Happy days working to build big rig

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MEMORY Lane’s article about the Thistle A oil platform (July 31)brought back plenty of memories for readers.

Fred Gibbon, of Masefield Road, Hartlepool, wrote: “ I was first employed in the fuel office with a chap called George the Oil, and was immediately dubbed Fred the Fuel.

“A chap called Geoff Ramsell was Stock Controller in the stockyard, and at one time, held that position at Foster Wheeler, and I knew him well. Piggy Martin was stockyard foreman, and he was recalled back to the main office in the south, so that position was open to offers. I applied and got the job.

“In the stockyard we had a diesel train and derrick which transported materials to the basin for construction. Kipper (John) Heron operated the train, but I forget who drove the derrick.

“After the float out, as it was routine on the completion of the rigs, we held a party, which cost a couple of thousand pounds, quite a sum in those days, and many who were not employed by the company enjoyed the fruits of our labours (booze).

 Things appeared to be normal after the float out, except for the fact that the stockyard cabin man never turned up for work.

“Unusual for him as he had never lost a day in the time he was employed in the yard. Two days later he was found on the outskirts of the site under a tarpaulin, still drunk, clutching a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels and two empty bottles beside him.

“Alf Davis was the convenor and chair person, being ex-Royal Navy as was I, and also a great pal of mine, did splendid work for the yards workers.

“Overall the lads worked hard and were a happy lot. The closing of the yard meant job losses, and it’s a pity, for the yard employed thousands of workers vital to the prosperity of our town.

“The town has never been the same since the yards closure.

E Slater, of Ash Grove Avenue, Hartlepool, recalled: “I worked on Thistle A firstly as a plater’s mate, then a welder’s mate, later on as a cabin man on the standby, which consisted of so many men, platers, welders, scaffolders and mates, also labourers, kept on site while the rig was floated out.

“I recall a panic as the lock gates were opened letting the sea in, and allowing the platform to float. It turned out that one of the anchor chains hadn’t been cut, so the platform was still tethered to the ground. A burner had to burn through the links to free it off – rather him than me – that was early morning.

“The yard itself was massive, the hole or basin that the platform was built in could accommodate Wembley Stadium without any part being visible from the road at Graythorpe.

“1976 was a scorcher and at the time, when I was a welder’s mate, our job, as well as clearing up the site, entailed pulling welding sets out of the basin and onto the heavy fab area, with ex-army 1948 Mk 1 Landrovers (worth a fortune now.)

“I remember the basin was covered in dolomite, a soft yellow type stone, and when the Manitowax Cranes used to go over it, it would be pulverised, so any vehicle going over the ground would create a dust cloud.

“When I got home I looked like a desert rat, covered head to foot in yellow dust.

“The canteen was subsidised and the food was excellent, also very cheap, the girls serving were really good at their jobs, and a truly happy environment to work in.

“I remember that Haig and Ringrose did all the electrics and were paid off first, they were all asked to stay on with us at Laings.

“Some did stay on with us tidying up after the scaffolders had stripped the rig. They all got an extra £300 on top of their first pay off pay! Not bad, but well deserved.

“The coldest place on God’s earth, in my eyes, was Laings yard in the winter. One morning around 6am the wind off the sea turned the whole platform a white frozen sparkling picture in seconds, I’ve not seen the likes before.

“I enjoyed working with all the lads there, we did have some characters, we also had a lot of time cabined up, through bad weather, possibly the main reason why Thistle A was launched in August instead of July.”