Tuesday, 7 February 2017

A Short Chapter in my Life

Face it life is one big exploration from the time we are born to when we pass away. There is always something new to see or experience. This story is about a time when I spend a few weeks working over in Tallahassee at a place called the Magnet Labs. At the time I was working for Oxford Instruments and part of my job was to go and install the equipment we built. My involvement with this particular magnet started when I helped to rebuild the system after a failure. I might add it almost crippled me because two end plates weighing nearly quarter of a ton fell over and crushed my foot. I only got away with it because an eye bolt stopped them going further but I still had a broken bone in my foot and three weeks off work. I when I came back the job was waiting for me to finish off.
Anyway they system was rebuilt, commissioned and passed ok to ship and muggings ended up flying out to do the work. I landed in Tallahassee about 10 at night and rather that find my way in the dark went to the hotel by Taxi and picked the hire car up in the morning.

Next day I picked the car up and drove to find the labs which took me through some rather suspect areas but I found it and drove round and spotted the box the system was in standing outside with a tarp over the top. Nice touch I thought covering the top from the elements. I think it was Sunday so I went back to the hotel and found something to do
for the day.

 Monday morning I went along and introduced myself and was taken though the lab to where the system was going to be installed. This entailed removing the  end of the building which did not seem to take the  riggers lead by Bart very long

Moon was on the  crane with Soup Cambell acting as rigger

Moon and Bart

the last guy's name escapes me
Soup is stood in the opening

While this went off I drove off back to the airport to pick up a colleague Nick Dent who was going to help me.
The box with the system was inched through the opening and that is where it all went pear shaped. I was called over and shown what they had found when the tarp was removed.

Someone had dropped a container on the top damaging the box and contents, the docks had put the trap over the top to hide the damage. needless to say as soon as the ladder was up I was in the box inspecting the damage. As soon as I saw the bent necks I knew  the whole thing would need a rebuild, my mind was calculating if it could be done here or had to go back.

 Photo's were taken and phone calls made to the UK explaining what had happened. Back then there was no digital cameras so I shot of to get them developed get them scanned and emailed to Oxford.

 I was told to go and book a conference call and after finding a place which facilitated this Nick and myself went off to talk to the guys in the UK. They asked could it be rebuilt there and how long could it take. I had remembered the Professor who had ordered the system had ordered a second and the parts were in the UK I had my shopping list ready and told them it could be done in the States as there was a place in the labs it could be done. I left the guys at Oxford to negotiate the area and I set about getting it ready to be moved. Once done I said my goodbyes and got a flight home.
Back at Oxford Instruments it was down to locating the parts and assembling them making new sections up and getting my shopping list sorted out. The next stage when I got back involved cutting the system up and taking it apart to replace parts then re-assembling it again.

 The external shell the OVC (Outer Vacuum Case) had to be replaced as one piece as it could not be repaired as did one of the aluminium shields inside. Once all the parts had been located and made it was all packed up and send of back to the US. I followed on with colleague called Andy who was a welder. Together we had the task of making it look like it had done when it left the factory.
We found on arrival the system had been moved to another part of the building which had access to a crane this was needed to lift the various sections apart. Lucky this did go well as most of it involved cutting the damaged parts to allow us to lift off the external shell and shields inside. All this took a couple of days as we had to go carefully so not to get any metal partials inside and cause a problem with the magnet, we also had to take care not to damage the wiring as well.

The stripped down system in the area where we were working on it.
The repaired  part of the system after welding the new parts on.

We were staying in a hotel out of town so travelled back and forth every day by car meals were taken at what ever restaurant we liked the look of that was reasonable. The best bit though was jumping in the swimming pool after work for a swim. So the weekend was something we were looking forward to and by then we had stripped the cryostat down to the helium can which was the part in the middle so we cold repair the damaged part (above right) once done it was just a matter of putting it back together.

 Andy checking the welds on the left and on the right lowering the OVC back in place

 Andy doing the final welds on the cryostat.

Over the weekend we went for a drive to St Johns Island, only a short journey by American standards but more  a long one for what we were used to. We found this out when Bart asked us to come to a lunchtime barbeque at a school they were working at, Only a few miles down the road he said, turned out to be an hour away. Mind you I could not complain about the Southern Hospitality, the food was great.
We worked Saturday morning and Sunday went off to the coast. Had a great time watching crabs and birds scurrying round the beach and walking along the sand. I took my shirt off which was a bad thing because when we went back to the hotel I said my back was burning. Was it ever even the pool made no difference and when I had the conference call with Oxford and mentioned what happened I could sense  a few chuckles but an hour later I had a call from the Oxford service manager up in Boston who told me to get off to the hospital quick. I did and found out my back was badly burned with blisters all over it. I got some ointment to rub on and left a 100 or so dollars lighter. To this day I still get ribbed by Andy who had to rub the stuff on my back.
This did not stop the progress as we rebuilt the croyostat and by the weekend had it all together. That was it for Andy who took a flight back to the UK and Monday Nick Dent who was a US service egineer came town to help with the reinstallation.

 Moving the system back to the place it was to be commissioned.

The system was carefully taken back round the building and placed in the hall then the external iron shielding for the magnetic field was built up round the outside. The once in place the end wall was built up. By the weekend we were nearing being ready to pump the vacuum in the system. It was also Barts birthday so we were invited to a cowboy stile party at his place or should I say ranch because that is what it looked like to me. I was even introduced to "Moonshine" which I thought was like the Irish equivalent Poitin. The food was great and so was the clay pidgin shooting which I turned out to be a dab hand at.

