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'There was no safety gear - we just used to wear a woolly hat!' pd ports veterans tell four decades of stories.

Byline: MIKE HUGHES @mikehughes

THE Gazette's Invest in Teesside campaign is a call to action to promote existing business - and a rallying call for inward investment.

INVEST IN TEESSIDE We want to tell the story of the potential of our business sectors.

We will look at people, skills apprenticeships and training.

And we are interested in all sectors - from transport to tourism, culture to commerce.

We will consistently make the case for companies and organisations to prioritise the region when making decisions about investment.

We will encourage businesses and organisations that are already based here to invest in their workforce to grow locally. This applies to all sectors, from manufacturing and digital development, to the health and education services that are valued so much by families.

We will also make the case about the attraction of Teesside to companies that are planning to launch or relocate.

And we will campaign for the politicians we elect to support growth in our region to enable us to play our part in creating a dynamic, varied and growing national economy.

But the key strategies will come from you - the businesses who are doing the deals and offering the education, training and jobs thousands of Teessiders are looking for.

What is your opinion of the region's performance? What are the essential decisions our leaders need to take over the coming year? What about your own business - what does the future hold for you and your sector? We will give you the valuable space to tell your story and give your views to prove once again that Teesside is an industrial powerhouse that will bring jobs and success.

Your investment in our future could come in all forms, from a decision that brings inward investment, a new face to the business scene and a large number of jobs, to a company that is backing its local operation by expanding. It could also be a company that is showing faith in its workforce by investing in additional training or pushing forward capital investment in infrastructure.

The Gazette has always aimed to be a participant in the future development, rather than merely a commentator on events, because it is crystal-clear to all of us that Teesside has the potential once again to be a dominant force.

eet the PD Ports veterans - Alan, Ged, Ian and Dave.

MThese Teesside men are the company's 'Forty-Odds', who have passed the four-decade marker of working there - and have encyclopaedic knowledge to pass on to a stream of younger employees.

Health and safety, and technology might have changed, but workers like these are still the core of the business - loyal, dedicated, experienced, and full of anecdotes which underline their affection for the job.

And they have some great stories to tell.

Alan Melton, 57, from Pallister Park, Ged Gray, 64, from Eston, Ian Brown, 62, from Park End, and 61-year-old Dave Lloyd from Stockton, have spent almost their entire working lives at the port.

They speak to the Gazette...

Ged Gray Ged's dad worked on the docks before his son, and told him while he was still in school that it was the only job to be in once he had turned 21.

Ged left school at 15, then worked at ICI and British Steel until taking up his dad's recommendation in 1977, having to rush back from the TT Races, in the Isle of Man in order to get to the interview on time.

"The apprentices ended up with all the worst jobs.

"But we learned every day until we became a 'black book' man and had our pick of the jobs."

Those "books" were from the National Dock Labour Board (DLB), set up in the 1940s to make sure dockers had a fallback wage of PS5 a day.

"The book would get signed to show the workers were available for a shift.

"When you held a black book and there was work to do you got first pick and could earn up to PS60 a shift.

Oh, and then the day in found the bound for Hussein...

Ian "We were on piecework with the DLB, so it was very challenging to find ways of getting in as much cargo as you could, but when it was taken over by PD we went away from productivity and became salaried," he said.

One of the biggest changes the lads saw was "when the slabs went" for the first time as the reliability of steel started to weaken.

Ged had been a team leader and went back to being a chargehand, which is where his heart really is, back on to the ships, loading and organising the compound to get cargo ready for the next arrival.

Working practices and technology have changed as often as those job titles but a couple of decades ago there was an endearing simplicity to the job -even if the idea of lighting an oily rag and putting it under a fuel tank to loosen the diesel might cause a bit of concern now...

Ged recalls: "I started at the same time as my brother and we worked well together when we were picking up 12st bags of cocoa beans because I'm left-handed and he's right-handed, so we worked in the same space together.

"If we were loading 45-gallon drums of lube oil I would be on the left and he would be there on my right.

there was 1990 we supergun Saddam "There was no safety gear and nobody had a hard hat -we just used to wear a woolly hat!

Brown "When we were carrying bags and backloading ships with 12-stone bags of malt or fertiliser, me mam used to get a pillowcase and tie string around the bottom so you could put it on your head and stop the back of your neck from rubbing.

