CHAPTER 20. WHEATSHEAF CENTRE AND VOLUNTEERS

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Stanley
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CHAPTER 20. WHEATSHEAF CENTRE AND VOLUNTEERS

Post by Stanley » 15 May 2012, 05:20

WHEATSHEAF CENTRE AND VOLUNTEERS


By 1988 we had got as lot done at Ellenroad. The engines were ready to steam regularly for the public and I started doing this in summer. My problem was that I was the only person who could do it. For 18 months I ran the engines every weekend, year round, except for Christmas and New Year. I don’t think anybody realises to this day what hard work this was, I was working seven days a week and putting in an average of 100 hours. I knew this couldn’t go on and called for volunteers from the Friends organisation to attend a course at the engine house during which I gave them a basic grounding in the history, design, principles and day to day management of steam boilers and engines in general and Ellenroad in particular.

I forget now how long the course was I think it was about six months. We finished it by dividing the volunteers into teams and they ran the engine with me supervising. I gradually got to the stage by late 1989 where I could leave them on their own. I’ve always said that apart from getting the engines back in steam, this was the best piece of work I did while I was at Ellenroad. In effect, I made myself redundant once the heroic bit was done!

Embedded in the training of the volunteers was one historic moment for which I claim full and absolute credit. There were two ladies on the course who were very interested in the engine, Joan Smith from Northwich and Thelma Pollitt from Manchester. They were very good students and really took it all in. When I felt that they had reached the stage where they were ready for action I arranged for them to meet me at the engine house and run the engine with me, exactly as we had done several times before..

On the day appointed when they turned up at the engine house early in the morning I told them the bad news. They were running the engine on their own! I would follow them round and keep an eye on them but they were going to do it all on their own. I’ve seldom seen two women nearer to flight syndrome in my life! However, they soon got used to the idea and started by lighting the boiler. I’ll admit that the hoppers on the stokers were already full but then the lads used to do that for me anyway.

They never made a mistake and fired up, warmed and oiled the engine, started it and ran it from ten in the morning until four in the afternoon. I told them that as far as I was aware, this was the first time in the history of engineering that two women had run a 3,000hp. engine completely unaided. I was so pleased with them and made sure that they knew it. Funnily enough this didn’t go down well at all with the other volunteers. There was already a bit of infighting and jockeying to see who would be top dog, Chief Engineer in their terms, and the injection of competition in the shape of Joan and Thelma triggered off a bad attack of ill-concealed chauvinism. It wasn’t just the blokes who were volunteers, I well remember one visitor who was evidently an old engineer telling Joan one day that she ought to be making tea, not running the engine! I don’t think he will ever realise how near he was to having his face re-arranged! Joan’s day job was as a nurse on violent wards in a mental hospital. I told her, she could do my job but there was no way I could do hers. If ever I call in at Ellenroad and either of these two are there I’m always assured of a warm welcome and it’s one of the finest memories I carried away from Ellenroad.

During 1988 I had an enquiry from a firm of developers who were building a large shopping centre in the middle of Rochdale for the CWS. They wanted to have some sort of dramatic centre piece in the centre and had got their eye on a preserved engine in a modern house at the top of the town. They wanted my advice on moving and installing the Whitelees Beam Engine.


THE WHITELEES ENGINE

In 1841/42 John Petrie, engine maker of Whitehall Street, Rochdale, built a 20nhp beam engine for John Hurst at Whitelees Mill, Littleborough at a cost of £650. It ran successfully under various owners until 1942 and, apart from a steel flyshaft replacing the original cast iron one, was never modified. In 1957 the Co-operative Wholesale Society were owners of the mill which was weaving blankets at the time. They wanted the engine out to give room for expansion and Holcroft Limited of Rochdale who’s foundry was on the site of the original Petrie works offered to build an engine house and erect the engine there as a monument to Rochdale engineering. It was powered by an electric motor and could be run for the public on special occasions. The engine house was glass-fronted and Rochdalians got used to seeing the engine sat there on the side of the road.

