Tim Wighton (b. 1986) Engineering patternmaker, woodworker, Victoria
Apprenticed in engineering patternmaking at Bradken Wodonga 2006-2008.
I was quite lucky, actually, looking back. The first three or four years of my apprenticeship there was no rapid prototyping or CNC or anything like that. Through the shop – everything was made by hand. So the original pattern would be all fully machined or hand machined, hand carved, and then from that you would make your blue gel patterns. […] It was another lucky thing, the year I started my apprenticeship, it was also the year that Wally Gore restarted the Trade School down in Melbourne.
Probably the job stands out most to me was in my third year of my apprenticeship: there was a giant gear that drove one of the major bits of machinery in the green sand … and had been made back when the plant was built in the 50s and forgotten about, but by the time I got to third year, it had worn out completely. So as the apprentice, and I s’pose as a way just to test me out, sort of thing, or put me back in my place, one or the other, they gave it to me to make the pattern, so that they could cast the gear themselves …
So I was given the drawing and just told “You can do what you want”. There is no, no one was going to help, you know, the methoders weren’t gonna tell you what to do, you can just decide how the job is going to be made. …
Photographs courtesy of Tim Wighton
Photographs courtesy of Tim Wighton
Photographs courtesy of Tim Wighton
Photographs courtesy of Tim Wighton
Photographs courtesy of Tim Wighton
I found that the original engineer had actually done it wrong. … That was quite, you know, empowering as an apprentice, to sit down with all the other people and actually be listened to and taken seriously. … So that was a really fun job and I felt quite grateful to do that, because now that I’m out in the world I’ve met other tradesmen, other patternmakers.
You don’t get that opportunity anymore. Most people would just machine it … you know, or they’d 3D print the pattern or they’d do something like that, because any of those CAD programs, you know, you put in two or three numbers and it generates the whole gear now. There’s no, you’re not sitting there with dividers and compasses, and doing it all by hand.
I think all of us, and Wally encouraged us, to see what we were learning at Trade School … as a ‘step’, to try and actually go out and get the CAD side of things, … get the CNC experience. Sort of not to be afraid of that change but that was more of an evolution of the training, than an actual end point. But … it doesn’t seem like that these days. I dunno, businesses seem to think patternmakers are hand-tool people, whereas they would rather get an engineering graduate … which is difficult, I s’pose, ‘cos the poor engineering graduate doesn’t know anything about foundry, because foundry is a very specialised thing by itself.
Serge Haitdutschyk (b. 1950)
Former engineering patternmaker, Victorian Railways (1968-1992) & Graham Campbell Ferrum. Aged-care maintenance worker, artist and woodworker
Apprenticed in engineering patternmaking at the Victorian Railways, 1968-72.
Well, to be quite honest, how did I handle that change? I didn’t handle that change very well. After twenty-five years of working in one place – and people say, “How can you work in one place for twenty-five years, at the same bench?” I could walk in there with my eyes closed. I loved it. I loved it. It was my home. The environment, I loved my job. I loved working, what I was doing. When all that came to an end, I was actually quite depressed. … Forty-two years of age. I don’t want to retire, and I’m not retiring, so what am I going to do?
On the apprenticeship interview:
… The job interview at the Victorian Railways was in Flinders Street in the city, upstairs in Flinders Street Station. That’s where the interview was. And I was petrified when I had to go for the interview, and I said to Mum and Dad, “I’m going to go for the interview. What do I do? How do I dress?” and Dad said, “Don’t worry, son! We’ll go to the city. I’m going to buy you a lovely suit.” And Dad was a lovely man, too. Dad took me to the city, and he spent a lot of money. He bought me this beautiful blue, satin-type suit. I’ll never forget. It was a lovely suit. And I had a tie! So, Dad dressed me up. We had these mock-up interviews at home. … How could my Dad give me a mock-up interview on my trade? But anyway, it was like a pretend thing. The mock-up interview with my dad was more about attitude, and Dad always said, “Listen, son” – and Mum – “It’s your attitude. When you go to this interview, you be a nice fella! Don’t be a smartie. You be a nice fella. And answer the question that they want you to answer. Don’t go raving and ranting stuff that you were running and chasing snakes down at the creek.” So, Mum and Dad had this strict thing about…presentation was very important. It always was. Anyway. I rolled up to this interview at the Victorian Railways Commissioner Board, they were, and there was about three gentlemen there, and I was petrified. They had this – there was this humungous big desk, and there was three gentlemen that sat there, and I thought, “Oh, my god. These old fogies!” I mean, I was seventeen, and these guys were probably about thirty and forty, and I used to think they were old fogies! And they would sit there. “Serge, sit down there. We’re going to interview you about a patternmaking job.” I sat there and I had my folder there, all nicely dressed in my suit, and they said, “Serge, you applied for a job as an apprentice carpenter.” I said, “Yes, I did.” And they said, “We’ve been looking through your resume, and you have got 98 for woodwork, you’ve got 96 for art, and you’ve got very high marks in all the technical subjects.” I said, “Yeah, I’m a hands-on person. I like to do fine work. Fine, delicate work.” They said, “Well, if you like to do fine, delicate work, we believe that you should be a patternmaker.” I said, “A patternmaker? I don’t know what a patternmaker is! I came here to apply for a job as a carpenter, not a patternmaker!” “No, no, no! We believe you would be a good patternmaker!” And I said to the gentlemen there, I said, “Excuse me, sir. What is a patternmaker?” “Oh, a patternmaker is…” They explained to me what a patternmaker is, and it went over the top of my head. And they said, “No, no, no. You make all these lovely wooden patterns. Very delicate, crafty work, and we believe you’re good at that. You’re good at mechanical drawing. You’re good at woodwork. You’ve got talents in fine woodworking. We believe you should be a patternmaker.” And after about five minutes, they convinced me. I said, “OK, I’ll be a patternmaker.” “Oh!” And they were happy. These guys, these people interviewing me, were so happy because they’d got a patternmaker. A Ukrainian patternmaker that’s very highly skilled with his hands. And I was highly skilled. I was. I really was. And I was dedicated. So, they were happy. So, I joined the patternmaking department at Victoria Railway’s Newport workshops. I didn’t even know what patternmaking was, but I got the job. They give me the job. I started January the 18th, 1968.
