Sam was now home with his family but little had changed, in fact things were worse. So he set about trying to find work. Despite Britain being battered by a war, work was in short supply. Whilst he had been in Palestine the returning armed forces had grabbed what jobs were going. He managed to find labouring work such as sack and bag carrying and hard back breaking ground works on building sites but this was the odd day or two with no full time employment available. He was struggling to adjust to civilian life, what he had been through and the skills he required in the war now seemed to count for nothing. Having given all his army pay to his family he was poor again and back on the streets of Stoke with no opportunities. He wrote to his regiment and asked if he could return, his CO replied positively saying they needed veterans to train the new generation of paratroopers. Sam packed his kit bag and with no money in his pocket set off on foot to re-enlist at the army recruitment office in Hanley, Stoke-On-Trent. This was about a 5 mile walk from where he lived in Goldenhill. His walk took him through Burslem one of the five towns of the Potteries, and it was here that fate stepped in when he saw two steeplejacks working on a big industrial brick chimney on a factory. He put his kit bag down and sat and observed these two men swinging around the chimney on the end of ropes, happily pointing the chimney brickwork. He said it was one of those moments when you think “that looks dangerous, that’s for me, I can do that”. So he sat and waited for the men to come down the chimney, they climbed down the vertical ladders with ease and a natural skill, which further impressed him. He approached the men and asked them what job is this. They replied “we are Steeplejacks, we repair chimneys and churches”. He then asked if there were any jobs going. One of the men turned to him and said “what makes you think you can do this job?” Sam replied, “I’m an ex-paratrooper so I’m not afraid of heights”. “That may be so” they replied “but this job requires you to have the balls to let go and work with your hands”. One of the men lit a cigarette which prompted Sam to say, “I bet you a cigarette that I can climb this chimney, walk around the top and climb down”. “Help yourself” one chuckled, “but you do realise that this monster is nearly 300ft high”. Sam set off up the chimney, everything felt normal to him which pleased him because he hadn’t got any cigarettes to settle the bet if he didn’t make it! There was no doubt in his mind that he was going to do this and he did, much to the surprise of the two steeplejacks watching on. When he got down they gave him a smoke and he asked again for a job. They said they worked for a company that had an office in Hanley named Blackburn & Starlings. Sam was on his way to Hanley anyway, so off he set with a spring in his step hoping that he might get a job. Sam always believed that this was fate as he later found out that the Hanley office was just a small branch office and the boss only visited once a month from the main office in Nottingham. He arrived at the small office and asked the lady if there were any jobs going. She replied “you’re in luck, the big boss arrived just a few minutes ago”. They met and Sam explained that he was on his way to re- enlist in the Parachute Regiment but would like to become a Steeplejack. Sam was given a job and told to start the very next day on the big Power Station Chimneys. This is when he first met Norman Bealand known as Chalkie Norm (leading foreman on the job), Sid France, Don Heath (who later worked with Sam and became a Director of Rafferty’s) and Charlie Condliffe. These men, he claimed, were hard-core steeplejacks. They knew the job inside out and were highly skilled workmen. Sadly Charlie fell 280ft to his death after being gassed on a chimney on Shelton Bar Steelworks a year later.
Sam’s career as a steeplejack was nearly cut short (sounds familiar). He had been working on the power station chimneys for about 3 weeks when the weather turned and the men decided to do some work to the internal brickwork. The days shift was coming to an end, Don and Chalkie Norm were wrapping up the day’s work with Charlie on the outside of the chimney leaving Sid and Sam inside the stack doing a last few bits on bosuns seats. He recollected noticing a strong smell of fumes then a surge of heat. The power plant to this chimney had restarted not knowing that Sam and Sid were still inside. Both men were about 5ft from the top of the chimney when the surge of heat and fumes came, Sid screamed to Sam ‘get out now’ and lurched himself up the seat rope. Sam followed his lead, leaving the ropes and seats inside. He later claimed if they had been just a few feet lower they wouldn’t have got out in time and they would have fried alive inside the chimney.
Chalkie Norm took a liking to Sam and requested him on every job he worked on, which meant that Sam was regularly employed. They made a good team and Sam was eager to learn and after 2 years was promoted to Steeplejack. Chalkie was old school, he was a qualified stone mason and bricklayer and a natural climber. In 1948 Chalkie suggested to Sam about going it alone, they pooled their money and started their own company which they named Norman Bealand & Son. Sam was the son in the name as Chalkie didn’t have any family so they each had an equal share in the company. With the money they had they purchased a hand cart, 300ft of steeplejack ladders, some ropes, blocks and bosuns seats. Chalkie had a little motor scooter and he went around the pot banks and factories offering to repair the chimneys. Soon they had a few contracts and they were in business. During these early days Sam, Chalkie and two other steeplejacks they employed named Frank Dunn and Dougie Pace were seen pushing a hand cart with ladders and ropes on board around the streets of Stoke. This time he made sure it didn’t have squeaky wheels! Unfortunately, the partnership with Chalkie was only going to last about a year. Chalkie wanted to immigrate to New Zealand and become a sheep farmer and he wanted Sam to go with him. However, Sam had just started courting a young woman named Lily so he decided to stay in England. He purchased Chalkie’s share of the business and renamed the business Rafferty Steeplejack & Demolition Company. It was 1949 and Sam was penniless but he owned his own business. He didn’t hear from Chalkie again until 1978, he sent a letter from New Zealand addressed to Sam Rafferty, Steeplejack, Stoke-On-Trent and it somehow found its way around the world to Sam. He was over the moon to hear that Chalkie was alive and kicking on his sheep farm in New Zealand.