Thursday, August 21, 2008

My time at Craig-yr-odyn quarry

In the later part of 2006, I was told the sad news that a quarry that I had once worked at,in the early part of the 1970’s was to close.
So I enquired if I could go up and take some photographs on the last working day. And on December 8th 2006 after 33 years taking my camera with me, I return to the quarry, only to find two men working there, and one long hole cut into the mountain. It was an eye opener for me to see how much stone that had been taken out of the quarry in over 30 years, and how much it had changed, and yes the memories came flooding back to me when I worked there.
It began in 1973 the quarry is just outside the village of Trapp near Llandybie called Craig yr odyn run by a gentleman by the name of Mr Herbert.
When you enter the quarry the office and weighbridge would be on your right, my first job was to operate a crushing machine, which was located on the side of a steep bank under a corrugated iron shed. At the time when I started, it was very uncomfortable first thing in the morning; it was a steel open fronted shed, with no heating, and at times bitterly cold. You started the grading drum first then the elevator, one of the small crushers; all were outside of the main shed.
Once this was under way, you made your way back into the main shed to start the conveyor belt, and main crusher, and this was done by pressing and holding down a button and winding a handle, which turned the DC electrical motor on to full speed. It had a big flywheel on the right side (about four feet in diameter), and when the machine was running at full speed it continually vibrated. You would then go outside and tell the driver to tip the load, and when the driver had tipped you would then go back in and take your place over looking the mouth of the crusher. Above the crusher was a large shoot holding the limestone rocks with large chains hanging across it, which would help to stop falling stones going over the side, which you would lift over the sides when about half the load had gone. You would pull down stone towards the mouth using a five-foot steel rod with a hook at the end where they were then reduced to approximately 4inches in size before traveling along a conveyor belt to the bucket elevator

That would take it into a storage bin. Outside this shed there was a ramp and stairway that would lead you to the top of the bins.
Here you would send some of the stone back down to a smaller crusher, and again it would be crushed down to 2inches to dust, and again be elevated up to the top into a large rotating drum some 20-30 feet in length, and approximately five feet in diameter. This rotating drum would grade the stone, which would fall into separate bins waiting to be discharged into the lorries.
At the side of the bin that held the dust, would be a small door, that you opened to let it into yet another small crusher, where the dust was made into ground limestone which was used mainly for agriculture use.
As well as feeding the main crusher, you had to watch these bins, so when they became full you had to tell Gerald the driver, which ones to empty into the back of an old grey Austin lorry. When Gerald was not available to do this and if I had the time, you would also drive this lorry, and take the stone to the appropriate storing piles.

There were times I would also drive the loading shovel that was used for loading the lorries that took the stone by road to the customers. One of the drivers was Mervin known as “Mervin Chipping’s”; he was always fun to work with.
The smell of crushed limestone is a smell you never forget, you could say it’s similar to that of rotten eggs.
And when the end of the day came you would go home looking as if you had been in a tank of flour. “Very white like a ghost”.
Some of the boulders that were too big to go through the cranes bucket, “what went through the cranes bucket could also go through the mouth of the crusher” (Well that was the idea). So Dai the driver of the R B Had to put them to one side but sometimes just for a laugh, he would place one in the back of the lorry, and they would find their way on top of the crusher’s mouth; just siting there looking at you. So you had to cut them down to smaller size with a 14-pound sledgehammer, and at times extremely hard work and it often held up production.

Dai was a hell of a boy, and would do anything for a good laugh.

Another character that worked also at the quarry was a chap called Jack a well-built man, but not very tall and he to was always fun to work with, his job was to operate this crusher and to show me how to work it when I stared work there.
Jack and I had to cycle to work; or rather Jack pushed his bike to work, because he only lived within a mile down the road from the quarry, which had a steep hill down to where he lived. Going home was easy, as all he had to do was to sit on it. I lived some five miles away and winter months were the hardest times travelling to work, because your thumbs would suffer from the cold and frost. Working with Jack was fun as you could always guarantee he would have something funny to say. I always enjoyed working with him.
While I was working at the quarry I had many different jobs, so to say that I was a just a labourer would be an understatement.

