STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 10 Nov 2017, 05:45

Image

One of Daniel Meadows pics of the demolition of the shed but of course the engine and boiler houses and the stack survived.

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As we got the Trust up and running it became evident that we had done a good job in 1979 when we oiled the engine up and did all we could to make sure deterioration was held back as much as possible. Here's Newton supervising John Plummer in 1979. When they got steam up and turned the engine over with the barring engine the rods came out of the cylinders bright and shiny. There was a lot of cleaning to do but in essence the engine was ready for work on day one. I wasn't there on the day when they first ran it, I was at Lancaster getting my brain polished! But Newton and I had our share of 'first run' adventures. If you've never read it, seek out my account of restarting Ellenroad! Talk about high drama!
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 11 Nov 2017, 05:19

Image

The HP side of the engine. The point of interest here is the three small driving ropes from a pulley on the flyshaft to the governor. This drive is essential to the overall running of the engine, if you don't get this right nothing else will help. Over the years the oils supply to the eccentrics had been excessive, it was bled off the main bearing system. In consequence the ropes to the governor caught the splashes and became oil-soaked. This encouraged them to slacken and as I fine-tuned the engine I realised that I was flogging a dead horse because I had too much slippage in the drive. I tried all sorts to dry them out and encourage them to grip better but eventually realised I had to bite the bullet and get Kenyon's in from Dukinfield to fit new ropes. The management weren't happy but I pointed out that if they failed the mill stopped! We fitted three new cotton driving ropes, they had to be long-spliced of course, and this is a very skilled job. At the same time I cut the oil flow to the eccentrics drastically and the end result was a big improvement, a better drive, steadier running and on the first morning I started with the new ropes I was amazed how much the Wilby speed regulator wound back, an indication of just how much slippage we were suffering from. The weaver's wages went up as production increased due to the more even running and in the end everyone was happy! Another small step forwards to perfection.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 12 Nov 2017, 05:02

Rope splicing was a skilled job. The splicers were very cagey and wouldn't let you see how they allowed for stretching of the ropes after fitting. What they couldn't hide was the fact that the cotton driving rope had to be as near as possible perfectly dry. They used to bring the ropes beforehand and leave them on the boiler top for a couple of days. The day before splicing they turned up and laid the ropes out on the floor and using something handy like a couple of cast iron pillars they applied a lot of tension on the ropes and left them stretching overnight. Only then did they come in, cut the old ropes out and splice them slack laid on the shafts, then they barred the engine over and forced to ropes into their respective pulley grooves with bars and lumps of timber. They were like bow strings initially but soon slackened off.

Image

Kenyon's men fitting larger ropes on the drive to the condenser mules at Spring Vale, Haslingden.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 13 Nov 2017, 05:38

Have you ever wondered how the engine makers managed to turn the grooves in something as large as a flywheel that could be up to 30ft in diameter and weigh as much as 85 tons, as was the case at Ellenroad? As far as I know there was never a lathe big enough.
The answer was a hole in the ground. If you look in the LTP transcripts and read Newton Pickles' transcripts you'll find his story about his dad Johnny turning the flywheel for an engine when he worked at Burnley Ironworks.

Image

Here's the replacement flywheel for the Bishops House engine at Burnley in the pit at Roberts. This a relatively small one but you get the idea. Once the flywheel was in the pit, fitted with its shaft and mounted on a bearing at each side it was fitted with a drive by whatever means was appropriate, often to the internal gear for the barring engine. Wooden top bearings were fitted and tightened down enough to give resistance to the drive and stop chattering of the tool. Then a cross slide was erected at the front of the wheel mounted square and with a saddle for the top slide which could be traversed across the face and using the top slide, adjusted to give depth of cut. Johnny told Newton that the cutting tools he used were 3" square cast iron made from the same metal as the wheel and cast on a chill to give a glass hard finish on the cutting edge. I have little doubt that in some cases cast steel tools were used.
The speed of rotation depended on the diameter of the wheel. I think that in his case Johnny said about one revolution a minute. I think he said it took him a month to do the job but you'll have to seek his account out to be sure.
Later Newton used the same technique when they converted the flywheel on the engine at Dobson's Dairies from gear to rope drive. That's in his evidence as well but in that case he did the job with the wheel installed in its own bearings after the engine was erected. He said it ran more true than any other wheel in Barlick!
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 14 Nov 2017, 05:17