Things remained like this until 1988 when the owners of the foundry, Reynolds Gears, decided to close the works and re-develop the site as a retail barn. The engine would have to go. It was not scheduled or protected in any way and therefore was up for grabs. The people building the Wheatsheaf Centre heard about it and decided they would like it for their showpiece. It was at this point that someone told them they ought to talk to me before they made any irrevocable decisions.

I went to meet them and pointed out that they couldn’t just plonk it on the floor and put an electric motor on it. The first problem was getting it out, it was next to the road but as this was a busy major route it made it inaccessible from that side. Further, they would need a pit twelve feet deep underneath it and then a clear thirty feet above. It soon became clear to them that this was a bit more than they had bargained for. They asked me to come up with alternatives and I eventually found them a large wood saw built in Rochdale by Tommy Robinsons, a deep well pump headgear and a small steam engine to couple up to the pump. They settled on this and I arranged for the whole lot to be refurbished and installed by the Rochdale Apprentice Training School. All this took time but was completely successful.

As soon as I knew that the Co-op weren’t going to take the engine I had a word with Peter Dawson and we sketched out a preliminary scheme for installing the engine in the bare space in the boiler house where the other Lancashire boilers had been. I also approached the Science Museum and English Heritage and told them what I wanted to do and asked their opinion.

At this point I should explain that English Heritage do not consider themselves competent to make judgements about machinery. They rely on the opinion of the Science Museum who, though nominally the minor partner in this process, actually hold ultimate power on funding decisions. I was astounded when they turned the idea down on the grounds it would dilute the ‘purity of the concept’ at Ellenroad. I couldn’t understand their reasoning and no matter how I pressed them couldn’t get them to reconsider. I was baffled.

Then I got a letter from David Sekers at Quarry Bank informing me that he had got the Whitelees Engine and was going to install it at Styal. The letter included the phrase ‘Ha Ha, we’ve got it!’ I also found that David had used a selective quotation out of a private letter which he had obtained as supporting evidence for his case to move the engine. All this bothered me. For a start there was no need for supporting evidence as the engine wasn’t protected in any way by the Ancient Monument Acts. Secondly I knew there were close links between Quarry Bank and the Science Museum and I can’t believe that David would consider installing the engine without informing them first. It all smelt to me of discussions in closed rooms and a fait accompli. I have to admit I lost my temper and I’m not ashamed of it. I wrote David a controlled but venomous letter and copied this to the Science Museum and English Heritage. I heard later that photocopies of it had been put on various notice boards in English Heritage and had caused some amusement.

My next move was to contact John Pierce and inform him that Rochdale was being burgled and what was he going to do about it. My case was that the engine had been brought back to the town as an example of Rochdale engineering and, even though nothing was ever committed to paper, it was obvious that the Co-op and Holcrofts had intended Rochdale to be its final home. Further, I wasn’t at all sure that Reynolds actually owned the engine or had the right to give it away. I had an idea that if the matter was traced back to its roots, the Co-operative Wholesale Society were still the legal owners of the engine. John didn’t let me down, he went off and did what he was best at, I was never consulted and to this day I don’t know what he did but the upshot was that Trevor Grice, the CEO of Reynolds informed David Sekers that the deal was off. I was asked to come up with a scheme to install the engine in a glass case outside the Town Hall but I got the impression that apart from the practicalities of this scheme, it was never seen as a viable alternative to installing it at Ellenroad in steam. I was also led to understand that in any dispute with any of the funding bodies, I would most likely get backing from the council. None of this was on paper but it was right up my street.

In January 1989 I did a report for the council that shot the glass case down and then I made a convincing case for installing it at Ellenroad in steam. The next I heard was that Reynolds would give the engine to the Trust and if we could get it out within ten working days they would give us approximately £30,000 as a donation. The exact amount depended on how successful they were in reclaiming tax on the donation. At this point I raised the matter of the ownership of the engine. I pointed out that there were three levels of proof of ownership in law. These were possession, title and provenance. Possession was with Reynolds, I suspected title was with the Co-op and they would have records of purchase that could prove provenance, or in other words, the audit trail. I said that what we needed was a letter from the Co-op which acknowledged that we had the engine and devolved any residual rights they had in it to us. In other words we would have all three elements of ownership and this could never be questioned. I went for this because in my years with museums I have come across so many cases where a museum had artefacts which they couldn’t actually prove belonged to them. John Pierce agreed with me and set in motion the machinery for getting us the documentation from the Co-op. Having done this, I could get going, I was, to put it mildly, in my element. I went down, had a look at the rabbit, arranged for access and went away to lay my plans.