I remember that on wet or rainy days the mud would stick to the side of the shoot, and also under the conveyor belt. This took Jack and myself a good few hours to remove. Jack or I would go underneath the conveyor belt and would pass the waste out. And on cold and rainy days would be difficult and often-hard work, especially when the surface of the quarry was cleaned away before it was blasted. Despite attempts to clean up the topsoil, you always had some soil or clay that would find it's way into the load, and would always stick like concrete to the sides of the shoot.
When Mr Herbert, would take the drilling-rig, (which worked with a big air-compressor), up to the top of the quarry ledge. Which was pulled by his old land Rover, he would be up there for a few days drilling many holes, we knew it would be a short time before blasting would take place, and more rock would be on it’s way.
Now going back to the large rocks that shouldn’t have found their way to the crusher. There were times when you wouldn't be able to break those with a sledgehammer, so this would mean that extreme measures would be taken by applying Dynamite, yes dynamite.
We would try and do this very carefully because now and again you would take off the shed roof, or at least part of it, and once the fuse was lit you would escape through the side door and wait outside. By now I was getting used to using plastic explosives, by picking it up watching the boys, placing it on large rocks up on the quarry face, which was too large to be used, or could not be lifted by the crane.
And if I can remember you had to take some plastic explosives put a hole in the side with a T shape tool, made from aluminium called a bodg’er. You would then place a detonator into the hole, place it onto the rock, and mix up some lime dust with water, or clay if there was any. Cover the plastic explosive and insert a fuse, which would burn very quickly once lit, give a blast on the air horns and then light the fuse.
Now driving around the quarry with plastic explosives was an experience in itself. An old Morris Minor van, the so called works van, driving this vehicle around on very rough surfaces with enough explosives in the back to blast dear Morris and myself to the nearby village.
Looking back now I often wonder how we would manage today, Health and Safety would have a field day, and also a lot to say about it.
We took our tea breaks in an old hut made from an old Railway Wagon.
It had a door at one end, and you would sit around the side. It also had a kind of table in the centre and I do believe a window at one end.
You would have 15 minutes around 10am, just time to make a cup of tea and 30 minutes for dinner.
And when I had my pay on Fridays I would sometimes go down to the village shop to buy something to eat. It was half a mile or so from the quarry next to the Cennen Arm’s pub, called I do believe Cennen Stores, and this would be eaten on the way up. Because you only had half an hour break, so by the time you got back it was time to go back to work.
The hut wasn’t the best place to eat, it wasn’t very clean or warm at the best of times, and had very little or no heating. The winter months weren’t pleasant, and also the boys would be speaking Welsh most of the time, so you could say it was difficult to hold a conversation, and can be a little awkward when you are an Englishman.
On Saturdays you worked from 7-30am till 12noon and would sometimes do repairs necessary for the coming week, this would include many aspects of work such as repairing, cleaning, greasing, cutting steel and welding, and making sure all the machinery was working properly.
When we were working a three-day week, (miners strike) there was more time for this, and it was done more often.
One day I was welding inside and underneath the new crusher, Mr Herbert was working outside, and inside a space no bigger then four feet long and less then two feet wide with no lighting. I could smell something burning, I couldn’t see anything so I just carried on when until my right leg was getting very hot, looking down I could see by now that my overalls were on fire. Dropping the tools I made a quick escape from inside the crusher, and I wasn’t long putting out the fire.
During one afternoon lifting the chains back inside the shoot I would tap on with my rod that I would use to pull down the stone. This would tell the dump truck driver that it is safe and he could now tip the load of stone. And I then wait outside but there was no response; so I went back in and did it again, but still had no response.

