“I’m a project manager,” said the man confidently. “Your job seems to be taking a long time, perhaps I can give you a few tips.”
Now then – one thing I have learned on this job is that sometimes, even when you so want to tell someone to stick their idea where the sun doesn’t shine, it’s worth a listen just in case they happen to know what they’re talking about. Another thing is that people often pitch themselves way above their station.
I remember, for example, being fascinated whilst earwigging on a conversation by the pool on holiday one time. It was a cheapie, package deal to a chunk of scorched, Greek rock, jam-packed full of folk whose idea of a good time was to drink from morning ’til night then throw each other into the pool. A bloke was explaining to his new-found drinking buddy that he’d brought fourteen pairs of shoes so as not to be seen in the same pair twice. Not even the wife is that bad! So, next day, when Johnny-Footwear, as I immediately dubbed him, was onto only his third pair, I nonchalantly tackled him at the bar intrigued to find out what sort of a bloke owned so many shoes.
He was a project manager too – he explained. In fact he was a project manager for a major UK manufacturer, no less. The truth, when I eventually got to it, was that he made sure the likes of British Rail (or whatever it was then) had a ready supply of bogroll on its trains. Now I’m not denigrating his job – far from it – I mean, I have met people who exist within their own body so far down the defecatory chain of command that they may actually find themselves having to bare their bum to a BR pot and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, what if Johnny Footwear had failed that week and there was no paper?
But this latest project manager was nothing so mundane. His job was to specify, purchase, install and commission machines that made biscuits. Machines a hundred yards long that performed a thousand tasks a minute without stopping for weeks – a big responsibility but, sadly, he was of the breed that has no grasp of why it takes such a long time to complete any sort of restoration or conservation project.
There are two types of these people – those who get it once it’s explained and those for whom it floats obstinately beyond their grasp. He was the latter variety but he meant well and soon gushed with how we needed a clear roadmap of where we were going with properly defined targets and budgetary checks and balances, and…
“We don’t have a budget,” I explained. “And we’re trying to decipher Norris Brother’s drawings with no Norris Brothers, and we struggle to buy half the materials we need because they’re not made anymore…”
The fact that you just cannot buy what you need from a regular stockist simply did not compute – the bloke was flummoxed. After all, the designers’ responsibility is to blaze a trail ahead of the PM sourcing materials and specifying suppliers, clearly in this instance they had let the side down. I patiently explained that the boat was designed at a time when you could get all the things on the shopping list but now it wasn’t so simple. The answer was obvious – use the modern equivalent! But he couldn’t tell me what modern equivalent of a quarter UNF bolt would go into an Orpheus engine.
It was like watching a chess player trying to carry on as I nicked half his pieces. I explained how the designers did their work in 1954 and that the roadmap now had rather a large chronological issue. This was evidently an unusual problem for the modern-day PM
He couldn’t weld either so what was he going to do for a welder when he took the reins? Hire someone? Recruit a lifelong apprentice to the art of welding with twenty years of experience? But there’s no budget to hire anyone and even if you could there’s no recognised welding ticket for gluing together old scrap.
The list grew endless. He couldn’t say where we could get spares for the Bloctube controls or if or when Barry could make new ones. Nor did he have a clue how long it would take a volunteer to get it all working and historically correct once we did have it. Where were the bean-counters to tell him what his budgets were or HR to draw up the employment contracts?
Check-mate came swiftly and without mercy, which was somewhat worrying because the smart move from his point of view would have been to do some basic research then either talk a good job or give the subject a very wide berth.
It’s an unfair test, admittedly – the Bluebird Project has evolved in its own unique way into what it is and it defies all the rules but here’s the difference, not for one living second did I pretend that I could tell him how to install a biscuit machine…
One thing that did happen, however, is that our very own Mr Bull, for no apparent reason, walked into the workshop one day and made it his mission in life to sort out the very same control linkages. Now we know exactly how long it would take a volunteer to mend them and as we speak, Barry is making up the missing parts in his workshop. Strange how this job twists and turns.
By Mike Bull
Since moving on from building up the air intakes and then months of sponson torture, I took it upon myself recently to start looking at the various bits and pieces of fuel control rods that had been removed from Bluebird during strip down in 2007 and largely abandoned ever since. With engine work ramping up again and an empty hull, it seemed time to start thinking about putting something in there!
