«We had modern working conditions»

The learning years at Automontage Schinznach might not have been earning years for Sigi Frei (born 1950), but he did appreciate the fact that the apprentices were always treated with respect.
Sigi Frei

Sigi Frei can remember well...

Mr Frei, you did your apprenticeship at Automontage Schinznach between 1966 and 1970. Which department did you like best?

Sigi Frei: My colleagues and I were in the second cohort of apprentices at Automontage. Personally, I liked the body shop most, as you could work with your hands a lot there. But every apprentice dreamed of being assigned to the workshop over the Christmas and New Year period, because the manager there always offered his colleagues a ham at this time of year. That was a highlight at the time, which I got to experience once in those four years.

Did you have any other formative experiences?

My journey to work was quite an ordeal, as I lived in Hornussen. Firstly, I cycled about 3.5 km to Bözen, where Automontage’s secretary then gave me a lift to Schinznach in her Beetle. This lift sharing was a very practical and pragmatic solution; however, if ever I turned up late on my bike, which fortunately didn’t happen very often, I had to cycle all the way to Schinznach. And then back again in the evening, of course.

I also clearly remember getting arc eye, or welder’s flash, one time while doing some arc welding. It’s similar to snow blindness and like having sand in your eyes. My eyes had to be treated with an ointment for a week, during which time I could hardly see anything and had to wear sunglasses all day.

How do you remember your apprenticeship overall?

Our apprenticeship was comprehensive and well-structured. It was tough but also very instructive. Above all, we learned how to work accurately and precisely. I would say that Automontage Schinznach offered the best conditions for tinsmith apprenticeships in the canton of Aargau. As an employer, Automontage was very socially oriented. Even though learning years are not earning years, we always got treated with respect and were privileged. We already had very modern working conditions. I look back on my apprenticeship with fondness. There was always a great atmosphere among us apprentices. I’m still in contact with some of my colleagues from back then today. And a while ago, we started arranging get-togethers for all the apprentice cohorts from back in the day, which take place every three years.

Which cars did you work on?

We worked on the Plymouth Valiant, Dodge Dart and Plymouth Barracuda. The Dart and the Valiant, both based on the same design, were easy to assemble; however, the Barracuda had a few peculiarities and a more complicated design. But the first car I owned was a VW Beetle, which I bought used for CHF 2300.

Why did you choose an apprenticeship at Automontage Schinznach back then?

Even as a young lad, I was very interested in cars. I also had the opportunity to be an apprentice electrician, but I chose to be a tinsmith and have never regretted my decision. It was my teacher at secondary school who told me about the apprenticeship at Automontage Schinznach.

What did you do after finishing your apprenticeship?

After my apprenticeship, I worked in a body shop for an examination expert, who offered me the job right after my final apprenticeship exam. I then went to the military training school for cyclists in Winterthur. Having previously raced at junior level, this corps was an obvious choice for me. After military training school, I found a job at a VW garage in Frick, where I mostly repaired used cars that had rust damage. After around 18 months, I’d had enough, as I was only ever working on rust buckets.

Did that also mark your departure from the trade you learned?

Yes, as I got the chance to attend the police academy at Aarau in 1972. The theory part lasted eight months, followed by service at various posts in the region, such as Baden, and at what was then a double sentry post in Möhlin. Lastly, I joined the criminal investigation department in Baden, where I spent the final eight years dealing with offences against property before retiring in 2014. I was able to use and apply the things I learned at Automontage during my entire time with the police. These days, I still look after my Soay sheep, which originally come from the Outer Hebrides. I started breeding sheep back in 1986.