When I left school in July 1963, with just a couple of 'O' Levels I was looking for a job with some Chemical or Mathematical background. Living in Blurton near Stoke I was, of course, looking for jobs nearby as I had nothing but a good gait. How I came to get a job with Evode is by pure coincidence: my younger brother was a remarkable sportsman and played almost every sport for his school, Newcastle High School. One day in early August 1963 the school were playing King Edward High School in Stafford and my father had taken the afternoon off to go with them. Having won by almost a cricket score my father had been so keen celebrating that he had forgotten to get the transport back and had no choice but to walk. This took him past a company called Evode which, he noticed, were involved in chemistry. By chance he called in to see if he could get and interview for his eldest son; he did!
In the middle of August I duly arrived at Evode and sat in Tom Knowles's waiting room after being directed there by Mrs Bainbridge. I had two interviews. The first was with Colin Cooper who informed me that he was a chemist in the adhesive laboratories and went on to tell me a lot about adhesive whilst asking me some rather tricky questions. During the interview he mentioned that Evode made a product call Evo-Stik Impact Adhesive; at last I knew what the company was all about which prompts two digressions:
1. During my stay at Granville Secondary School at Stone I had a liking for mathematics which involved cardboard model making. I spent many happy hours making these devices which required an adhesive; we used small tubes of Evo-Stik Impact Adhesive. During all those years I must have used hundreds of tubes of the adhesive and looking back on it we must have affected the sales, but I don't recall any discounts! I really must have been very naif since I never even once thought of sniffing the stuff. You won't see the adhesive in schools today though, what a shame.
2. Nowadays I ring a lot of people and nearly always the conversation goes like this:
"Your company, please?"
"E V O D E"
"Oh yes, thank you."
From then on it was easy going!
Next I met Jim Reid and Dr Malcolm Welch, who I learned were from EvoMastics Ltd. They asked me a lot of impossible questions most of which I fluffed as science at school does not prepare one for making adhesives and sealants! I also made the gaff of asking Jim what he was doing a college as he looked so young! Jim was, of course, a fully qualified chemist working for Malcolm. However I got a job as Laboratory Assistant in the Mastics Laboratory. A few days later I received a letter from Tom Knowles informing me that I should start at Evode Limited on Monday 9 September at 9:00am and that I would be given 3 months probation. Strange but I don't recall that probation having been lifted until I got a job description from Terry Gregory in 1991!
Upon arriving at Evode I was directed to the Mastics Laboratory, on the upper floor of the laboratory block. This laboratory was a long thin room with work benches either side and two desks at the top in front of the windows for Jim Reid and Malcolm Welch, chemist & chief chemist for EvoMastics Ltd. I recall that Diana Rose worked for Jim and Tony Rigg and I worked for Malcolm, although from time to time Jim had two assistants and Malcolm sometimes three. We were at that time working on two part Polysulphide sealants, I with Polevo Pour & Polevo Gun, Tony with most types of sealants including Epoxy Polysulphides sealants which I discovered were for making double glazing units. Ironically Evode is now one of largest producers of perimeter sealants for double-glazed units, worldwide!
Within a couple of days of joining the company I was out foraging for raw materials; laboratory assistants were required to do all these types of chores, when I was accosted by a little old man with a very strong German accent. He said that he was Dr. Simon but failed to let me in on the secret that he ran the show! Over what appeared to be a long time he asked all sorts of questions, thanked me and walked off. Many months might go by before our paths crossed but he never forgot who I was and if he tarried for a few moments always new what subjects to talk about!
The EvoMastics Laboratory had a strange focal point during 1963-1964: on Malcolm's work area was shining porcelain toilet. (I'm adamant that it was a Twyford). This was to test Plumber's Mait a non-setting putty for sealing the spigot into the sockets of such toilets. Such a product was necessary because toilets were being moved from the bottoms of gardens (no more banging on the wooden door whilst hopping in the rain!) to small wooden planked rooms upstairs and the movement of the wood eventually caused the mortar, used at the time, to crack and fall out. It was said that the toilet was soiled but I'm sure that somebody had introduced some iron compound into the bowl!
A requirement of being a laboratory assistant was to attend college on a part time basis. For most of us this was a whole day and one or two evening classes. This was a problem as I didn't have English Language 'O' Level, fortunately we found that this was no longer required for the first year but was thereafter. Even though I took English Language many times I could not pass as it was a very uninteresting subject for me. People only learn when they are interested; something teachers should note. To prove this one term at school we had a replacement English Teacher who made the subject interesting; I came second in class that term only to back to the bottom thereafter! Each year I failed English Language and each year the rules changed by one year! I even managed to pass HNC. Then came the crunch; GRIC exams, all entrants must have English Language 'O' Level. So I wrote to them asking for exemption as it was clear that examiners could understand my English and that is really the purpose of English after all! I am now a MRSC CCHEM and have never passed English!