Bluebird has three fuel control linkages, fitted from new in 1954 and largely unchanged since then. Bloctube Controls of Aylesbury were tasked with fitting the necessary parts into the boat as she was built, and it’s all about pivots, levers and tubes elegantly sliding through bearings…
This type of Bloctube control system was, as far as we can tell, largely used in marine applications- on trawlers and the like. It’s difficult to be sure though as that aspect of the original company is long gone and with it, any hint of any real information or worse, spare parts. So all we were left with was what came out of the boat herself, and a very few spares that we did manage to procure.
The system was largely made up from thin-walled aluminium tubing of 5/8” diameter, which was cut to the required lengths and fitted with whatever kind of ends were wanted. (Stainless steel tubing was also used) The ends comprised very clever ball and socket arrangements for the pivots, and also ‘helicopter’ joints for the straighter runs; the ends were held into the tubes by taper pins. In each case the socket end was released by lifting a securing spring and turning a little cam, whereby the ball end on the next rod could be clicked in and out. Turn the cam back, and the whole lot was secured again; a very simple arrangement- when it works!
The rods ran through bearings, mounted in Bluebird’s case, at pretty much alternate stations. The blocks came in single or double form, and Bluebird uses the double kind; two brass bushes mounted in a Tufnol block.
As recovered, the control rods were brutally torn off at the front under the main spar and of course seized solid into their bearings through the rest of the boat.
The rods and bearings had been removed during strip down and had been largely ignored since then, bar some cleaning. However, aside from the obviously torn rods, the remainder of the linkages were in very good condition, and were all reusable; only a couple had the slightest of kinks in them. (Amazingly, after one was lightly tapped back straight, water started seeping out of one end; yup, there was still lake water trapped in there 46 years after the crash. Surely now that’s the last of it..?)
The three fuel controls are all mounted on the boat’s right hand side-
The first control is that for the Low Pressure fuel- this is the push-pull handle mounted through the frame structure at F17.
The original handle, rod and bearing were still attached to F17 when it was recovered, and were repaired some time ago; the associated bracket and pivot that attach to the diagonal frame tube ahead of this have also now been refitted.
The LP cock works on a rotary motion- push the handle forward to ‘ON’ and it pushes a (currently missing) link down, rotating the link shaft (stainless steel, in this case) which runs along the outer right hand side of the boat back to the first bay behind the air intakes, which is where the auxiliary fuel tank lives. The rotary motion of the shaft pushes another link that runs across the boat, opening the valve. (The greenish coloured rod just above centre of this pic)
The next fuel control in the cockpit was the High Pressure fuel ON/OFF- this was controlled by the lever on a control box mounted below the LP handle, between F17 and F16. By now most of you will have seen the superb reproduction Bloctube control box as made by the project and Barry Hares-
(The Original control box, still left in the ‘ON’ position, is now on show at the Ruskin Museum in Coniston)
The HP box acts in a push-pull manner on one of a pair of linkages that run together through double bearing blocks, from the cockpit back to the mid point of the hull.
The links run straight back from the cockpit, then diagonally outboard under the main spar, before running straight back again; the diagonal path allowing for the boat narrowing towards the bow.
The picture shows this diagonal section- between frames F15 and F14- and the stainless steel LP rod on the outboard side. This area was where the original rods had been torn in two, and with the original location of the bearing at F15 being lost in the difficult repair of the panel, it took quite some effort to work out the required bearing position and necessary length of the diagonal rods needed for everything to move smoothly. (The only way to access this area, short of lifting the air intakes off again, was to squeeze my head inside the frame aperture where the main spar would pass through! I’ve just about straightened up now…)
The second of the closely-paired linkages is that for the throttle pedal. The original pedal and its link rod were recovered in 2007 during the hunt for the missing piece of cockpit frame, and have been back in the boat for some time-
Still missing, however, was an upstanding bracket that comes up from the cockpit floor to take another pivot, where the motion of the pedal is translated into a push-pull on the main linkage. Of this original bracket - seen in the archive photo above- only the holes for it remained in the cockpit floor, so from these and some high resolution reference images, I was able to not only make something that looked right, but which lined up with everything and worked right, too.