was relatively small and personal. It was very safety conscious and had a permanent first aid post with a nursing attendant full-time. Jim Killen was the Safety Officer at the time of my appointment and that week won the seat of Moreton for the Liberal party gaining them a majority in Canberra. There were two other technical trainees at Bulimba, one was scheduling for the machine shop and the other watching the production line. I was brought in for scheduling work for the machine shop leaving the other two for the production side. At that time the company had an incentive scheme for the process workers. This was gauged on a time and motion study to set the base throughput and extra was paid for exceeding this, so plant layout was critical for best performance with regular maintenance of the plant at all stages. This was the area for the other two trainees who had been there a couple of years and had a trade background. We all answered to the Plant Superintendent who answered to the Branch Engineer and the Branch Manager. The accountant was also a key operator in the system avoiding any waste in expenditure.
The machine shop, under the control of a foreman, contained machines and equipment to make and repair items for producing the company’s products and the production line with its presses, shears, flash welders, paint spray booths, drum seam rolls etc., needed a constant reserve of spares which were built in-house. On the machine shop floor were three lathes including one very large lathe, a shaping machine, a universal milling machine, a tool and cutting grinding machine, various drill benches and grinders. There was a welding bay and an area for the toolmaker and two hardness testing machines, a Vickers and a Rockwell machine. There was also a furnace and bath for heat-treating small items. Everything needed was there. It was compact and functional and it was the Scheduler’s job to see the materials were available to keep the machine operators going. The office was on a mezzanine floor to one side of the machine shop, where the surroundings were clearly visible. This was the Superintendent’s office as well. Remote from the factory, between the Administrative Block and the Drawing Office, was the steel stock pile consisting of various steel sections, flats, angles, plates of various thicknesses and tubes, rounds and spectral steels suitable for heat treatment and case hardening.
Around this time the Suez crisis was on so there was an increase in the stockpile of special steel in case the supply from overseas was cut off. This area also had a reciprocating saw to cut material to length. The drawing office would draw up the machine with an assembly plan followed by a parts plan where each element was detailed. From these plans a materials list was prepared for each item nominating the material size required to make it allowing for cut-off tolerances and machining tolerances and which machines would be necessary to produce the part. From this list the material was obtained from the stockpile or else ordered in especially for the job. The machine shop foreman took it from there when the parts material was ready. After machining there was often heat treatment of some dies or tools and these were scheduled out to specialists companies when they could not be done in house. After treatment the hardness was checked and the part scheduled for final finish or grinding to fit matching punch and die. It was an interesting and constant job and would become very apparent if you slipped up and had operators waiting for materials with machine down-time. So I settled into work at Rheem.