My first move was to get hold of Duncan Smith, an excellent millwright I knew at Huddersfield and set him on to help me dismantle the engine. We started straight away and took the engine to pieces inside the house. Norman Sutcliffe was demolishing the foundry and I had a word with him and made sure he could carve a way through to the engine house so we could get near it with a crane and wagon. After seven working days we had the engine in pieces but still had the problem of getting it out of the house. I found out afterwards that a lot of people were watching me and Duncan and were trying to work out how we were going to do it. With only three days to go things were looking bleak to the observers but then I put plan ‘A’ into operation.

I’d looked at the building very carefully and had made up my mind what to do. On the day, a crane with a 120 feet jib arrived on the site. My compressor and two jackhammers were lifted on to the roof and Duncan and I started cutting out the first Bison Beam in the roof. The roof was constructed as a flat roof formed by hollow concrete beams laid across from wall to wall. These are know as Bison beams. Once we had cut the first one out all we had to do was cut a hole in each end of the next beam, attach chains and lift the beam out like a rotten tooth. There was a bit of damage as we tore the beams out, bits of the parapet were dropping near the road but nothing to worry about. By shortly after lunch we had the roof off and started to load all the small pieces on to a wagon. We took these to Ellenroad and got them under cover.

The following day I had the biggest low loader I could find on site and we lifted all the large pieces out and got the whole engine on in one load. By four o’clock in the afternoon we had the wagon and crane at Ellenroad. It was siling down with cold rain and dark but we decided to get it unloaded. I slipped the driver £50 as a backhander, he rang his wife, one of the lads went for fish and chips and we had the lot off by nine o’clock, all under cover and the doors closed. I can tell you that I went home that night, had a shower and a fair dose of single malt. We had the engine and, when they had sorted the tax out, the £30,000!

We have to move forward now to November 1991 in order to follow the Whitelees story to its conclusion. In the interim, we had kept the engine parts dry and oiled, I had found a drawing of the engine by Frank Wightman of Stretford and Peter had drawn up a scheme which sited the engine in such a way that we could install a mezzanine floor, a lift and a walk way through the engine to give access to the main engine house. All this was based on the original plan which was to have the external services. This was a very complicated piece of design and Peter did a brilliant job. We had to have it right to an inch in order to do things like give headroom on the walkway and room to manoeuvre wheel chairs. The whole scheme was based on my measurements of the engine parts. I had to do it this way because the measured survey that the council; had done for me of the original engine had been lost by the Planning Department when the surveyor who did the drawings left for a new job! Frank’s drawing wasn’t accurate enough to trust. We got to the stage where the design was done and I met Peter in his office.

You’re not going to believe what I did next but Peter can vouch for it! We looked over the drawings one last time. I looked at Peter and said “Will you do one last thing for me?” He looked at me askance, I think he sensed something was coming, we knew each other too well! “Yes, what is it?” “Make the pit a foot deeper.” “Why?” I told him I didn’t know, I had a funny feeling and all I could say was that it would be easier to pour a foot of concrete in than dig a foot out. This made sense to Peter and so we did it!

By October 1991 we had gone out to tender for the pit, decided on a contractor, signed up with him and we were waiting for him to, start. He was a week late and I went off for a week on Eigg leaving Graham Riley in charge. I got back on the following weekend and was in early on Monday morning. I went into the boiler house and found the most dreadful mess I have ever seen in my life! There was a jagged gash across the floor, protruding out of it were various bits of scaffolding pole and the edge of a sheet of plywood. This was bad enough but when I looked closely I saw that the hole was full of set concrete to within six inches of the top. I couldn’t believe it, I went into the hut and had just brewed up when Graham arrived. “Have you seen it?” he said. I said, “Sit down, tell me all about it.” So he did, and what a sorry tale it was!