"I had suspected that he had to go and do something"; so eventually I went to look for him, but he was not inside the cab, and I couldn’t see him anywhere. As time was going on I decided to climb into the cab, and looking around at the dashboard and instruments to see if I could manage to work out how to tip it. Remember I was young at the time and had no licence, and never driven a dump truck, or anything this big before, but I couldn’t so I sat there inside the truck for a few minutes, and still there was no sign of the driver.
Try again I said to myself, well somehow I did managed, you had to put so many gear levers, in or out of gear, you would not believe.
By the time the truck was tipping, unfortunately Mr Herbert was on his way down from the top of the quarry in his Land Rover, and noticed that I was sitting there inside the cab, he stopped and looked at me, shouted. “What the hell are you doing in there?” or words to that effect.
So after I explained to him he then told me “Now that you are in there you can stay in there”. Saying to myself now what have I done, pressing the clutch pedal I selected a gear, and off I went. And after a few runs up and down the quarry I was ok, and from that day I was the new dump-truck driver, which was to be a great experience.
This dump truck was Russian built, with left-hand drive, and when you started it in the mornings you had to make sure that all the doors and windows were closed, because for ten minutes or so there would be a lot of white smoke coming out of that big exhaust pipe.
I can clearly remember that one of the first times I tried to reverse this machine towards the crane. Which was a R.B face shovel when somehow, I misjudged the distance between the crane and myself, and hit the back doors of the crane with the truck damaging the doors of the crane. Dai the diver was very upset over this, and he told me off. So we worked out a marking system using a traffic cone, so I could see it from my cab, and from 
                                                                                  that day I never hit him again, or I should say, I never hit the R.B again.
This dump truck was the biggest thing that I have ever driven before having lived on a farm, and my father only had a small Grey Ferguson TE20 tractor.
One day I was told to drive this monster a mile or so down the main road to pull out one of the road lorries. The driver had managed to get himself off the road and stuck in a ditch, Mr Herbert went before me in his Land Rover because this truck would take up most of the road. I found this to be a little scary at first, and at the time not even thinking about a licence or insurance, but I did enjoy the run.
One day the brakes on this dump truck didn’t work very well, so if you wanted to stop dead you couldn’t, I reported it to Mr Herbert but I was just told to carry on.
Now coming down towards the crusher, you had to make a turn to the right, then you had to put your clutch in, wait for your front wheels to roll towards a small bank, no more then a two feet high. And if you went too far, you would go over the top and down the bank, (this was not a good idea), you would then go back to the crusher’s shoot, and apply the hand brake, which did work.
Having to drive down to the bottom of the quarry or to top up with fuel would always be an experience, making sure that no one was on the way up, because once you came off the top there was no stopping you.
Fortunately this came to an end one day, after the Health and Safety inspectors called in, having found out that there were no brakes or very little on my vehicle. I was asked to stop and take it down to the workshop which was a big semicircle corrugated shed with a pit in the middle, there I was ask to park it over the pit so they could have a good look at it. After that we were told not to use it, and it was sometime before Mr Herbert managed to do all the repairs.
I would just like to say with all these different jobs that I had, there was never any increase in wages, something you would be now unwilling to do today. And the average weekly wage then was around £12 to £20 and that’s with a bonus if the quarry had sold more stone that week.
Mr Herbert had a daughter "Mari" who would call in now and then to ride her pony which was kept in a meadow by the works, and you can be sure she would always turn a workman’s eye.
When the time came for the surface, or any large rock to be blasted. It was my duty to sound the big air horns on the dump-truck, this would tell other work colleagues that there would be danger of flying rocks, therefore to take adequate safety measures. It would be one long blast to tell them it would be two minutes before blasting. Each explosion had to be counted by you to make sure it was safe to return.
Afterwards you would give two short blasts on the air horns to say it was safe and clear. I do remember Jack telling me one day of a workman in an old quarry nearby, who went back to one that hadn't gone off, and he was unfortunately killed.
During the 1970s when the miners were on strike, we had to work a three-day week without electricity, this gave us more time to do more maintenance, and any odd jobs that needed doing.
One week a new lad started work, he took over from Jack, who at this stage was back working on the crusher.
By now Mr Herbert had decided to expand his business, by putting a bigger crusher into the quarry, (this I believe was around 48 inches) and would take larger rock,
So over the next few months or so, new bins, conveyors including new machinery were fitted, a new shed, which housed the new electrical controls, was also built.
This control panel had so many different switches and lights on it, and I did look forward to seeing all this new plant up and running.
Mr Herbert and I worked a lot together on this new plant, and when the day arrived, Mr Herbert asked me if I would like to turn it all on.
This crushing machine would produce much more tonnage per hour than the old system, but it would still supply some stone on a conveyor belt to the old crusher.
I do believe the same size crusher was fitted in Cilyrchen Quarry at Lime Firms Ltd a company in Llandybie in 1975, of which I became a work member after finishing with Mr Herbert.
Mr Herbert liked to have a drink now and then, and one morning came into work, and maybe after being out the night before, decided for some unknown reason, to sack my friend and myself, we were at the time working underneath the conveyor belt cleaning out the waste.
Both of us didn't understand the reason why, it may have had something to do with him having a hangover, my friend decided to go back that week and ask for his job back, but I decided not to.
Looking back now it was hard work but an experience that I shall never forget, I did from time to time pop in to purchase stone, it was always lovely to see my old friends again.
The quarry had changed many owners by now, and the reason to cease operating at this time was not clear when I returned in December 2006.
I saw very little of the old machinery remaining, the old crusher that I helped to fit many years ago had by now been replace, and you could see that the replacement hadn’t worked for some time. I was told that this one was going to be shiped abroad and the remaining steelwork and bins would be pulled down within weeks.
Looking around I could only see a hole where the small crusher once stood, and sadly no sign of the dump truck.
I do remember it siting at the side of the new bins with no wheels on it for years later, it to may have gone to the scrap metal merchants.
Tony the driver of the loading shovel, Who had work at this quarry from around 1976, asked me if I remembered the old dump truck and showed me a photograph of it, he also had memories driving it, but not many happy ones.
This is only a small part of my time there, but should give a insight into one's working day...!. 
I would like to thank Tony (loader driver) and Gareth (site manager) for their permission and opportunity to take some photographs.
Before I left the site I was also told the sad news of my old friend Jack, who had sadly past away some time back.
Leaving the gates, there was sadness for the workmen that I knew and worked with and for all the men, who had once worked at the quarry. 
Unfortunately now only memories remain.
The company called Lime Firms ltd (Cilyrchen Quarry) in Llandybie. Was then run by Sir Alfred McAlpine & Son (northern) Ltd. Where I was employed for a seven weeks contract as a steel erector after leaving Mr Herbert. This company was partly responsible for making the end part to the motorway called the M4; the pay was much better than in my previous job. This employment came to an end after eight weeks, but that’s another experience in my working life.

Tony Gostling
49 Glynderi Glynmoch Glanaman Ammanford Carms SA18 2JG