The Combination….

… of my incapacity when it comes to road maps (I’m sure they share a common ancestry with wiring diagrams) and the less than helpful road signing convention in the States, saw my grand expedition to Provincetown leave at 9.00am only to arrive an hour later, back at where I started. With an eye to my personal limitations and the legendary vagaries of American maps, I’d set off with the sun more or less in front of me (on the map my route would take me first East, then North) and was soon passing signs boldly informing me of my Southerly path. I took the first major left only to be told, a few miles down the road, that I was heading West. Back at the Inn I took advice – turn right on Main St. and just carry on. That did the trick.


I was getting closer to what I was looking for (the Hopperesque scene) as I took a side road down to a beach near Truro. The sun had made an appearance in the morning but the further North I travelled, the more the scud closed the gaps and robbed me of the contrast that Hopper’s work so starkly portrays.


Further on, the road into Provincetown was not encouraging – a bit tatty – and this theme continued to the town itself. I’d arrived out of season – the whole place was shut down – and it looked a bit sad. No doubt the summer months would bring the place alive again but I’d have to be very interested in the Pilgrim Fathers (whose monument dominates the landscape) or gay (it’s the gay capital of Massachusetts I learn) to want to visit again; an unlikely prospect on both counts.


As I motored back along the coast road, the clouds on the horizon lifted just enough to add a bit of drama to the view and I think I got my Hopper shot…


There’s no doubt about it, the light on the Cape is quite singular.


One last picture of a beach hut in Falmouth and it was time to concentrate on the upcoming nuptials.

Liam Maguires

To welcome the out-of-towners, some of whom had travelled from as far afield as Israel, a supper had been arranged at Liam Maguire’s Irish pub on Main St. I took my place amongst the guests and settled in for the evening’s entertainment. I was lucky to find myself seated next to a metallurgist who specialised in metal plating and who was able to put me right on a couple of things.

But not my sense of direction.








… is just down the road from me – maybe half an hour’s drive, as is Sudbury and Haverhill, though the latter is probably more like 45 minutes away.


What an odd sensation then to be not in Suffolk, England, but in Boston, Massachusetts (that’s my sister’s house, mine’s not quite so shiny) where the suburbs of the city have some of the same names as those of the towns near to me at home. I seem to be doing a lot of travelling lately and the first leg of this trip, stopping in Boston on the way to Cape Cod, was courtesy of Virgin Atlantic in one of their brand-new Boeing 787-9’s. The 7 hour trip, er… flew by.


After years of cheap flight, cattle-truck discomfort, even steerage with Virgin was a revelation. That’s not to decry the discount airlines; most of us have been pretty pleased with ourselves in the past when we’ve slipped across the Channel and down to Biarritz for less than the price of a strip of raffle tickets.

Martha's Vineyard

I wasn’t long in Boston. The main event, a family wedding, was to be held on the Cape. The bride and groom live in Hawaii and chose Cape Cod (where they met) in December for the celebrations; I packed my recently coiffured furry hat.

A Hopper moment

Of course, another attraction of Cape Cod is its connection with the artist Edward Hopper who brought his distinct style to bear on the architecture and landscape of the Cape. He concentrated his work in an area that could be a bit difficult for me to get to in the time allowed as it’s in and around Truro at the other end of the island, but there’s enough in Falmouth to get the flavour of things if I can’t get away.

Surf Drive Beach

I’ve discovered that Falmouth has several claims to fame amongst which it boasts to be the birthplace of Katherine Lee Bates, author of  ‘America the Beautiful’, and the ‘centre of discovery of the RMS Titanic’ – the locally based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution playing a major part in that operation. And it was what became known as Provincetown, at the very northern tip of the Cape, that was the first port of call for the Pilgrim Fathers. I really must try and squeeze a visit into the programme as I don’t suppose I’ll be here again in the foreseeable.

Nobska lighthouse

The Nobska Lighthouse. Probably painted by a zillion artists but remembered best for Hopper’s treatment. I would have liked a closer study but the corporation had stuck a 10ft Christmas wreath on the front – Philistines!

Yet more wonders; it appears that at the Cape you don’t have to be that good with a camera to get a shot of a gull in flight.


It’s Just My Luck…

… that it’s going to be the New Year before I can get going again on the racing car.