The contractor had arrived on site on Monday morning and Graham said he was worried from the start. He said they didn’t seem to be very sure about what they were doing. They started to cut the floor and when they had opened up a narrow trench, started digging by hand. This was according to the scheme of work we had set out but they were being far too cautious and were digging too narrow a trench. At about four feet they hit running sand and water and panicked. They tried to hold it back with the plywood and scaffold poles and when this didn’t work, they poured cement on the trench. At this point Graham had the sense to stop them and call Peter Dawson. Peter came up, took one look and said “This is a job for Stanley!” He told the contractor to go away until he was called for.

Being El Supremo is heady stuff and most of the time it was great fun but every now and then a decision drops in your lap which has to be dealt with and there is only one good answer, the right one. This situation was a classic example and was just one of many I had to take while running the project. We had made a promise to deliver the Whitelees Engine in steam at Ellenroad the following May and it would be tremendously damaging if we didn’t fulfil our promise. The botched trench in the floor of the boiler house was only the tip of the iceberg, this was only one part of a very complicated problem and as I sat there with my cup of tea in the site hut I had to get all the facts marshalled, sort out the priorities and decide what was the best way forward. As Sherlock Holmes once said, ‘this is a three pipe problem’. I lit up and pondered.

You’ll remember that I mentioned earlier that when Total Oil took over Coates I had approached them and asked them to supply us with oil for the engine free and they agreed. This initial overture had matured over the months and Total, via Coates had become very interested in the engine for PR purposes. After a lot of discussion we came to an agreement which was that when we had the Whitelees engine in steam, Total would host an open day at the engine house. They wanted this to be in May 1992 and a lot of pressure was put on me to agree to this. I knew it was an incredibly short timescale but I also knew that this was a crucial opportunity for the Trust so I took the gamble and agreed. This set in motion a train of events that couldn’t be stopped as Total geared up the PR exercise and started to make preparations for the day. Remember, this was in late summer 1991 and all we had was a heap of engine parts and a bare concrete floor.

Apart from the administrative pressures there were some very serious practical problems. We were proposing to dig a hole fourteen feet deep, forty feet long and fifteen feet wide within three feet of the foundations of the engine house and, more importantly, the engine beds of the Ellenroad engine. Further, this hole didn’t start at ground level, the floor of the boiler house was six feet lower than ground level before we started. In effect we were going to go down over twenty feet into an alluvial flood plain and nobody knew exactly where the water table was. All I knew for certain was that we were at least ten feet below the level of the River Beal and it was a virtual certainty that we would hit water.

Put like this, I can forgive anybody who is reading this for coming to the conclusion that I was mad! There were plenty of people about who would have agreed with you but to my way of thinking, this wasn’t a problem in respect of whether the project was possible, it was simply a difficulty that had to be addressed and a solution found. I had to start from the point where I believed it was possible and we could do it. The first thing to do was think clearly about it. The water was no problem, all that was needed to combat this was a good pump or pumps that would dewater the excavation as fast as water flowed in. The danger, and it was a big danger, was that if we hit pockets of sand in the sub strata, these would become liquid and start to flow until they attained a level. If these sands formed part of the sub strata under the engine house foundations we would. In effect, pull the foundations out from under the building and the engine.

Peter and I had taken all this into consideration when we let the contract out but it was fairly obvious that the contractor had totally mislead us as to his abilities and that we had to have a rethink about everything. I told Peter that we hadn’t to get downhearted about what had happened. In effect, we had dug a trial hole and established how serious the problem was. More importantly we had received a warning that our concept of setting a contractor on to excavate and pour a foundation was fundamentally flawed, a normal contractor didn’t have the expertise that I needed.

Now then, this is going to sound like a diversion but it isn’t, it’s a valuable piece of advice! I’ve always been a nosy bugger, if I see something that intrigues me I always go and ask questions, this is how you learn. Another point, never underestimate the value of serendipity and lateral thinking when you are planning anything. They can be diversions sometimes but occasionally, they help you to come up with innovation and can be very effective.

