Veteran Stories:
Norm Jenkins

Air Force

  • Norm Jenkins in Red Deer, Alberta, December 10, 2009.

    Historica Canada
Enlarge Image
Listen to this story

"It was such that it blew the inside of the building windows and the screens and everything came down and a lot of the employees thought we were being bombed."


I finally got in 1942 and I had been working prior to that in the aircraft industry, so I had a fair amount of experience, which was a little different in those days. They looked for almost anyone with a background in aviation and aircraft. I wound up being posted to Canadian Pratt and Whitney, the foremost radial aircraft engine manufacturers of the day and was there for the balance of, not just for the balance of the war, but until some time after. Their only plant at that time was the Canadian Division was in Longueil, Quebec. From that time on, it was do the job, make sure you didn’t sign out any aircraft or propellers that weren’t serviceable. You had that responsibility because you knew what the consequences were if that happened. So it was certainly a responsible position. As long as you understood that and did your job, it was more or less routine. We had the engine division and we had the propeller division. And in the engine eivision, you were responsible for all the operations to completely overhaul the engines and then test them as on the testing facilities, and finally sign them out as airworthy and ready to go back to service. And the same thing applied with the propeller division. I was, for the first probably going on towards the first two years and worked in the engine division, whereupon the, I don’t know what the word is really, but allocated, probably, to take over the propeller division. During this type of service that I was doing, we had test cells to test the engines after they were ready to go back to service. They had to be tested to make sure they were up to spec. It was routine, except one morning I went to work at 8:00 which happened to be the time I checked in at that time, and almost immediately after reporting to work, there was an explosion. It was such that it blew the inside of the building windows and the screens and everything came down and a lot of the employees thought we were being bombed and they hid under the benches and everything else. I realized right away the explosion had to come from the test cell, and I immediately went down there and seen the only thing I could see was smoke and flame and realized that it was an explosion and actually where the engine was on the test cell and on the mount. And I pulled the fire extinguisher off and got in with, in an attempt to put the fire out, and was doing so when I heard a call from the other side. And it happened to be the test cell operator that had reported duty and was there and I couldn’t see him for the smoke and flame. And so I give him a good dose of fire extinguisher liquid too, which was obviously not what he was looking for. However, long story short, got the fire out, took him back to the nurse and got him straightened out and then realized about what took place. It was all because really, the engineering on setting up that particular test cell had been not properly engineered as to a situation which took place. And that’s what caused it and there was no loss of life on that side. And the adjoining building, the other contractor, which was, let me see now, this is coming a little slower than it used to and my years are catching up to me, the Standard Aero, Standard Aero Engines was the other contractor and the test cell over there is where the chap lost his life, simply because in washing out the test cell, which they had to do from the oil dispersed during the test, they had to keep that clean. But one time he did it, and instead of using the proper fluid to clean the test cell out, he decided he could use something that would work a little faster and they called it aviation gasoline. And that resulted in the catastrophe of the fire which he lost his life in. So that was some of the little different things that happened during my term of tenure.
Follow us