Towards the end of
the war I was a
Wellington Technical College Student.
My father worked at
Radio Corporation of New Zealand a company that before the war made domestic
radio sets but which was now fulfilling wartime contracts. I sometimes
visited the factory with dad.
It was a extensive factory, a rabbit warren of separate buildings all
connected together one way or another. Upstairs, downstairs, along
corridors and covered cake-walks one went. It fronted on Courtenay Place
and went back to Wakefield Street.
A lane from Wakefield Street
shared with Pallo Engineering and shops on Courtenay Place provided access
to the ground floor machine shop that contained heavy machinery. They had
one monstrous press that had punched out steel helmets for the military,
turret lathes, milling machines and others, all making military equipment.
This machine shop turned out 10,000 sten guns for the army. They had banks
of smaller presses that punched out metal fittings and also the Es and Is
for transformer laminations. Elsewhere were large workrooms devoted to
functions such as coil winding. That department made power and output
transformers, intermediate frequency transformers and wound RF coils. It
had a wax impregnation room. There was the condenser department where paper
condensers were wound and mica condensers assembled.
On the top floor of a building
fronting Wakefield Street was the Speaker department now assembling other
things. Access to this was via the covered cake walk above the factory roof
and pinned to the wall of an adjacent building. Elsewhere in the tangle
were the assembly lines, Plating shop, Laboratory, test suites, stores,
packing, a class room for training, and administration office and suites
overlooking Courtenay Place. A very large number of people were employed.
No wonder they used the grandiose title ‘RADIO CORPORATION OF NEW
I spent a Sunday at the factory
with my Father. He and a mechanical engineer installed two bakelite presses
as the company was soon to begin the construction of ZC1
transmitter/receiver units for the military. The presses were hydraulically
powered from the City’s high pressure water supply. The final pressure
being quickly supplied by the operator pumping a short lever of a built-in
high pressure pump. Later my Father’s job for the company was to set up and
manage the Mica mine in South Westland.
I was a schoolboy and knew my
way around the factory. In 1945 and 1946 I worked in the college holidays
at RCNZ. I received 32 shillings and 6 pence a week which I thought to be
quite good for a fourteen year old schoolboy. I was in an environment that
I liked and I enjoyed working with adults. I was awake to their tricks when
they would ask me to go to the store to get a box of electrons. I worked in
a factory that was fulfilling war contracts and although the work was
repetitious I did my share of overtime. Evening work was enjoyable, music
was played and it made, the time go very quickly and my pay packet bigger.
During the day the fastest
periods of time were the morning and afternoon National Radio Programme’s
broadcasts of ‘Music While You Work’. The song — ‘I’m Beginning to see the
Light’ — came out then and was played every day on this programme. Even now
when I hear it, it is like a key unlocking my memories of those days working
in that factory. I did the same work for the two or three weeks. Each
holiday it would be in a different department. Staff entered the factory by
the Courtenay place entrance. It was a long dark corridor empty except for
the delivery bicycle. Up the stairs, or in the lift, exiting in front of
the internal windows of the open plan administration office. It did not pay
to be late.
I started in the store as
message boy riding that bicycle around the central city. It was a heavy
trade bike with a big steel basket over a small front wheel. It was built
like a battleship and would never wear out. Sometimes I would have to scour
the hardware shops for the last remaining stocks of certain items required
in the factory. On one occasion it was tins of caustic soda, another time
it was hearth brushes. These would be piled high in the basket and I would
have to crane my head over the top in order to see where I was going.
Wartime caused some unusual shortages.
I would count,
weigh or set out components for the production lines and learned all about
the different types of nuts and screws with their particular heads that were
needed. I stacked iron laminations into transformer windings. I called
them lamentations and was constantly corrected by the kindly ladies who
tended to look after me. I inserted freshly wound paper condensers into
pressed metal sleeves and terminated the pigtails around the solder lugs. I
riveted relay parts together for ZC1 transmitter/receiver units This was in
the Speaker Department and two young ladies from Teacher’s Training College
hand swaged the silver contacts into their mounting springs for the ZC1
antenna change over relay.
This must have been during the
height of the ZC1 production as every time I walked through the Condenser
Department they would yell at me “when’s your Father going to send up some
more mica”. On one occasion I spent a week hand dipping condensers
(capacitors) into molten cerise wax and resin. It was summer and wild ‘kami
kazi’ minded bees getting the smell of the hot wax would come through the
open window and power dive into the molten mixture ending up bubbling like
chips in a fish shop frying vat.
The company still carried on
its civilian business. It must have stock-piled many domestic radios for
its retail arm, Radio Centre, to sell during the war. It maintained a large
fleet of small British cars that it fitted with gas bags above their roof.
The bags filled with low pressure household gas powered the engines. I
remember the lattice metal frames being made and the light canvas inner
bladders being gas proofed with whale oil. What a stink, and to ride in
them was doubly smelly as the whale oil mingled with the pervading smell of
Up to 1946 I had been mainly
the only school boy hired. When domestic radio production recommenced they
decided to seek school holiday staff and set up a special schoolboy
production line for the assembly of a small mantel model valve radio. For
this group of student workers the class room was used to teach some basic
radio and how the famous ’Hikers One’, one valve battery radio, worked.
I really enjoyed working in
this Company as a school boy and hold it as pleasant and interesting
interlude in my life. No doubt it played a part in my education
that fitted me for a lifetime in Radio Communications