During the 60's we had tea breaks in the canteen which took up the front area of the downstairs of the laboratory block, lunch break was 90 minutes. For chemists tea and biscuits were served by Mrs Carter from a trolley. At this time tea breaks were the most important thing for lowly paid assistants ( I got £4 10/- per week) and absolutely nothing got in their way. These little breaks were a wonderful time when one met friends from other laboratories and played darts!
Within a couple of years Bob Moore joined EvoMastics as a chemist under Malcolm and I was assigned to work with him. We took over the long bench in the adjoining Adhesive Laboratory next to the Mastics Laboratory. This laboratory was run be Patrick Counsell and Geoffrey Green who were developing Twinstik, silicones and other adhesives.
We were working on a new type of product: a single part polysulphide sealant. Bob was a very nice person to work for but rather strict about time keeping and would comment on only a few minutes tardiness, the fact I had travelled 17 miles did not matter; it was the principle. One winters day I was 3 hours late and he spent nearly as long again berating me about it. I hadn't the heart to tell him that as the number 10 bus couldn't make it I had walked most of the way and many people living nearby had not turned in as their cars were snowbound! Bob always looked ten years younger than he really was and when I met him over 20 years later I was tempted to ask if he could fly!
We had a lot of trouble developing a single part polysulphide sealant because the resins used, apparently essential to make the sealant stick (otherwise it would just fall out of the joint!), used to come to the surface as random dots. Some wags used to comment about smallpox but to us it was a serious problem. We couldn't even get a nice pattern so that we could sell a tartan sealant to the Scots! Bob had another annoying trait and that was if you think of an idea try it, this often caused me to have to make up a lot more tests than I was originally given as he would as he insisted on trying everything! If I suggested to him "oh why not try this" I'd end up with 64 formulations to make not 32! Bob solved it by using NO resin but using a mixture of two curing agents; Calcium and Barium Peroxides! This product RDM 2277 became known as Monopol.
During this period I worked with an art student, Robin Goodfellow, who caused me a little trouble. Robin used to write all his notes in beautiful copperplate writing. Unfortunately this accentuated the writing in my notebooks which required Bob to consult the local chemist occasionally.
One day we had to tidy our benches as Barry Jackson had graphically told us that 'The Old Man" was on his way up. Most of my bench was tidy for once except for some small areas at each end. Over most of the middle section were a few hundred cut off cartridges containing single part polysulphide sealants which I had prepared over the last few days. Whilst tidying the small bits I accidentally knocked one of the cartridges at one end. Had I been aware of the Guinness Book of Records I think I might have applied because that one cartridge produced an avalanche and knocked all the other cartridges off all over the floor. Some were even discovered next door!
When the Doctor arrived it was with Paul Halewood an Epoxy resin chemist and some Admiral. They were to show off one of the new Nylon/Epoxy Resin structural adhesives. Two 1/16 inch thick pieces of aluminium 1" by 6" were bonded with a 1" overlap. These were pulled apart in the Hounsfield W and at about 2 tons the aluminium necked and then broke making heavy objects nearby 'dance'. The Admiral was impressed and asked for another sample, which to the consternation of all broke as he handled it. This proves that the strength of an adhesive often depends upon the way it is stressed, and this one was very weak in peel!!
Bob Moore left after a few years. He applied for a job he couldn't possibly get but after a wait of 3 months without a reply he found he had got it! Later mastics moved into the area vacated by the paints laboratory at the far end of the upstairs Laboratory block.
During lunchtime most of us ate our sandwiches in the laboratories. It was rumoured that this could produce instant dismissal if seen by The Doctor. Of course it was bound to happen and one day he appeared at the far door, sandwiches were hurriedly hidden. The Doctor was an astute man and knew exactly what was going on and from a distance began to issue a staccato rebuke that only Germans can do. Eventually he saw what we were playing Chess and his tone instantly changed to one of gentle inquiry, even offering free membership to the Stafford Chess Club!
Although Barry Jackson was the Technical Director at this time he was often in the Laboratory carrying out tests on new ideas. Barry was bubbling over with wonderful fresh ideas but the trouble is that most ideas don't really work and this can often give the wrong impression. Barry's most important idea was Evo-Stik Flashband which over the years must have made Evode a lot of money, but this wasn't the only idea of Barry's that worked and many of the innovative polishes, sealants and roof waterproofing products owed a lot to Barry Jackson. One quaint idea said to have been proposed by Barry was the use of fresh cow dung as a plasticiser for mortar and Russell Sim was despatched to the common to collect some of this naturally occurring product. I suppose if this had worked he'd have had a pat on the back.
