STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 25 Dec 2017, 06:48

We had an engine but we still needed steam and a water connection to the air pump and condenser and a return to the River Beal. The steam was an outside pipefitter's job, so I had no real control over that but the water supply and return was a different matter. I had been giving it a lot of thought.....

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There was an existing connection to the jack wells outside and so, indirectly to the river. It was below the water table and so had the advantage of a positive flow into the engine house at that level which was above the level of the bottom of the pit. It had been installed to supply this Mather and Platt centrifugal pump which was automatically controlled by the sprinkler system in the mill. As soon as the pressure dropped in the sprinkler circuit the pump cut in and kept the sprinkler supply tank on the roof of the tower topped up. With the mill demolished, this pump and its supply were redundant so it was a relatively simple job to make a connection into the supply pipes and run it to the air pump and condenser. We did that ourselves.
Then I addressed the problem of the return to the river. This was direct, we simply cut a hole in the top of the 18" return to the river from the main engine's air pumps, piped the overflow from the top of the air pump to a centrifugal pump in the pit via a channel fixed to the side of the pit. I made that out of a very large piece of RSJ with the bottom webs cut off to convert it to a channel and forced it from there uphill into the drain. Dead simple.... There was only one problem! When we came to test it the pump we had in stock wasn't self-priming, we had no money for another and we were stymied! We couldn't get the water back to the river.
This was a bit of a problem and time was rolling on, I had to think of a different solution. We got to less than a week before our steaming day and I hadn't got a working engine! This concentrates the mind wonderfully.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Tizer » 25 Dec 2017, 11:20

A festive steam photo!
The Santa Express at Bishops Lydeard station, Somerset, 19th December 2017, on the West Somerset Railway. Full of grandparents taking the children for a railway experience.

The WSR web site describes this engine thus:

SOMERSET & DORSET JOINT RAILWAY 7F CLASS 2-8-0 53808
The first major locomotive overhaul to be completed by the WSR back in 1987 after much preliminary work carried out at Radstock and Washford by its owners the Somerset and Dorset Railway Trust. It ran just under 50,000 miles over the WSR after this before a further major overhaul at the end of the 20th century which entailed almost complete reconstruction of the boiler. Original Number 88 now 53808 is one of two surviving members of an original class of eleven designed for working heavy freight trains over the Mendip Hills although they were also used on holidays trains between Bath and Bournemouth.

The engine was built by Robert Stephenson and Sons in 1925 and originally carried a non-standard 5 feet 3 inch diameter boiler. This was removed during an overhaul at Derby in the 1950’s and was replaced by a standard one from withdrawn "Midland Compound” 41097. The loco was withdrawn from British Railways service in 1963 as 53808 and spent time in the scrapyard at Barry before being purchased by the SDRT as part of the abortive "Radstock Prokect” in the late 1960’s.


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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 26 Dec 2017, 05:40

Lovely! Isn't it amazing how the power of steam still attracts even today, despite the onslaught of electronics. Nothing could be further removed. Dirty, noisy and hard to maintain in good working order but they will outlive us!

In a different part of the forest..... Remember I couldn't run the engine and we were less than a week from our big day....
Talking about solving water supply problems, I just realised I missed our first problem out. Our source for the condensing water was the Mather and Platt connection to one of the three jack wells outside in the yard, all connected by a tunnel to the River Beal. The connection was a 6" CI pipe that entered the side of the jack well above water level and dropped to a foot valve and strainer in the bottom. My idea was that once primed, the syphon effect would make our connection work. When the engine was running the suction of the air pump would do the work. Problem was when we tested it we had no flow! The most likely cause was a blocked foot valve as the installation hadn't been used or tested for many years. Luckily the installation was only about 30 years old so the components were all in good order, there was even black paint left on the CI pipework!
I rang my mate John Ingoe at Rochdale Electric Welding and he brought his Scammel Wagon and low-loader down to Ellenroad. The trailer had a 30 ton Hiab lifting arm on it. We hooked on to the eye bolt on the top bend that M&P had thoughtfully provided, whipped the nuts off the six connecting bolts and lifted the drop pipe and foot valve out of the well. Then off with inspection plate on the side of the foot valve, once more, no problem, the threads and connections were in good order. The foot valve was solid bronze so no corrosion problems. We found the weighted mushroom valve in the base had a rubber face and it was stuck fast to the seat. It came free easily and we got it out to inspect and clean it. It was in perfect condition as was the seat. Spirits high, I went in the site hut for a brew and a smoke while the lads put it all back together.
After a while I realised there was a kerfuffle going on outside in the yard. I went out and found that they couldn't get the valve back in the housing. I told them that it was dead simple and showed them how to do it. I couldn't get it in no matter what I tried. I stood back, scratched my head and called for silence while I had a think. Just then a small voice piped up from one of the lads who was noted for being very quiet. "Try it upside down". I did so, entering the spindle in the outlet pipe first which meant I could get it in the housing. Then I found there was enough room in the valve chamber to turn the valve over and the spindle dropped though its guide. Perfect!! The lad had noted that during the strip down we had rotated the valve but not remembered that. I thanked him for putting us right and we rapidly got the assembly laced together and reinstalled in the well. A quick test and bingo we were in business.
Now back to my original problem, I could get water in but I couldn't get it out!
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 27 Dec 2017, 06:51

I worked out that what we needed was a tank that would hold at least 500 gallons, drop the water into that and have our pump fixed to it controlled by a float switch so that it would be permanently primed. I needed a Sparks and a contractor to work for nowt as we had no money and there were only three days left..... I rang Alex Mills my friendly sparks and John Ingoe and put the arm on them.
Within 24 hours we had 600 gallon tank installed in the pit and a drop pipe from the end of the trough. Johns man did a stab in at the base and we mounted our pump straight on the tank. Alex moved all the wiring, installed a float switch and tested the installation. The day after they all came back and we ran the Whitelees engine in steam for the first time. High stress because I had set the valves as best as I could but as it turned out, no problems at all, it ran well after a few adjustments. The return system worked perfectly, the pump kicked in on the float switch when there was about 500 gallons in the tank and shut off at about 100 gallons. Perfect! We were ready to run for Total and the Great and the Good!
I have to step back here to a time before the pit when Peter Dawson my architect was doing the drawings for the pit we had designed. I went into his office one day to sign off the final draft but asked him to make one modification, make it 18" deeper. Peter asked me why and I told him I didn't know. All I could think of was that it would be easier to raise the floor 18" than drop it that much. He gave me a funny look and agreed so I signed the design off.
Later, when we were getting ready to build the engine I had John's men in one day building me the frame that would hold the entablature beam and as I walked across the boiler house I noticed two castings that Cecil had dug out and cleaned and didn't recognise them. I soon worked out that they were raising blocks for the trunnion bearing on the entablature beam. Problem was that they weren't on Frank Wightman's drawing and I hadn't allowed for them, they would raise the beam 12" and we had only allowed 3" clearance from the concrete ceiling.

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Frank's drawing. The only clue I had because after going to all the trouble to get a proper measured drawing of the engine as it was at Holcroft Foundry, the Council lost the plans.....

I went across to Paul who was working on the frame and asked him to do a modification, lower the whole bloody thing 12". They didn't turn a hair and when I explained why they said "That's engineering for you!" then they did what I asked. That meant of course that all the other parts of the engine had to be dropped 12", good job we had some room in the pit bottom!

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Came the day, the Lady Mayoress poured champagne on the engine, declared it open and I started it and ran it. Some time later Peter and I were stood watching the festivities and he said "If we told them about dropping the levels on the drawing they'd never believe us. Any idea why you did it?" I told him that all I could think was that subconsciously I had seen those bloody blocks but never registered them. We kept quiet and basked in the congratulations.....
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 28 Dec 2017, 05:02

One of the things you have to expect when you are doing mission impossible and making decisions outside your comfort zone every day is that the occasional mistake creeps in. There is no defence against this, it just pops up on you. As you have seen above, it happened to the old fitters in the 19th century, can you imagine the scene when the erectors found the eduction pipe was wrong and they were on a deadline? They had to find a way round the problem and the only criterion was, "Will it work?". Let's follow the eduction pipe problem through and you'll see that it wasn't just the mistake or the solution but the possible consequences.

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This is the entablature beam as it emerged from the installation at Holroyd's as we were dismantling the engine. I think you can see the problem. The beam was broken in two and had been repaired by forging two heavy plates to the shape of the beam and bolting them on. It was obvious that this had been a successful repair because the beam had survived the whole long life of the engine. Interesting.... I noted it and made sure when I rebuilt it that we gave the beam plenty of support by putting it in a corset of two heavy RSJs. I had plenty of time to think about this but didn't realise the explanation until we hit the eduction pipe problem.
There are only two things that can break the beam, stopping the flywheel suddenly while the engine is running because of a mechanical breakage in the transmission or.... stopping the piston in the cylinder before it has completed its stroke and the most common reason for that is a slug of water in the cylinder. Water is incompressible.
We can't be certain what caused the slug or if that was the reason but the chances of it happening were far higher as the engine was built with no clearance at the bottom because of the adjustment that had been made to accommodate the eduction pipe.My favourite is that a slug of water got in, arrived at the bottom of the cylinder and because there are no relief valves in the design, stopped the piston dead before it had got to the bottom of its stroke. The momentum of the flywheel couldn't be instantly destroyed and so it carried on and lifted the beam to the extent that it broke it. I can imagine the scene and the repair to get going again but the point is that the small mistake in the foundry in 1841 planted the seed of the subsequent breakage. That's what I mean by consequences!
Remember the deep grooves chiselled in the cylinder base? I'll bet they cut them after this accident to try to get the water to the drain as fast as possible when starting from cold....

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Here's the beam in its girder corset in February 1992 as we were starting the build. This was the assembly that had to be dropped 12". I often say that nobody will ever know what has to go into doing a job like this.....
There was a consequence of a different kind..... Over 30 years later I was making one of my occasional visits to a steaming day at Bancroft when a small man came up to me, ascertained that I was Stanley and went for my throat! It turned out he was a visiting volunteer from Ellenroad. He told me what a terrible mess I had made of the Whitelees and I realised that I was 'He who shall not be named' in certain quarters. I calmed him down and told him that if he could do any better, go to it! The incontrovertible fact was that disaster or no, it had run for 30 years and was still working.
I'm happy to say that Ellenroad as a whole hasn't written me off, they made me an honorary life member last year......
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 29 Dec 2017, 05:51

I think I shall tell the story of digging the pit for the Whitelees next.... I've told it before but it's a good story and I have no doubt that it will be new to most of you.
But what's on my mind this morning are some general points about my time mucking about with these big engines....
Those of you who have already dipped into my career will remember that my association with steam engines started many years ago when I was convalescing at home with a broken shoulder and visited Bancroft Shed to see the engine running. Later, a bad accident on Beattock when I saw five people killed convinced me that wagon driving, though usually very interesting and enjoyable, had changed. It was a young lads job. That led to me being firebeater at the shed and very soon, the engineer. Insatiable curiosity and the happenstance of meeting Newton Pickles, my mentor, got me to the stage where I realised that if I could survive long enough, I could be one of the last men in Britain that had run a mill engine commercially. Forty years later I think that this is the case and I have to tell you that there is a world of difference between being an 'expert' on steam learned from books and preserved engines and the genuine experience. Of course I would say that but I have seen too many of these experts recommending practices that are actually dangerous even though they are sure they understand the subject.
Just one example.... Almost all these men advocate running the preserved engines at low speed as this is 'safer'. Nothing could be further from the truth. Running an engine at less that the designed speed means that the flyshaft is flexing all the time as the centrifugal force hasn't built to the level where a gyr5oscopic effect has stabilised the shaft and it doesn't flex. The old lads knew what they were doing! Give it a bit of thought, how do you break a piece of wire with your fingers? You bend it repeatedly don't you. An 18" thick shaft reacts in exactly the same way. In the end I persuaded English Heritage I was right but they seem to have forgotten....
I could give you a lot more examples but I won't bore you! If you've been following this topic you'll have picked some of them up.
Right, I shall tell the story of the pit again starting tomorrow.....
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 30 Dec 2017, 04:12

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!
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 31 Dec 2017, 05:06

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.

