THE seven staff at an engineering firm in Pickhill, near Thirsk, have been working flat out since it landed a large order for welding equipment from Libya.

Pickhill Engineers has made 40 oil cooling welders to be exported to Libya for use in a training school.

The firm was founded in 1960 by Mr Henry Clarke, now aged 74, and over the years the skills of his workforce have ensured the firm has survived while others have given up.

In the heyday of British industry the firm employed 35, but it now employs just seven, who, between them, have a total of 174 years' service at the firm.

Mr Clarke puts the firm's success down to the workforce's experience and skill, and that is also the reason it has survived and taken over other companies to become the only manufacturer of oil cooling welding equipment in the country.

The last business Pickhill Engineers bought out was Oxford Welding Equipment in 1998.

"The way engineering is going any order that's fairly substantial is good news," said Mr Clarke. "It's nice to get a decent order.

"Nobody could have a better workforce than we have here ; their skills are irreplaceable, and it's because of them that we have been able to build up a good reputation and get orders like this."

The longest-serving member of staff is Mr Dave Carvey, who is 52 and who has been with the firm 35 years. Others have been there 32 and 29 years.

The firm is not one to rest on its laurels and, although is has cornered the market for welding equipment, it has also diversified into manufacturing generators.

Over the last three years this side of the business has grown from being worth £77,000 a year to £300,000.

However, Mr Clarke always remembers how it all started: "The idea of making welding equipment came to me because I purchased one and found how comparatively easy it was to use and thought every farmer should have one.

"And since then we have supplied approaching 100,000 machines."