Acrid Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
The very high roof of the workshop and a rail line into our section was to allow carriages to be shunted in for major repairs. One day 12 sheep trucks were shunted in and Jim gives three of us apprentices, Tom, John and me the job of cutting off all the bars and re-riveting them. There is a furnace close handy and we are to heat our own rivets to do the job. It is going to be a long job because we first have to chop off the old rivets with hammers and chisels. The sheep trucks are two tiered. When we are working on the top tiers, we can see the whole of the boilermakers section. Who is coming in and who is leaving. Who is working and who is not. Very interesting. One fellow who is continually coming in and out is from the upholstery section. He is a very old friend of Franks. They have a natter every now and then. His name is Harry but I do not hang around too long when he is around because he is very smelly and in a place where dirt is the norm he sticks out like sore thumb. He is filthy. We apprentices have nicknamed him “Heavy Harry”. His aroma hangs around very heavy over everything even when he is gone. I asked Frank how come he is so black because the upholstery section is the cleanest area in Newport. He does not wash was all Frank said. I think that is an understatement.
Harry has a strange habit of stooping every few feet. He picks something up and fumbles with a large tin. We are too far away to see what he is doing but is very intriguing. We must find out what he is doing. So Tom trots off one morning to shadow him. Not to close mind, just out of smelling distance. Tom comes back an hour later laughing. You know what the old bugger is doing? He is collecting cigarette butts. He picks the butt out of the dust, breaks the paper off and puts the tobacco in his tin. We continue our job and are up to the re-riveting. We heat the rivets too nearly white hot on the ends. A mixture of heat and dry sheep dong makes a real potent acrid smoke. We are coughing and wiping our eyes a bit.
Early one morning I had just inhaled at the wrong time and had got a fit of the coughs when into our section walked Harry, head down collecting. Suddenly, I had this great idea. They both liked the idea, so John headed for the little tuck shop nearby and came back with about 1 dozen cigarette papers. We are never bothered by Jim, so as long as we look like we are working no one takes any notice of us. We take it in turns to run around the whole of Newport workshops picking up every butt we can lay our hands on. After a week we have a formidable pile of butts. We break the paper off them and put the tobacco into a large box. Then we scrape plenty of sheep dung off the trucks, grind it up a bit and mix it with the tobacco. We sort of estimated that a 50/50 mix would be best because by the time our butts were mixed with the far dinkum butts that Harry was collecting it might end up with about a 10% mix. It took the three of us about two hours to make up the butts. First we roll a complete cigarette, cut it in half, burn one end in the furnace, dip the other end in the water container next to the furnace, then squeeze it up a little bit. They look really authentic. Next morning before we started work, we ran around the workshops and dropped hundreds of butts just off the main tracks just where they can be seen but not stood on.
The next morning at morning tea I was sitting with Cecil & Frank. Cecil had his head in a paper. Frank looked like he was asleep when out of the corner of my eye I saw Harry come into the boiler section. I got up and was watching him intently not realising that Frank was watching me. He crept up behind and said quietly.
“Why are you watching Harry?”
He frightened the life out of me. I did not know what to say but I could see that Frank was not going to let this go.
“Why are you looking at Harry?” He demanded.
Frank was big fella and I knew he was a mate of Harry’s. I did not know what to say. I thought Oh hell, I might as well tell the truth so I did. Frank looked stunned for a moment. I could see this was hard to take in. Suddenly, he turned and sat down beside Cecil.
“Hey Cecil.” He said.
“What’s up?” Said Cecil looking up.
Frank whispered in Cecil’s ear and his eyes widened. Then suddenly he and Frank got up together. Frank went one way, Cecil the other. They stopped at each group having morning tea until they had told the whole boilermaker section. They only place they did not go was the office and that was just as well because I did not know what Jim would say. There was a lot of laughing so I thought I might be OK. Some of the men looked at me and smirked a bit but nothing more was said. None told Harry.
Next morning when Harry walked in work stopped. You could hear a pin drop so to speak. Everyone was watching Harry. This went on for about a week. Harry did not realise he was the star of the show. The main event. He had his head down most of the time.
Before work started every morning everyone gathered at the office. Jim would allot jobs to those who did not have one then a general talk about anything, Football, Cricket, nothing in particular. About a week after our butt tampering, the talk had tapered off and the group where just turning to go when Jim said suddenly.
“I had a talk with Harry yesterday. He must have a new deodorant. He smells much better. Strange through, he smells a lot like sheep shit.”