A Life In Cars

The life story of Dickie Sutherland


Heading Off To Trade School

Trade School, what an experiance, the Teachers were Tradesmen, good at there trade, use to telling apprentices what to do, no questions asked but filled with interesting stories of work, life and cars. The students, were fliied with the excitemt of there first job, a whole new schooling expeiance and Cars, and the very real entry into the adult world.

Trade School 19th Feburary was an introduction to a whole different schooling experience.  The first attendance was at night the second or third week of the first term, the teacher, Ron Jones proved himself to be a complete smart ass.

Tuesday night, I was standing in the back of the pre-fab school building, chocó-block with 50-plus students, the first year of the ‘Baby Boomers’, Oh! shit, where do we put all these kids?

Trades apprentices were considered generally illiterate, having left school early because of their lack of illiteracy hence the course is conducted with that in mind, for us kids who have progressed past grade 7 we had to tolerate the content which was made agreeable due to the high mark achieved with little effort.  At least that was the general consensus of the students.

Thursday night’s subject was Drawing, I loved drawing, my Intermediate exam result and my best mark was a ‘B’; however, the level of drawing was well below the complexity I had mastered.

The lads in my class, no girls, were a great bunch with the usual mix of smart-ass and dills, I fitted into the average bunch in the middle.

Valliant S Series 1962

The second term was conducted at the Marleston campus for the day attendance.  Panel beaters were required to have woodworking skills as some of the older cars had wooden frames.  Coachbuilding in its original format.  The teachers were interested in what skills each of us lads had. Projects reflected wooden tools that we could use in our everyday application, with an accent on coach building. A highlight of Marleston was a Black S series Valiant, parked in a joining carport, what a great-looking machine, it looked as if it was doing 100mph standing in the carport.  Whoosh!

Discussions with fellow students always related mostly to cars, who’s were better for what reason.  The mythology of some cars could always be embellished.  Like the Studebaker Lark Helmet harped on about, fast over 100mph.  The power of a V8, yet its high fuel consumption, and so on, but a Mini could do 45 miles to the gallon, so there.

While at Trade School we students got to work on some pretty dreary vehicles there,  Desoto or Dodges of the 1950s, such plane uninspiring designs that were tarted up with chrome mouldings.   Body design discussions of what looks good, which cars are well resolved in their design given the limitation of mass produce inexpensive cars. 

One notable repair to an MG TC cowling panel that was stretched to the point of ‘oil canning’, a suggested screw it down to the timber frame and plastic fill over the screw.  Not quite the metal finish but an effective solution.

Cutting-edge build materials used in car manufacture in the 1960s Fibreglass was discussed.  Fibreglass bodies were new innovative and still in the development stage.  Inexpensive to create body styles, the preferred construction material for many kit cars, not yet to be used in mass-produced main steam brands.

Our teacher Brian Chapman had worked for the Lightburn company,  (Lightburn built fibreglass body car),  Low price however unusual design, No tailgate, awkward shape, at the price point set which made it the cheapest new car ever to be released on the Australian market.  Lightburn were better at making tools, cement mixers, washing machines and fibreglass boats.

Lightburn Zeta

Nocturnal activities, during the cold winter nights, standing outside the classroom in class groups, one notable activity was the flicking of firecrackers across the great divide.  The flicked cigarette buts were the highlight, everyone would jump for cover, to see a glow lingering without a Bang, with a chuckle of disappointment after.

I was able to achieve credits at Trade school, the subjects were of great interest, the hands-on practical tasks were challenging yet in line with what I did at work.  Most of the teaching staff had extensive industry skills and stories, very impressive and entertaining.  Later in life, I was able and pleased to work with one of my better teachers Brian Chapman, a teacher who guided me through my trade school years with encouragement and good humour.

Driving home from trade school was yet another experience to be relished.  I would stop off at Kevin’s place; we would go out for the novelty of driving around the streets in the darkness.  This activity included Kevin riding on the roof rack, ‘riding the wrack’, while I drove around in reveres, Odometers do not register miles driven in reverse.  The novelty of driving a car at night, with the freedom to express that novelty.

Trade school was a positive experience, the teaching staff were experienced in the industry and passionate about the Automotive industry. The Students were keen, their stories of their workplace, the characters and the variations of the Industry made for one interesting schooling experience. I stayed after the three years of the Trade Certificate and did several advanced subjects in the last two years. Highlight of each year the Open nights displaying students’ work, end of year presentation night, with student bands entertainment and presentation of certificates for work achieved were great occasions. The celebration of the students’ achievements, acknowledgment of worthwhile achievement.

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A change is as good as a holiday. Panel beating to Spray Painting. And a back to school for upskilling.