I was still in the site hut, drinking tea and smoking my pipe. Peter had gone back to his office and Graham was leaving me alone. By the way, don’t forget we had a signed contract worth about £25,000 hanging out over the precipice with a contractor who was going to have to be fired! I put that can of worms on one side for the time being and drifted off into deep thought. Another little point, if anybody had come in at that moment they might well have asked themselves what this leader was doing, half asleep in a chair in the corner!

My mind drifted off to Morecambe Bay the previous summer. I had been up there for some reason and noticed a lot of activity out on the sands. A construction gang seemed to be digging holes out in the bay. Nosey bugger syndrome took over and I walked out to look at what they were doing. They were digging a trench in the sand fifteen feet deep and below water level in sand! I got talking to them and asked how the hell they could get away with it. Anyone who has ever dug a hole on the beach knows what happens to sand when you get down to the water table, it goes liquid and unstable, this was exactly the problem we had at Ellenroad. The bloke in charge of the site showed me, they had installed a refrigeration system along each side of the line of the trench and had frozen the sub-strata, this allowed them to dig deep enough to lay the sewage outfall pipe which was the reason for the trench. I was fascinated by this and stored it up in my mind. More to the point, I remembered the name of the firm, MGF from Astley near Manchester.

I picked up the phone and after a few enquiries found myself talking to John Kelly at MGF. I arranged for him to come up to the engine house that afternoon and have a look at the rabbit and then I went down to Rochdale to see Peter.

The conclusion I had come to was that we were looking at the problem in the wrong way, we were thinking in terms of a concrete lined hole ready to drop the engine into. What we really needed was a piece of trench the right size to build the concrete pit in. This hole had to be safe and waterproof in the bottom to allow us to work. I flew this past Peter and told him about John Kelly and he brightened up a bit. Then his face clouded as he remembered the small matter of the contract! He told me that the contractor could take us to the cleaners if he wanted to. I said “Forget about that, it’s my problem, I’ll go and see the bloke.”

I rang the contractor up and he was in his office so I went to see him. I called in at an off-licence and bought a bottle of whisky (which the Trust never got charged for) and thus armed, descended on the unfortunate bloke. He was sat in his office looking very miserable. He cheered up a bit when I plonked the bottle on the table, asked for two glasses and said “We’ve got things to talk about!”

I’m afraid I didn’t have much mercy on him. I started by laying out the facts. He had bitten off more than he could chew. The mess he had left us was a major complication. We had two ways of proceeding, either I invoked the terms of the contract, we went to law, and after spending a fortune on lawyers one of us won and the other lost, or, I gave him a cheque for £1500 and we tore the contract up. It didn’t take him long to decide, I gave him the money, he gave me the contract and a letter saying he was withdrawing. I left the bottle on his desk and drove away wondering how I was going to explain this to the Trustees!

Peter arrived at the engine house after lunch and I told him what I had done and gave him the contract and the letter. Remember, this was five hours after first seeing the problem, we had a possible solution, we’d thrown £1500 at a big problem and made it go away and we had a trenching contractor coming in that afternoon. Not a bad morning’s work by anybody’s standards. Recognise that all this was only possible because I had the power to act, the imprest account and good support. In any normal set up we would have been into a long round of meetings and in the end would have come up with a compromise that probably wouldn’t have worked. Actually, if that had been the case I think the Trustees would have jettisoned the project!

John Kelly came and I liked him straight away. He was a big, young, pleasant Irish bloke and he gave every evidence of knowing what he was talking about. Inside two hours we had agreed what we were going to do, set a price and arranged for them to start that week, I think actually it was the following day but am not certain about that.

John didn’t see any big problem. What he suggested was that we dig a trial hole right up against the foundations of the house and go down as far as we needed to find out just what was happening. Meanwhile, we opened one of the shutters into the boiler house and make a temporary ramp with rubble so that we could get an excavator and a dump truck into the boiler house. Once we were ready, we would start digging down into the floor over the whole of the area we wanted. We were going to take the hole out in one lump. As the hole went down we would sheet pile it round the outside to protect us and the foundations from cave-in. We couldn’t use Larsen piles which are the normal sheet piles that would be used because these would have to be driven by a pile driver and we couldn’t have that sort of vibration near the foundations. Anyway, there wasn’t enough headroom to take the pile driver. We needed another system.