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Not a pretty sight!

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.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 01 Jan 2018, 04:34

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!

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The set up. First we had to break through the floor and tidy up the mess that the first aborted attempt had left us with!
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 02 Jan 2018, 06:37

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.

Image

Just one pic for you to give you an idea of just how big our hole was! At this stage we are getting ready for the first pour of concrete in the pit bottom. I have to note that people have no idea today when they criticise our work just what had to be done. This is an impressive job by anyone's standards!
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 03 Jan 2018, 04:32

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!

At about Christmas 1991 we had the pit ready for the Whitelees engine and a deadline of March 21st to have it in steam for the Total Open day at Ellenroad. We also had a problem in that I was running short of funding. This had been building up for a bit but I had been concentrating on getting things done on the ground more than funding. This wasn’t a matter of policy on my part, it was simply priorities. The Directors were getting restless but I told them I didn’t see any problem, I would carry on working and booking my time but they could pay me when they had the money. They weren’t really happy with this but had no alternative, I just shoved all this to the back of my mind and got on with the job in hand.

I had been laying plans for a while, I knew I had no money for skilled help and had to build the bloody thing myself so I had a word with a firm at Castleton who supplied lifting gear and they gave me eight 30cwt chain blocks and trolleys that had just come out of Lucas’ from long term hire and I installed one on every beam in the roof of the boiler house above the pit and all the way across the floor. I had them tested and insured and so had a way of shifting all the pieces of the engine single handed. Some of the pieces weighed more than 30cwt but I had the beams tested to 3 tons and knew the blocks would stand the overload so that was all right. I bought some nylon slings and won a couple of pull lifts from a friendly engineering works and we were ready to begin.

I had a word with Rochdale Training and they lent me two apprentices for the duration and Cecil Hufton, one of the volunteers said he’d come in and help me full time. Cecil was an old bloke but he was invaluable because apart from giving a hand with the heavy stuff he cleaned all the parts as we got them out of the stack.

At the same time I had a firm of pipefitters working to put the main in to the engine. I had begged a very expensive pressure reducing valve and the money for the pipefitting was already budgeted so that bit was sorted. I think we finally got cleared up in the boiler room by mid-January, there was a lot to do because we had to dig the temporary ramp out and clear all the muck away left over from the pit construction..

At last, we were ready and I quickly slipped into a routine of 14 hours a day building the engine. I’m going to give quite a full description of this because it isn’t a subject you’ll find documented anywhere else as far as I know so I may as well get it out of my head and down on to paper. First of all, a general point. Every time I have stripped or moved an engine under English Heritage supervision they have always laid great stress on the fact that every part has to be identified and numbered. I had no hassle with them over the Whitelees because they weren’t funding it and as far as they were concerned it didn’t exist. They knew what I was doing and had refused to fund on the grounds that it would ‘dilute the concept’ of the project but the funny thing was that nobody ever came back to us and asked for the return of the funding we had already had. They would have been entitled to do this if they had stuck to the rules after they refused to countenance funding because in legal terms, what I was doing was breaking the funding agreement by installing the Whitelees.

I didn’t discuss this with anyone except Peter Dawson, I told him I had an idea I knew what was going on and that EH had got themselves into a position where they couldn’t actually do anything. Besides, I had indications from them that regardless of the Science Museum opinion, they would ‘give a fair wind’ to the installation of the Whitelees. In any case, what could they do? If they asked for the money we hadn’t got it and under the terms of the constitution of the Trust which I had drawn up, if the Trust liquidated guess who had to take control of the Project? The Museums .and Galleries Commission, in other words, the Science Museum. All they could do was allow the volunteers to run it so what the hell! As for numbering every part, this was crazy as it was already done. All engines were erected and fitted in the shop before being dismantled and shipped to the site. The old fitters marked every piece that needed it and the rest just fell into place if you knew what you were doing. I had photographed it all in situ at Holcrofts and I had the Frank Wightman drawing. This was all I needed.

Three months after writing this I have come back to it to revise and check it and I’m struck by how my thinking has progressed about the politics of the Whitelees in the interim. I haven’t any proof that machinations were going on behind the scenes but I have a feeling in my water that this was what had been going on. I was getting fairly proficient at de-coding bureaucratic letters and what I was reading between the lines was that the opposition came from the committee in the Science Museum. I knew enough about the people who sat on that committee and the linkages between them and David Sekers to make some fairly well educated guesses as to what was afoot. There again, I might be being paranoid, I have no proof. But, to quote the old adage, just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you!

Image

The shuttering man stripping the central pillar off. It had more strong-backs on it than you could poke a stick at but when we measured up it was as near perfect as was possible. Concrete is funny stuff and it moves as it expands and contracts during the exothermic stage of setting. This bloke had got it within 1/16", a bit of a miracle. By the way, the small shuttering left on top is the final small pour when I fitted and adjusted the base plate for the bearing for the flywheel shaft. It had to be dead accurate.....
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 04 Jan 2018, 04:56

The first thing we needed to do before we could start the erection was make a very strong frame to hold the entablature beam and erect a pillar to hold the outboard end of this. Normally the entablature beam would have sat in the side walls of the engine house and these would be very heavily built to support the weight and the other forces that came on it when the engine was working. In our case one of the side walls was missing and the engine was too far away from the main wall of the engine house to carry the other end. This was because of how we had to site the engine to take into account all the other design considerations. I had no problem with this because the entablature beam was cracked and had been repaired at some time. This is quite common with cast iron entablature beams. If the engine gets a slug of water or there is some other malfunction there can be a lot of lifting strain on these beams and being cast iron they frequently crack. What we were going to do was erect a pillar made of thick wall steel pipe and put in two girders across to the wall which would accept the original entablature beam between them and restrain it. This held the beam in its correct position and strengthened it against any future strain. Even if it broke in two, the engine would function.

My problem was that this was a heavy construction and we had no money! I went down to Rochdale Electric Welding and had a word with Matt Ingoe and his son John. REW had been my boiler repairers at Bancroft and were the bee’s knees. They could do any type of heavy repair on boilers in either welded or riveted construction. They had some wonderful craftsmen working for them and had never let me down. They did all the upgrading on the Lancashire boiler when we re-commissioned it. They had also inserted the replacement pillars in the boiler room for us and in the course of that job John had come up with a slightly more risky but very effective way of doing the job. This had reduced the time needed to do it and he offered to lower the price. At the time, this would have caused more hassle than anybody needed because I had already agreed the funding so I told him the original price stood but that he owed me. I never told anyone about this but in February 1992 it was pay back time! John gave me some terrible stick but the upshot was that the following day Paul Greenwood and Stuart Lomax turned up with a plant wagon and with no drawings started to do the job for me.

They fabricated the base for the pillar, erected the pillar and cut out the wall of the engine house for the two girders. We lifted the girders into place and as they tack welded everything into place I went out to the site hut for a pot of tea. Actually, I started off to go for the tea but on the way noticed Cecil dragging a lump of cast iron out of the heap of engine parts ready to clean it. Now I’ve always claimed to have a crap detector in the back of my head. It whines when I get close to anything that can be described as crap! It started whining as I watched Cecil and my brain suddenly kicked into gear. I looked at the offending lump of iron and said “What the bloody hell’s that?” Cecil looked up, he said he didn’t know but there were two of them. I looked at the lump and I knew what it was, it was a raising block for a pedestal bearing. The problem was I couldn’t think where it fitted, I had no memory of it. As I looked at it I realised that there was only one place they could fit, under the trunnion bearings which sat on the entablature beam and supported the engine beam. If this was true, we had a problem because all my calculations were based on the fact that we only had three inches of clearance between the beam end and the roof when it was running!

I went into the hut and got the working copy of the Frank Wightman drawing out. I saw the reason for the problem straight away, Frank had missed the raising blocks out when he drew the engine. I hadn’t worked off his measurements but had used the drawing as an aide memoir when I was measuring the individual parts to get the dimensions of the pit. I had missed the blocks out of the measurements. A quick trip into the boiler house and a measure up showed me I was nine inches out! Remember what I said about my conversation with Peter when we finalised the drawings of the pit? Was some subconscious mechanism at work in my head? I’ll be buggered if I know but was I ever glad I’d listened to my voices! I went in to the boiler room and shouted up to Paul, “Can you do a bit of a modification for me? Drop those two girders nine inches.” Paul looked at me and asked if I was joking, I told them what had happened and I’ll always remember what Stuart Lomas said after I had apologised. “Don’t worry Stanley, they call it engineering!” Luckily all they had to do was cut out the web of a short piece of girder on top of the pillar and cut another nine inches out of the wall but what a let off!

Our next problem was to lift the entablature beam into place. This weighed about two tons and it was a complicated lift to get it above the girders and manoeuvre it into its place. We managed it and started to weld in the restraints that would hold it firm. Meanwhile I had to address a problem I had identified while we were lifting the beam in. We had just enough room to work but we wouldn’t have enough room to lift the engine beam in over the top especially when the raising blocks were in place. The problem was that there was room for the beam but not enough room for the space taken up by the chain blocks and trolleys which ran on the beams in the roof. I had to retire for another think!

We had some 30cwt pull lifts, these are a useful tool, not really meant for lifting but they take up very little room and are a ratchet winch that has a very short lift. I could do the final part of the lift with these but I hadn’t got a sky hook. A sky hook is the finest asset a fitter can have, it is a mobile hook that you can stick to the sky anywhere you want it and so get a lift! I remember when we were re-roofing the rope race in the early days I looked at Peter’s drawings and the roof was to be supported on substantial wooden joists, perfectly adequate for the job. I told him they were no good, I wanted steel beams 18” deep. He looked at me as though I had gone crackers and said “Do you think they’ll be strong enough?” I told him they weren’t there to hold up the roof, they were there to help whoever had the job in future of hanging something in the rope race or doing a lift below. “When that fitter goes to have a look at the job he’ll look up into the roof and he’ll know straight away that it was a fitter who specified those beams. He’ll be a happy man!” Unfortunately I hadn’t designed the roof of the boiler house with the Whitelees Engine in mind so I had to improvise.