When EvoMastics moved into the bottom half of the old Paint Laboratory, bitumen and building chemical products moved into the top half, run by Harry Venton. John Haycock worked on bitumen emulsions, which, like bitumen, had bizarre properties. Some of these 70% bitumen emulsions were strongly dilatent; thin black liquids but when stirred they quickly became temporarily solid! One could pour a little of the black liquid onto the palm of ones hand and then roll it like a ball between two hands. It had the feel of a hard plastic ball and could even be thrown to another person, providing that person quickly rolled the material, they too had a black ball! People used to watch us do this and occasionally we would throw the 'ball' to them, unfortunately they did not think to continue rolling the 'ball' and it just ran through their fingers as a thin liquid! As an assistant I was often called out to collect bitumen for use in formulations. The bitumen was often in paper bags stacked just outside the bitumen factory. In the winter this was no problem as the bitumen was hard and brittle and could easily be broken with a hammer. In the summer, however, the same bitumen was much softer and sticky and could not be broken by a hammer. We used to take a bag onto a nearby roof and drop it onto the concrete 20 or 30 feet below. The impact would shatter the bitumen into hundreds of lumps, like Thorntons toffee, and if we were quick we could collect those bits before they agglomerated.
One day I was using some equipment that had a Mercury manometer and some of the Mercury spilt upon some siliconised release paper nearby and stopped dead. This intrigued me because Mercury is supposed to run all over the place; hence its popular name "quick silver". This must have been noticed by others but without registering its significance; however, I did not forget it.
Early in 1969 I moved into Technical Services but was given six months to work in other laboratories to gain useful knowledge. My first port of call was with Cyril Lawton who was working on epoxy resin repair compounds etc. One of Cyril's ideas was to make a very high 'wet grab' epoxy brick slip adhesive. The idea was to basically avoid voids! We made a product that could hold one brick onto a vertical wall and would not move even if another was placed upon it! Next day when a sledge hammer was plied the brick came away from the wall with a big chunk of the wall! I also spent a lot of time with Harry Venton who helped me with bitumens and concrete additives. Les Willmore who demonstrated most of the building and roofing products was also very helpful practically. I therefore actually took up the position in Technical Services in September 1969 working for Ted Akerman. I learned a lot whilst working for Ted as he have a deep understanding of the products, he was also very strict about technical accuracy which caused a little friction on occasions. Ted seemed to have a seventh sense and could detect an error in a document from 20 paces; many people were just a little disconcerted to see him instantly find an error in a document they had very carefully checked! Some have suggested that I had a ninth sense!
During the next five years we had some interesting incidents:
1. Seeing complaints is a very useful way of learning about products. The first one on which I accompanied Ted we went to see a concrete floor in a large crisp warehouse which was still dusting after being treated with Evo-Stik Prover II, a concrete dustproofer! The person we saw was not too pleased and wanted to know why our product did not do its job properly. Ted, however, pointed out that the dust was nearly black but the concrete was light grey! Upon walking out of the main door he pointed to the pile of coke which was being levigated by the wheels of the trucks into black dust and then being blown and carried into the warehouse!
2. Ted was to deliver a lecture one evening where he decided he would show the heat produced by a fast setting epoxy. I made up the formulation he had suggested with the resin and hardener in two separate small tins labelled 'A' & 'B'. Somehow there appeared another tin labelled 'B' with green soap in it and Ted actually took the wrong one; I really should have labelled them better.
3. We once had a complaint where a customer had used a two part polysulphide sealant which didn't cure. We found that the customer had not mixed the components but applied them separately in different joints!!
One day I was talking to Neil MacDonald and the subject of Mercury came up, I recalled the effect I had noticed some years ago and mentioned to Neil that Mercury became rather torpid when it landed upon silicone coated release paper. I attempted to show the effect to Neil by dropping some mercury from waist height onto a metre square sheet of release paper on a floor, however, he stopped me from doing this. When he saw the effect, on the bench, he was as surprised as I had been and suggested that I take a couple of days off to discuss the matter with Professor William Wake and Keith Allen at the City University. We finally published a paper but I have to say that Bill Wake did most of the work. Simply put, if you place small droplets of Mercury metal onto clean silicone release paper the Mercury will hardly move at all! If the droplets are as small as a pinhead the paper can be inverted without the Mercury falling off!
In 1973 we learned that the ceramic tile adhesives we had made all those years for Building Adhesives Ltd., (BAL) were soon to be made by themselves. So that we could compete Evode poached Mike Wheat from BAL. When Ted moved to Technical Liaison, in 1975, to deal with health and safety matters, Mike Wheat took over all the companies Technical Services and we moved to building 32 next to the latex house!
