A piece of H.J. Alcock

A few weeks ago it was Children’s Day in Costa Rica, it’s custom on Facebook for people to post baby photos so I went ahead and added mine. It was a photo of myself when I was little and lived in Mexico, I was standing in front of an old red VW bug.  A few days later I got a nice long email from my father (he lives in Mexico) and he had a great story about the photo and about my late grandfather. H.J. Alcock, my grandfather, died just a few months after I was born and I’ve never been told much about him… I did know that he was a wonderful, inteligent and handsome man.

My father’s email, a little piece of who my grandfather was…

“… there is an incredible story behind the 2 Beetle VW’s, one red, & the other blue. When we arrived in Mexico back in 1971, approx April I think. Your granddad Bill ordered 2 VW’s from one of his old friends Perez Avella. Perez Avella had a Cummins sub-distributorship & also owned a VW dealership on the way out to Puebla, from where bill ordered the 2 VW’s. Bill being the brilliant man he was, had planned to buy a Porsche engine [Which he did] & fit it into one of the VW’s. But as u well know by now, he got sick back in July 1971, went through surgery & died within 3 weeks of falling ill. As you well know we were all absolutely devastated & in complete shock, & even Bill’s many many friends & work colleagues.

Well anyway, the 2 VW’s arrived at the house with the invoices, but with no charge. Apparently Bill had helped his good friend Perez Avella so much in previous years, to build up his Cummins distributorship & the whole business, that Perez Avella who was so sad to lose his good friend, decided not to charge the VW’s. So they were given to us free.

As for the Porsche engine, Bill during his final weeks did have the engine shipped down from the US, through Kenworth Mexicana [Again thru his many friends] [Truck Manufacturer] which is situated on the US/Mex border, to the house in Hacienda. I can still picture him now with the Porsche engine, even though he was suffering with severe headaches, stripping it down on the kitchen table & weighing & filing the pistons & con-rods [Bielas] by millimeters, so that the engine would run smoother & more evenly balanced, when it was put into service. This was Bill Alcock, he was so meticulous when it came to engines & their functionality. He had a brilliant mind when it came to engines or anything mechanical or electical.

Bill was the senior manager in charge of the Cummins Regional Office in Rio Panuco [Still remember the name of the street], down town Mexico City. I worked at the main distributor in Vallejo [Industrial part of Mexico City]. My job was to run the Cummins warranty dept. between Mexico & the Cummins head office in Columbus Indiana. That is, to administrate all the warranty claims & payments, this is where English language was required. The original idea was that Bill would help me out if I ran into any technical issues, as sometimes I was called on to diagnose engine failures for warranty purposes. But sadly, as we know, that didn’t last for long as he passed on a few months after our arrival.

Bill, I think must have started his career as a young apprentice railway engineer in Wales back in the early days, when steam engines were built by hand, that is, all the boilers were welded by hand, all the steel parts, wheels & pulleys etc were produced by hand also on the turning lathes. Bill must have have gone all the way at Tech to become & graduated as a Mechanical Engineer. If not, he would never had got the job & level he had at Cummins.

I have probably already told u this, but his main hobby at one time was making & building steam engines to scale. And I mean real scaled down steam engines that would run by themselves on steam. I remember once that he took me to a modeling shop in UK to buy all the steel parts, wheels & rough castings etc, copper tubes to build another steam engine. He even bought the plans, I still remember that the engine was from the “Nigel Gressley” class. I can tell u that only a fully trained railway engineer going back to the early days would have had the ability to hand build a fully workable steam engine. I think that’s why he was so brilliant with engines. [Diesel or Gas].

I must admit I’ve never ever met a man, & never will, with such drive, ability, brilliance & knowledge over such a large range of subjects, he was surely an icon in his time. There was the “Flying Dutchman” sailing boat that he bought. [A 12ft sail boat class used in the Olympics] I remember him in Darlington with a pile of books beside his reading chair on sailing, where he read up on all there was to know about sailing. The boat was kept out in the back garden where he would work & fiddle around with it. I remember once he took me sailing one day to Redcar,  on the British east coast. We went out sailing on the North Sea, I remember I was terrified, the sea was rough & hug, & the sailing boat seemed so little. But Bill seemed to enjoy every minute.

He was also a “Radio Ham” with all his radio equipment & with hug antennas on top of the roof, just to communicate with his friends around the world. [U may know he spoke 3 languages, English, Spanish & perfect Portuguese]. Then there was the archery, rifles & his pride & joy a black Mercedes Benz, 1961 model year I think it was.

I will never forget the day he passed away in the hospital, your Mom was in Guatamala [Tramite del FM2], I remember Bill taking his last breath, it was very long last sigh as if he was fighting to stay alive. It was truly heart breaking, & I can remember thinking that how is it possible that this man with all his brilliance could be taken away from us, so young, & so quickly”.

It’s a real shame I never got to meet him… or my kids!