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My Career Shows No Sign of Stopping

Monday 03 October 2016

Now in the evening of my life, I look back over 85 years and realise that I have been a lucky chap

Over these many years I have had, in equal measure, good and not so good times.  On reminiscing, the good times always seem to rise above the not so good times.

My family and friends know I enjoy listening to, and telling stories.  Like when I left boarding school in India and went in search of an apprenticeship in Calcutta.  There were many engineering factories in the city. My preference was ships, so I applied to Port Engineering Works to do a 5 year apprenticeship.  

The shipyard was well run by 5 Scottish Engineers.  I was trained in all the departments and learned a variety of skills. My training started as a mechanical fitter. Working with metal, I filed, chipped and with the help of a variety of machines shaped metal into useful components.

The foundry with its blast furnaces was where I was taught to pour molten metal into many shapes and sizes. The work was hot and dangerous.

The drawing office was my favourite.  It was here that I learned the skill of technical drawing – a skill that has served me well during my career.

In the pattern shop, carpenters taught me how to cut and shape wood. I remember making my first small table – a take home product the proved to be most useful.

 The transport department was where I learned the difference between petrol and diesel engines. It was there I learned to use diagnostic instruments to understand the health of rotating machinery.

When my apprenticeship was soon over I went to say goodbye to Mr Robb the General Manager. He said “You have been trained by Scottish engineers so why don’t you go and visit our beautiful country.  You may like Scotland.”

I left India and sailed on an Italian passenger ship to the UK.  After working in London for a year machining cast iron cylinders, I travelled north and settled in Glasgow.

After a few years as a ships engineer I came ashore to work as a service engineer with the North British Locomotive Company, Glasgow.

At that time the UK was replacing the rail network from steam to diesel locomotives. The company found the change hard to take, and closed down.  I was made redundant.

After working as plant engineer in Lyons Bakery Glasgow, I returned to the merchant navy for 4 years. On returning to Scotland, I worked in Aberdeen as chief engineer with the Milk Marketing Board.  The European Union decided the UK was producing too much milk and set quotas.  This resulted in the Milk Board closing down and I was made redundant - again. I was 52 years old.

Looking for work at that age was a challenge.  I felt lucky to be employed as scheduling engineer in the construction of the St Nicholas Centre in central Aberdeen.

The final 15 years of my working life was as senior applications engineer at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen. The job description was to pass on my industrial knowledge and experience to the undergraduates within the school of mechanical engineering.

After 45 years as an engineer I retired. I was 65 years old. 

I now had time to look back on my long career. One event that frightened me most was when I was chief engineer on a small passenger ferry “Lochiel” which was caught up in a violent North Atlantic storm.

It was midnight when both engines failed.  The storm took advantage of the helpless boat and kept blowing it without mercy towards jagged rocks. This near death experience haunted me for many years.

Eventually I sat down and wrote about brave heart “Lochiel” and her fight to stay afloat and save 32 lives on board.

The story developed into a small book and the “Circlip” was born.

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Robert G. Phillips
11 Rose House
Aberdeen AB15 8ER
Scotland, UK

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