We punched a hole in the concrete roof and put a strong beam across the hole with a wire sling hanging down through the hole. The beam was packed up on bricks until there was just a small loop inside the boiler room. We had a sky hook! This was used for the final lift, we got the beam as high as we could, then inserted the raising blocks and trunnion bearings and sat the engine beam in its place. Job done and we could all go home for some tea!
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 05 Jan 2018, 05:08

Now we had the beam in place I could do my final measurements to locate the central pillar and the cylinder base. I thanked my lucky stars that I’d had sense to leave this until I had the beam up. Remember, I’d lowered the whole of the engine nine inches! When we lifted the cylinder out of the engine house at Holcrofts I hadn’t dismantled it, we hadn’t enough time. It had been sat there for two years with its cover on and the piston and rod still inside it. I had to pull this to bits to lessen the weight and also to get accurate measurements of the stroke so that I could get the cylinder at the right height. The cylinder of a steam engine is longer than the stroke and the piston should be mounted so that at mid-stroke the piston is at mid point in the cylinder. This leaves an equal amount of clearance at each end. This is necessary to accommodate any small amounts of water that may be carried over to the engine. If there isn’t any room, the slug of water, being incompressible, stops the piston dead before it has reached the end of its stroke and something has to break in the engine.

When I got the cover off and lifted the piston and rod out I was intrigued by what I found. The bottom of the cylinder had been scarred by deep channels chiselled into it leading across to the outlet for the cylinder drain right in the bottom. I didn’t understand why this had been done but noted it, measured the bore, made my calculations and built a temporary girder frame to hold the cylinder at the correct height, this was calculated to give equal clearance at both ends of the stroke. Next, I went into the workshop at home and made all the holding down bolts out of two inch black bar and cut and threaded authentic square nuts for them. All this took about a week during which Cecil and the lads carried on with sorting and cleaning engine parts. I had told them which we would need next and they were making a good job of them. The place looked like a proper fitting shop as all the parts of the flywheel and the various keys and wedges lined up in gleaming rows waiting for the build.

I marked up the position of the concrete pillar in the pit, adjusted the height of the pocket in the wall of the pit for the outrigger bearing of the flyshaft and mounted the cylinder on its temporary frame. Then I rang John Kelly at MGF and they came down to do the final concreting in the pit.

I did my final measurements before we located the central pillar. This was a very ticklish job and we used far more strongbacks than usual to support the shuttering. We poured it all except the last two feet then I fitted the bed plate for the flyshaft bearing in exactly the right place. At the same time we shuttered round the temporary framework supporting the cylinder and poured the concrete in that. The rest of the concrete was poured in the pillar and we gave it a week to cool down before we struck the scaffolding. The pillar was as near perfect as we could get it. If ever you go to Ellenroad watch the crank as it swings round at the back of the pillar and notice how small the clearance is between it and the pillar.

I was ready now to start on the flywheel. I had been looking forward to this because it was potentially the most challenging job on the engine. If I didn’t get it right it wouldn’t run true and as it was a geared drive, this wouldn’t do at all! With the help of Cecil and the lads I got the main bearing housing on the pillar installed and the outrigger bearing on the side of the pit. One last measure up and check with the level and I was ready. I waited until they had gone home and then set to to lift the flyshaft and flywheel boss into place. I did this on my own because it was a very heavy lift, far heavier than anything else we would have to do and actually was pushing the tackle to its limits. I used two blocks all the time and had to keep the whole lot balanced. Working slowly and with many a pause for thought and inspection I moved it quietly over to its place and lowered it in. I breathed a sigh of relief as it sank into its bearings and there was something about the way it rested there which made me sure I had got it right, it looked comfortable. The nicest part about this of course was the look on the lads faces when they came in the following morning. I told them the good fairy had been busy in the night!

I settled down to some honest fitting from this point. First we installed a chain block directly over the centre of the wheel and then we started fitting the spokes to the boss. The spokes were all numbered and were fitted into borings in the boss where they were retained by double cotters acting as opposed wedges. They were a beautiful fit and the only fitting that needed doing was on a couple of the wedges which I reckoned had been re-made at the time the engine was erected at Holcroft’s in 1957 because they were planed. The great fascination about building something like this for me is that you are following in the footsteps of the old fitters who first erected the engine in Petrie’s shop in 1841. You come across all their difficulties and deficiencies. One thing about the Whitelees which was obvious was that for its time, it was very accurately built. The other thing that was noticeable, as in the keys that needed re-fitting, was that they hadn’t got a planing machine. These had only just been invented then, all the plane surfaces on the engine were either chipped and filed by hand or generated on the lathe which would be the only machine tool they had at that time. It must have been a big lathe as well, the flywheel boss was no lightweight.

Once all the spokes were in the procedure was to fit the rim segments and then finish off by fitting the gear segments to the outside of the rim. This was routine, repetitive work but had to be done very carefully as the wheel was out of balance. This had started as soon as we got one spoke in of course. The cure was to restrain the wheel with a chain block at each side. These had to be re-attached each time the wheel was tuned and it was at this point when only one block was holding the weight that you had to be very careful. Once the wheel was complete we spun it round and I was delighted to find it was actually running nearer to truth than it had been at Holcroft’s. I don’t claim any credit for this apart from the fact we must have been more consistent with our fitting than the 1957 gang because the truth of the wheel depended primarily on the accuracy of the machining and that was superb.

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The erection of the central pillar and the entablature beam was the basis of everything that followed. I can't tell you how much measuring and checking I did before finalising the position to within a sixteenth of an inch. If I got this wrong I was in deep shit!
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 06 Jan 2018, 06:50

We then mounted the governor on its pedestal above the flyshaft bearing and concentrated on the other end of the beam. I had decided that it would be easier to fit the parallel motion and the piston and rod while the con rod end of the beam was free. The first thing we did was fit the cover temporarily as this gave us a true centre on the cylinder. I hung a plumb bob from the centre of the bearing position for the end of the piston rod and first tried the line for centre on the cover and then on the base of the cylinder. I did this by making a piece of wood that fitted exactly in the bore and marking the centre through the cover. We then took the cover off and transferred the piece of wood to the base of the cylinder and checked the line against it. We made a few minor adjustments with wedges under the base until we had the centre perfect. Finally I did one check with the plumb bob on the mark in the cylinder bottom and the cover installed. As near as I could see we had it perfect. Then we took the cover off, removed the wooden target and did a final check measurement on the equality of the distance from the cylinder ends on both ends of the stroke. I was within an eighth of an inch and that was OK by me. We put permanent packings in in place of the wedges, tightened the holding down bolts, did one final check with the plumb line and then installed the piston, piston rod and cover.

I had fabricated a girder frame and welded it in place above the cylinder. This was put in to act as a stay for the entablature beam and also to give us a sky hook to install the anchor points of the parallel motion. I wasn’t looking forward to setting the parallel motion up as I had never done one before from scratch. I could hear Johnny Pickles telling Newton that on no account was he to alter the parallel motion on the big beam engine at Victoria Mill at Earby because if he did he'd never get it right again! I’d talked to Newton about it and he didn’t really have any specific advice beyond listening to what I thought would be the right way to go about it and telling me to use my head.

I’d given this a lot of thought and had come to the conclusion that the best way to do it was to set the engine beam dead parallel, that is, at mid-stroke and then set the parallelogram of the linkage dead square and level and measure the anchor points of the linkage from that position. There was a certain amount of adjustment on the connections so I thought we would be near enough. In theory it should have been perfect but there was always the chance that I’d get the anchorages slightly wrong. We did it this way, attached the piston rod and barred the engine over to see how we were. We were dead true across the line of the beam and only an eighth of an inch out on the centre line so I left it at that. The packing would tolerate that amount of play. I’m sure we could have fiddled with it and got it better, the basic positioning was good and the adjustments would have fine-tuned it, but I had my eye on my May deadline and good enough was all right by me.

Next, we fitted the connecting rod between the opposite beam end and the crank. This fitted perfectly and when we barred the engine over it cleared the central pillar easily and evenly so that was all right! We then shifted operations back to the cylinder end, we had to fit the valve chest to the cylinder.

The valve chest was a beautiful cast iron construction and was a bit of a puzzle to me. I knew it was made up of separate castings but they were so well fitted that we couldn’t find the joins or even any trace of how it was fastened together! I had no intention of dismantling it but needed to know as much as possible about it before attempting to fit it as I was working at a big disadvantage. I knew nothing about the internal arrangement of the ports in the circular slide valve and they were almost totally inaccessible. I could measure the valve itself with ease as it was out of the bore but the positioning and shape of the seats was a different matter. I knew that they had used the common practice of cut-outs in the seats to give a rudimentary form of lead by allowing a small quantity of steam in before Top Dead Centre and BDC but I had to get measurements in order to set the valves correctly. I reasoned that it was no good relying on the evidence of the old fitting marks on the flyshaft and eccentric as we had rebuilt the engine and these would almost certainly have changed. As it turned out, I was right but not for the reasons I had deduced!

In the end I got the measurements by using a wooden batten with a nail driven through it at the end. I passed to batten up the bore and found the top edge of the port, the bottom edge and the depth and shape of the cut-out. All this was done by feel but I had some clues from the bottom port which I could see and so had a rough check on my measurements at the top. I decided eventually that I had a pretty reasonable set of measurements and could fit the anchor plate for the motion, the circular slide valve and the rod and cover. We were ready to fit the valve chest to the cylinder.

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I'm not a big fan of re-inventing the wheel and got Newton in when we were trying to fathom out the construction and function of the valve chest. It was Newton who told me to make the sophisticated measuring gauge with a batten and a nail. He told me that his mate Crabbie had showed him this trick which he in turn had learned when he worked in the railway shops at Doncaster. That was how they fitted the piston valves on the locos. Strictly speaking this wasn't a piston valve but it was the same construction and theory. It worked, we set the valve using this method and it has never been altered since.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 07 Jan 2018, 04:40

The first thing to say is that the valve chest was a big lump. There was very little difference between its weight and that of the cylinder It fitted on a two small faces about nine inches square cast on to the cylinder and these were the admission and exhaust ports to the cylinder so they had to be steam tight. When fitted, the valve chest was hung on the front face of the cylinder and all the weight was supported by these two faces. This was the reason I had taken so much trouble with the cylinder foundation as, when it was all erected, the cylinder was way out of balance on account of the weight of the valve chest hung on the front of it.

Once I was ready to lift the valve chest I had another set of problems to address before I could attempt to fit it. The first was the condition of the studs and nuts which held the chest on to the faces. They were pretty rough. They hadn’t been perfect when the engine was built and after over 150 years of undisturbed corrosion, both they and the tappings they fitted into on the cylinder had deteriorated. I decided to make new studs and make the threads that went into the cylinder slightly oversize. I was making all new nuts so the outboard end could be standard Whitworth thread. These were fitted and bedded in Manganesite. This is a very old jointing compound made out of double boiled linseed oil and manganese dioxide powder. It is black and sticky and when raised to steam temperature it bakes hard and sets like cement.