I remember that moment very well, and that was the moment, in 1972, in June, when I actually got my apprenticeship papers from the government, saying that I have completed my apprenticeship successfully. … I got presented my certificate of completion of apprenticeship, which I treasure. … but when I received my apprenticeship indentured papers on that day, I felt fantastic. … And it’s ironic, because you get this paper and you think, “Oh, this is a free for all! I can do what I like!” So I went back into the pattern shop … “I’ve got my apprenticeship papers! I’m a man! I’m twenty-two years of age. I’ve got my apprenticeship papers! I can do what I like!” And I turned around to this guy, that guy, and I thought, stuff you, I don’t have to listen to you anymore! I’m a tradesman! It’s funny how people think how our mentality is in life. A piece of paper, you think that you’ve got power, and you think that you can say what you like in life to people. In hindsight, I look back now and I thought, my mum said to me, “I have to be nice to people in life, whether it’s your wife, whether it’s your work colleagues, whether it’s whoever in life. You have to be nice to people. And I fall back to this, I have to be nice to people. Just because I’ve got my indenture paper doesn’t mean that “I don’t like that guy, I’m going to start abusing him.” Yeah. And that was an experience. The most important experience was getting that paper and feeling like I’m free.
Serge Haitudschyk’s interview is held in the National Library of Australia. It isn’t available online just yet, but it soon should be, and it is available via Copies Direct or in-person at the Library.
Peter Williams (b. 1961)
Engineering patternmaker, violin assistant repairer, paperboy, boat repairer, RMIT patternmaking trade teacher, high school teacher
Apprenticed at Malcolm Cole’s patternshop, late 1970s.
If I’m a patternmaker and I’m not making patterns, then what am I? And that hit me like a train. That hit me like a freight train. If I’m a patternmaker, and I’m not makin’ patterns, then what am I? And it was a really sobering thought.
I think I was naturally fascinated by the process of casting metal – the whole metal casting and machining thing fascinated me. I didn’t want to cast metal, I didn’t want to work in a foundry, I didn’t want to produce moulds in sand and you know, operate a furnace and pour metal. It was dirty, hard and hot work. It just didn’t appeal to me, my passion was with working with timber. But the metal casting thing fascinated me and it still does. The machining of castings interested me, although it didn’t hold the same sort of fascination as the casting itself. But then, at the core of that was the patternmaking, where an idea grew legs, literally grew legs, an idea from a you know, and engineer’s / designer’s mind, made it on to paper in two dimensions, and then through the skill of the patternmaker it gained a third dimension and became real. And that really had me, I mean I wanted to be a part of that. That just fasci-, because I could see, I think, that without me, without the patternmaker, it just wasn’t going to happen, it wouldn’t have happened.
One of the most exciting parts of my job, and I can remember it as an apprentice, you know, the most exciting thing was going up to Dave’s office, the manager’s office, tapping on the door, and saying, “Dave, I need a job, whaddya you got for me next?” And Dave would go to the plan file, and take out the next job, and we’d roll that drawing out onto the bench, and I’d look at it and go, “yep, yep, righto,” and Dave would say, you know, “We need 400 castings, aluminium bronze, these surfaces are machined, that’s caught out that way, this is caught out there,” and we’d nut it out there. Sometimes we’d sit there and look at a drawing for 2 hours on a bench, and nut that out, and see it in our minds, and agree on things. And then I’d go away and get started. And that – I found that just enthralling. And then to go away and make it happen was- it was almost secondary, making it happen was almost secondary to that initial excitement of reading a drawing, and seeing the thing in three dimensions in my own mind.
