March 2018

This month's document is chosen by Conservator, Cath Mayo

My name came up on the list to provide a 'Document Of The Month' for March and I have to say I was stumped as to what to choose! Luckily, my colleague Mollie came across something that she felt would be perfect for me to share with you and so here it is; a 1968 edition of 'Torque, The Magazine Produced by the Austin Apprentices'. I didn't know whether to be offended or flattered… I will leave that to you to decide.

Why this document?

I chose to write about this document because, quite frankly, it made me laugh. We have quite a lot of in-house magazines from the various car manufacturers over the years and they never fail to amuse. The best by far are the ones written by the apprentices, which are always full of quirky stories, jokes and anecdotes. This particular copy has a fantastic story in it entitled 'Mash that Crazy Potato, Man!' and is written by Irving Washington. It's subject is the Dine-Emett Potato-mashing Machine Design Competition finals, held in London.

The first thing that struck me were the images attached to the story, which looked like something from a Heath Robinson drawing. Three homemade potato-mashing machines, with proud inventors standing with them. I suppose back in the late 1960s, a machine that you put whole potatoes in one end and received creamy mash from the other would've been something from science-fiction and totally ridiculous; but now, you can pick up prepared mash in the supermarket and I bet there's even a dedicated machine that makes it. Nowhere near as much fun as these ones however.

My favourite part of the article is about John Wilkinson who came second in the competition. His machine boasted three electric motors, a dynamo, water pump and false teeth to mash the potatoes. It seems, though, that he met with some bother on the way to the competition and was pulled over by the police. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall during that conversation!

It seems that the competition was quite a big thing.  Not only were the prizes pretty good, but it was judged by Rowland Emett, who was a designer and builder of ingenious machines. I didn't know who he was, so did a little research to find out and discovered that Rowland Emett created some absolutely crazy contraptions. He was also a cartoonist for Punch magazine. His most famous designs were the Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang car and all of the inventions in Carractacus Potts' workshop in the film; a very fitting person to judge the Dine-Emett Potato-mashing Machine Design Competition.

The prizes were 100 guineas for first place, 65 for second and 35 for third. I was pleased to see that every contestant received £10 for their enthusiasm and hard work. I suppose that makes the designing, building, the trek to London and the whole adventure very much worth it!

Before I go, a quick joke from the joke section...

Q. What do you call two rows of cabbages?

A. A dual cabbage way.

I'll get my coat…

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