The more I bothered with steam engines, the more I respected the work of the builders whose machine tools were crude compared to modern ones. Rebuilding the Whitelees engine was an education. At the time I compared it to an archaeological dig because we were getting insights into the old methods all the time.

Image

The flywheel made the biggest impression. All cast iron and so much scope for inaccuracy as it was built up from the boss. Here we are putting the last rim segment in and then we are ready for the gear segments on the periphery. Almost every joint was held together with folding wedges, all numbered to correspond with the spokes and positions on the boss. From the accuracy of the tapered holes in the boss for the spokes to the last gear segment everything except one set of cotters fitted perfectly, funnily enough the one that needed adjusting was made when the engine was moved from Littleborough to Rochdale. When we finished it ran true to within an inch. The engine was built in 1842 and in those days there were no planing machines so everything was done on the lathe and Petrie's must have had some big ones!
I know that many think I have a one track mind in my shed, I build steam engines one after another! Recognise that building a small engine involves exactly the same procedures as building one full size and if you want to really learn about steam engines, build your own! It's good research because you find all the tricks the original makers used on a much larger scale.

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One of my learning curves......
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 15 Nov 2017, 05:18

Image

I think the flywheel at Bancroft was 18ft diameter and had 13 rope grooves. Rated at 600hp this was 50hp a rope and one spare, the ball park figure that designers worked on for ropes between 2" and 3" diameter running at that speed, 78rpm. It ran true and never gave any trouble apart from one small matter that nagged me.
When starting the engine or stopping, there was a rattling noise at very low speed which vanished once the engine picked up speed. It had been like this for years and no apparent rouble and at first I was too busy settling in and learning to bother about it. But eventually the time came and I decided to do something about it. It seemed sensible to gain access to the interior of the wheel to do an inspection so I numbered a section of the wind boarding on the LP side and took them off......
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 16 Nov 2017, 04:08

I suspect it was the first time anyone had inspected the inside of the wheel since the engine was installed over fifty years before. The first thing I noted was that the spokes, exposed boss and underside of the rim were all suspiciously clean. I soon found the cause! Lying in the bottom of the wheel was a selection of 1/2" Whitworth nuts, many of them rounded and all of them clean. These were what had been causing the ratting noise and in the process of their brief rattle round had been acting like very large shot blasting beads, cleaning the castings! They were off the bolts that held the structure that supported the wind-boarding and so were not seriously affecting the structural integrity of the wheel. Over two or three days I found all of them, identified where they had come from and replaced them with new nuts. While I was in there I checked all the remaining nuts for tightness. Then I replaced the boards.
That was the end of the rattle and it never returned. Only a small thing but it was incredibly satisfying after that to have quiet starts and stops. When I demonstrated it to Jim Pollard he told me that it had rattled like that ever since he started at the mill in the 1930s. All the previous engineers had ignored it.....
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 17 Nov 2017, 05:05

