For the Love of Old Boilers

by Northern Life

Phoenix Boilermakers a boiler making firm in Heywood established in1871 was where ex-boilermaker and engineer turned researcher, writer and photographer, Alan McEwen worked throughout the early 1960s. Alan, who you may have seen featured in previous editions of Northern Life has written a new book ‘Rivet Lad’. In it he talks about his ‘lusty tales of boiler making in the Lancashire Mill Towns of the 1960s with his pals Carrot, whom earned his nickname due to his ‘unruly shock of vivid, bright orange hair’, Reuben, renowned for being ‘strong as an ox’, Tulip, who had ‘evidently served a prison sentence for bigamy’, and Paddy whose main goal was to ‘bed buxom blonde bar maids and sup barrels of Lancashire brewed ale’. Refering to himself as ‘an old hog’ who as a ‘young sprog’ loved hammering on rusty old iron steam boilers. Alan’s unique take on his formative working years will not fail to entertain.

Here is a ‘riveting’ extract from Alan’s exciting new book.

One early Friday evening, Carrot, Reuben, Teddy Tulip, Paddy O’Boyle and the author found ourselves ensconced in the warmth of the Red Lion Tap Room, enjoying the ale and the convivial atmosphere. I was savouring the taste of the Barley wine sloshing around in a glass.

“Ah’ve gathered ye lads here toneet, to tell thee all about a large job the firm’s just getten.”

Alan McEwen

Alan with another great read 😉

Exhorted our ginger-nutted pal and Chief Boilermaker, Carrot. “Th’spot we’re gooin’ to is an owd dye house called Pepperstocks Flood Root Dye Works, an’ ‘cos yon dye ‘ouse gaffers are wantin’, a knackered owd Lanky boiler harkin’ back to 1912 bein’ converted into a steam accumulator, and as fast as possible, then lads, th’ Phoenix bosses hev towd me that we can work all th’hours God sends, as long as th’ accumulator’ is up and runnin’ by th’ end o’ January.”

“Aye, sounds awreet!” barked the Squad second in command, Reuben, his Capstan Full Strength tab doing a merry jig on his ale-wetted bottom lip. Teddy and Paddy nodded their approval too.

“What abeawt thee, Alan, Doust thy fancy gobblin’ a pocket foo o’ brass?” asked Carrot, turning around to face me with a huge grin. Swigging off the remnants of the Barley wine, I held up my thumb as an act of approval.

“Reet lads, th’ jobs a good’un. The next round o’ ale and ah’ suppose a Barley wine for thee Alan is on Phoenix.” Carrot exclaimed.

Smiles all around. The Swales Lancashire Ale and the Barley wine never tasted better!

The following Monday morning at 6.30, with me driving the Ford Thames 6-ton van, all five of us Boilermakers set off during a serious deluge of sleet and hailstones. It was bitterly cold and I was trembling like the van’s huge, dancing steering wheel. Thick snow covered the roofs of the numerous cotton mills and houses. The few men we saw scurrying about trodding into the mills and factories were well wrapped up in overcoats and wearing caps.

The few lasses seen were also wrapped up against the cold in oldfashioned shawls. Climbing up Bury New Road, the Ford Thames 6-tonner diesel engine throatily roared.

“When we reach Wham Bar, give yon horn a toot.” Instructed Carrot, whose ale-supping, fag-smoking best mate lived hereabouts.

“If the bugger opens his door then stop the van for mi mate owes me a fiver!”

But, Carrot’s friend’s door remained closed!’

If you want to read more of Alan’s fascinating tales, his book Rivet Lad is available to buy from Amazon or from Sledgehammer Engineering Press Ltd