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A Shout From The Attic: The Mummy-Daddy Years - 8

...So continued the life of the DB6 project storeman and his diurnal round of fighting iciness, moisture, and their redheaded offspring, rust. Otherwise, life was good and I worked with a song ever on my lips. It was, it seemed, destined to go on until the last DB had its borning at Huddersfield...

Ronnie Bray tells of a small accident while he was helping in the production of one of the world's most desirable motor cars.

Spray it Again - My Small But Viltal Contribution to the Aston Martin DB6

Although this event occurred thirty-nine years ago, I only remembered it today when speaking with my wife, Gay, about something else, the subject and nature of which having taken place no more than ten minutes ago has completely vanished from my memory. It was not always like that. I once had an incredible memory that almost reached the level of photographic. Details seen for but a fleeting moment were locked in my mental steel strong box until needed, when they were recalled immediately and without breaking into a sweat or issuing a single grunt.

But in the case in point it was not a failure of memory that brought about the florid décor in an unlikely place, but a failure to understand simple physics and the rate of transference of thermodynamic forces though thin metal, liquid, and peculiarly delicious legumes. But I run ahead of myself. Let me first set the stage before describing the incident.

Because I had been injured in a traffic accident, in which I was the innocent victim, I had to change my employment from vigorous physical tasks to something less demanding but more cerebral. It happened at the same time that the Aston Martin Company was fashioning its newest star, the DB6 Mk I motor vehicle. Aston Martin had been bought by David Brown Ltd., the Huddersfield company world famed for its agricultural tractors, and as it had a fabrication plant on St Andrews Road in Huddersfield, it was decided to manufacture the chassis frames there and then ship them to other premises to have the rest of the fast driving machine added.

I was offered the job of setting up the store for all the parts that went into chassis construction, organising them any way I wished, so that they were accessible in sets for the welders to form them into the finished product. I ought to have insisted in a downstairs location entirely, but settled for a two-story storage area off the main workshop area.

I organised the construction of staging to receive the discrete parts that had been either nibbled or stamped out of sheet steel, and was not displeased by the whitewash that was liberally applied to the stone walls to give an air of it being something more than an old barn. Personally, I have never considered whitewash useful as camouflage used to convince the non-brain-dead that the primeval construction in which they stand is actually a state-of-the-art purpose-built facility for housing materials for one of the world’s greatest, and most costly, internal combustion vehicles. The Company seemed not to notice the irony of its décor relative to its contents, but that was about to change. The year would be 1967, so perhaps the crusty walls fitted the times, and they certainly did provide a serious industrial aura for the stores.

There were two serious disadvantages besides the décor. First was its location, sandwiched between the River Colne and the Turnbridge stretch of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. Once I was advised to move to Bournemouth to escape the life-threatening murrain of the clammy damp environs of Huddersfield. My creaking skeleton tells how well I heeded informed medical opinion. The second drawback was the Perma-cold that afflicts Huddersfield and its ancient stone buildings.

The steel parts of the future luxury car were not stainless, and so were susceptible to cold and damp, the latter more particularly having a deleterious effect on the components by inducing them to spawn large areas of corrosion. This fault being noticed by the ruling classes who wandered through the factory in suits, I was instructed to apply an anti-rusting compound – remarkable similar in shade and odour to Holt’s grey primer – to what would become the insides of the main chassis rails when they were spot welded together to form box sections.

The second nod to the premises and the atmospheric conditions was the provision of two very large gas heaters that were mounted on the end walls close to the ceiling on the upper level. They went part of the way to reduce condensation but nothing would have stopped it altogether except a move to the central part of the Sahara Desert.

So continued the life of the DB6 project storeman and his diurnal round of fighting iciness, moisture, and their redheaded offspring, rust. Otherwise, life was good and I worked with a song ever on my lips. It was, it seemed, destined to go on until the last DB had its borning at Huddersfield. The decorations were not.

I will not pretend to be the instrument of destiny, fate, Kismet, or any other lavish musical, but I did unconsciously have a hand in the redecoration of my corner of David Brown’s house of industry. It came about on this wise. That part of Brown’s empire did not boast canteen and no mobile café came within close proximity, and if it had, hidden in isolation in the inner reaches of the factory, I would never have known. Therefore, I was left to fend for myself in the nourishment department.

On the fateful day, I had taken with me a small tin of Heinz baked beans for my lunch. A spoon, a slice of well buttered bread, and a salt shaker completed my gustatory apparatus, and all that was left was for the bean to be heated. Having a short errand to perform, I decisioned to place the tin of beans on top of the aluminium deflector on top of one of the wall heaters, so that when I returned, they would be at temperature to be enjoyed as they satisfied my hunger and staved off the cold from inside.

Like many ‘short’ errands, this one took a little longer than anticipated. With sudden realisation ringing bells in my head, I dashed back to the store to open the tin. Taking the wooden stairs five at a time I found that the tin was already opened. The more than faint smell of carbonised tomato sauce and the perfect distribution of orange blobs on the walls, ceiling, floor, and contents revealed that the moisture in the tin had superheated to steam and exploded, spraying the those-were-the-beanz-that-were in an almost perfectly evenly distributed pattern.

This would have been a good time to invent the steam engine, but some fellow got there ahead of me. Instead of finding my place in the Inventor’s Hall of Fame, I was relegated to the Clean-up Detachment, a lonely organization of one, me, made even lonelier by the unsatisfied hunger gnawing at me vitals. Stupidity keeps a hard school, but fools will learn in no other.


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