You’re working hard here to follow this lot so let’s have a Manganesite interlude! Being an old-fashioned bugger and knowing what’s good for me I am a big fan of double boiled linseed oil. In my experience it is wonderful stuff for preserving, sealing and combating corrosion. I have never known a joint made with Manganesite to fail on account of the jointing, only by reason of bad fitting. I remember working with Newton one day when we were fitting a new cylinder packing on the Bancroft Engine. He cut his hand and I noticed that he dipped his finger in the Manganesite tin and rubbed some into the cut. The joke with this stuff is that if it gets rubbed into your skin it’s no use trying to wash it off. The only way you get rid of it is to let it wear off! I laughed at Newton and asked him what the bloody hell he thought he was doing. He told me that it was the best stuff in the world for protecting a cut and promoting healing! I told him he was a daft old bugger and left it at that. Many years later I heard an item on Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 in which they were talking about the latest treatment for healing varicose ulcers in old people. As you probably know, these can be terribly slow to mend. The new, state of the art dressing was impregnated with manganese dioxide! I went straight round to Newton’s and told him he might not have been as daft as I thought. It just goes to show, don’t dismiss old style cures out of hand. Remember Mother Hanson and my carbuncle?

Back to the valve chest. Once the stud problem was out of the way I had another thorny issue to address. When Duncan and I split the valve chest from the cylinder before removing it from the Holcroft site, we had puzzled over the seal between the valve chest and the cylinder. As far as we could see at the time it was simply metal to metal, two fitted faces. We didn’t bother too much about it then, we had other fish to fry. Once I got the valve chest laid out on the boiler room floor and cleaned it up I realised that it wasn’t two fitted faces at all. The seal had been made with jointing cement which had set as hard as the parent metal and when I tested it, was magnetic. I took a piece home and found it drilled and tapped like cast iron. I decided in the finish that it was a mixture of cast iron filings and, you’ve guessed it, double boiled linseed oil! I took a piece of it down to Edward Keirby’s in Rochdale who made all my packing for me and showed it to Roger and his dad but neither of them had seen anything like it before. My problem was that I could soon make some fine cast iron powder on the lathe and could get the linseed oil but I didn’t know how long it would take to set, neither was I sure that my diagnosis was right. All I was sure of was that we only had one chance to get it right and if we got it wrong there wouldn’t be enough time to strip the whole thing down to rectify it so, once more, Stanley had a decision to make!

I thought long and hard and in the end decided to get Keirby’s to make me two proofed asbestos packings 3/8 of an inch thick. These would be bedded in Manganesite to give the seal. The problem was that these wouldn’t be rigid enough to give me the mechanical strength I needed in the joint so we made the packings an inch wide and filled the remainder of the space with a mixture of ceramic fibre and Manganesite. I reckoned that if we put the valve chest back bedded on to this but only nipped the joints we would have enough strength to make it integral and that we could leave the final tightening down until we warmed the cylinder when we got steam on it. By that time the compound should have hardened a bit and would bake with the rise in temperature. In the end this was what we did and as far as I know there has never been the slightest sign of any leakage on the joints. One thing is sure and certain, if ever there is they’ll need to read this chapter before they strip it down to re-make the packing!

Having made the joints, fitting the valve chest was straightforward but an awkward lift and very stressful. I had this mental image of the tackle failing and us dropping the casting and breaking it. I could have fabricated a replacement but our deadline, budget and the quality of the job would all have gone to the wall, in other words, disaster! As it was it went straight on with no bother and we nipped the fastenings up and stripped the tackle. It was looking more and more like an engine.

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Heart in mouth time. This was not long before we were due to steam. I could see such a disaster looming! Nobody has ever checked a lifting setup as much as I did this one!
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 08 Jan 2018, 04:58

We then fitted the valve gear, the twist motion that helped even the wear out on the bore of the valve and the eccentric rod and associated parts. Once we had done this I barred the engine over and at the time thought it was very stiff. This got worse and when I had a look to see what was causing it found to my dismay that part of the twist motion had come loose, displaced to one side and bent the valve rod going up into the valve chest! One of the lads had forgotten to tighten some nuts and I was at fault because I hadn’t checked them. We dismantled the gear, drew the rod out and I took it down to a friendly engineering firm at Castleton, told them what I had done and they straightened it out for me and skimmed the bottom end where it ran in the packing. This was a ticklish job but they did it well and for free! Problem solved, rod back in, nuts tightened properly this time and all was well. In fact, it was better than before and sealed better in the bottom gland because 150 years of wear had been taken out of it.

The next part we had to address was the condenser and air pump which sat in the pit below the cylinder and were connected to the cylinder by a cast iron eduction pipe. This pipe had been sealed into the top of the condenser with rust setting compound. This used to be the standard method of making a pressure tight joint between two cast iron pipes. Mechanically, the joint consisted of a tapering plain end that fitted into a flanged female seating. The joint was caulked with lead wool driven in with a hammer and caulking iron and then the space left was filled with a paste of cast iron borings and sal ammoniac. (The old name for Ammonium Chloride) There was a chemical action between the sal ammoniac and the cast iron which in effect was accelerated corrosion. The paste swelled and set hard and it was a permanent joint. The joint on the condenser had been done like this and the paste had swelled that much that the pressure had split the flange so there was no way I was going to disturb it. The condenser and the air pump sat on a flat cast iron chamber called the ‘coffin bottom’ which had a one way rubber flap valve in between the two sections, access to this was via an inspection plate on the top of the coffin bottom.

We had broken the whole construction down into its separate parts, cleaned them up, refurbished the valves and faces and made packings for all the joints. I got some thick rubber sheet and was prepared to make a new valve but the old one was in such good condition that I left it in place. We had to position the coffin bottom precisely because it was fixed at one end by the eduction pipe and at the other end had to be directly below the air pump rod which drove the pump and was hinged to the engine beam above. This wasn’t as complicated as it sounds because it had all been fitted up before. All we had to do was drop the coffin bottom into the pit. Install the condenser on it making the joint between the condenser vessel and the coffin bottom at the same time. Wedge the coffin bottom up until it was level and at the correct height to make the joint with the cylinder fit, check that the centre line of the opening which took the air pump coincided with the attachment point for the pump rod on the beam and then fit the holding down bolts to the coffin bottom before pouring concrete into the pit to a level slightly higher than the bottom of the coffin. The reason for this was that the coffin was corroded badly and setting it in concrete meant there would be no leakage from that source even if it perforated..

I noticed that the eduction pipe was an awkward fit on to the cylinder but we managed to get it in place and jointed up whilst preserving our relationship with the pump rod. We poured the concrete and went on to do other jobs while this was setting. While we had been building the engine the pipefitters had been hard at work installing the steam main to the engine and I had been busy in my workshop at home refurbishing the stop valve, equilibrium valve and other small parts of the engine.

It was time to fit the air pump. This was a simple job, we dropped the casting into the pit, made the joint, fitted the piston, rod and top cover and connected it up to the beam. No problem. Then we barred the engine over and found we had a big problem, the bucket of the air pump fouled the delivery plate at the top of the stroke and the engine couldn’t turn over. If it had been under steam it would have smashed the engine or the pump or both. I was baffled at first because this couldn’t happen! I took a leaf out of Sherlock Holmes’s book again and decided this was another ‘three pipe problem’! I retired to the site hut, brewed up and to all intents and purposes went to sleep in the corner again.

Diagnosis of problems like these is by far the most satisfying part of fitting. It’s like a detective story, you have to collate all the information and think it through carefully. As Holmes said, ‘If you eliminate all the possible causes or explanations, the answer has got to be the impossible’. This is very often the case, of course the answer is that what you thought was impossible was actually definitely possible. Never eliminate anything until you are certain it’s wrong.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 09 Jan 2018, 04:13

I’m going to do my Stanley as engineering superman bit again. Sorry, but I’ve got to tell the truth. Years before, I had had a part-time job at Hey Farm reconditioning Land Rover engines for a bloke at Crawshawbooth called Walter Johnson. I was sat at home one night and he rang up, he had a problem. They had a Land Rover which had come in because the clutch had failed, the centre of the clutch plate had ripped out of the plate. They repaired it and sent it out but it had come back with the same fault twice in a fortnight and Walt knew they were missing something. I told him I was going for a bath and I’d think about it while I was soaking and ring him back. I went and soaked, identified the problem and rang him back. I told him that the only thing that could break the centre out of a clutch plate like that was metal fatigue, the plate must be flexing while it rotated. The only thing that could cause this was if the gear box was out of alignment with the engine and this could only happen if the fastening between the bell housing and the engine casting was loose. Due to the design of the engine this wasn’t disturbed when you replaced the clutch. Walt went away and had a look and rang back about ten minutes later, he said he’d crawled underneath and found a gap at the bottom of the bell housing where it butted up against the gearbox. I was right, problem solved and Walt went away swearing I was a genius.

When I had my new Bedford TK wagon at Harrisons it started giving problems after I had a day off because I couldn’t keep the securing nuts tight on the right hand half shaft. I told Billy that the axle casing had been bent and nobody believed me. In the end it started breaking half shafts and it went in to Ferrands. They measured it up and the axle was bent back over an inch. It transpired that the spare driver had hit a large stone at Broughton Hall and never told anyone. Even Billy was impressed. The point about this is that it demonstrates Holmes’s point, it was impossible to bend an axle like that. I’ve never seen one before or since, but that driver had managed to do it.

So I sat there in the hut and pondered. I remembered the cuts in the bottom of the cylinder and the fact that we had difficulty making the joint between the eduction pipe and the cylinder and came to the conclusion that they had made a mistake in the foundry 150 years ago when they cast the eduction pipe, it was about two inches too long! When the fitters had erected the engine temporarily in the shop in 1841 they had found this fault but had compensated by raising the cylinder two inches. This meant that the steam piston was almost hitting the bottom of the bore at the end of the stroke and so they’d chiselled the grooves to help it deliver any water in the bore to the drain. This was probably what had cracked the entablature beam all those years ago, there had been too much water for the cylinder to get rid of, the piston had stopped before top centre on the crank end and the momentum of the flywheel had carried the engine on, lifted the entablature beam and cracked it. I had installed the cylinder correctly giving equidistant clearance at both ends of the stroke and so had installed the coffin bottom two inches too low. Therefore, the air pump bucket was short of two inches at the top of its stroke.

There were two cures, I either dropped the bucket two inches by lengthening the air pump rod or I raised the pump itself two inches by inserting a packing ring two inches thick between the pump and the coffin bottom. I remembered seeing some thick Tufnol sheet down at Rochdale Training so I popped down to see my mate Rod. Tufnol is a plastic material made by impregnating layers of linen with resin and then curing the sandwich under pressure. It has virtually the same mechanical strength as cast iron and is not affected by corrosion. Rod had a sheet of Tufnol which had come out of Tommy Robinson’s when they finished. It was two inches thick and big enough to make the packing. He gave this to me. I went back to Ellenroad, made a template of the joint with cardboard and took this and the sheet of Tufnol to Tatham’s the textile manufacturers in Milnrow. They cut the packing out of the sheet for me, again for nothing and I went back to Ellenroad with the solution. We fitted the packing piece, jointed with a thin packing each side and a lot of Manganesite and re-assembled the pump. Problem solved and unless you knew about it you would never see what we had done because when it was covered with oil and grime it looked just like the original casting.

