Friday, December 7, 2012

The Pie Cart

Our introduction to the theory and practice of sumpology was on the Gypsy Major, a power plant that had been in use from the early 1930s. It was mainly used in the Tiger Moth. Here we learnt the theory of the four stroke engine and all about fuel-air ratios, the Bernoulli principle, ignition timing and spark plug gaps. We were told about the importance of the tension wrench, using the right tool for the job, and the evils of the shifting spanner. That ex-thick I remember from 38 Sqn in the mid-seventies who always went for the largest shifter he could find had obviously never been properly trained. 

Engine section was just over the railway line that ran through the base and it meant we were closer to the mess and living quarters than some of the other trades.

Memories of engine section include:

  • The engine display in the front of the hanger, neatly arranged on polished floor boards.
  • The offices on the left as we entered and the stairs leading to the upper level. I think the WOE (Warrant Officer Engineer) resided in the lower office and the Engineering Officer upstairs. Twice I stood in front of the Engineering Officer, hat removed, to have judgement passed on me for sins I had committed.
  • The tool store on the ground floor behind the office.
  • Smokos in winter. Four of us would lay on the grass arranged in a square, each with our head placed on the stomach of another. It was common to hear ‘That sunlight has come 93 million miles just to get to me, and now you’re stopping it making the last two feet’ as some one’s shadow would pass over one of us. And then there was the struggle to get to our feet if an officer approached, only to hear ‘As you were’ - or was it ‘Carry on?’
  • Flight Sergeant Charlie Goodchild who took us through the workings of the Gypsy Major and had lost his teeth as a result of a collision with a hockey stick.
  • Sergeant Killer Courtney, the Pom who took us through the workings of propellers and governors. In the period after lunch some of us had a tendency to nod off. Killer had the remedy. A propeller blade stood on its base on the wooden floor. He would wait until enough of us had dozed off and then knock the blade over. While the sound that reverberated around the room may not have been enough to wake the dead it certainly aroused sleeping appys and the associated rush of adrenalin made certain we were alert for the rest of the afternoon.
  • Most, if not all, of our theory exams were multi-guess (multiple choice). A flight would learn one engine type, B flight another and then swap around. We had this arrangement where each of us would remember three or four specified questions (1 to 4, 4 to 8 etc) and swap these between us. And there was this other rule for multi-guess - if in doubt, try C. 
John Carpenter had decided by the time that we commenced our specific trade training that he and the RAAF were incompatible. By this time the only way out was to fail. Our first exam was multiple choice. John finished this in about 10 minutes but to his dismay, and everyone else’s amazement, he passed (rather well from memory). But he almost had his wish to leave granted quicker than he could have imagined.

Part of the curriculum for the Gypsy Major was a requirement for each of us to start it by swinging the propeller. To facilitate this an engine was set up in a specially designed stand - known as the Pie Cart. I remember this as looking something like a cross between a phone box with one side removed and a horse float. The engine was set up in a frame that protruded from the front, the stand pivoted on two wheels, and the whole arrangement was secured by either chains or ropes to anchor points behind. The operator stood in the box.

We were shown how to stand with our left hand behind our back and to pull the propeller down and our arm out of the way to make sure that we did fall into the propeller’s arc. On his first attempt John’s head moved forward into the propeller’s path. Fortunately for him, and us, the Gypsy Major always seemed to start on the second attempt.

John departed shortly after that. As far as I can remember the rest of us graduated. At least one of our number, Pete Smith, returned to RSTT to impart knowledge to another generation of apprentices. And while those days are now a distance past and the memories hazy, friendships were formed and cemented, and we learnt skills that were to carry us through our service careers and beyond.


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