Jim A. Berry M.B.E Part 1

My blogs are now approaching a time in my life of great change and, with that, challenges due to the departure of the Smith family from the company. Before moving on to the next chapter in my wool journey, I feel I cannot let the opportunity pass, to acknowledge my old boss; one of Shetland’s finest entrepreneurs and inventors. Not only was he a skilled, self- taught engineer he was also a highly respected individual and a great story teller. I have been very proud and privileged to work for the Smith family for almost forty years. I have taken part and benefited from some of these creations and have been told by Jim of how they came about and listened to his storytelling first hand.

JIm A. Berry and the Papa Boat

I will endeavour to put in writing some of his notable achievements and some of Jim’s stories however I can never do him justice in my writing!

When I received the Berry Farm archive photos from the Smith families’ relatives, the Hepburn family, when I told them of my plan to write this blog and when browsing through the images my attention was drawn to a speedboat. A favourite past time as a child in my home village of Hamnavoe on Burra Isle was fishing from the “big” pier, a relatively safe location due to the proximity of  Halcrows’ shop (which was situated at the head of the pier). It was in the late 1950s a group of us children were fishing from the pier one fine summer night. An unusually fast boat approached the pier slowed down and came alongside the smaller pier. Aboard were a smartly dressed man and woman. The man made fast the boat to the pier and proceeded up to the shop, returning with a selection of chocolate bars which he laid out on the “taft” seat. He then started up the motor and set off out past the pier. I found out later from the shopkeeper that it was in fact young “ Sheepie” Jim a Berry. Jim told me stories about how he had built the boat, and it was used in Scalloway harbour for water skiing as well as trips around the isles.

Jim and His Speedboat
Jim Speed Boat Water Skiing in Scalloway

In order to make life easier when landing on the beach at Papa to tend the sheep, Jim built a boat similar to a landing craft with a square sloping bow it was ideal for loading and unloading the lambs. I had quite a few journeys with that boat; the most memorable was being stuck in Papa in the early 1970s when the boat broke down carrying a load of sheep back to the mainland.

Oliver and Magnie in Landing Craft
Loading Sheep on Papa

The landing craft did not hold many sheep so Jim decided to upgrade to a larger vessel. He acquired a boat that had been used in the island of Fetlar as a flit boat to carry goods to and from the island to the inter- island ferry, the Earl of Zetland. This vessel called along the larger offshore islands to transport goods to and from the islands. Jim took the boat to Berry farm around about 1970 where on he used the wooden vessel to make a fibreglass mould. Jim took the mould off and ended up with a very practical seaworthy vessel, which carried livestock to and from the Island of Papa for many years.

Jim and the Papa Boat Built from the Fetlar Flit Boat, 2002

Possibly his greatest achievement was to build a fish gutting machine; a local fisherman had pointed out how labour intensive gutting by hand was and could Jim help. My own memories of this project will never be forgotten, when I first went to help out on Berry Farm I would notice this particular individual coming up the farm road every now and then, he would be carrying a poly bag in each hand and disappear into the barn. I followed him one day and he went into Jim’s workshop. I asked the farm worker, the late Magnie Smith, what was in the bags; he told me, “We are not to ask questions and entry to the workshop is out of bounds.” My curiosity took over and I waited for my chance! Jim and Eva were away, Magnie had gone for his break, and Mrs Smith was in the house. I opened the workshop door and the first thing I noticed was a foul smell and a hen sitting on the workbench pecking at something. When I approached the smell, I found it was a rotten fish and it turned out to be one of many. In the middle of the floor was a circular contraption with pieces of metal welded to form a shape that could hold a fish. The smell was overpowering, so I made a quick retreat outside for fresh air. Once I had settled into working for the Smith family and they appeared to accept me Jim invited me into his workplace and introduced me to his prototype fish gutting machine. I managed to look surprised and enthusiastic saying this would fairly help the likes of my father on their boat. I was not at all surprised when some time later a deputation from the white fish authority paid a visit and approved of the invention. I think I am right in saying that my Grand Uncle’s boat, the Responsive, which fished out of Scalloway was the first vessel to carry out trials with the machine. For this invention Jim a Berry was awarded the M.B.E. for his service to the fishing industry.

Jim and His Gutting Machine
Jim’s Fish Gutting Machine in the Scalloway Museum

I will continue on with some more of Jim’s inventions in my next blog.

Again I would like to thank the Hepburn’s for allowing me to look through their family photos and tell Jim’s story from my perspective. He truly was an inspiration to me from a young age, and still to this day.

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