Friday, January 06, 2006



Lesney "Matchbox" Products, Lledo, and their former connection with Lone Star Products Ltd. (formerly Die Casting Machine Tools Ltd.) of Palmers Green, London and of Hatfield, Hertfordshire (U.K.)
Having now reached the age of retirement and in my teenage years worked for a time in the die-cast toy industry, I thought that I should set down some historical points which may interest the reader. It will explain what may be a hitherto unknown connection between the above mentioned companies. It's ironic that, were it not for the parent company of Lone Star, neither Lesney "Matchbox" Products, nor Lledo, would have come into being and the world would have been devoid of these now famous die-cast models.
When my parents married in 1933, they moved from Tottenham, north London, to a rented flat (apartment) on the top floor of number 1 Wetherill Road, Muswell Hill, north London. 5 years later, this address was to appear on my birth certificate. I gather that the house was owned by a bus driver, William Odell, my parents' landlord who, with his family, occupied the lower floors of the 3-storey building. The Odell family of four included two sons, Ken and John, the latter more often known as Jack. Living under the same roof, my parents regarded the Odell 'boys' as though they were their nephews. My parents and I were guests at Jack and Ken's double wedding ceremony to two sisters in 1944.
In 1945, at the end of World War II after Jack was "demobbed" (demobilised) from the army having served in both North Africa and Italy as a welder, he needed to earn a living. My late father, Sidney Ambridge, was a co-founder of the fledgling company DIE CASTING MACHINE TOOLS LTD., and who better to ask about a possible job vacancy than my father - being the upstairs tenant - who very promptly agreed to employ Jack, having created a vacancy especially for him. My father taught Jack the principles of die-casting, operating the machines, producing castings and later how to make the moulds themselves. After a while Jack Odell and his, then, D.C.M.T. colleague, Rodney Smith, both left my father's firm and started their new business LESNEY PRODUCTS with the knowledge and experience they had gained - the rest is history!!
When I left school in the summer of 1954, it was decided between my father and Jack Odell that my first employment would be with LESNEY PRODUCTS and I worked at their factory which, then, was situated in a yard off Shacklewell Lane, Dalston, east London. Perhaps this decision was as a result of some sense of obligation Jack Odell may have felt to reciprocate for the training that he, himself, had received from my father. However, I was to be a Toolroom trainee, doing odd jobs, i.e. horizontal grinder machining, milling machine operation, vertical drilling machine operating, 'turning' on a lathe plus work at the bench. While I was there, I witnessed the building of moulds for Matchbox (Moko) models numbered probably 10 - 11 - 12, but I stand to be corrected. My colleagues, in the Toolroom were, if I remember correctly, Jim Dawson, the brothers Fred and Donald Rix, Peter Kolthammer and two others, another 'Fred' and 'Dave', a cheerful young man who wore horn-rimmed spectacles, although I never ever knew the surnames of these two toolmakers. Don Rix was exclusively occupied, during my time in the Lesney toolroom, with the machining and building of a very large mould for a Euclid Tipper Truck, the model would have been around 30cms. long, but I left Lesney's before any test castings were taken from Don's 'masterpiece'.
Jack Odell was present in the toolroom on a daily basis - more or less in the role of Toolroom Manager rather than a co-Director - wearing a white overall coat like the other toolmakers. I recall that Fred Rix machined and built the mould for an E.R. Foden (ERF) Fuel Tanker and the other 'Fred' machined and built the mould for a Cement Mixer Lorry. The guy that I only knew as 'Dave' machined and built the mould for a Scammell "Scarab" Articulated Delivery Truck.
I cycled to work ten miles each way. O.K. in summer but awful in icy conditions. After seven months, I discovered that the return fares from my home at Totteridge, north London to Dalston by buses and underground 'tube' train, amounted to more for the day than my weekly 'take-home' pay! My wage rate equalled 7.5p per hour. I could only continue my career there if I was prepared to cycle to and from Lesney's factory for the indefinite future. On my last day at Lesney, there was compacted ice on the roads, even main roads. By 6:00 p.m. it was dark outside. I cycled home with one hand on the handlebars and with the other arm clutching my toolmaker's cabinet which was not a lightweight item. As it happened, Jack Odell overtook me in his black Vauxhall Velox on that final journey and he cheerily waved to me as he passed by. Unable to respond, I could only watch the rear lights of Jack's car until they disappeared into the distance.
Compiler (G.S. Ambridge)

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