Colin F. Jones

~ Once Upon A Time ~
THE MECHANIC

I worked at a garage in a town called Macksville owned by Nev Harge. It was an old shed really that used to be a blacksmiths shop. We serviced English cars built by Lark Hoskins, mostly Austin and Morris cars, because we were the agent for them and sold quite a few. The very popular Austin A40 had been replaced with the new A50 with its complete new shape, but with much the same four-cylinder engine.

These new cars were not as good as the older ones, perhaps with the exception of the brilliant six-cylinder Austin A90.

This was actually my first real job. My pay was three pounds sterling per week, which was the price of a pair of overalls I had to buy to work in. I was nearly fifteen and I always wanted to be a motor mechanic like my dad. We lived four miles away across the river so I had to get up early enough to walk to work.

Mostly I was employed to Grease and oil change cars and trucks but I was soon also pulling out engines fitting new brake linings into brake shoes, doing valve grinds, fitting new universal joints and all that sort of thing. I did not however receive any more money than the amount I first started with.

It was really a pittance, when you consider that I could work on a farm or Banana Plantation for ten pounds sterling plus food for the week. But I was too shy to ask for more money, and I also knew that I would be replaced with some other kid if I did.

When Nev decided to buy a block of land on the side of the new highway on which he wanted to build a new service station. I became his instant builder labourer. The entire floor space was to be concrete, with a working pit in the far corner. With shovel and wheelbarrow, I filled the whole floor by myself with cement for the builders, thus Nev did not have to pay the builders to do it.

I had a little workbook in which I wrote in the time I worked on the cars, the same as the two mechanics had. I pulled out and replaced lots of engines but my expertise was repairing brake systems. For my work the customer was paying two pounds sterling per hour; he charged the same for the mechanic who worked with me thus doubling the cost of the work. Still I had not received a rise in pay after three years.

One day a new mini came in for an insurance job, it had been crashed and we were to get it ready for inspection. It was pretty bent and buckled but one side was good, and both doors had not been damaged. So we were told to put a few holes in the doors with a crow bar so the car would be paid for as a write off.

I almost became hysterical when the insurance bloke, knocked back both doors and the whole right side of the car, so we had to repair them at cost to poor old Nev. On this occasion his greed had backfired.

The mechanic had worked on the engine of the local milkman’s Austin A40 van. But he brought it back saying he was still having trouble with it. This time when the head was removed we found two cracks in the valve seats. The mechanic had missed them.

The problem for Nev was that if he told the milkman what the problem was he would have to refund the money paid for the original work. He had for a while been trying to get the milkman to buy a new Austin A50. And felt that he had almost succeeded in selling him one.

So what we were told to do was to pull an old worn out head from under the bench and swap it for the damaged one in the car. The head would maybe last a couple of weeks, in which time the milkman would have purchased the new car and would not be any wiser. So he paid twice for the job and of course later bought the new car.

Many customers never knew what was going on under the bonnets of their cars; it was general practice to fit second hand parts and have the customer pay for new ones.

Once the new service station was built I was getting a bit too old, (almost 16) for him to risk not giving me a pay rise. It was time for me to go, to be replaced by another 14 year old.

When the Government inspector came around my time books just disappeared off the bench because he knew I was going to show them. He told me if asked that all I did around the place was sweep the floors. Unfortunately the inspector never got to me. For some reason he did not talk to me at all to ask me any questions.

I was fired because I was not doing my job properly. When I told my dad, he said nothing, but a week later he asked me to fit a new main leaf spring under the rear of his car. This I did, because I had done hundreds of them before, it was easy. Dad then visited Mr Nev Harge and told him what a liar and cheat he was. But Harge went on to be president of the RSL club etc, etc. and I would never become a motor mechanic. But it did not matter; I would be able to fix my car if it broke down; that is if I ever got to own one.

I had driven a car on a couple occasions, once on “the farm” I backed dads little Austin 7 out of the shed, straight through the Bull Paddock fence some fifty yards behind me, and down the hill, through the paddock to come to a stop a few feet from the creek.

At least I knew where the accelerator was, and that pushing it, instead of the brake, made the car go. I had also discovered how to put the car in reverse, had I found a forward gear, who knows, I might have discovered how sturdy the rear wall of the shed was. Perhaps I was not really cut out to be a Motor Mechanic. But well, I did my best, but sometimes your best is not good enough.

Above all I had learnt again that people were not as I had been taught to believe they were. I trusted everyone; that was an obvious mistake.