I have been accused at time of being a bit hard on some of the engineers who preceded me but I had good reason, I had to clear up their mistakes! The alternator was a good example, altering the voltmeter didn't cut it! I have another example for you...
I went into the office one winter day and Sidney and Eughtred were lighting the fire. It struck me that there was something wrong here, they had steam pipes on full boiler pressure but no heat. I thought about it during the morning and at dinner time I went up and had a look at the steam trap in the field at the back of the office. It was a big cast iron trap and the first thing I noticed was that the arrow on the side which indicated which way round it should be fitted was pointing the wrong way. A couple of minutes with the Stillsons and I reversed it. Instead of a dribble due to leakage there was an immediate improvement to a healthy intermittent flow, just as it should be. I never said anything to Sidney but went back to the engine house and got on with my knitting.
About two hours later the ship to shore in the engine house buzzed and Sidney asked me to go up to the office. When I got in there it was stifling! All the windows were open and they had damped the fire with tea leaves from the bucket next to the boiler in the warehouse. I explained to Sidney what I had done and what the fault was and he said I had to regulate it somehow. I soon found that this was impossible as the trap was in bad condition so I fitted a modern Spirax Sarco trap I had spare. This cured the problem but a characteristic of this sort of trap is that when it releases it makes a snoring noise. This upset Sidney, the next complaint was about the faint noise they could hear in the office! I told him I would strip the old trap and refurbish it which I did over the next few days and then reinstalled it. That cured the noise problem but the temperature was too high in the office. I had to remove the isolating valve on the steam line into the office and replace it so I could cut the supply down to a constant whisper. Over the next few days I found the right setting, showed them how to regulate it and after that all was well.
But think about it, why was the trap installed like that? Why had nobody seen it before and cured it? Why had they put up with the conditions for 65 years? Things like this didn't improve my view of my predecessors!

Image

Jim and Sidney in the office with the open fireplace behind them. by the way, the electronic calculator on the desk is the one that had the floating decimal point before I altered the alternator.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 18 Nov 2017, 05:34

One more engineer gripe. One of my first urgent tasks when I took the engine over was to clean and disinfect the flywheel pit just in front of the wheel. For years, successive holders of the post had been peeing there because they were uneasy about leaving the engine while it was running. Then I whitewashed the cellar. Major improvement!
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 19 Nov 2017, 07:06

I can't resist another story. George Bleasdale the old engineer was not a nice man and resented me taking over. I often wondered why, after all he was retiring but eventually I was told that another bloke had been lined up by one or two of the senior figures in the mill and me getting the job was a bit disappointing. I just put up with it and bided my time.
However, every now and again there was a friction point. I was minding my own business in the engine house one day and I noticed that the growl of the lineshaft through the wall was not constant, it was fluctuating. This was bad news.... I went in the engine house and found George on the stop valve desperately trying to control the speed on an engine that was not governing. This was so dangerous, one mistake and we had an overspeed, 'Running Boggart', and we were all in the shit. I saw what the problem was, the pulley on the flywheel shaft that carried the driving ropes for the governor had come loose and was no longer functioning properly, occasionally it grabbed hold but then failed and this plus George's efforts meant that the shaft speed in the mill was going up and down like a yo-yo so weaving had stopped. I shouted to George and showed him the problem but he told me to go away in short jumps.
Shortly afterwards even George realised he was on a hiding to nothing so he stopped the engine and sent for Brown and Pickles. Walt Fisher came up and as soon as he got in the yard I collared him and told him where the problem was. He went in the house and after a while I went in to see how they were getting on. Walt told me they had a bit of a problem. The set screw that locked the pulley on the shaft was a socket head and they hadn't got an Allen Key big enough. I told him I thought I had one and popped across to Hey Farm. I brought the key, it fitted, they locked the screw down and restarted. All was well. George ignored me but Walt came to thank me and give me the key back. I told him to keep it as I had a duplicate....
Walt never forgot that episode and neither did George! From then on he totally ignored me. Ah well.....
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 20 Nov 2017, 05:03