The local council’s grave digging machine came in for a bit of a spruce up and that took a couple of days to put right. I’d never had a go on one of these so I had some fun in the yard before taking it apart for servicing. Then, I attended a dealer meeting for Avant Loaders. I’m not a dealer, I just get sent out to do the servicing every now and again. It takes me to interesting places – parts of the Norfolk Broads for instance where, because some of the roads are made of wood chippings, you get a sort of sinking feeling as you drive very carefully down roads deeper and deeper into…. if you’ve ever seen the film ‘Deliverance’, you’ll get the picture – so to speak.

French-built Austin tractor

A year or two ago, you might recall that I had a few laps around Silverstone in a Ferrari racing car; it was the same company’s dealer meeting and, because Snetterton was quite close to the head office (where this year’s meeting was to be held) Learned Council and I got very excited about the prospect of another few laps in the team-building exercise. However, I have to say that we were slightly crest-fallen when it was announced that the big treat was to go and look at a private collection of tractors. What? Tractors? Do we have to?

Tractor collection

There were about 250 or so in a farm building that was over 100m long by about 30m wide. Rows and rows of old tractors, most if not all in working order, was a sight I was pleased not to have missed. Each tractor had its own descriptive plaque and the collection had examples from the very early 20th century to about the 1980’s. This extraordinary hoard was the work of a gentleman called Paul Rackham.

Holt 75

Among the most impressive machines was this Holt 75. Made in Illinois and operated by the British Army during the 1st World War, the Holt’s were employed in towing howitzers around the battlefields. This one is the sole surviving example of the literally 1000’s that were enlisted at the time.


And, as it was the first Saturday in the month and, it seemed, the first decent day for a month, a fellow Magneteer accompanied me to our local VSCC lunchtime meet. The Hillman went very well and it especially seems to like the cooler weather. I must sort out the nearside front brake though; its lagging behind the offside brake means that you have to put in quite a lot of left rudder to keep the ship on track when pulling up smartly.

Brigantine close-hauled

Which neatly introduces another distraction I had this week; I went to the restorer to collect a picture I’d had cleaned. In a box of miscellaneous frames that I’d picked up at an auction for about sixpence, was a picture of a sheepdog that someone had cut from a magazine. I took the mounting apart and there underneath, to my surprise and delight, was this charming water-colour of a ‘Brigantine close-hauled in the English Channel’, dated 1896.

It’s nice to have a bit of luck every now and again.

It May Appear….

… that I’ve been doing nothing on the racing car but nightly, my sleep is bracketed by visions of industry. It’s in those moments, minutes; sometimes hours of semi-consciousness, that I go over the method for a particular job. For instance, over the last few nights I’ve removed the brackets from the rear axle casings and polished the circumference to fit the spring clamps. I’ve done this at least half-a-dozen times and with each repetition I’ve perhaps seen something I didn’t expect and had to rewind and start again. I’ve looked also at the front axle fixings – the ‘U’ bolts and so on – though I really need to glance at a parts book before tackling the king pin and stub axle re-assembly. The knock-on wheels look good and I love the big silver brake drums, the brass brake cable pulleys …. zzzzzzz


It looked pretty grim out but that wasn’t going to stop us going for a breakfast run. The Avon, Austin, Hillman and Ford Specials all met up in Attleborough on Sunday morning, ready for a quick sprint north through Dereham and on via Guist, to Holt. I managed to get 10 yards out of Sainsbury’s car park before my engine died on a pedestrian crossing. It does this fading out every now and again and I haven’t worked out quite why. There’s quite a lot of sucking of teeth about the SU being bang on top of the exhaust pipe – fuel evaporation and so forth – and I used to go along with that but I’m not entirely convinced. It’s definitely a fuel problem but I’m not sure about the evaporation side of things. On the other hand, there’s no insulating between the head and the carb and the heads are famously hot on these engines…. that might be it?


I had the day before been to fill up the Hillman and, since the Monaco Dash, have continued to use the better quality unleaded fuel; the one with the lesser ethanol content. It was another miserable day so I wore my furry hat. I haven’t worn this in a car before and when I got back home, I had to give the hat a haircut – the fur (which was a bit straggly) kept getting in my eyes. That’s nothing to do with the engine fading but it’s interesting to note that, whilst I know the engine is reluctant to start when it’s hot, it didn’t fade and die once during the time we were in France – it happens only in England and not all the time. It could be a simple matter of where I buy the fuel.

