My Time at Hayes
by Anthony Boyes
On leaving my Leeds, Yorkshire school in 1955 I worked for a few months in the same city at W. H. Baxter (Engineers) in Gelderd Road, Leeds 12 but, as this was heavy engineering making stone crushing machinery, I soon moved to Hayes, who were a proper precision engineering company, just 400 yards up the same road. I was with Hayes from mid 1955 to mid 1966 and, around 1962, we moved from Gelderd Road to 'Limewood Approach' to a brand-new, purpose-built factory near the ring road at Seacroft I finally left the company because I was playing in a band and we got a spot on TV "Hughie Greens - Opportunity Knocks" I mention this because I received a letter from all at Hayes wishing me good luck and, on checking this letter today, I counted it had been signed by 140 employees, so that's roughly how many worked at Hayes in mid 1966.
Besides making the well-known milling machines (for which everything was produced in house except the castings), we also did a wide variety of sub-contract work; one job in particular I can remember was for DCMT (Die Cast Machine Tools) of London, for who we made "diecasters", a hot-metal casting machine that used two closed die blocs with hot metal injected under pressure and with a mechanism that, upon the opening of the blocks, ejected the finished casting. I believe the famous "Matchbox" and "Lesney" die-cast toys were made on these machines. DCMT sold the machines on to various companies but later on made toys themselves under the trade name "Lone Star".
The Gelderd Road works had earlier been a jam factory (Althams I believe). I know that whenever the maintenance department dug out the foundations to install a new machine they often found broken jam jars mixed with the soil. The factory had its goods' entrance on the main Gelderd Road with the office entrance down the street at the side. The factory was split level with the first 75ft having, on the right, a heat-treatment room and the flame profiling machines, on the left was the 'goods-inward' office and material store complete with a cut-off saw. 3 steps led up to the canteen and kitchens. At the end of this floor was a drop of about 30ft to the main production area, which was about 300 yds long and, at the bottom of the factory, another area, raised on columns, housed the electricians' department, the joiners' shop (we made our own packing cases for the finished machines), and an area for storing jigs. Upstairs, along the left-hand side of the factory, were the separate workers' and staff canteens, a kitchen and the administration and drawing offices. The main floor was divided into areas for capstan lathes, centre lathes, shaping machines, milling machines, grinding machines, a fitters' section, tool-room, inspection department and various 'downstairs' offices. In the middle of this area were the really large machines: a Butler Planer about 150ft long, a horizontal borer, a Lumsden magnetic-table grinder (which stood about 30 feet high) and other similar equipment. The employees on the large machines often had to work until late at night and on Saturday mornings to keep up with the demands of production.
In Gelderd Road I started as an apprentice on the Capstan Lathes and later, with improving skills, became a Ward Capstan Lathe setter/operator. We used to employ a number of semi-skilled, handicapped people from Remploy to work the capstans and one day I was told to "Hurry up with the setting !"as he (the operator) was loosing bonus. This annoyed me no end, there being no bonus for the setter ! The semi-skilled workers normally tended one machine while I was busy setting another.
During my first year with the company the main product was the Diemaster and, to a smaller extent, the sub-contracting mentioned earlier. I always thought the Diemaster owed its concept to the Bridgeport (we had one in the toolroom) a suspicion confirmed when, on occasions, the draughtsmen came down to measure it. The Tracemasters were then brought on line and, of course, the Hayes Ferranti Tapemaster (the Tapemaster used finely engraved rules to control its movement, one for each of the 3 axes under control of information on the tape). While the table remained on traditional Vee slides, the vertical knee and cross slide of the Tracemaster each used a hardened steel bar about 3" x 2" to guide the movement.
Besides standard production models, over the years many special machines were made to fulfil one-off orders including a miller with 4 heads and a copy arm to machine, at one setting, all four combustion chambers of a car cylinder head. Another specially-constructed job was equipped with a loading and unloading conveyer system that offered up and removed camshafts to be machined with woodruff keys.
The Limewood Approach factory is now a textile wholesalers but it looks just like it did in the 60s, except for a newly-erected fence. The works had two bays each with its own crane whilst a pair of tracks with a bogey was used to move heavy things between the areas.
At one point a nightshift was started but it didn't last very long, the dayshift putting forward the long-used excuse that they spent more time putting the nightshift work right than they did doing their own tasks.
When we moved to Limewood Approach my job changed and I would move round from job to job depending on what needed to keep production moving smoothly. I worked mainly on the Butler Shaper, the Butler slotting machine and a very old broaching machine used to machine splines in gears, etc. This machine used to moan a lot and we fed it lard oil as a coolant.
During this period other machines and hydraulic pumps, valves and copying valves were also made-- the latter three products also being offered to other manufacturers for fitting to their own machine tools. Machines were often sent to machinery exhibitions in London and, when sold abroad, one of our luckier fitters would be sent over to get the machine commissioned.
After I left Hayes I still saw my old workmates here and there and they kept me up to speed with events. After that there was a management buy out and a move to smaller premises off Amberley Road, Tong Road, Leeds 12. I saw the factory there once, but I didn't seem to last long before it was gone.
One of the fitters who used to go with the new machines when they were installed had all the plans and a customer list and began to offer a spare parts service--but this must have been before Tong Road finished because he was told that had no right to do this and he would be prosecuted if he carried on. However, the foreman of the capstan department, having managed to secure orders from DCMT for the sleeves and pistons for the Diecasters, left and set up his own company. These special parts, being made of EN32 or EN3 steel, were very difficult to machine and required specialist knowledge to get right..
If you too worked at Hayes, or know more about the Company - especially dates - we would be delighted to hear from you.