|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
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
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
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.