When George finally left at the beginning of the summer holiday I was thrown straight in at the deep end. I had to manage the holiday maintenance and the boiler inspection on my own for the first time. Needless to say George didn't give me any clues so I had to use my head. Looking back this was a good thing because I had to work out my own way of getting ready for the restart after the holidays and it meant that by pressure of circumstance I had to do it my way. It was an exciting time and the inspector helped me, he knew I had an uphill battle!
The first problem was that I needed some brickwork renewing in the blow down pit. The thing was that in those days the Wakes Fortnight prevailed and if I used local trades I was into double time for holiday working so my first job was to go abroad for brickies. I found some at Gisburn and they did a good job at short notice at a very reasonable price. It sounds funny now but I didn't consult our management, I just did it and this in itself was a good thing. It was a bit of a shock for them when they got the bill but nobody complained.
Remember that I had no support from my firebeater, George had set a new man on as his last executive decision and he was inexperienced, lazy and useless. Not a good start! To cut a long story short we got through and by starting time on the first day after the holidays I had a clean plant, a warm boiler and everything ready. I didn't trust the firebeater so I went in early and made sure that by starting time I had everything ready for starting. This is itself was a biggie but in addition I had a nagging fear that perhaps George had left a booby trap..... I was paranoid and checked and re-checked everything. Then the day dawned.......
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 21 Nov 2017, 05:25

Very few people today have been in that position. On your own and totally responsible for whatever happens. You are on high alert! As it happens, as usual in life, preparation was all. There were no dramas and it was a perfectly normal start. There were no booby traps beyond the long-term peccadilloes that gradually surfaced as I got to know the engine. That was the start of a learning curve that hasn't stopped since. People often comment on how simple steam technology is and on the surface this is how it looks but the deeper you get into it the more complicated it gets.
With hindsight, my biggest error was that I believed I could learn from text books on steam technology. I read everything I could get hold of and whilst this was a good source of knowledge about the maths and technicalities the place all of them fell down was in the practical everyday routines that make a good tenter. The people who wrote the books were almost invariably theorists who had never actually done the job. It was down to me and I was incredibly lucky because I found a reliable mentor, Newton Pickles who had been repairing and running engines all his life. He opened up completely to me, gave me his time and for the first couple of weeks called in regularly for a pint of tea and a good talk. He was keeping a fatherly eye on me. Almost everything I know stems from this initial guidance. He encouraged me to develop my own ideas and sometimes simply planted clues in my head and then left me to it. I think it worked.
Another factor was the encouragement Jim Pollard gave me, he was the weaving manager and any success he had in keeping production and quality up depended to a large extent on how I performed. Early on he decided I was OK and between us we increased productivity and efficiency improvements in the region of 20%. I have another story for you.......
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 21 Nov 2017, 11:21

My friend John Burlison sent me this link. If you like big engines, watch it....

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/wat ... 969-online
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 22 Nov 2017, 04:06

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!
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 22 Nov 2017, 04:15

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 pouring oil direct into the pedestal bearing, the aquarium lubricators had been taken off and stored in a safe location. We were running round like blue arsed flies but I grabbed this shot of my old mate in his element. It was the biggest engine even he had ever run.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 23 Nov 2017, 07:15

The second time we ran was less eventful of course because we had no dramas on starting or stopping. We ran it for about half and hour this time and almost put a polish on the rods. There was however, one thing different. When we came to light the boiler the day before, the chimney wouldn’t draw. In other words, there wasn’t enough natural draught on the flue to get hot gas drawn into the chimney and gain artificial draught due to the difference in temperature between the flue gasses in the chimney and the exterior air. Actually this isn’t quite accurate. The draught on a flue is the product of the difference in weight of the column of gas in the stack and the air outside. This difference in weight because the flue gas is hot reduces the atmospheric pressure in the furnace below the ambient pressure and it is this difference that drives air in to the furnace and supports combustion. The flue is under a disadvantage when you first start up with coal because the black smoke, loaded with carbon particles because of incomplete combustion, is heavier than clean air and so as it fills the stack you have to have quite a differential to get it lifted to the top. It worsens as the smoke cools in the cold stack. Even the forced draught fans won’t lift it and so extraordinary measures have to be taken. In Newton’s words, “You have to larn the chimbley to smook!”

