I started my apprenticeship in 1978, prior to that I was a bit lost as to what to do with myself – I did think about Glasgow School of Art. Pete Stimpson, who was the foreman, stuck us in a corner with a propane burner and a welding set for several weeks to learn the basics..
I worked with Jock (Boney) Campbell, Davie Wilson and Willie Sloss. Jock was a real grafter, the “Wheelhouse King”, and a thoroughly nice man. I learned a lot from him and recall using an early Plasma Arc cutter for wheelhouse windows on Aluminium. He occasionally talked of his time fighting the Japanese in Burma in WW2 and had a great respect for the Japanese Soldier. One day some sparks set fire to foam or something and the entire shed filled with acrid black smoke. Everyone was outside, except for Jock, we could hear him hammering away in a wheelhouse, refusing to leave his post.
The characters were aplenty: The Doo, The Tiger, Archie Ma, and Ernie on the cutting table, grinder in hand. Andy, the painter, was always up for a tune, usually the “Rose of Picardy” and Eddie “The Roadrunner” was always full of mischief. We used to boil water for tea in a can using a propane burner. I remember that going to the Hall Hotel for lunchtime pints was popular – we’d squeeze in some chips as well.
I worked outside for a while with Davy Wilson – we were putting a rear diesel tank on a wee boat, the “Cajana”, it rained a lot and most of what I recall is electric shocks from the welding tongs!
Working with Willie Sloss was also great experience – sheet metal work and some developments for vents. We even got to go to the POL (Petroleum and Oil) jetty site once to measure giant vents on the hilltop tanks, a job that never came off, whilst I was with him. When we went there it was was amazing to walk the ramparts of the Iron Age Fort, as normally the public never see it, because it is a restricted area.
Willie Sloss, plater at Campbeltown Shipyard. Photo: Billy McLean.
For the first two years we went to Glasgow, a week in every month for Shipbuilding Studies – it was quite an education, amongst the city guys who seemed a lot more streetwise than me. It was very educational though, with some utterly mad tutors at college. The last two years saw us travel up one day a week: Stan Watson, Iain McKerral, Billy and Bobby McLean, Jamie Martin, Davie Dewar, Archie Coffield and many others, all getting our City and Guilds.
Campbeltown Shipyard. Photo courtesy of Jan MacDonald.
Just before my Apprenticeship was finished, we a had short time working and then some redundancies in 1982. A few months after getting my Trade papers, I was away to Ardersier then Kishorn and spent several years in the oil industry. I’ve never regretted my time at the shipyard, it gave me skills, life experience and many great memories. It always felt like its own wee world over there at the Trench Point, so many skills learned and folk well met..
Now it’s full circle, I’m painting about steel construction in 4th year at Art School. I’m grateful for all the experiences and friendships, the Shipyard may be gone but it’s never forgotten.
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