Radiator cap

A request for some nickel plating was a good excuse to get the plant up and running again. I thought that perhaps the chemicals might be a bit old and stale but they recovered well enough to first copper and then nickel plate The Great Collector’s Crossley mascot.

Crossley Mascot

I still haven’t decided on the design for the bonnet mascot of the Hillman. Perhaps that’s what should be occupying my mind in my hypnagogic and hypnopompic states?

Has anyone ever counted sheep?

The Norwegian Job.

As there weren’t any inexpensive flights available for me and my fellow Magneteer for our flying visit to Norway, we went from Heathrow with British Airways, to Gardermoen, the principal airport serving Oslo. I hesitate to use the word ‘free’ but, during the flight we were served with drinks and sandwiches for which we didn’t have to pay. The seats on the very new Boeing 737 were of the thinner variety – I wouldn’t want to sit for more than a couple of hours on one – but there was plenty of knee room. All in all, the atmosphere on board was very restful and, I kid you not, at Gardermoen, the transition from flying to landing was absolutely undetectable, almost a surreal experience. As we got off, I congratulated Hoskins on his ‘greaser’ – he was looking pretty chuffed with himself and I think I would have been too.


Arriving this time in kinder weather (except when we were setting up the kit on deck in the pouring rain at 4.00am on Monday morning) I was able to get a better idea of the landscape.


It was good to see that the subversive element was flying the flag though not a lot of what I saw was particularly imaginative. I dare say that there could be a case made for graffiti being as good a measure as any of the pulse of a city – whether it’s alive and well, or buttoned up tight and suffocating but I’m probably getting out of my depth there….


… it comes of staring into the sea.


After packing up in the early hours of Tuesday morning, we slipped up to the bridge to sign off and were greeted by a spectacular sunrise. The rest of our time in Norway took its cue from this auspicious start and, until we landed back at Heathrow at 4.00pm courtesy of..


… our travels were smooth and seamless. Our hire-car for the final leg of the journey – a Volkswagen Polo – had an interesting starting regime. It took a few minutes to discover that, despite a jolly good talking to, the engine takes not the slightest bit of interest in anything until you’ve locked the doors. What’s that about? Throw in the M25, heavy rain and the rush hour and you begin to wonder why you ever left Oslo.


Further investigation of the Morris Minor gearbox (3rd and 4th were impossible to select) revealed that the synchromesh unit wasn’t at fault. Removed from the box, it all worked as advertised and didn’t show any signs of unusual wear. In taking the box apart – everything had to come out – I heard a dull tap in the bottom of the casing; it was almost inaudible and I suspected that one of the balls from the selector shafts had popped out of its housing. I was half right…

home-made pin

This home-made pin had been squeezed into the housing in the 3rd and 4th gear selector arm, between the ball and spring. I realised that this was the culprit. With the pin compressing the spring more than was originally intended, the pressure on the ball was too great to allow the selector arm to move out of the neutral indent on the shaft. I’m not quite sure of the reason for this addition – perhaps the box had been jumping out of gear, although the selection seemed perfectly positive with the pin removed. We’ll see.

Morris 4-speed synchro box

So, job done. Yahoo!







As usual.

Bearing cover bolts

Picking up where I left off on the Morris Minor gearbox, I worked out that the bearing cover bolts would have to be captive on the inside of the box (there were two small anchor plates illustrated in the parts book but which were missing from the box) the assembly sequence rendering the heads impossible to reach. I made up a couple of tab washers and put a blob of weld on each tab and bolt as a belt and braces measure and did a trial assembly. 1st, 2nd and reverse worked as advertised but 3rd and 4th just wouldn’t engage at all. As those two gears are the only ones with synchromesh, I think that the synchromesh unit has to be the culprit.

Synchromesh unit

That’s fine – as long as I know – but I’ll have to take the box apart again to get the unit out for examination. I remember that I discovered (quite by accident) that it was pretty well seized up when I first had the box in bits. At the time I had only half an idea how synchromesh worked and didn’t realise that the outer ring of the wheel moved independently of the inner hub; it was only when it flew apart that I got the full picture. With the box reassembled, the outer ring did move and you could engage 3rd and 4th but only with a tap-meter and drift – not with the gear lever. Further investigation is required.