On finding a Jeremy Rifkin book in a bookstore, shortly after realising that his teaching career at RMIT patternmaking trade school was coming to an end:
I saw the book in a bookshop, on my way to the railway station one night, and it had a very stark cover, a black background with big red letters, that said The End of Work. The subtitle being: the decline of the global labor force and the dawn of the post market era. And I bought the book and immediately started to read it. I read from back to front fairly, front to back fairly quickly. Because all I could see this fella was talking about, you know, the demise of manufacturing, among other things, that I could see that it was happening it was happening around me. I was a part of it. I had been a part of manufacturing. Now I was part of the demise of it. I could see it, it was as clear as day. I actually became quite depressed about it, because it was, it was now clearly evident to me that everything I loved previously about more trade and more I learned, the skills I’d developed. The kids that I’d taught. The facility that I was now working in as a teacher. Wonderful facility that it was. I could see that it was all doomed. It was. … It was all gonna go, one way or the other.
Scott Murrells(b. 1964)
Former engineering patternmaker, automotive clay modeller, woodworker, artist, hardware expert
Apprenticed in engineering patternmaking at John Williams Patterns, Melbourne, c. 1981-85.
I guess, in a way, patternmakers solve problems. There’s a design, that comes along, and it gets turned into a drawing … and you solve that problem, you turn it into the three dimensional object that they want.
When I first started patternmaker, I remember a tradesman saying, ‘Why’d you pick this trade? It’s not gonna be around in the next few years.’ They knew it was coming. … the teachers knew it was coming to an end. I think it’s just normal human nature just to hang on until you’re pushed over the edge. … It was all starting to be mechanised, I guess, or computerised.
The majority of the work that I did when I started was metal casting patterns. And then there was a slow down in metal casting components for machinery, and plastics was taking over. I guess the automotive industry is the easiest way to illustrate it. You go back to the early cars and a lot of it was stamp metal and cast metal. Then it became very plastic, so the plastic side of patternmaking took off, it had a peak there for a short time … and then CNCs came in. That’s how I see what happened to patternmaking. It was labour intensive, long lead times to produce a pattern. … I never sort of thought about it much back then. But I think they were always looking for quicker turnaround. So once computers became, you know, CAD systems got off the ground, they saw an opportunity to do it digitally.
I wasn’t really frightened of [technological change], but you thought well, the work became less and less fun. Because you’d get these CNC-cut things, and all you were doing was, you know, making sharp corners round and the round corners sharp, sort of thing. So it was boring. I guess that’s the reason I didn’t stay in patternmaking – because it became boring. You know, there was no real, there was no problem solving, you didn’t have to think. That was all taken off you. … It basically means that you no longer become the problem solver or the creator of the pattern. It’s done for you. You then became you become the finish[er] of the pattern. … All that creativity comes away from it. So there’s no fun, there’s no fun in it any more.
Bruce Phipps (b. 1933)
Retired engineering patternmaker & second-generation patternmaking business owner, tennis player, Sydney
Apprenticed as an engineering patternmaker at Cockatoo Island shipyards, late 1940s – early 1950s
I actually made a wooden pattern of the Sunbeam Kettle which is still – that same model is being used today. So, I made that kettle out of wood.
On his apprenticeship at Cockatoo Island: Well, you see, it was a shipyard, so they made all the patterns for the valves, and all the parts that used to be in the ships. That was interesting. But it was a big pattern shop. There was twenty-three fellas, which was a lot in a pattern shop, and they all – a lot of them had independent jobs. Like, there was a fella downstairs, if you wanted timber, you’d tell him what you want. He’d plane it up. And they had, in those days, which was good, they had special machines – like, special routers which were not just all hand-done, and they used to make patterns for propellers, and I remember, even to this day, Lady Hopetoun on the Harbour – which is still going; it’s one of the maritime boats – I actually made the pattern myself for the propeller on that boat, which – if you know the Lady Hopetoun, it’s a weird thing. All the cabins are on an angle, and so was the propeller! Instead of just being a straight propeller, the blades come back on an angle, and that was one of my jobs that I did myself, which I was pretty rapt in. and not only that, at that time – I was in fourth year; you did five years’ apprenticeship in those days – and all the fellas wanted more overtime. And the work wasn’t there, but, I don’t know why, they said, “Yeah, OK. You can have all the overtime you want.” And they worked themselves out of a job. … So here I was, no work, so they gave me a job fitting out a model of a frigate with all the valves, the turbines, everything in the engine room, in sections. … very interesting for me because it meant that I went all over Cockatoo Island getting all these different drawings of things that I’d never seen before to make all the different parts of the ship.
Bruce Phipps’ interview is held with the National Library of Australia (not available online just yet, but can be accessed via Copies Direct or in person.)