John had the answer. We would use sheet piles but without the locking flange that sealed Larsen piles. These would be arranged loose but overlapping around the periphery of the hole and would be supported on the inside by a large box section frame that contained hydraulic jacks. The idea was that these could be pressurised and as they expanded they forced the piles against the sides of the excavation. The method of excavation was that the area at the bottom of each pile was dug out by hand until about two feet was clear below the pile. There was a hole in the pile at the foot and the chisel of a pneumatic jack hammer could be used to drive the pile down until it was firmly seated again in the base of the hole. Then the same operation was repeated all round the trench until all the piles were down to the two feet level. At this point the excavator could start to remove the two feet of trench bottom freed up by dropping the piles. The beauty of this was that the only place where sand and water could run was at the point where you were working on the original pile. If this happened it was easy to drive the pile down with the jack hammer and stop the flow. As we got deeper, another reinforcing frame was inserted and so on until we had reached the depth we needed. At this point we would pour 18” of concrete in the hole to anchor the bottom of the piles, take out the bottom frame and shutter up for the wall of the pit. Once the bottom four feet of wall was poured the rest of the frames could be taken off, the piles cut of at ground level and the rest of the pit poured to specification. Nowt to it!

Of course, there was a lot more to it than this but we had the right firm now and work went forward very quickly. There were only three men on the job, the excavator driver, a labourer (He was the most Irish Irishman I have ever come across in my life and a tiger for work!) and Jack the Pit Boss. The latter was a bloke who had been working on the Channel Tunnel and had come out of the job because he said it was too dangerous. We couldn’t have had a better man, he knew exactly what he was doing and all the tricks of the trade. His methods were very simple, for instance, we had a pump running all the time draining the hole and the big problem with this is that the water is so dirty, liquid mud in fact, that it would normally choke any centrifugal pump. Jack’s answer was simple, on the first day he asked me to get him some bales of hay. Every morning he would put a bed of hay down in the sump and sit the pump on top of it, this acted as a simple filter and the pump could do its job. He used hay as well whenever there was an inrush at the bottom of a pile, he would simply stuff a cake into the site of the inrush, the debris caught in the hay and made its own seal. Problem solved.

There was one other major danger, this was what is known as ‘boiling’. What happens is that it is possible to reach a point where the pressure of water from below is enough to break through the material in the bottom of the pit. The effect of this if it happens is that the whole of the bottom of the pit looks as though it is boiling as the water breaks through. I asked Jack about this and he said he didn’t think it would happen. As we got further down the material we were working in was boulder clay with isolated pockets of sand. The pockets would boil but Jack reckoned that the strata was strong enough to withstand the pressure and we wouldn’t get a big boil. It was good to watch the three of them working together. There wasn’t a lot of shouting when we got a minor boil, everyone knew what to do.

The way Jack managed the problem was that while the excavator was working, he always kept about five tons of dry borrow stacked up just to one side. Jack would direct the shovel to where he wanted him to dig and would indicate how much bite he wanted. He was watching the ground all the time. If they hit sand and it started to boil, Jack signalled the driver who dropped the bucket of spoil that had caused the problem to one side, swung round and got a bucket full of dry borrow. While he was doing this the labourer would have grabbed a cake of hay and he and Jack would be dancing on this like dervishes! The excavator then dropped the dry material on the boil and they did this until it was stopped. If it was near the side of the hole Jack would drop the piles close to it before making another attempt. If this didn’t cure it he would leave that place and work round it until it had become higher than the rest of the pit bottom, at that stage it could usually be dug out. We never hit a really serious boil and managed to contain all the sand we hit. I asked Jack what he would do if it all boiled and he said “Get out! But there’s no problem as long as you can see daylight!” I knew what he meant. There was all the difference in the world between a boil in the Whitelees Pit and one twenty miles out under the Channel!

