Richard Joseph (Dick) Ifield

The early years - Dick's Australian Drawing Office Experiences
1925 to 1932.

DICK'S PERSONAL STORY - Dick's Australian Drawing Office Experiences 1925 to 1932

Dick Ifield was born Richard Joseph Ifield of parents John Joseph and Amelia Frances (nee Long). He was born on the 27th of April 1909 at Campsie near Sydney, in New South Wales, Australia. He was one of ten children, eight brothers and sisters and one half sister from his fathers previous marriage.

Like many past and current inventors whom others class as genius, Dick had vey limited schooling. Almost the whole of his primary education was at Eastwood Public School. This was followed by two years at Ashfield Junior Technical School. Throughout his school years he was regarded as an inattentive dreamer, yet he was always among the youngest children in his classes and he easily passed all examinations.

While at primary school, he contributed to the family income, by his small earnings from delivering newspapers each morning and from helping a bread carter on Saturdays. While at Ashfield school, he earned a small income by helping with the delivery of fruit and vegetables on Saturdays but, due to his father's illness and family financial circumstances, it was necessary for him to leave before the end of his second year of high school to seek full time employment. This he did before he was fourteen years old, to help support the family.

He began work as a builder's junior labourer and he worked at a variety of unskilled jobs for about sixteen months, after which the family finances had improved sufficiently for him to take a twelve month's course in draughtsmanship, at The Sydney School of Mechanical Drawings and Architecture. Here, he learned to prepare water coloured drawings of mechanisms, for which he had natural talents, so he became a star pupil. He receive the School Diploma in February 1925 and his career as a design engineer began. His ability to produce attractive water coloured drawings of machines proved of great value when he sought sponsors for his inventions in later years, because such drawings were self explanatory.

Dick held many positions in his early career, to feed his thirst for knowledge to enhance his obvious, inherent talents.

Dick once said that "After I received my draughtsmanship Diploma, I had no difficulty in gaining employment as a junior draftsman, but I must have been a very unsatisfactory employee, because although I was well liked and gave complete satisfaction in my work, I was restless in seeking the type of work which gave me the greatest opportunities for employing my inventive talents."

Even at the height of the depression years, Dick never joined queues for jobs; he never failed to obtain any position he applied for and he was never dismissed from any position. But, he left each job as soon as he had learned all he wanted to know about that particular branch of engineering and, he was a fast learner.

As a junior draftsman, his first employer was The Sydney Steel Company; the second was The James Steel Engineering Company, both only briefly because they were concerned with structural engineering and of little interest to him. His third job with The Tool and Engineering Company (T.E.C.) was more interesting. He tried his hand at electrical draughtsmanship at The Electrical Control and Engineering Company, but this was terminated by a strike and which resulted in a 'lock out'. He then joined Brady Franks Limited, until that Company went into voluntary liquidation, following the deaths of the Principals.

T.E.C. not only manufactured precision tools such as taps, dies, drills, etc. for machine tools; they also manufactured many replacement components for all classes of motor vehicles. These included spiral crown gears and pinions; worms and worm wheels; gearbox gears and other gears of all forms; axles and propeller shafts; valves and camshafts and a variety of other engine and transmission components. The machinery producing these parts was the most modern at that time and it was of great interest to Dick, as a designer and as affecting the design details of his inventions, which he pursued as a spare time activity.

T.E.C. thought they needed a full time draftsman but Dick was able to meet all their drafting requirements in about 20% of his working hours, so he had plenty of time to study their machines and manufacturing methods. He was well liked by the skilled craftsmen they employed, who told him everything he wished to know. There were two working Directors; Cook, who took a fatherly interest in him and encouraged him to learn all he could about their machines and products; Corneilson, who objected strongly to his interfering with production, by talking to the men about their work. He realised that he was the cause of several heated arguments between the two Directors, so he regretfully resigned.

Brady Franks Ltd. were concerned mainly with the manufacture and fitting of steel and bronze equipment for new buildings, such as steel window frames; balustrading for stairways and landings; collapsible steel gates; bronze grilles, door, ornamental mouldings, foundation plates and the like. Initially Dick thought their work would not interest him for long, but the ornamental bronzework appealed to his artistic senses; some of the work presented challenges in draughtsmanship; from the start he was treated as a designer, rather than as a junior draftsman and the work took him to many new buildings under construction, to measure up openings and stairways and to instruct the fitters on the site.

