The 1940s and 1950s

When war broke out our repair shops were full of work for the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Forestry Commission.

I was called up for military service and had to report to Leeds Barracks. A week before leaving I telephoned Colonel Price (of Shellabear Price) for a position with the Royal Engineers, working with Caterpillar tractors. A few days later my orders were cancelled and I was instructed to continue with my work. And that is what I did, meeting the challenge of keeping machines at work without new spares. We even successfully welded a broken D8 crankshaft together.

In 1940 we found that it would cost us £100 to form a new company, or £30 to change the name of a company. So the Briton Car Company changed its name to Tractor Spares Limited. That name better reflected what we were actually doing, and that is the name we still use. But it is still the same company, providing us with a direct line back into the history of transport in Wolverhampton.

In 1945 Tractor Spares bought ten buildings, totalling 2,250 square feet, on the south-west side of Chillington Fields, from SEBCO.

In 1945 there was an auction sale at Ashchurch, near Tewkesbury, of American war surplus. The night before there was three feet of snow. The only people who got to the auction were five people who had stayed overnight in Tewkesbury, and me. I flew down in the company's plane, GAHZU and landed in a field about 100 yards from the auction room. The auctioneer suggested we all sit round a table and make offers. None of us had viewed the lots, so we all bought lots at silly prices. One lot unseen was 10 link trainers at £10 each. The packing cases alone were worth that. I did bid £10 for some packing cases, but someone else bid £11 and got them. After the sale I looked inside them and found it was lead lined and contained beautifully polished sea burial coffins, silk lined, which must have cost £500 each. When I got back to my plane, the farmer wanted to know who had given me permission to land on his field. After apologising, I found that he had a TD18 tractor and wanted four top rollers for it. So I sold him four at a special price and left him very happy.

In 1946 we supplied vast quantities of spares to Tanganyika for the Ground Nut Scheme, which of course turned out to be abortive. Our cases of supplies stood on the quay at Lindi for years, and when they did pick them up the contents fell in the sea. Termites had eaten away the bases.

That year too I started supplying tractor seats. The fuel tanks on Caterpillar tractors were placed in such a way that whenever the tank was filled, the seats got a good soaking in diesel. Local customers bought in their seats for reconditioning. I soon found that we could make new ones more cheaply, and to do this I employed an upholsterer, a man of such miserable appearance that I called him "Happy". We only had to cater for four models of tractor, and as the original American seat groups were very expensive, this business developed a healthy turnover.

In May I flew up to Doncaster and purchased, from Sun Engineering Company a good deal of their equipment, including a Tocco 125kw induction hardening plant, for hardening pin, bushings and lower rollers, and moved the whole lot to Chillington Fields, along with some of Sun's staff.

With a lot of new equipment the electricity supply to our new factory was not sufficient, so we approached the MEB to quote for a 6,000 volt cable from Willenhall Road.  They told us to build a brick transformer house. The work only took us two weeks and the transformer was delivered. MEB then told us that the cable to connect to it would be delivered in two or three years. So within three weeks I got some cable from a friend, Albert Trigg, of Pipewell Ploughing & Company. When the MEB saw the cable they were not impressed and threatened to requisition it for their own use. So I threatened to burn the cable, with their lorry in view, and the Express and Star present. The new electricity supply was installed a few weeks later.

In 1946 an employee, Jack Gordon, asked for help in setting up on his own, and so we formed Trackparts (Hatfield) Limited, which produced a number of new export accounts for us.
That year another opportunity came up.  I spotted 25 American Jeeps in a scrap yard near Leeds. They only had 20 to 30 miles on the speedometer, and were complete, except for axe, shovel, battery and rotor arms.  I bought them at £25 each. So a party of us made several journeys, taking petrol and rotor arms with us, to collect them. They all started first time. 

I licensed and painted one, but found it troublesome at first, as the police kept stopping me, thinking I had stolen it from the US Army. But four wheel drives were not available on the market at the time and so I was able to sell all of the Jeeps to farmers, at £450 each. During the next few years I dealt in a lot more Jeeps, but then thousands were dumped on the market, and selling became unprofitable. By then I had some 400 Jeeps piled one on top of another at Chillington Fields. So I sold the lot to Premium Motors of Brighton for £10,000.

On October 28th, 1946 we incorporated a new company Tractor Supplies Limited at 35 New Road, Peterborough to promote agricultural spare parts sales for Tractor Spares Limited's products on the east coast.

In 1950 Geoff Woodward of General Engineers (Wolverhampton) Limited, who had a small factory near Dunstall Race Course, found that his lease was running out and he could not afford to move. He offered me the company in exchange for my employing him for ten years. In that way another company joined the fold.

For some years after the war there had been great difficulty in obtaining sprocket banjo copper bellow seals. So we set up a small workshop at Chillington Fields and started to make them. Eventually, in 1961, we formed a separate company to carry out this work called Tractor Sure Seals (G.B.) Limited.

There was an important development in 1953 when we purchased 16.3 acres of pit mounds in Strawberry Lane. We bought them from Universal Engineers for £5,500. They had themselves bought them only the day before for £1,500. 

I also purchased a cottage and farm outhouses on the corner of Neachells Lane and Strawberry Lane.

With this land available we started to expand rapidly. By 1956 the first nine workshop bays had been built and we moved our reconditioning plant there from Chillington Fields.

By the end of 1956 we were handling over 200 tracks per month.

We had work from the Forestry Commission and the US Army and were official reconditioners for John Fowler and David Brown.

   Strawberry Lane site shortly after we bought the site and when
   development was just starting.  The photo was taken from my
   plane, a Miles Messenger, GAHZU.

       The land at Strawberry Lane with 30 factory units under
On the ground where bays H and J are built, there stood a wooden shack on 2,060 square yards of land, lived in by a couple with a shower of children.

I paid the couple £3,500 to evacuate within three weeks. As they moved out of the front door, we bulldozed the shack down.

In 1959 we received our largest ever order. Fidel Castro had taken over in Cuba in 1957. There were a lot of Caterpillar tractors already on the island, but the government would not buy American goods. So an order for £3,000,000 worth of spares came to us.

Chillington Fields 180kw, 10,000 hertz induction hardening plant.
Chillington Fields track pin and brush machine shop.
In 1958 I purchased a 20 seater Bedford mobile cinema with a 16mm projector and its own 230 volt AC generator.

We produced our own films:  Keep on the Right Track I, II and II; and "The Black Country".

The interior of the cinema, which also contained a cocktail bar.

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