While the pit was sinking, John Kelly, Peter and I had a look at the plans for the pit. John said he’d like to quote for the concrete work, it was a bit outside their normal brief but he had the equipment and the men and would like to see the job through. We only had one standard to go by, their work on the pit, judging by this we could do worse so we set MGF on to do it. The nice thing was that even with the money I had shelled out to get rid of the original contractor, we were inside the original price. Deep sighs of relief all round.

A word now about the pit itself. The first thing to recognise is that what we were actually doing was building a concrete boat and putting it into possible twelve feet of water in a rainy season. I had some experience of this when Cyril Richardson built a big pit at Little Stainton to hold the slurry from the farm buildings. I told him it was wrong when the contractors built it but he never took any notice. All was well until he emptied the pit in the spring when the water table was high. As they emptied it, the pit floated up out of the ground and cracked! The bottom line is Archimedes’s Principle: ‘If a body is partly or wholly immersed in a fluid, the up thrust or loss in weight is equal to the amount of water displaced’. In other words, the construction of the pit has to be heavier than the same volume of water. In the case of the Whitelees we used a 100% safety margin. We couldn’t give it the weight in the walls because we were short of room so we put a massive concrete collar all round it to locate it and make sure it was far too heavy to float.

In addition, the pit had to be poured very accurately as it had to fit the dimensions of the engine. We couldn’t pour it all at once because of the frames and even when we had finished the walls, the central pillar that supported the flyshaft bearing couldn’t be cast until its relationship with the walls could be accurately measured. This support had to be accurate to 1/16 of an inch. Another complication is that large amounts of concrete generate considerable heat when it is setting. This raises problems with expansion and contraction which are approximately quantifiable but a lot depends on the skill of the person building the shuttering. John and Peter were reasonably happy with all this so we decided to let the contract out on this basis.

Meanwhile, Jack and his mate had to deal with the mess left by the original contractor. The concrete had to be cut out as the piles went down and I reckon it put another £1000 on the job. Even so, it was a cheap price to pay for good work. As the pit sank the hole looked enormous. It was of course wider, longer and deeper than the finished pit which had to fit inside it. It looked big enough to drop the Ellenroad Engine in and have room to spare! In the end we got the depth, put in a mat of reinforcing steel and poured 18” concrete in the bottom to stabilise the piles. Jack and his mate were finished on the job at this point and there was one funny incident. We had all taken a shine to these two, apart from the fact they were masters of their craft and were getting us out of (or into!) a hole, they were nice blokes. Jack treated his labourer shamefully, he swore at him terribly all the time and I asked the labourer one day why he stood it and never swore back. “He’s the boss and while we are in the hole what he says goes. My time comes when we finish!” On the day they finished the labourer got his turn, egged on I have to say by us. He started into Jack and swore at him solid for what seemed like five minutes, Jack never said a word. When it was done, they had a good laugh and a cup of tea and disappeared from our lives. I can’t say how much admiration I have for men like that. When all the suits and the shoes have finished managing, blokes like them simply climb into the hole and do the job. Given the choice, I am in the hole with them rather than the conference room.

The next gang that moved in installed the complicated network of reinforcing bars and erected the first lift of shuttering. When all was ready we hired a concrete pump and ordered the mixer wagons. We pumped the first pour in and gave it four days to set then we removed the rest of the hydraulic frames, cut off the pile heads below finished ground level, raised the shuttering and poured the rest in one day. After a week we struck the shuttering and revealed the pit in all its glory. There was a bit of making good to do but very little, it was a wonderful job and definitely rock solid and waterproof.

.There were still two elements of the pit that needed to be done, one was the central pillar for the flyshaft bearing and the other was the cylinder base. I was fairly confident about my measurements but decided to leave these until we had the beam in place and I could do some accurate final measurements. As it turned out, this was a very wise decision! Apart from this, we now had a pit, all we had to do was build the Whitelees Engine!

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Stanley Challenger Graham
Stanley's View
scg1936 at talktalk.net

"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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