It all started for me back there in 1967 when I was a young lad of 16 and wanted a career as a skilled craftsman. I had been for an interview at Drakelow, which was only 9 miles from my home, but they sent me to Willington power station, 16 miles away. I had to buy a motorcycle with money loaned from my mother and I remember riding through Repton hollows and through Repton village itself.
I started in instruments (IMD) and on the first day a machinist in the fitting shop signed me up to the union. He also helped me draw my first tools out of the stores and I still have a screwdriver from then, 37 years ago. I've been in the union ever since and to me it was very good advice. I have many memories and flash backs from my years there :-
Two of you walking across to 'B' Stn with burner rods on your shoulder after stripping and cleaning the jets, Coupling up the Chlorine drums using piggy tails and copper washers then spraying the joints to test for leaks, getting ready all the time to run for the door. The mezzanine floor under 'B' Stn control room, spending hours hiding away. Riding on the loco's and the cosy loco shed, The feed pumps (Weirs) that kept leaking steam and were always in bits, calibrating 'C' type bourdon gauges, they were everywhere hundreds of them, The Beatles were in the charts at that time and one record takes me right back to 'B' station even now. The pump house in the field by the Trent, carrying 20 ft long sensors out there across the main road, Working on the sootblowers outside in the rain on 'A' station. Undercutting a Synchronous motor again, it lasted a week - hundreds of segments.
Then it was time for a year of full time Technical college at Burton on Trent, great times, 3 classes around 50 C.E.G.B. apprentices and come July we were all back at our stations. I still wanted to work at Drakelow but to get there I had to transfer to Electrical (EMD) so I moved across to the electrical shop for a few months before my transfer came through.
Mr French was the Electrical Engineer then and I do recall having to go to see him weekly with my notebook and tell him of everything I had learnt and worked on that week. He was a sharp mannered man I used to be scared stiff, but looking back it did you good in the end. Nowadays the young apprentices are very casual and care free but we had to behave or else.
I recall one day being told that my motorbike chain needed greasing, so I asked what grease could I use, that black graphite grease there son, so I put it on the chain my hands were black and it does not wash off, I kept trying to clean them. Then they persuaded me I had used the wrong grease and it would all have to come off again. So 5 minutes later I ended up covered in it again getting it off and when I walked back into the shop they were in hysterics. Go fetch a long weight from the stores. A wavy blade for the hacksaw, we had fun in those days it's all gone now. That's how it was at Willington a happy ship a great place to work at and I still left. I remember the night that Derby beat Chelsea in the cup, the next morning the locker room was covered in black and white, singing, the station was full of ram's fans. Yes the Brian Clough's golden years were just starting then and what an era.
The station then was base load, 'A' Stn was built with good solid 104 MW units which I recall were always turning and the backbone to the C.E.G.B. at the time. But 'B' Stn was different, bigger 200MW units, but the feed pumps I mentioned let it down. Mind you it did it's share of generating, but for me Stn 'A' was the best.
I left in 1968 to Drakelow 'C' - a station with two good units and two others always blowing something and in bits. In 1971 I came out of my time as an Electrical Fitter. Since then I have had a very varied career involving both Electrical and Mechanical skills but the C.E.G.B. training and experience stays with you forever.
I did go back to Willington for an open day in the 90's and took my family along. I walked over parts that I remembered from 20 or so years ago and I visited the mechanical workshops - not on the tour route but I had to look. Another life started there for me as after being a shop steward I went into local government and I am still there.
Then one day I cut through from Swarkestone bridge on the road to Burton. Approaching the station I realised it looked different, what's that ? I slowed the car to see just a big pile of twisted metal where B station was. Then I realised the pile was the station, it gutted me for a while. I still have and will have very fond memories of Willington.
Even though it is over 30 years ago I still recall my 3 years as a craft apprentice in the electrical department of Drakelow 'C' Power Station. I arrived there after being transferred from Willington Power Station but I knew several other apprentices from the training at Burton Technical College. None of my friends however were in the electrical department so there I was thrust into a shop full of around 50 strangers. There were shift and day workers; Electricians and mates but all the apprentices were working on the day shift.
Many of the Electricians there were ex pit and had the benefit of a good apprenticeship, they had chose to work for the C.E.G.B. because the wages were slightly better and in most cases so were the conditions. The day shifts only worked on certain jobs - sootblowers, battery room, installation work, oil burners, lifts and routine breakdowns. I recall being handed around the shop from one electrician to the next, then I was captured by the lift man called Fred. I must have spent 6 months on lifts riding up and down on them, in them and on the top of the cab. I knew a lot about lifts but I needed more training on the vast range of equipment in the station.
Again I was put in the pool and that's where the fun started. The electricians got up to things you would not dare do now and one I will never forget is a sump pump that would not run. It was over in the ash plant and we went to look at it. The electrician said that the float had come off, and it is in the sump come on lets go to the stores. At the stores we obtained a set of waders and back at the pump I was helped into them then lowered into the water. As I stood up I started sinking in the fine sand but all I heard was find the float so I put my arms into the freezing water and I managed to find it. Hand it here I was told and away went the electrician to fix it leaving me freezing and stuck in the pit. He did not return for 30 minutes and bought with him another electrician who thought my predicament was very funny. Then they decided enough was enough we will get him out, but they could not move me. It took a rope and four of them to pull me out 20 minutes later and I was in a state but you did not let them see it.
There was always someone picking on me an instance of that was at the end of the shift. Three of them grabbed me got me on the floor put the bottom of my boiler suit in a vice and the other 6 foot away in the other vice so I could not undo them. Then the big tea pot full of tea leaves was poured down my trouser leg and to finish I had a hand cleaner shampoo an engineer had to release me. They hoisted me up with a rope and left me dangling.
There were many more but the best was on the day I passed out the end of my apprenticeship. It was custom that the apprentice was carried out to the fish pond and thrown in where all the green slime and horrible stuff was. So expecting that I was put in a car taken to The Crown where pints of beer were bought for me to drink. We left and I knew what was next, BUT when we entered the gates we drove right to 'A' & 'B' station. Soon it was clear the pond was not for me, instead I was thrown into the River Trent and I could not swim. They offered to help me out but I knew hey would only throw me back in.
Looking back they were great years a CO2 extinguisher let off behind you when you are in a motor casing. Connecting a megger to an Aluminium ladder you are on and giving you a 500 volt shock. Memories only once in ones lifetime.