We barred the engine over again, the stroke was all right but the pump rod was catching where it passed through a yoke in the parallel motion. I had no cure for this apart from getting up there with the oxy acetylene cutter and washing enough metal out of the yoke to allow the rod to function with a minimum of distortion. It felt like, and was, vandalism but Time’s Winged Chariot was hurrying near.

All the major elements of the engine itself were in place and it was just a matter of checking all the fastenings, making sure all the cotters were tight, setting the valves and making the connections between the engine and the boiler. There were drains to fit and pipe up and small items like lubricators and other accessories to refurbish and fit. The lads and Cecil helped me when I needed it but they had another task as well.

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As we worked through the rebuild we found all the secrets. When I was doing the parallel linkage I found a broken bobbin in one of the two links and so made a replacement for it in mild steel instead of the original cast iron. There were many jobs like this and it was an advantage to be able to make them myself at no expense for outside machining. Some jobs were more complicated. I refurbished the stop valve and had to make a new bobbin for the equilibrium valve, the old one was very worn. All a learning curve but it seemed to work out OK.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 10 Jan 2018, 06:01

We had an engine but no connection with the river for water for the condenser. It was a long pull from the river but because the air pump was actually below river level I reckoned that once we had a connection it would draw water all right. There was a nine inch connection via a non-return foot valve into the middle well outside. This had been installed in 1975 as a supply main for the Mather and Platt electric sprinkler pump in the main engine house cellar. I set the lads on to dismantling this pump, shifting it out of the way and knocking a hole through the engine house wall into the cellar from the boiler house. Once they had done this the pipefitters moved in and installed a six inch suction main in between the nine inch connection in the cellar and the inlet port on the condenser. Just as a precaution we put a valve in this line to hold the water in the condenser when the engine was stopped. As a matter of fact I was more bothered about a siphon effect flooding the pit but as it transpired it wasn’t necessary. This wasn’t a problem as it was a useful thing to have in the line for maintenance purposes.

To get water away from the air pump while the engine was running I made a steel trough that ran away to the end of the pit where it dropped the water into a four inch centrifugal pump. This was piped to a hole cut in the top of the main drain in the engine house cellar which dropped the water from the main engines back into the river below the weir. My idea was that this pump would be running all the time and would keep the trough clear of water. We finished this and all the other small jobs by about Wednesday on the week before we were due to steam for the Total Open Day. It was time to fire the boiler and find out if I’d got everything right. I knew in my bones that there would be something wrong but didn’t have a clue what it would be. There was only one thing to do, run the engine in steam for the first time in 50 years. How the hell did I manage to get myself into these situations?

On the Tuesday we steamed the boiler and got about ten pounds of steam, we could set the automatic controls to hold this pressure. We cracked steam through the main and barred the engine round until the steam was passing through into the base of the cylinder. I reckoned there was enough play in the piston to allow circulation to the top so we opened the drains and left the engine warming through for 48 hours. While it was all hot and under very low pressure we nipped all the joints on the pipework and engine except for the connection between the valve chest and the cylinder. The reason for nipping all the joints is that no matter how tight you get them while they are cold you can always get another couple of turns when the metal has warmed up. I always call this following the joints up and it should be done on any piece of equipment when it has been re-built.

On this point, it never failed to amaze me how some engineers running steam plant got away with neglecting things like this. I remember once helping a firm to get a gas burner on a boiler working after it had been repaired. I found the fault and we started the boiler from cold on ‘kindle’ which is a low setting on the burner designed for slow steam raising so as not to damage the boiler by thermal shock caused by too rapid firing. The engineer said they never bothered about this and put it straight on to ‘High Flame’, the top setting. I kept quiet and stood back, awe-struck by his ignorance. At this setting the boiler started making steam after about twenty minutes and I noticed a few wisps of vapour on the top of the boiler. By the time I got up there to have a look it was a full blooded rush and you couldn’t get near it. It was steam escaping out of the top manhole on the boiler which was a mile off being tight. I told the engineer about it and he said it had always been like that since Rochdale Electric Welding had repaired the boiler. He said it would shut itself off as pressure blew the lid up against the seat! It did too, but I suggested it would be as well to tighten the holding up nuts as soon as he had a chance! There is a lesson to be learned from this; never underestimate the capacity of the human race to be stupid!

Back to the Whitelees. I couldn’t put it off any longer, I did a last minute check and then opened the steam valve. It’s very hard to communicate the tension that you feel when you unleash an unknown quantity like that. Starting the main engines had been just the same. I don’t think you ever reach a higher point of awareness and readiness for instant action than when you’re doing something like this. The best way I can describe it is rigidly controlled panic! It’s the best example I can think of to illustrate the phrase ‘Putting your money where your mouth is’. If you’ve made a serious mistake your life expectancy could be extremely low! The Whitelees was worse than some because due to the design of the engine you were literally inside the orbit of the engine when you started it, there was no comfortable separation like there was on the main engine. Not that this would do any good if something went wrong but psychologically, a bit of separation can be a comfort!

There was a whoosh as the cylinder filled and the engine started straight away and ran beautifully. Only one thing was wrong, we were running on the water we had put in the rising main to the condenser to prime the pump and as soon as this was removed by the air pump two things became blindingly obvious. First, we weren’t getting any water from the well and second, the centrifugal pump didn’t seem to be handling the tail water from the pump. The first fault was the worst and we stopped, the scavenging pump shifted the tail water and we filled the rising main and the condenser manually again and then tried once more.

We had exactly the same result and I decided that the problem was most likely outside, in the well. We went out and lifted the manhole cover but this didn’t do us much good because all we could see was the nine inch pipe vanishing into fifteen feet of muddy water. This is the time you need friends so I rang John Ingoe and asked him to send his low loader up as it had a very large hydraulic crane mounted on the back. We broke the joint in the pipe and thanked our lucky stars that Mather and Platt had had the sense to fit a lifting eye on the bend where the pipe turned before diving under the water. Same as a sky hook but the other way round! John brought the sky hook himself and we drew the pipe out of the well.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 11 Jan 2018, 05:00

I opened the chamber which held the foot valve and found the problem straight away. Because the installation hadn’t been used or tested for several years, the rubber face of the bronze foot valve had stuck down on to the seat. I had to give it a clout to get it loose and remove it so we could clean it all up. The valve was wonderfully well made and in perfect condition, all it needed was freeing and re-assembling. I was having a cup of tea while the lads started to put it back together. I was watching them through the open door of the site hut and noticed they seemed to be having a bit of bother. I went out and asked them what was the matter and they said they couldn’t get the valve back in the housing, it was too big! I tried myself and they were right! In the end, everybody had a try and nobody could see how we were going to get it back in. I went and had another look and all of a sudden it dawned on me that when I took it out I must have turned it over in the housing and not noticed because I was more interested in the seat. I turned it upside down, pushed it in the housing, turned it over and it fell into place perfectly. I went back and finished my tea while they re-fitted the cover. You’ll often meet up with this sort of thing especially when you’re tired. A simple matter that should be blindingly obvious becomes a problem. This is always the time for a pint of tea and a smoke! We dropped the pipe back in the well, made the joint, dropped the lid on the well and went home for tea. Tomorrow was another day, we would see how much good we had done then.

The following day we raised steam again, warmed the engine through, oiled round and had another go. This time we did far better, we had water at the condenser and about fifteen inches of vacuum. Wonderful, the connection to the river was working well! The only problem we had now was that the scavenge pump which was supposed to pick the water up from the end of the trough carrying the tail water away from the engine was air-locking and not coping with the water. We very soon had six inches of water in the pit and had to stop. We had a sump pump running in the pit to deal with any spillage and we left this running while I retired to the site hut for another pint of tea, a pipe and a good think.

It was obvious from the speed the scavenge pump shifted the water when it was working that it was man enough for the job. The problem was that it wouldn’t self-prime once it had gulped the first lot of water out. We either needed a new pump with different characteristics or a reservoir to drop the tail water in and have the pump controlled by a float switch. As we had no money and no alternative pump the reservoir option looked the best bet. In addition, with only a couple of days to go, this was all happening on a Saturday, I needed a solution that I could be confident with. I rang John Ingoe again and within a couple of hours he had sent up an 800 gallon hot well tank and Paul Greenwood with a plant wagon. I rang Alex Mill our tame electrician, told him he was working for free as well and arranged for him to come up and re-wire the pump through a float switch.

We set to and by nine o’clock that evening we had the tank installed, piped up and the electrical wiring almost completed. On the Sunday, Alex finished the wiring and we ran the engine again. This time we had a complete cure, the engine ran reasonably, the air pump delivered water from the river and the new arrangements coped with the tail water with no problems at all. We had a working engine and a couple of days to make minor adjustments and tidy up. We ran for the Total Open day and apart from one hitch on the last run when the air pump boiled, had no problems. Everyone was very pleased, as well they should be!

At one point I was stood there with Peter Dawson while one of the lads ran the engine and Peter turned to me and said “It’s a good job we gave it that extra foot in the bottom!” I told him I still couldn’t account for why I had done it, I thought we’d better just put it down to luck. Eight years on, the Whitelees is still steamed regularly with the main engine and seems to get better and better as time goes on. At one point the Trust got the idea in their head that they could make the piston a better fit in the bore. They took it out and made all sorts of plans about it. I told them at the time that the best thing was to leave it alone but they wanted to do it their way. In the end, they put it back and it runs as it did when I first started it. Funnily enough it is far safer like this. Volunteers are splendid people but they haven’t the depth of knowledge and instinct that years of practical working gives you. If someone does make a mistake and gets water in the cylinder, the fact that the piston is a sloppy fit in the bore is a good thing, the water can escape up past the piston. If it was to be made a perfect fit, they would run into all sorts of problems. I always used to tell them that we had no worries, we weren’t running 300 looms and everyone depending on us. We could afford to run uneconomically but safe, the engine only had to run, it wasn’t driving anything.

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The Lad running for the Total opening day in 1992. High stress but in the end it all went well. As I say so often, nobody will ever know what actually went into the job. From Zero to Hero in just over three months, very satisfying!

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Let's not forget the workers. Cecil Hufton and the two apprentices from Rochdale Training. Cec is dead but I'll bet those two lads have not forgotten the experience.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 12 Jan 2018, 05:42

Building the Whitelees was a wonderfully satisfying job and taxed me to the limit. I made a couple of mistakes and if I could go back and do it again there are a couple of things I would do slightly differently. Having said that, I take credit for a significant achievement, building a full size engine with no drawings or experience and having it running on time was pretty bloody good and the nice thing was that there were a number of people who realised this and told me so. My main joy was to be able to follow the blokes who made the engine and erected it in the first place. I found all their mistakes and appreciated all their good work, I really did feel as though I had reached back 150 years and shaken hands with them.