During the time Dick was with Brady Franks, he was responsible for much of their work on buildings such as Grace House; Asbestos House, The Government Savings Bank of N.S.W. (which became the Taxation Office); the Commonwealth Bank; the Bank of N.S.W.; the Presbyterian Church Hall; the Melbourne and Sydney War Memorial buildings and many others.

Brady Franks produced their own bronze castings and Dick personally made some of the commemoration plate patterns; they did their own electroplating and developed their own fuse welding techniques. Dick took part in the design of some special purpose machines made to simplify production and learned many things of value for his later career.

Brady Franks Patented and employed the first of Dick's inventions to be used commercially; this being a hinge of unique design, to solve a difficult problem encountered with the heavy bronze doors from the Melbourne War Memorial Building and later for other similar applications. By his 21st year, he was acknowledged as their Chief Designer.

On the liquidation of Brady Franks, the Chief Engineer and the General Manager (Mr. Holt), set up rival Companies and both asked Dick to join them. Instead, he had decided to set up his own small manufacturing business, beginning with the manufacture of his foot gear change device, for motorcycles. Holt had taken a fatherly interest in him and he asked him what his future plans were. Dick told him of his inventions and that he intended to seek sponsors for them in England. Holt warned him against his plans, saying that even the Chairman of B.H.P. had returned to Australia with a "broken heart", after failing to interest motor manufactures in an excellent invention of his for the steering system of motor cars. Dick's reply was: "The Chairman of B.H.P. was a wealthy man, who could afford to give up with a broken heart, I cannot". He learned later, how difficult it was to gain sponsorship for new inventions, affecting the motor car industry.

Dick had always been interested in working machines, about which he seemed to possess an inherent knowledge, including an inherent 'sympathy' for the stresses and strains imposed on materials. This resulted in spare time involvement with motor cycles, after he left drawing school. Previously he had accompanied his father on frequent weekend bush walks, during which he learned to appreciate the beauty, perfection and simplicity of nature, causing him to realise that the perfect solution to even the most difficult problems is invariably a simple one. This object lesson was of value to him throughout his engineering career.

He never regarded his very limited formal education as being a handicap to his career. Through reading, he gradually improved his general knowledge and improved his written and verbal command of the English language. Through his experiences as a junior labourer in a variety of jobs, he learned to understand the thoughts and behaviour of the labouring classes and tradesmen with whom he associated and this supported his leadership talents later in his career. He had learned the conventions of draughtsmanship and his only limitation was in higher mathematics.

Dick always said that he could have gained knowledge of higher mathematics from book studies, but he experienced a discipline against doing so. He had a good understanding of trigonometry, algebra and logarithms and he developed his own methods for solving difficult mathematical problems, some of which defeated trained mathematicians, but this was a misnomer; his methods were relatively slow and laborious, but they gave him a unique approach to problems, compensating for the slowness of his calculations. For many years, his lack of formal education in mathematics was a handicap in his discussions with his critics, because they spoke different mathematical languages. After his inventive talents were recognised, it became obligatory for his critics to understand his mathematical language.

Dick always believed that, if he had been formally educated in engineering subjects, his inherent inventive talents would have become suppressed. He used to say that: "My most successful inventions were inspired by 'a feeling in my bones' about what is right and what is wrong, unsupported by learned information, or from experiences gained during my present lifetime". "Several of my colleagues referred to this as an 'Ifield instinct', or 'intuition', which are really only other names for inherent knowledge". "Some destructive critics plagued me throughout my career, but these are the 'abominable no men', who seem to be inherently destructive in their comments about anything new to them".
"Certainly we learn far more from experiences in life, than we can ever learn in schools. This particularly applies to wisdom in understanding people and in my opinion, the training of schoolteachers should include at least ten years of experience outside the cloistered precincts of schools and universities".

...Back to Top of Page

© 2003 - Colin Ifield         Web Design by DMT - WEB Design