Leon's A7

To lighten up an otherwise frustrating day, Leon turned up in his A7 Special, sporting his newly fabricated and rather stylish rear mudguards.

Leon's A7

The front mudguards will follow the same pattern and finish the car off very neatly. I noticed also that Leon had made up a very clever addition to the steering linkage. The original A7 steering arm is reputed to have a weak spot on the inside radius of the extension to the drag link and a complete failure of the arm would ensue if an undetected crack were allowed to develop.

Steering arm reinforcement

The chances of that happening are pretty slim but if you’ve a mind to pre-empt that occasion, Leon’s mod looks like a straightforward fix. And on that subject, there’s nothing straightforward about the fix for the rear axle mounting on the racing car.

Rear axle mounting

The radius of the bracket is just a tiny bit smaller than the radius of the axle casing. I’d thought about making up new brackets to fit the axle but these ones are so neat that I think I’m going to take the disc cutter to the brackets on the axle casing, give it all a good clean up with the polishing wheel…

Axle casing

which should make the radius a gnat’s smaller. I think by the time I’ve got the rust and paint off, there’s not going to be more than a whisker to remove anyway, so it’s not as though I’ll be introducing a weak spot in the casing. I was just going to set about it, when the phone rang.

Kan du gå til Norge i morgen?’

So that’s scuppered that plan.





Jeg Forstår Ikke….

… and nor am I ever likely to but I’m happy to report that in Norway, English is spoken by almost everyone.

Olympic Commander

So, need I tell you that of course I’m uniquely qualified to undertake the magnetising of undersea power cables (for wind farms and so forth) and for this purpose I was whisked to Drammen and put aboard a general purpose supply vessel, the Olympic Commander. A fellow Magneteer flew in from Germany to assist in the setting up of the equipment and to get the show on the road – so to speak.


Drammen at night was a pretty sight…


… much prettier than it was during the days to follow when the clag was on the deck and rain was almost continuous. Apparently it was unseasonably warm during the week – hence the rain – and the preference among the crew was for the colder, brighter weather that they had expected. Either way, I think we were lucky that the wind didn’t put up more than 3kn. 10 kn would have made things jolly uncomfortable.


It’s always a treat to go somewhere new; language, architecture, agricultural styles, the quality of light and the people themselves are always fascinatingly different. Looking out of the window of the train from Torp to Drammen, my first impression was that I’d arrived in some gigantic railway set. The tidy and colourful timber houses, the carefully decorated municipal buildings and even the forested fjord sides, themselves conspiring to form the back-drop to this orderly layout, looked as though Frank Hornby had had a hand in their creation.

Olympic Commander

I was lucky to draw the midday to midnight shift which, proffering only a few hours of daylight, imparted a touch of drama to my sense of the ship. The hum of motors, the crackling of walkie-talkies, the ring of footsteps on gangways – the rhythm of their fall announcing crisis or calm – were the sounds that made up this particular Night music.


Excluding travel to and from the ship, if I were to map my sphere of operations over the last 7 days, it would appear as a ball no more than 30 yards in diameter. Within that globe every facility was to hand; life continued without the slightest inconvenience – even my laundry involved only getting it to the laundry room and collecting it 12 hours later.

Cable spool

The magnetising of the cable was done as it came aboard the ship direct from the cable factory on the dockside. The cable passed through a ring of electromagnets attached to which was the only moving part in the set-up, a wheel that both counted the distance off and acted as a switch – when the cable stopped moving, the magnets switched off and vice-versa. The Magneteer’s job was to monitor the computers, keep a log of events and at intervals, check the measurement of the magnetic flux. Some general house-keeping; integrity of the machine, cables and wiring and comms with the other contractors on board kept me alert and left a bit of time to catch up with the London Review of Books – a pile of which had been accumulating in my sitting room over the last 12 months.

3.00am on the bridge

Over the week we put through about 22km of various sizes of cable and as we left the ship in the early hours of Saturday morning, she slipped away into the night, bound for Copenhagen.

Cable tensioner

But not without my first spotting a potential source of Jowett Jingle Bell wheels; I’ll give Learned Counsel the old, ‘ahoy there’.