"You couldn't walk with those big bags because you would fall over -you just ran as fast as you could to get it off your back!" Ian Brown Ian admits his PDP career started "with a bit of a fluke" after his careers master at school suggested either electrician, fitter, plumber or draughtsman.

"Nobody ever mentioned anything about solicitors or ship's captains or anything like that," he said. "It was actually my mother who worked at another school and had been talking to the careers master there who mentioned a job with the port authority.

"She set it up for me and I went down as a fresh-faced 16-year-old and was accepted."

Back in their early years there were no containers, said Ian, so you got to see what the ships were carrying -and had to turn your hand to all sorts of products.

"I got a call one day saying can you come up to the ferry, there's a vehicle we need you to start," said Ian.

"When I got there, it was only a Scud missile launcher!

"It was after the first Gulf War and some enterprising gentleman thought he would buy some old Soviet stock.

"So there were some T42 tanks, MiG fighters, personnel carriers and helicopters.

"We pulled up with a big battery and some jump leads, but after opening every door and hatch we couldn't find the battery until one of the ship's crew came down.

"He could speak a little bit of Eng-lish, jumped into the cabin and started winding this big handle. Turns out it was an air-started engine and he was pumping the tanks up.

"He told us that if there was ever a nuclear war, the electro-magnetic blasts would knock out all the electronics, so the Russians had brought in these air engines.

"Oh, and then there was the day in 1990 we found the supergun....."

What? The 40-metre gun bound for Saddam Hussein? The largest gun in the world, with a range of about 600 miles? "We couldn't pinpoint it as a gun because it just looked like pipes, but it was so finely bored that it was spotted at Tees Docks.

"We had to pick it off with a forklift. A few days later Special Branch and Customs turned up and seized it."

Alan Melton Alan was one of four brothers brought up by his mum, so when a job came up with the Tees and Hartlepool Ports Authority he jumped at the chance.

However, he didn't have anyone already working at the port who could "put a word in for him" -the time-honoured route for many workers.

Instead, he faced the daunting panel of bosses who offered every potential employee the courtesy of a full-on scrutiny.

"It was pretty stressful, with seven people sat around the table trying to find the next apprentice mechanical fitter on PS27 a week," he said.

"By the time the second one introduced himself, you had forgotten the name of the first one!" He added: "I remember my twin brother went to work for BOC and he was on PS30 a week, and we had a mate who went to Wilson Walton where they paid PS28.

Ged "Then there was big gap down to PS24 so we reckoned we were quite well paid."

Dave Lloyd For Dave, his metalwork teacher played an important role, suggesting he take a few examples of his welding skills to the interview with the fleet engineer.

He was suitably impressed that this teenager already had the skills and took him on, eventually putting him in charge of the workshops.

His career path went from serving an apprenticeship as a vehicle body builder, then re-serving his time as a fitter, then into the main workshop, progressing to become a chargehand supervisor.

He was then transferred to become a building maintenance supervisor and take on a whole new set of skills.

"Unlike manufacturing which can rise and fall, the port industry rides through the storms and has given us a really stable position to be in," he said.

"PD, as it is now, actively promotes a healthy work-home balance.

Gray "But when I started at R Durham and Sons, which was a family business, you did a lot of overtime. When PD took over they really cut it down and encouraged us to go home."

PD Ports HR director Russ McCallion told The Gazette: "We're proud to have such loyal employees. It is important for our business as we ensure we retain our best, most skilled and knowledgeable people to allow us to provide exceptional service for our customers.

"With a push for us to bring more young people into the business, they help to illustrate a fantastic work ethic and highlight the longevity of a career possible within the port industry."

would get signed to workers were available held a and to first could a on with it challenging ways of as much could, but taken over by PD we from productivity and well together when picking up 12st bags because I'm left-right-handed, worked space "If I the on "safety nobody hat -we wear a woolly "When we were and backloading Oh, and then there was the day in 1990 we found the supergun bound for Saddam Hussein... Ian Brown


Dave Lloyd went from serving an apprenticeship as a vehicle body builder, up to building maintenance supervisor

Ged Gray

Three of the four PD Ports staffwho have each racked up 40 years' service for the company, Ian Brown, Alan Melton and Ged Gray Ian Cooper
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Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Jan 15, 2018
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