These days, most car repairs are a matter of removing an old component and replacing it with a new one of similar design. The people who work on our cars aren’t ‘engineers’, no longer can most of them really be described as ‘mechanics’. The most appropriate term would probably be ‘fitters’. And due to improvements in the quality of materials and in manufacturing processes, the bodywork and structural components of the vehicle will likely outlast the mechanical components.
But this wasn’t always the case. A few decades ago, it wasn’t at all unusual for a driver to take their car for an MOT, only to be told that the bodywork or chassis was suffering from corrosion and needed welding. Welding is the process of joining two metal surfaces together under conditions of extreme heat, while the reaction is protected by a special gas. In the repair workshops of Essex, many a mechanic would be kept busy repairing the bodywork and undersides of customers vehicles.
Typically, a welding repair would begin by cleaning up the damaged or corroded area with a wire brush or similar tool. Then our Essex mechanic would turn on the oxyacetylene gas which created the extreme heat required for the welding process. If necessary, the tool could now be used as a cutting torch, to remove damaged sections of steel from the structure of the car and create a surface of clean, fresh metal for the new components to be welded to. New pieces of steel would be cut to shape, and welding would commence using a filler material to create a stronger bond between the new and old steel. When the car had been repaired, the weld would be allowed to cool and the bodywork repainted or treated as necessary. Essex garages would need regular supplies of welding gas for their repair work.
Of course, car repairs weren’t the only application for welding gas in Essex. Many industrial processes did and still do involve welding, especially those involved in the manufacture of large metal objects such as machinery, ducting and infrastructure. There can be little doubt that such Essex companies as Ford UK and Marconi Electronics of Chelmsford would have employees experienced in gas welding.
As the years pass, more and more factory production becomes automated, and while welding is still performed it is done by robots in controlled environments. But there is still a demand for those experienced in gas welding to work in Essex. Automobile repairs aren’t what they used to be, but the repair of many simpler items still depend on the skills of a competent welder. Some of those in the trade have branched out and trained to use MIG and TIG equipment, thereby increasing the scope of the services they are able to offer. Others have chosen to look further afield, to the great industrial centres of the north, or even further – specialist welders are always required on offshore installations and remote bases. It’s a skill which could take them anywhere.