To do this we opened a door in the main flue at the back of where the old economisers used to be and built a wood fire in there to further raise the temperature of the gas. After a few minutes you could feel the air being drawn into the chimney and the wood started to roar as it burned. At this point we shut the door, and shovelled some more coal in, we were away. Another point to mention is that at this time we didn’t have any automatic stokers, we had to fire by hand direct into the furnaces.

A couple of days after we had steamed the second time I was up on the chimney and there was a strong smell of sulphur. I asked Peter about it and he said he had noticed it since the second firing. We went down and opened the flue door and had a peep in, the whole of the flue was on fire, we had set fire to the flue dust which was actually partially burned coal. We shut the door and left it to it. There was nothing we could do, it wouldn’t do any harm and in the event it did a good job because it burned for three months and kept the flue dry all winter. It also reduced the level of dust in the flue to about a foot of proper flue dust on the floor. This was the industrial equivalent of mother sweeling the flue at Norris Avenue in my childhood!

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Newton larning the chimbley to smook!
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 24 Nov 2017, 04:30

While we are talking about flues I’d like to recount one incident that happened much later when I was running the engine each weekend for the public. We started doing this as soon as we had a viable engine, properly insured and this was before I had trained the volunteers so I ran the engine every weekend by myself for 18 months. I got it to a fine art and knew that if I got to Ellenroad at about four o’clock in the morning I could fire up, warm the engine and be ready to run at ten o’clock. It may sound strange but I often used to think as I drove over to Ellenroad first thing in the morning that it was nice to unique. I was the only man in the whole world setting off to run a 3,000 hp engine on my own. There must be thousands of people who would have given their eye teeth to be doing this.

On the particular morning this incident I want to describe happened it was very cold and foggy. I lit the fires as usual but had no draught and the products of combustion were blown back by the fans on the stokers into the boiler house. I knew I had to shut the stokers off and open the flue door at the bottom of the chimney in order to light a fire at the chimney base to get the column of air moving in the stack. There was no wind and when I opened the flue door the smoke fell out of the chimney and gathered in the yard like a big black pool! I’ve seen smoke fall from the top of the chimney down to the ground in similar conditions but I’d never seen it as bad as this. It intrigued me and I tried an experiment. I lit a piece of oil soaked rag and threw it into the smoke just to see what happened. There was no danger of explosion because it wasn’t confined. The rag was extinguished immediately it hit the smoke, there was no oxygen at all in the mixture.

Curiosity satisfied I waited until the smoke had run away along the ground and the chimney base was clear and then I hung an old raincoat soaked in diesel in the flue entrance, lit it and waited for a minute. It soon started to pull and was roaring away. I went into the boiler house, turned the stokers on and then went outside and shut the flue door. That did the trick and the draught soon built up to normal as the hot flue gases warmed the flue. The point about this story is that it shouldn’t have happened because a flue doesn’t normally lose it’s draught in a week, it takes much longer than that. In this case, I reckon it was my fault because I’d started a green fire on coal too soon, I should have burned wood or very small quantities of coal to keep the smoke down on starting. However, I was in a hurry and careless and what I’d done was try to get the chimney to lift heavy smoke, heavy enough to overcome the draught and literally choke the flue. I’d never seen this before and it just goes to show that we can always learn from our mistakes.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 25 Nov 2017, 07:32

Image

In 1988 I completely rebuilt the brickwork and boiler settings on the boiler at Ellenroad. This involved adjusting the position of the boiler and completely replacing all the flues. This gave me an opportunity to put into practice some of the ideas I had evolved over many years firing Lancashire boilers. I had two advantages apart from starting from scratch, I had done Macalpine Construction a favour by letting them use the field in front of the engine house as site HQ when they installed the fourth lane up to Rockingstones on the motorway and in return not only did they let is clear up the site afterwards and gain a lot of plunder but they agreed to foot the bill for all the materials for the re-setting. They got a bit of a surprise when the bill came in but coughed up like gentlemen. Besides the special seating blocks, I hadn't ordered common fire brick, I specified Class One Refractories, Better quality material and far more accurately made which allowed us to lay them with very thin joints in fireclay slurry, not mortar. My MSC lads did a good job and the Ellenroad boiler is better supported than any other!
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 26 Nov 2017, 05:16

I mentioned that I had two advantages at Ellenroad.

