More Memories of a Field Service Engineer 5

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More Memories of a Field Service Engineer
by Brian Dye

Introduction: The author worked for one of the largest Ford tractor dealerships in England as a trouble-shooter on tractor engines, hydraulics and combine harvesters from 1963 to 1972. In 1972 he became a dealer manager and finally left the dealer net in 1975 to run his own electronic design and manufacturing company. [Editor]

As Christmas approaches my mind goes back to the early 1970's and to a period I spent working towards a "Master Service Technician" award.

Ford Motor Company decided to award certain standards of achievement on training courses.

If a mechanic on a Ford training course achieved over 90% pass in the written exam at the end of the course, he could put this towards his MST. Ford also kept records of the test results which could be passed on as a reference for a future employer.

When I applied for a managers position later in my career, these were used to verify my abilities as far as the tractor side of the job was concerned.

The benefit of the MST was a higher hourly rate payment, kudos for the dealership, if a mechanic left the dealership for another Ford dealership he would not have to go through a trial period. His qualification meant he could go straight in at the top hourly rate.

He also got to wear a badge saying "Master Service Technician" on his overalls.

The courses on which the 90% had to be achieved were: Engines, Fuel Systems, Electrical Systems, Transmissions inc. Selectospeed, Hydraulics and Diagnostic Hydraulics. The questions were not multiple choice but entailed writing a full explanation of the fault and repair in your own words.

In our dealership only two of us were in the running for the first batch of these to be awarded. This was because Fred and I grabbed at any course we could get and there was a certain friendly rivalry between us.

We are both the same age. Fred had been working on the Fordson tractor from his apprenticeship days. He and I had been put to work together to bring me up to speed on the Fordson in my early days with the company and our friendship blossomed.

We did daft things together. Fred was the only fitter with a Ford Thames 15cwt van. All the other vans were Ford Anglia 7 cwt vans. We each had our own which went every where with us. No one else was allowed to drive "my" van.

All the inside was equipped with your own tool kit which you had bought so it was only fair you kept your own vehicle. We carried a full kit of spanners, bars, books, special tools, jacks, blocks, draining baths and spares.

Fred was proud of the speed he could get out of his van and would race anyone to a set point (usually the nearest coffee shop) when we set off to our different farms in the morning. My Anglia was nearly as fast.

The Anglia was the first four speed gearbox Ford had introduced. With a 1300 overhead valve engine in front and the four speed box you could get up to 70mph down a long hill and with a following wind. The funny thing was the van was faster in third than it was in top. The van was nearly always overloaded.

We had a novel way of dealing with engine overhauls. We always left part of the tractor on the farm. The last thing a farmer wants to see is his tractor disappearing into the distance on a lorry. We would remove the front axle, side channel and radiator assembly. Fit two angle iron brackets with bearings on the bottom to the front mounts of the engine, reverse the van over the engine, drop it down and remove the bolts from around the clutch housing, wriggle and shove and you had an engine in the back of the van to take home to repair.

After overhauling the engine it was back to the farm, fit two short side channel to the gearbox housing, a couple of old water pump bearings on either side of the rear of the engine to run up the short channels, wriggle and shove and back would go the engine, out of the van, and up the rails and on to the dowels in the clutch housing.

This way of working was used on all the Ford tractor engines up to the 7000 and on combine engines as well but that's for a later story.

The engines were taken back to the workshop and stripped down. Then they were placed in a giant chemical steam cleaner. The complete engine, in bits, was run into the cleaner on a mesh screen and an hour later would appear completely clean and unpainted for re-assembly. Fuel injection pumps, injectors, dynamo and starter motor were all taken to our special workshop and overhauled by Jock and his work mate. All the fitters spent some time in here getting experience of the technicalities of electric's and fuel systems. We could completely overhaul a Major or Super engine in three days.

Our line manager used to pit Fred and I against each other to see who could overhaul an engine quickest. From early January to late March one year Fred and I overhauled 50 Major and Super Major engines, 25 each. And we were only two of the team of service engineers.

