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Sam The Blacksmith

26th December 2013 @ 6:06am – by Geoff Farr
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Looking for some photos the other evening I came across a couple of pictures of a 1930 three wheeled Morgan I once owned during the middle 1950's.

It wasn't a very practical machine. I had bought it from a fellow in Crewe for £40. I know it doesn't look like a three wheeled Morgan, but it was. They called it a Morgan Aero. You see, the fellow I bought from had hand beaten that aluminium body and had made a magnificent job of it.

It had no top, not even a canvas one, so it was a real fair weather machine. It was a pig to start, causing me to cruise around (at each destination) for half an hour to find a hill......so that parking it at the summit I could get a rolling start. Once started it would go like hell but it wouldn't stop!

Power

The power came from a J.A.P. Vee twin engine of about 1200cc bolted to the front rail.
It boasted no starter motor, so starting was a complicated procedure especially as it had a monstrous compression. I first had to switch on the fuel, insert the starting handle under the driver's seat. Set the choke. Engage neutral gear on one gearbox and second gear upon the other.

Then, do not forget to retard the ignition or it would back fire and roost me over the Moon. Finally, beginning slowly to turn I would began to rotate the starting handle and with it the very heavy flywheel. If I were very lucky and loosed the valve lifter at the right moment it fired up and gave vent to its sweet music. Usually I had two tries only and if neither worked I retired exhausted in order to regain my strength for another go.

By the way, the engine being a J.A.P. did not mean it was imported from Japan. In fact it was made by a very famous family of engineers called J.&A. Prestwich.

The Morgan was of course built by the very famous firm at Bromsgrove Worcs.......but you knew all that. Didn't you?

The chassis was two pieces of Ash timber with engine, transmission etc. bolted to the timber chassis. The gears, two large sliding cogs and chains which, with the aid of a handle you slid along a shaft which then drove the single rear wheel which was mounted upon a pair of semi elliptical leaf springs.

Sam

Now we have finally got there, (to Sam), the cause of my adventure with Sam was in fact these two springs which had become tired and weak and had lost their temper.

To get them re-tempered and "set up" was a matter of considerable technique and expertise to say nothing of the need of a forge to heat them up. By the mid 1950's there were very few men to whom you could entrust this delicate and precise work and Sam had been retired many years having worked almost all his life as the Smithy and Spring expert at what was then Pepper's Garage opposite the Leopard Public House at Nantwich.

I say almost all his life because Sam had served as an aero mechanic of the Royal Flying Corps during the 14-18 war and occasionally could be persuaded to tell stories of being obliged to accompany the pilot on a test flight of the aircraft he had just repaired. He summarised by saying: "It made you careful".

Syrup tin

Sam could often be seen at Nantwich in one or other of his two Austin Sevens. Standard equipment of the machines was a 2lb Tate and Lyle Syrup tin fastened firmly to the instrument panel which served as a fuel supply tank. The tin was open topped and there was a neatly soldered supply pipe emanating from the bottom of the tin and a tap in the line to regulate the fuel flow.

There was not much left of the floor of the vehicle but it did give support to a Cider bottle full of reserve petrol for topping up as the length of the journey required.

Just think of the "Elphin safety " haul. Petrol in a food storage bottle......an open topped fuel tank....No floor in the car. They would be all afternoon reading the charges. Ministry of Transport Vehicle examinations (M.O.T. ) came much later, and of course the Elfin Safety hadn't been thought of.

Whilst I can still recognise the sound of a Merlin powered Spitfire Sam could be instantly aroused by the sound of a Model "T" Ford.

Sam's life

Sam's life and career had spanned the Wright brothers invention of flight. He had tended the horses when horsepower meant the 'power of horses' and had gone on through making and repairing the springs of farm carts and gigs to the similar work on the springs of early 'Gentlemen's Horseless Carriages'. In short, the era of change which ended the village Blacksmith and heralded the village Mechanic.......they were usually the same premises and often the same men.

In appearance he was a big fellow – the wind wouldn't blow him over. His cap looked fixed to him as if it had remained in position for at least twenty years. He had a very deep voice which appeared to come from behind his luxurious moustache which reminded me of a 'batten' of straw. He wore a 'weskit' ( waistcoat) but it was never buttoned up.

Sam lived with his daughter in a country cottage not far from Nantwich, and when I knew him I had no idea of his age. My guess would be probably early to mid seventies.

Carrying the worn out springs I called and knocked at the door. The front door was not answered so I went around the house to the back door. Sam's daughter answered my second knock and when I asked to speak to Sam , she said: "Oh, he's down the garden."
Now! "Down the garden " meant something different in that household than you or I might expect.

Enthroned

She set off down a very long and narrow path which wound its way around all sorts of bushes, bean rows etc., and I dutifully followed her a few paces behind until at last we came to a small building and there with the door off it's hinges sat Sam with the newspaper and his cord trousers around his ankles and his tobacco pipe going well. He was enthroned upon the family twoholer privvy ,taking in at leisure the news of the day.

"Father, there is a gentleman here to see you". Somewhat startled, Sam from beneath that batten of straw replied: "Ho Ho, I'll be with you in a minute." This I heard as I scuttled back to the house from which good manners dictated, I should have remained.

Negotiations took place and in due course Sam repaired my springs. When I went to see if they were done ( no telephones ) and discovering that they were ready, I found myself financially embarrassed and could not pay Sam.

Debts

A few days later I re-visited to settle my debts. Sam looked up in surprise and said: "You 'anner come all that way just ter pay me"? He then went on to regale me with a story of one of Nantwich's many Bank Managers who had never paid him for a similar job. Politics and the advent of class equality had not reached Sam. He still had professional men bracketed with money and power and the Tory party.

He summed up by saying: "It's these Conservatives yer know.......they wunner be Sociable".

Business

Oh Yes, and the Morgan! Well I did what I thought at the time was a wonderful stroke of Business. I sold it for £60. They change hands now for £12K to £17K.

They are still so popular that Morgan have started making them again with what looks like a copy of the Harley Davidson Vee twin engine & a self starter. Their former engine makers JAP and Matchless like Sam have long since finished and disappeared. Though they left behind them a ring of smoke and wonderful smell of 'Castrol'.

Sam from his pipe and the Vee twins from their exhaust.
Bye now ,
Geoff Farr


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