One last matter. Some time later we had a visitor from another museum and he saw with horror that punched on the castings of the flywheel was the legend ‘Rebuilt 1991, S Graham’. He took me to task about this so I rolled the wheel round a bit further and showed him the names of the fitters who had rebuilt it at Holcrofts in 1957. I asked him if he’d ever looked inside the back of an old watch and seen the initials and date of the watchmaker who had done repairs on it. What we had done was exactly the same thing and part of a long tradition. So, if ever you go down to look at the engine, look on the flywheel for my memorial!

The dust soon settled after we ran the Whitelees Engine for Total Oil and I had to get back to the can of worms which is what the Trust and the project had turned out to be. Truth to tell I was exhausted after three months of unremitting mental and physical work. I had lost over a stone in weight and what I really needed was a fortnight’s holiday. I didn’t really analyse what was going on at the time but hindsight is 20/20 vision so they say and I have a fair assessment to hand now of what the problems were. The internecine conflicts within the Trust had subsided after Horace intervened on my behalf but they had never gone away. Horace was dead so that line of defence was closed. My version of what was going wrong is as follows.

By the way, if you detect a sort of moveable feast in that I sometimes call them the Trustees and sometimes the Directors there’s a good reason for it. They were Trustees when we started but for some reason which I never fully understood, changed their title to Directors so regard the terms as interchangeable!

In the early years of the project I was seen as some sort of miracle worker. I remember John Pierce once referring to me in a speech as “Mr Ellenroad” and I took him to task afterwards. I told him that it was a big mistake to identify the success of the project with one person unless it was posthumously. Even so, I was delivering the goods so fast that I think some of the directors thought I walked on water. Bear in mind that in hard cash donations alone, I brought in over £3,500,000. Add gifts in kind, services and subsidy through MSC and you are getting very close to £5,000,000. This is big money in anybody’s terms and we were showing concrete progress for it. My wage and the expenses of running the Trust were about £20,000 a year. This was peanuts for a project of this size and compares more than favourably with other schemes. However, many of the directors hadn’t a clue as to what was going on or what was needed to run something like Ellenroad and every time the figure of £20,000 was mentioned they assumed it was going into my back pocket.

Another aspect of my thinking which the directors as a body never took on board was what I’m sure they saw as my empire building. Every time I came up with a scheme like the residential block, the exhibition centre, the exhibition building enterprise or the park and ride facility and the link road to Kingsway they dismissed it out of hand. I’m not saying that all the directors were blind to what I was aiming for, but they were ruled by the majority and there were some small-minded people of no great imagination or intelligence sitting as directors and you don’t need many of them to knock the enterprise out of the rest. I’ll give you a couple of examples. There was a big article in the Rochdale Observer one week which tore into the Trust because of the fact it was spending too much and was nearly bankrupt. The situation at the time wasn’t unusual for us. We were taking a lot of money in but spending it on major works. The problem was that the source of the story, and he was quoted by name, was one of our directors! I had to stand up in the board meeting and point out that there was no problem, that even if there was, the directors were party to it because they had full information and accounts and had ratified every action the Trust had taken. Further, did they realise what the consequences of any proof of wrong-doing was? They were under the impression that because we were a Company Limited by Guarantee the directors could only be held liable in the sum of £1 each under company law. I pointed out that if the Trust was found to have traded unlawfully the directors were liable for the whole amount of any shortfall. This caused great consternation as some of them had never read any of the papers given to them and didn’t understand their liabilities. If I remember rightly I had to ask John Youngman to come up and give them a lecture on collective responsibility. Another example which I was able to nip in the bud straight away because I heard about it as soon as it happened was when another director had a couple of beers in a local pub and said the Trust was going to liquidate! Enough of this, just take it as read that the directors weren’t always the most helpful element at work in the project.

As the project found its feet and started to produce concrete results people started to forget how steep the hill had been when we first started to climb. They began to see Ellenroad as a wonderful example of local enterprise which had been very successful up to now and so would continue to be so. What nobody ever realised was the amount of work that I put into fund-raising. I never told them because it would have been seen as simply another ploy from Stanley to get more money out of the Trust. I was looking at some of the old computer files of correspondence and memoranda the other night and was struck by the number of them which were timed before eight in the morning and after eight at night! There are plenty which are after midnight! I told the directors time and time again that the lead-in time to funding could be anything up to five years and that what we should be addressing when we had plenty of money coming in was where the next five years worth of funding was coming from. This never sunk in
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 13 Jan 2018, 04:43

[Today's instalment isn't really engine building but I think it's important. Forgive me if it bores you!]

By 1990, we had only one major source of income and that was Total Oil. There was a chance of other funding but it was just at this time that Ray Colley proposed that my hours should be cut down to two days a week. Behind this was the assumption that I would continue fund-raising on the same scale, presumably in my own time! I forget how this finished up but I think it got buried in the hard fact that I had to work full time to get the Whitelees Engine built and running and the Trust hadn’t got any money to pay me anyway. I was keeping it going by working simply on the premise that when they had the money they would pay me what they owed me. To make matters worse, negotiations with the Co-op which I was convinced was our next major funder were handed over to Malcolm Dunphy, one of the directors, and I am certain he never put enough time into it. He certainly never came to me for the materials which I would have considered necessary for bringing in a funder as big as that. My impression at the time that this was something which was best handled by the top men having a quiet word after they had finished their main business. This was the root of the problem, the Trust’s funding was the main business as far as I was concerned and in my book, the best way to get funding was to state a clear, logical case and support it with written evidence. It’s all water under the bridge now but very few of the directors really understood the principles behind funding. They were businessmen and thought like businessmen. In their book the project was tailored to the budget. In mine, you decided what you wanted to do, costed it, added at least 50% and that was the budget you had to fund. I never trimmed a segment of the project to fit a budget, always the other way round.

Early in 1991 I did a paper for the directors which was entitled ‘Why the Trust should sack Stanley’ or words to that effect. My argument was that if they weren’t going to go for the external services and the residential accommodation they didn’t need me and should start to make plans to replace me. I laid out all the things a replacement would have to do and gave them every assistance to do some head-hunting. I knew I was on a losing wicket because the first thing they would try to do was reduce the figure of £20,000 I had always put on the cost of a year’s management and if you pay peanuts you get monkeys!

By May 1992 everything was winding down. We lost the MSC workers and due to my full time commitment to Whitelees no fund-raising had been done for six months and all I wanted to do was to get out. I spent a month tidying up the Trust’s affairs and moving paper from home to Ellenroad and it was not a happy time.

What made things worse was the fact that the directors made up their minds that they wanted to clear up their debt to me. They hadn’t enough money to do this and I suggested that they pay people like Alex Mill our electrical contractor the money he was owed first. Eventually Total and Coates, who recognised my position and sympathised with me, put in I think about £2500 each on condition that it all went to me. I thought this was wonderful and a concrete indication of what they thought about my work. This left about £3,500 owing to me and I was asked to attend a meeting at Malcolm Dunphy’s factory one evening. There were only a few directors there and I knew I was going to get shafted as soon as I walked in. Briefly they told me how much they could pay me and if I didn’t accept it they would declare the Trust insolvent, restart and I wouldn’t get anything. I never argued, I just asked for a piece of paper, wrote a draft of the letter I would send them, got them to approve it and walked out. Peter Metcalfe came out with me and we went for a drink. He didn’t say a lot beyond the fact that I’d surprised him by not losing my temper. “What’s the point?” I said, “They hold all the cards and they are doing exactly what they see fit.” It was as simple as that. I wrote off the £3,500 or whatever it was that they owed me and walked away from them a sadder and wiser man. The directors never even thanked me for what I had done for the Trust.

A few days later I was at Ellenroad for a steaming and the Friends surprised me, they gave me an engraved tankard, a picture of me asleep while tenting the engine and a single red rose. Guess who I remember with most affection.

There is nothing easier than sitting on the sidelines sniping but I think I’m entitled to give my assessment of Ellenroad. As far as I know they are still running on funding which I laid the foundations for. There is no initiative to build the external services, install the disabled access or build the residential and study facility. Until these matters are addressed, or something very similar to them, Ellenroad will struggle on as it does today, an amateur heritage attraction staffed by volunteers which will never gain enough impetus to lift itself into profit. In other words, without major intervention it is eventually doomed to fail. It’s sad but it’s somebody else’s problem now. One thing is sure and certain, if it hadn’t been for me it would never have happened and they can’t take that way from me. There are still one or two people about who hold the same opinion but, as I said to one of them the other day, we’re yesterday’s men, leave them to it.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 14 Jan 2018, 04:52

You seem to be enjoying the story so far looking at the number of page views. One or two have complained to me that I haven't told the full story of Ellenroad from the beginning.... I'll go back there and describe it all again. If there are repetitions of old stories forgive me but this is how it all happened.....

A NEW CHALLENGE

I keep mentioning the Important Phone Call. You’ll be pleased to know that we’ve arrived at it at last! I was sat in King Street minding my own business one night in late October 1984 when the phone rang. The bloke on the phone was called Gavin Bone and he was the executive in charge of special projects for a company called Coates Brothers who manufactured high quality printing inks. They had bought a mill near Rochdale on junction 21 on the M62 at Newhey. The reason they had gone for the site was that in terms of transporting their products it was the best site in the North of England. They intended to demolish the mill and build a new factory which was to replace all of their small branches in the North. They had a problem, there was a steam engine in the mill and they wanted to know what, if anything, they could do with it. Could I meet him and a colleague at the mill to discuss the matter? The answer was yes and we set a date. I was interested because I knew the mill he was talking about, it was Ellenroad Spinning Mill and contained one of the most famous mill engines in Lancashire. It was the largest remaining textile mill engine in the world and was, to the best of my knowledge, still in working condition.

Over the next few months I pieced together the story of what had brought Gavin to the point where he picked up the phone and rang me. We have to go back a year and take note of a surprising connection but before I do that I’d like to do my thing about the Random Improbability Factor.

After almost 65 years of bouncing around in this world of ours I am convinced there is something in Chaos Theory. Further, it doesn’t only affect systems like the weather, it is at work in every sphere of life. Douglas Adams in his four part trilogy (Yes, that’s right, four parts) which is usually known as ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ posits a theory in the first book in which he says that there is a force at work in the universe which he calls ‘The Random Improbability Factor’. His theory is that there is a set of odds against any event in the universe happening. For instance, the chances of me being run down by a defective bus driven by a man called Fortescue must be extremely remote. If somebody had the resources and time they could put a figure on the odds. The actual odds don’t matter, we all know that such an event is possible. If it did happen, Adams’ theory says that for some reason the odds suddenly dropped from whatever to 1 to evens. He says that this happens because the Random Improbability Factor has come into play. We have all seen instances of this. In our lives the result is that by ‘chance’ or ‘luck’ extraordinary conjunctions sometimes happen and they almost always carry an opportunity. Whether we grasp the opportunity or not depends on us.

Back to how this all came about. Remember my mate Robert Aram, the collector of chimneys, mill dams and almost any industrial archaeological artefact? One of the ways Robert kept his finger on the pulse of what was available was to tread the ground. He used to allocate time each week to travelling round the region and visiting little known and out of the way sites. Of late he had got more time for this, he had taken my advice when I told him he had to make up his mind whether he was a property developer or a teacher. He couldn’t be both. He had given up teaching and was developing some of the sites he had bought to finance his lifestyle and his activities as the most active private collector of artefacts pertaining to the Industrial Revolution in Britain.