Day 1. Go to the farm, drop out a Major engine, back to base, dismantle it, take one out of the cleaner, put in the next,

Day 2. Re-assemble the cleaned one. Paint it ready to put back in on the third morning. Overtime worked as required!

Day 3. Back to its farm with the rebuilt unit, Fit it and run it. Go to another farm. drop out a third engine. Repeat Day 1, 2 and 3.

We used a lot of service parts. New cylinder heads, crank shafts, water pumps, dynamos and starter motors were put into service and the old units serviced in our spare time if there was no time to service them when doing the engine.

We always used to try and "tweak" each engine. There was the friendly rivalry between ourselves. I always used to paint the fan blades on "my" engines Caterpillar Yellow. Fred used to ensure that "his" had silver tips to the fan blades. But what was more important was that we kept the "opposition" off our farms.

If there was the report of a Ferguson rep on one of our farms, any repairs had to be done in double quick time and really well done. Even if it was the repair of a combine or plough we had to show why "our" company was better than "theirs" and what experience the farmer would loose if he changed makes.

This was also the reason why "Master Service Technician" badges were important to us personally and to the company. I think it was called "pride in your work" and is something that seems to be missing from dealers today.

(Or is it the rose tinted glasses of time and hind sight).

Boreham House became my second home. You were required to carry out all the qualifying courses for MST in two years. Because others were also trying for the position in their dealerships, you nearly always met the same group on every course.

On all my courses on the required subjects there were only six other fitters .

Boreham House was a large country mansion that Henry Ford had bought along with the surrounding farm land and set up as a centre of excellence for teaching mechanised farming. It became the home of the demonstration teams and of the development side. The testing of rival tractors took place here and construction machinery training and demonstration teams were added as Ford expanded into these areas.

What better place was there to train dealer staff. Everyone met in the cellar bar in the evenings and talk of tractors flowed along with the beer.

Some of the instructors were characters in their own right. One Scottish instructor springs to mind. At 2 a.m. after a session in the bar, he would put on his kilt. pump up his bagpipes and walk through the house playing them at full blast.

On this particular course "Diagnostic Hydraulics", just before the Christmas holiday, there were only the six of us staying at Boreham.I needed this one course to complete my training.

No other courses were being run and we had the full concentration of Helga and the girls plus all the instructors and workshop staff. A number of tractors, ploughs and implements had been "rigged" for us as the course was to see if we could identify tractor problems from those caused by badly set or adjusted implements.

Also in residence were two "secret" tractors. The first of the 7000 turbocharged tractors and a 9000 a really giant tractor to us.

Unofficially we got a preview of both because of our small numbers. After completing our days field work, we were allowed to play with these new tractors. The 7000 was equipped with a four furrow reversible plough and the 9000 with a six furrow normal plough.

What fun we had that Wednesday afternoon. We ploughed and ploughed and ploughed. That evening, in the bar, we were all debating the advantages and disadvantages of the two tractors when Dave our instructor came in.

"You lot have got me into trouble" he complained. We were a little taken aback, we had not damaged either tractor, just burnt a few gallons of diesel.

"What's the problem Dave?" some one enquired

"You have ploughed the next six months demonstration sites this afternoon" said Dave "We have now got to find someone who will let us test on their land".

Thursday evenings at Boreham always were a bit special. It was the last evening for the courses in residence and Fords always put on a special meal for us.

This time it seemed really special. After a wonderful meal with wine, we all grouped in the large front hall of the building which contained marble fire places which dominated the area, and a huge polished round table, one of the finest I have seen.

A Christmas tree fully decorated had appeared in the corner of the hall. The girls had done a wonderful job on it. They were all going back to their own countries for the Christmas season and some who had finished their contracts would not be returning in the New Year.

Carol singers from the local church were in the hall and they led us in a selection of old carols by candle light. It was a clear frosty night and moonlight shone on the lake that stretched away from the front of the house.

It was really a magical setting and one that has stuck in my memory down the years. I never again had such a time at Boreham. Things changed and I moved on in my career. I went back for a number of other courses over the years but none captured that beautiful December evening or the previous week of work and learning with a group of mechanics who seemed to gel together well.

I got my Master Service Technician Qualification too.

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