One of the disrupting features of Technical Service work is the telephone, from 1969 this was a growth area. On a 'good' day one could do nothing else but deal with a constant stream of telephone calls. This got worse when we moved because not only did the number of calls increase but the room we were in was like a large cavern with a high roof and steam pipes along the top walls. These pipes emitted a random loud tick which was most disconcerting but which we were told could not be removed. In desperation Colin Hulme & I got Barrie Liss to sit with us for 30 minutes on one of his Friday visits. He agreed with us and wrote something onto his pad. After that Friday we never heard that noise again!
Next door to us were the Industrial Technical Services where John Birtles and Maurice Chard resided in rather more comfortable surroundings. Working with other technical service staff was, in my view, more efficient. We could learn about other products and help to even out those peak loads. During this time Neil MacDonald was asked by Scottish Hydroelectric to offer a material to coat the inside of old concrete water pipes with a remedial protective. Neil had suggested that we try Rok Rap, but I don't think he really expected this to be chosen as he was aware of the competition for the project.
Rok Rap was one of those wonderful ideas of Barry Jackson; cement on a bandage! This was produced by running an open-weave fabric through a bath of a slurry of cement + a little binding resin in methylene chloride. When dry it was a dust free tape, which when immersed in water for 20 seconds could be wrapped or draped with ease. By 1991 this process was untenable as we could not recycle or remove the methylene chloride in a satisfactory way. I had suggested that we replace the solvent with water! I could understand why most people only humoured me at best! However, I was sure that I was right since we get complaints about some of our cement based grouts not setting under certain conditions and also a throw-away comment made to me by Harry Venton 20 years before. When John Morris, a chemist from Tivoli Kaye, joined us he listened, tried it out and made a satisfactory product. Unfortunately we were not in time and the product had already been deleted.
The job was at Achnasheen in the Scottish highlands in a remote area to humans but not midges. I was asked to accompany Maurice so that there would still be an industrial technical service presence. These concrete pipes were about a metre diameter. We were told that the water had been diverted for a few weeks whilst work was carried out. Our work was about 15 metres down the opened section and after passing down a curve we only had the light from our torch to see by. During one session of work we heard a extremely loud rumble of running water coming from the entrance; you've never seen two people run so quickly to the entrance to meet a cloud of midges. We need not have worried it was only a very low flying aircraft! Rok Rap didn't win.
Mike Wheat received a complaint, one day, from a gentleman who had built a model boat for his son using Evo-Stik Resin W as the adhesive. Upon launching the boat on a pool it self-scuttled as it neared the centre. This was interesting since Evo-Stik Resin W was not stated to be water resistant!
A similar complaint came from a Barry Humphreys who lived in a mews in London. There was much speculation - but it wasn't! He had made a window box from wood and bonded it with Resin 'W' filled it with earth but it fell apart!
Like Ted, Mike Wheat had excellent in depth knowledge of the products but his main area of expertise was in ceramic tile adhesives where he was world class.
At the end of 1989 the business was split into streams and although Technical Services remained in the same building we were split up into two sections; Industrial under John Birtles and Building & Homecare under Mike.
In January 1994 we all moved from building 32 into the second floor of the office block where the directors had once resided. Mike Wheat was transferred to the Glazing Division. Ever since leaving BAL Mike had been approached by BAL almost monthly to return and in the summer of 1994 he succumbed and joined them as Technical Director in September.
Then in January 1996 Technical Services were split completely into business streams. Carol Turner & I were seconded to the Marketing Manager in Building & Homecare, whilst John Birtles, Paul Waites and Eileen Harrison were transferred to Industrial and Automotive. Paul Baxter moved to Export and Idenden.
Although I feel that the company loses by isolating its technical staff, the move to Building & Homecare has been very good for me. When we moved into our office we were and still are made very welcome by our colleagues. I now work with Carol Turner, who deals with most of the telephone calls and letters in a very professional manner and with Louise Paterson who assists us during mornings.
In technical services we get quite a lot of strange enquiries and uses that customers put our products to. I'll list some of these which been received by me and others during the years:
1. We all knew that James Bond was flash! However, we now know why: Evo-Stik Flashband was used at Pinewood Studios for a number of Bond films. I'm sure there would have been some good marketing puns there?
2. A farmer uses Evo-Stik Impact Adhesive to paint upon pigs trotters soon after birth to reduce abrasion on the concrete floors.
3. An explosive expert uses Evo-Stik 528 Contact Adhesive to bond thin layers of explosive sheet to old shells to explode them safely!
4. A motor engineer uses Araldite to repair phosphor bronze valve guides in rally motorbikes!
5. A plastic surgeon uses Evo-Stik Impact Adhesive to bond skin to glass so that he can cut out grafts accurately!
6. Evo-Stik Impact 2 is used by an embalmer to make bodies look more attractive to look at.
7. A farmer uses Evo-Stik Builders Tape to tape tennis balls onto the horns of Rams to prevent a dilemma!
What do you use Evo-Stik products for?!