Sometime during 1983 he called in at Ellenroad. The mill had closed in 1982 and Robert knew it was empty but guarded by a local security firm. He had a cup of tea with the guard and during the course of the conversation the man said the mill contained 2,500,000 square feet of space. Robert told him he was wrong but the man insisted. He said he would bet Robert a tenner that he was right, Robert said “Righto!” and they went round to the side of the mill that faced the motorway and the guard directed Robert’s attention to the sign advertising the property for sale. Sure enough, the sign said 2,500,000 square feet! It was a signwriter’s mistake and should have been 250,000 square feet but Robert told the guard he was right and gave him a tenner! The guard was surprised, he had only been using a figure of speech. He took the tenner and when Robert gave him his card and asked him to remember his name if there was anything he should know, the guard took notice and pinned it on the wall in his cabin.

Image

John Burlison's pic of the sign that started the ball rolling. By this time it had been corrected. Much better than mine!

During 1984 Gavin Bone was a regular visitor to the site as Coates made up their mind whether to buy it or not. He was sat having a cup of tea with the security guard one day, this was of course the only place where this was possible on site, everything else was shut down, and voiced a problem he had out loud, “Where the hell do I find someone who knows about steam engines?” The guard pricked his ears up, grabbed Robert’s card off the wall and said to Gavin “Try him, he knows all about them.” Robert’s tenner was beginning to pay off!

Gavin rang Robert and asked him about the engine. Robert told him he had the wrong man and gave Gavin two names, one was John Robinson at the Science Museum and the other was me. Gavin rang John who told him the bloke he wanted was Stanley Graham. Gavin said “That’s funny, you’re the second person to tell me that this week!” So Gavin rang me and this whole connection fell into place. What happened next was up to me.

Bear in mind that at this point I knew nothing about the engine or Coates plans. I had heard about Ellenroad but had never seen it, I was always too busy with my own engine, going to see another would have been like a busman’s holiday! To this day people are always surprised by the fact that I have visited so few of the engines left in preservation. All I knew was that they were talking about demolishing the mill so I did no preparation as I had no facts to start from.

Years later I got an inkling, never voiced to me but there were clues along the way, that Coates had been offered a deal by Rochdale Council. The Council knew about the engine of course and it was seen as a liability. Heritage and the preservation movement had taken firm hold and Ellenroad was definitely a candidate for some sort of scheme. The problem was that it was so big that it frightened everyone to death. They all knew what should be done but nobody had actually addressed how to do it. When Coates bought the mill I think the Council saw a possible opportunity to get this problem off their backs and so they offered Coates a deal whereby if they could do something positive about the engine, the Council would back their application for a grant to build a new access road to the site from the main road. I heard seven figure sums being bandied about at one time. I have to stress that I have no direct evidence for this but it would certainly explain why Coates Brothers were so keen to do something.

Came the appointed day and I went to the mill and met Gavin Bone with his colleague Tony Welton. Gavin was good but Tony was really impressive, he was as sharp as a knife and every question he asked went straight to the point. He was definitely slit trench material in my book! At first the questioning was general and aimed at ascertaining just how much experience I had with these things. All this happened in the engine room and I can still remember being awe-struck when I walked in. It was dirty, rusty and there were pigeons flying in through the broken windows but even in this state it was magnificent. The flywheel was gigantic, I later found it weighed 85 tons and was 28 feet in diameter. The whole thing was awesome. They started to get to the point when Tony asked me if they could do anything with it. I asked them a question, ”What’s your core business?” When Tony said ink manufacturing I said “Here’s my first piece of advice and it’s free. You’re looking at £3,000,000 minimum here if you want it to run again. My advice is to scrap the bugger and get on with making ink. It’s not scheduled yet and I can get the lads in this weekend and we’ll shift it in a week.” They looked at each other and then Gavin said, “That may not be the preferred option. Assuming we gave you the job of saving it how would you go about it?”
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 15 Jan 2018, 04:52

This was the crunch point, I had to think on my feet and produce an answer. Straight off the top of my head I gave them the following plan. Even now I am amazed because in the end, with one exception and one hold-up, neither of which were foreseeable, it was exactly what we did. Tony Welton never forgot it and when he finished at Coates he said it was the one thing he always remembered about that first meeting, the fact that I got it right first time without any preparation. That has always pleased me.

“The first thing we have to do is to assess what we have, decide whether it can ever run again, steam it to make certain and then get out a costed plan of what actually has to be done to the buildings and the artefacts. Next we have to get the local council on board and involve them, we will need a steering committee in the first place and the seats should be equally divided between the council, Coates and English Heritage as major funders. Then we have to set up a charitable trust as a company limited by guarantee and sort out a management structure. Once we have these elements in place and ownership of the site settled we have to start a programme of works, all arms of which have to proceed in parallel. We make the place safe and secure, we re-furbish the whole of the machinery and the buildings, we form a Friends Organisation and train them to run the engine, we build an external facility which will hold all the services necessary to run the engine house as a visitor attraction and finally, we recognise that the engine house will always lose money and therefore eventually we need a facility which includes fifty bedrooms, and all the necessary facilities to hold weekend study conferences primarily aimed at steam technology but doing anything else which will bring money in and visitors to the site. This last can wait on the back burner until we have all the rest in place, however, we need to set up an interpretative team straight away to start to gather the materials we will need to interpret and teach on the site.”

Tony pulled me up at this point and I can remember that at the time we were in the old board room of the mill, “Correction Stanley, the study facility is, in the final analysis, the key to the whole operation. It goes on in parallel with the rest.” He was the only person apart from myself who ever saw the importance of that element. Apart from me nobody else ever mentioned it again.

They withdrew for a moment and then came back. “How much do you need to make this work?”. I said that before I answered that question I’d want a couple of months to assess the place, then I’d have enough information to give some concrete opinions and blue sky figures. They agreed to pay me while I assessed the project, we decided that this had to be done before the end of February 1985. They also asked for some references so I went home with a job and a lot to think about. I got on to my friends and asked them to put a word in, DJ, David Sekers, John Robinson and Robert, they all sent letters of recommendation to Coates and eventually Coates informed me that subject to the results of the assessment of the site they would like to have me on board. Yippee! I went home, rang Robert and had a good drink!

You may be puzzled as to why I advised scrapping the engine. Looking back, I am convinced that my mind was in overdrive that day, it was exactly the right thing to say at the time. I had been asked to go down to Ellenroad and advise them as to what they should do. In terms of their business, scrapping the engine was the most economical, effective and certain way of dealing with the problem. Remember that I didn’t know anything about possible linkages with the council at that time, all I knew was that we were looking at the biggest single heritage problem in Britain at the time. Therefore, my advice was sound and absolutely in line with what I had been asked. In addition, there’s nothing like disarming criticism! If the project was to go ahead, I wanted to be able to say to them at some time in the future when things got sticky, “Remember what I told you in the engine house?” The occasion did arise a couple of times and my reminding them of this was always a show stopper! In case you’re wondering what I would have done if they’d said yes, even I don’t know the answer to that one, I suspect I’d have gone into salesman mode and sold them the project. However, as you’ll see later, I was quite capable of scrapping artefacts as big as this but the Dee Mill saga belongs to a later chapter!

This is as good a place as any to divulge one of my favourite and most effective weapons in the constant fight to get my own way! The morning after my meeting with Coates at the mill I wrote both Tony and Gavin a letter. This was something I had learned from David Moore. When you have had a verbal exchange with some party, either a meeting, a telephone conversation or any circumstance in which the details of the transaction weren’t recorded at the time, send them one of these letters. You always start by thanking them for the time they gave to have the meeting or call, specify the date and time. The next paragraph always starts; ‘My understanding of what we agreed is……..’ Then give a list of points, you can cheat a bit here and insert anything you wanted or delete anything you didn’t like. Also you can word the description of the point to give it the emphasis you want. After the list the final paragraph always says; ‘If your understanding varies from my own, please let me know by return of post.’ What you have done is put the ball squarely in their court. You have told them exactly what you are going to do and unless they get their act together and write back immediately they haven’t got a leg to stand on in any dispute. The reason why so many people conduct important business by telephone is because they don’t want any evidence that can pin them down. Another point is that most people’s comprehension of the written word is so bad that they won’t recognise that what you are doing is modify the agreement to suit yourself and in any case, in nine cases out of ten a beaurocrat won’t bother to do anything other than acknowledge the letter. I promise you, this works like a charm. Another associated ploy is that whenever you have a telephone conversation, keep a file note of the time, date, person’s name and a brief account of what was said. This can be invaluable when the shit hits the fan.

Associated with this subject is the concept of the ‘Pearl Harbour File’. Susi told me about this one and it’s a cracker. Always keep copies of memoranda and letters in a personal file of your own. This is your property and you keep it at home. Always plan for worst case and if and when you need it, a PHF can be a killer! I have to admit I have been known to send memoranda with nothing but a PHF in mind. The technical term for this is ‘Covering Your Arse!’. Once again, people are idle and don’t read things. When the storm comes and someone denies having known something you just wave the piece of paper at them and they fall over.

Back to the job in hand. Winter was upon us and as I pondered about how to attack the assessment of Ellenroad I learned from Gavin that Coates had a serious deadline. In order to qualify for a large grant, they had to have the factory built and producing by November 1985 so they had to start on the demolition. He asked me if I had any recommendation as to who to set on. I told him to speak to N&R at Portsmouth Mill, Todmorden and ask for Norman Sutcliffe. N&R had demolished Bancroft and I liked them. Like all demolition contractors they were a slippery lot but they had the tackle and did a good job. Gavin went off and did his homework and shortly afterwards told me he liked my choice, he had had a look at one or two firms but had settled on N&R who had agreed to do the job for a demolition credit of £50,000.

A word of explanation here. The demolition credit is the amount the contractor pays to the owner of the building for the privilege of knocking it down and becoming the owner of any plunder. The main source of income for N&R out of this job was any cut stone and metal they salvaged out of the structure. Gavin was pleased with the price he had negotiated but I told him to beware. I said that from my experience he had better regard this money as a short term loan from N&R because Norman was as cute as a barrow load of monkeys and would get it back out of him in extras. Gavin bridled a bit at this, he informed me that he was used to negotiating and there was no way he would allow Norman to get away with anything. I got the definite impression that he had under-estimated Norman and so left it at that!

I started the assessment in January 1985 and at about the same time N&R moved on to the site to demolish the mill. A lot of things happened at once here so I’ll split them up and tackle what I had to do as regards the engine house first. I should add that Coates asked me to act as their agent in the matter of the demolition and advise them as it went on so I was doing my own thing and liaising with N&R at the same time. This was a good thing as it gave me access to the N&R cabin for a warm and a brew whenever I wanted it. It also helped me to get a better idea of what demolition actually entailed which was an education.

