My only plan when I finished high school was to take a couple of weeks off, and then get a job. On my first day off, I went downtown to see a friend at a book wholesaler where I had worked part-time. On the way back to the bus stop, I saw a machine shop, so I went in. Two days later I started work at 7:45 am. It was a rude introduction to the working world, and at the end of the day I was totally exhausted. A few days later I learned my pay was $2 an hour, precisely fifty cents less than I had expected. No holiday either.
There were eight of us, plus "Ed" the boss, his wife, and the secretary. In high school, a jerk was an "Ed"; that's what you called your friends if they gave you a hard time. And now, everyone is calling the boss "Ed", and he's turning to see what they want. It took me a while to get used to that. Ed was a good guy, and an excellent welder.
I bought a '72 Yamaha 350 slightly used, on credit. I remember the woman at Avco Financial was absolutely gorgeous. She made me want to borrow more money. The bike was great to ride, and I started getting speeding tickets. One of the machinists owned a Vincent, and used to road race a Norton. We became friends and the bike bug bit deeper. Now I wanted a Vincent. At nineteen, I became the youngest Vincent owner in BC by buying a basket case for $600. When I sold the bike 25 years later, I was still the youngest Vincent owner in BC.
Cylinder Grinders was two shops in one. I worked under John, the foreman, in the automotive side. The other side was a jobbing machine shop; fixing and machining all manner of things. You had to be versatile to work there. I was soon doing valve jobs, rebores, engine rebuilds. John and I butted heads often. I knew he wanted to fire me sometimes, so I made a point of machining everything as perfectly as I could, and he would check it and find nothing. John was close to retirement age, and his hands would often shake. He was also a bullshit artist. Once he had a customer in the lunchroom, and in front of everybody started to tell the guy how he regularly worked to two tenths of a thou... so Chris stood up on the lunchroom table and pulled his pants up above his ankles—a sure sign the bullshit was getting way too deep. Everyone laughed, and John was pissed.
I remember one day, I was working around the corner, and John came in with someone else, and the 'someone else' said, "why is the heater on?" And John said, "it's that Stupid Fucking Kid!" I came from around the corner and said, "Stupid Fucking Kid, eh?" I never let him forget it, and I became known as the "SFK". I did not put the heater on.
After the Yamaha, I bought a 72 Norton Commando. Cylinder Grinders was downtown, just over the Granville Street Bridge, for those of you who know Vancouver. One sunny morning at 7:30 am, there was a little less traffic than usual, and my speed on the entry on-ramp was good, so I cracked on the throttle and got down on the tank, and saw an honest 100 mph before I backed it off. A good little shot of adrenaline before work.
I became an apprentice. I wanted to work on the machine shop side, and that happened in the third year. I worked on an internal grinding machine that was made before the First World War. It had a leather belt going from the floor to the ceiling, and wooden pulleys. It was a trick to get it going, especially on a cold morning. I had to blip the on/off switch while holding a broom stick handle against the belt on the side wanting to fall off. After a while the belt would warm up, and the squeaking would stop. I think my pay was almost up to $4 an hour.
It was time for our annual raise, and everyone else got fifty cents an hour. I got fifteen cents an hour after being there for two and a half years. The justification was that I had just switched sides of the shop. I was pissed, and decided by the end of the day that I would quit next June and go to Europe for six months. I gave Ed six months notice. Everyone said I was stupid, that I should finish my apprenticeship, become a machinist so I would always have "something to fall back on". I never ever wanted to fall back. My mind was made up...