Nick and myself waiting to be served at the barbecue 

Yep that's me shooting at some poor little clays

Still all was not play and Monday  it was back to getting the system ready for cool down and another engineer turning up for Oxford to commission the system. Once it was happy it was Vacuum tight and starting to cool I took my leave back to Oxford and await the results.

The two photos above show the system being assembled in the  magnet hall where it was to be tested

Unfortunately though the magnet did work it did not reach the required specs and though negotiations took place the customer called enough and rather that send it back to the UK the magnet was scrapped. The last I heard and saw was the thing in a skip. I felt all the work I and many other guys had put into what we did was for nothing and it had cost the company a lot of money.  Oxford went into a decline around that time taking some heavy losses on the one off Magnet systems like the one I had worked on and people were made redundant. The place was stream lined and I ended up working on testing the large 900 NMR magnets .
 I left eventually and went to work at Rutherford Laboratory on the Diamond Project. Oxford Instruments did manage to turn things around and dropped the large magnets concentrating on the more profitable side of things, they are now doing very well in the market place and though I don't miss working there I miss the guys I worked with who made the place what it is.

This is the last photo I have of the system before it was finished with Soup de rigging it. I hope you have enjoyed my story.
Dedicated to Ivan who along with his mate Buzz help build it in the first place. 
Ivan died in September 2016 RIP

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Reading Prison

Rather than give you the history I found on Reading Prison on Wiki I've linked it so you can read but basically Reading prison was built in 1844 on the site of the old Reading Goal, probably the most notable prisoner was Oscar Wilde . It finally closed in 2013. Last year there was an artist exhibition on I went along to see with my wife, in truth I wanted to see the prison as I went to school next door to it. Black & white photos were sourced of the internet along with the drawing. 

The prison and from the carriage I 'd say some time after it opened in the 1800's

The cars look like they are from the 1950's in the next two photos

which is how I remember seeing the prison

Sometime in the 1970's they redesigned it and it became even uglier


with new brick wall and the front cleared for carpark. It did not help that Reading Council was also building the IDR (Inner Distribution Road) so widened the road in front taking land from both prison and nearby St James Church

The photo above is a stitch showing the prison walls and carpark. On the right we are inside the walls

Razor wire tops the walls and the mark you see on the ground mid photo was where a did was done on reading Abbey, the prison is built on the old Abbey

Not sure I would attempt to climb the wall with this lot

This is a fenced off exsersize yard

Above the entrance to the prison on the left, and right part of the Abbey dig. I was told it had stopped because they had found some Human Bones.

Above the long walk in and the bars that keep you there. On the right you are looking along one of the wings of the prison

Down another of the wings

In the first wing I showed there was a exhibition of photos showing former prisoners that were interned here, most of them were only kept a couple of weeks and were re-offenders. One in the photo was a girl as young as 12

Above one of the cells with bed and washbasin, the toilet is behind the screen at the end. On the left is a artist drawing from when th eplace first opened

Above the bars mean you are not getting out on the right the other levels above the one I am stood in

Shower cubicle's

The two photos above show a cell and the stares you climb up to the next level. The drawing looks like it is from one of the inmates who was here

as I said there were artists showing there work off some was passable as art this room was full of photos and some show showed a guy masturbating which is not what I call art, not impressed

This is the second level where Oscar Wilde world have been held

In one cell there was a picture of Oscar and a smaller one of some one else, this was more like art to me

The cell looked a little depressing I feel

The stares from a balcony and a look along the landing, the netting is there to stop the prisoners tossing there fellow inmates over the side

Above looking down on the photo exhibition, and the right are the books Oscar Wilde had in his cell

I doubt this was the table he had though

Nor did his cell look like this with all these books

Above is Oscar Wilde's cell though when he was here there would have been no metal bed of toilet facility's, most likely a wooden bed with  straw mattress a chair and a bucket in the corner. On the right is the floor he was on which I doubt has changed much in all that time

Above we are looking out of what I thing was the prison wardens office and on the left is the old chapel which was destroyed in a fire and converted to a recreation hall and subject of part of the art exhibition

The door is the subject and stands in front of a concrete plinth the same dimensions as a cell in Reading Prison. The door is the original form Oscar Wilde's cell and what he would have looked at. On the right you can see the windows of the old chapel

Above the main window looking into the top floor of a wing which you can see on the left

Looking down the stare case to the ground floor and out the window to the exercise yard

Above a drawing showing how they exercised in Victorian times, they had to wear a hood like you see so they could not see their fellow inmates or talk to them. Think we went wrong some where because they don't do that now. On the left we look across the centre of the three wings

Above you can look down the stare case to the first wing I went in and on the right the bars that kept the secure prisoners in solitary

Back to the first floor and I might add below the ground floor were more cells that were used for solitary confinement and where they were kept in the dark as punishment pack in Victorian times. Unfortunately we did not see them

Above another view through one of the windows where you can just see the abbey ruins, the tall building is called the Blade . On the right we look up to the top of the central part of the prison

so that  is it we are now on the way out

A sight may prisoners had to wait to see.

If you remember I said in my opening I went to school next door, well the window you see on the right was one of the classrooms I was in, used to look out over the walls to the prison. The school is now a pre school nursery and over a bit more to the left you can see the Abbey Ruins. That's it for my trip round the prison. It was interesting to see but a place I am glad I never have been a guest of.
I think it would be good if they did some more tours of the place as it was interesting for me and I'm sure many more people would like to see it. I'm not sure as to what will become of it in the future but we will see.