Image

A 1929 pic used as advertising by Platt Brothers who equipped the original mill. Essentially this was what I was faced with.
Stanley Challenger Graham
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"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 16 Jan 2018, 06:15

The first decision I had to make was how much of the mill I would need to make a decent heritage attraction. I needed all the buildings containing the plant associated with the engine and space for car parking and any additional buildings we would need to make the place work. This meant I wanted the engine house, the boiler house, the rope race, the pump room, generator house and chimney. All these existed. In addition but not so obvious I needed control of the river, weir, cloughs and the tunnels and wells at the back of the engine house which carried the condenser water to the engine. I would also need space in the field outside for the additional buildings. These added up to a considerable piece of real estate and I began to get a feel for the size of the operation.

The first part of the assessment was to physically get myself into every nook and cranny of the complex and inspect them. The open spaces of the buildings gave little trouble, the problems arose with everything above and below ground. I remembered that Peter Tatham, Robert’s steeplejack, lived half a mile up the road in Milnrow at Tim’s Terrace. I went up and had a word with him and told him I wanted Ellenroad chimney laddering and inspecting. He was pleased because when he first started as an apprentice with his grandfather, Ellenroad had been one of their regular contracts and they only lost it when Firs, a Manchester firm, put in a lower price. Peter also laddered the inside of the rope race so I could get access to the roof space above the engine house. This doesn’t sound too big a job but it involved a straight climb of about sixty feet up the inside of the race to gain access to a small door in the gable of the engine house itself.

While Peter was doing this I started with the underground elements. I lifted the manholes on the three wells at the back of the house. The wells were ten feet in diameter and about twenty feet deep and full of water. I persuaded the fire brigade to come to Ellenroad for a practice and after we shut the clough, they pumped the system dry and sent a rescue man down with me while I crawled through the system to inspect it. At one point they got a bit paranoid and dragged me out but I persuaded them to let me finish. Looking back, they were right, it was dodgy but I think they were impressed. Whenever I went back to them for help they always came and did whatever I wanted for nothing, it was always booked down as training I think!

The next element was the flues. I gained access under the boiler and inspected the settings then I went into the main flue between the boiler and the chimney. What a mess I found. The maintenance had obviously been neglected during the latter days of the mill running. They had stopped using the remaining Lancashire boiler and had installed a small package boiler for heating which had been run on forced draught. The effect of this was that there had been a heavy carry over of partially unburned coal into the main flue and it was full to within eighteen inches of the top. We are talking about a six feet square section flue running right across the back of the existing boiler and down the side of the engine house, under the access passage and on to the chimney base. Looking back I was crazy to go in there alone, the only precaution I took was to let Norman know I was going in and get him to come and give me a shout every hour to make sure I was still alive! I crawled all the way over the dust to the chimney base and came to the conclusion the whole flue had to be rebuilt together with the boiler settings.

There remained one other trip underground into the pipe tracks which carried the intake and outlet pipes from the condenser to the wells. This started in the cellar and was a horrible, restricted seventy five yard crawl through a wet tunnel. I didn’t enjoy this bit at all but got it done and was relieved to find there were no obvious problems. Later on I had to go in here again to install some pipes for the cooling system in the new factory. They needed a cold water supply and the river was the obvious place to borrow it from. The original plan was to dig a trench down the back of the engine house but I pointed out that there was no need for this as there was a pipe duct already in place. The only problem was that the contractors wouldn’t use the existing duct, they said there wasn’t enough room. I told Gavin to leave it to me and I put the pipes in one weekend ready for when the contractors started on the Monday morning. I didn’t do this to be clever, the last thing I wanted was to go down that hole again but doing it gave me brownie points with Coates and I needed them onside.

By this time Peter had laddered the chimney and the rope race so I climbed both and we had a good inspection. The most enjoyable part was the chimney, I am scared of heights but if you want to see the top you’ve got to go up the ladder. There is a tremendous sense of elation when you’ve conquered a fear like that and gained your goal. There’s nothing like the view from the top of a 220 feet high chimney and surprisingly enough, the gentle sway of the head in the wind can be quite relaxing. A lot of people can’t believe this, but chimneys are never absolutely stationary. They always transmit vibrations in the ground and magnify them and in any wind at all will sway appreciably. This feels worse than it is because it is so unexpected.

I had to sit down then and write the report. On the whole it was good, as far as I could see there was little wrong with the boiler and engine and no irreparable faults in the rest of the structure. The chimney needed the drum on top replacing which had been removed by Firs some time in the 50’s and there were a lot of general repairs and replacements needed but the bottom line was that there was no obvious catastrophic damage which would preclude putting the engine back in steam. My blue sky figure of £3million hadn’t changed. I fired all this lot off at Gavin and informed him verbally that I intended to run the engine but he had never heard me say this as strictly speaking, it was illegal. I also neglected to inform him of the fact that if anything went seriously wrong Coates would be liable! It seemed best to keep this bit of information to myself..

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The lad overcoming his fears and learning a new skill. Never regretted.....
Stanley Challenger Graham
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"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 17 Jan 2018, 04:35

[This is a repeat of course, I have told the story so many times but someone won't have read it so bear with me.....]

You’ll have to forgive me if I go on a bit here but I am going to deal with one of the high points of my career as an engineer. What I was proposing to do was to run the biggest textile mill engine in the world for the first time since 1974 with no insurance and several serious faults in the system. I didn’t do it lightly, I knew the risks but I also recognised that nothing would enthuse Coates more than seeing the engine in steam. Besides, I had the biggest Meccano set in the world to play with and I wasn’t going to pass this chance up!

I had an engine connected to a boiler and about ten tons of coal in the bunker. What I didn’t have was a feed pump that would work against pressure because of a frost damaged main. I also had no electricity supply. I started by giving the engine a thorough oiling and injecting a mixture of diesel and oil into all the cylinders to soak into the rust and the rings. I kept on doing this for a week until I was sure I had got as much lubrication into the bores and moving parts as I could. Then I took the lid off the boiler and put about 3,000 gallons of water in with a fire hose. When I had it full to the top I put the lid back on and fired up. As soon as I had steam I got the big Weir steam pump in the pump house going and tested the feed line. As I suspected it was cracked by frost and this meant we couldn’t put any water in while there was pressure on the boiler. I went home that night leaving a crack of steam going into the engine to warm it through. I had already warned Newton Pickles and the next day in February 1985 he and I went to Ellenroad and had a real play out!

While Newton did last minute oiling, essential because we had hardly any lubricators on the engine and would need all the initial lubrication we could get, I fired the boiler until we had 140psi on the clock. I should say at this point that there was an additional problem with the engine as in its last year of running, the right hand connecting rod had been removed and the engine was run on the left hand side only. We had no knowledge of how well the connecting rod had been re-installed. The parts of the engine are so large that you couldn’t just go and shake a bearing to see how much play there was in it, I had inspected it and as far as I could see it was safe enough to run. We would know more about it when we got it moving.

We had reached the point where we had to go for it. We couldn’t put any more water in the boiler and so had to gauge the fires against the water level. We locked the engine house door, Newton took station next to the valve gear and held the steam valve on the cylinder wide open and I opened the 18” stop valve. Nothing happened. There were surprisingly few leaks but even so, the engine house started to fill with steam. My heart was dropping into my boots when there was a grunt from the engine and Newton shouted “It’s away, the seal has broken!” He meant the grip of the rusty piston rings on the cylinder bores had been overcome by the pressure. By this time I couldn’t see anything at all because of the steam, I was blind and running on sound alone. I heard a groaning noise as the pistons scraped their way through ten tears accumulated muck and rust in the bores on the first stroke and then there was a tremendous shudder ran through the air. “What the hell was that?” I shouted, I was really worried. “Thar’t all reight, it was only the pigeon shit falling off the top of the flywheel!” shouted Newton. There was some thumping from the bearings but the engine started to gather speed, I cut back on the steam in case the governor didn’t get hold but it was OK. As we got up to about 50 rpm the governor took hold and the engine settled down to a noisy but relatively steady running speed. The only draw back, but this was temporary, was the foul smell from the cellar as the four air pumps delivered thousands of gallons of stagnant water into the drain back to the river.

As the seals established themselves the fog started to clear and we saw a glorious sight, the Ellenroad Engine in full flow for the first time in ten years! It was a wonderful moment but we didn’t have a lot of time to appreciate it because we had to start running round pouring oil into the bearings. It was a wonderful quarter of an hour, the engine was badly out of adjustment both in terms of the valves and the bearings but was running and as far as we could see there was nothing fundamentally wrong with it. We decided we had pushed our luck far enough and Newton went to shut the steam off. I told him I wanted to do an experiment as he shut down, I wanted to block the governor open and see how much effect the vacuum had after the steam was turned off. I jammed a brush head under the governor rod and Newton shut the valve down. The engine didn’t slow, it started to speed up and the brush head was stuck fast under the rod. It was getting really serious before it eventually began to slow down. Newton and I agreed afterwards that it must have been doing near enough a hundred revs a minute, far faster than it had ever run in its life before. This was very dangerous as the main danger with these engines is that overspeed increases the tension in the castings of the flywheel so much that they break and the wheel explodes. We got away with it but I made a mental note to do something about it.

This all sounds dangerous, and you’re right, it was. What has to be recognised is that we were in unknown territory here. Nobody had ever run the Ellenroad Engine at full speed with no load, not even ropes on the wheel. Even with the low pressure we were using we were dealing with tremendous forces and we had to know how the engine would react, especially if someone made a mistake. Neither Newton or I ever imagined that there was enough vacuum in the condensers to make it pick its feet up like it did, it surprised even us, but we had to find out and what I did was the only way to do it. I remember reading a memoir by a very famous American engineer and builder of steam engines in the 19th. century, Charles T Porter. In it he said that the faster you run an engine the less movement there is in any loose bearings. He demonstrated this by deliberately slackening bearings off and running his engines at high speed to demonstrate how quietly and well the bearings ran. I never quite believed this until we ran Ellenroad that day at 100rpm. I can assure you it ran like silk even though there was a quarter of an inch of play in the right hand cross head and crank brass! Porter knew his stuff but how else would we have found out?

Eventually, 300 tons of iron came to a stand still and we brewed up, had a pipe and did the inquest. The first thing I asked Newton was why he didn’t run when it overspeeded. “I was waiting on thee!” he said. Now that really is slit trench material! We both agreed that it had run a bloody sight better at 100rpm than 50 because the bearings hadn’t time to knock but we weren’t going to try it again! All told we were like a couple of dogs with two tails apiece. We had reason to be because we’d just made history and proved that the Ellenroad Engine, though it might need some TLC, was a runner! Now we knew we had an engine, we agreed to run it again for Coates. I arranged it with Gavin and he and a few others turned up the following week and we ran one more time in semi-public just to whet their appetites. I think that if any encouragement was needed, this steaming did the trick. None of them had seen anything like it before and they were all suitably awe-struck. Newton and I passed among them in nonchalant manner as if this was something we did every day of the week!

Image

Newton and I had a lot of little odds and sods to put right before we ran the engine. Some bright bits out of the valve gear had been stolen and things like lubricator driving linkages were hanging loose.
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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