Image

This was the other one, a chimney 230ft high serving one boiler.

Over the years I have read a lot of books on steam and engines. They mainly address the theory and were written by academics who had no practical experience. In particular you'll find no end of formulae for calculating the size of chimneys for the duty they were being asked to do. I've always suspected that these were a compromise between what was ideal and what was economic because every installation I have ever seen could be improved by enlarging the chimney. At Ellenroad I had what one of my mates would call overkill because the stack had been built to serve five Lancashire boilers.
On a normally flued boiler the draught on the fire is regulated by lifting and lowering the side flue dampers where the gases escape to the main flue and maximum draught or draught from cold demands they are wide open. If you have plenty of draught you can get away with a 6" opening and that means that the gas is from the bottom of the flue where it is coolest, therefore the least heat loss.
Came the day when we had the settings completed and we could fire up. I succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. We raised steam from cold with about 30cwt of coal. Newton was there and he said he'd always expected to burn getting on for five tons and that was my experience as well. The 'excess' pull on the flues was working exactly how I had predicted. By taking just the cool gas at the bottom of the side flue we were giving the hotter gases at the top of the flue longer contact with the boiler plates and it worked, more heat was being transferred to the boiler.
Think what that would have meant over the lifetime of hard pressed boilers, the savings on fuel would have been enormous. So much for the penny-pinching formulae in the books!
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 27 Nov 2017, 07:05

Image

The Cornish boiler at Bancroft.

Bancroft is a good example of an undersized stack at 130ft. We always struggled for draught and had to put a lot of effort into stopping air leaks in the brickwork settings. Even so it was always knife edge particularly in winter when the heating increased the demand on the plant. Just after the war the management decided to cure this lack of steam raising capacity by building an extension on the boiler house and installing a secondhand Cornish Boiler. The theory was fine but what they had forgotten was that the draught bled off the stack by the new boiler reduced the capacity of the main boiler and the net affect was less steam with both boilers on line so they stopped and the boiler was never used again until the Trust was formed when it was brought back into service as the main boiler for the preserved plant.
If Bancroft had had the benefit of the Ellenroad stack there would have been no problem at all! Incidentally, when I first had the stack laddered and inspected we found a cast iron fire bar laid across the flue. Some 'engineer' had heard about the use of a 'Jimmy' on the blast pipe of a steam locomotive and decided it would work on the flue. Wrong!! A Jimmy was an obstruction on the blast pipe of a loco that, on a badly designed pipe, could increase the blast in the chimney and performance of the boiler. Using it on Bancroft chimney was a sure sign that whoever put it there hadn't understood how it worked. Needless to say we took it off!
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 28 Nov 2017, 05:24

One useful accessory on the Bancroft boiler but inoperative because of long disuse was an automatic modulator on the side flue dampers. They worked by being connected to the steam supply and in theory they opened the dampers when the pressure dropped and shut them as it rose. I suspect that as the boiler was always hard-pressed and firing flat out so it never functioned.
In practice the firebeater was always concerned with smoke, partly becuae of the attentions of the Nuisance Man, dark smoke was illegal, but also because maintaining firing conditions so that there was just a light visible haze at the chimney top meant that firing settings were as near perfect as possible and therefore the boiler was at its most efficient.

Image

That's why there was an old dressing table mirror mounted on a bracket on the engine house porch. Standing on the firing floor you could see the chimney top and make the minute adjustments to the dampers that kept you in the zone. In the old days engineers believed that you couldn't make steam without smoke, we had progressed a bit since then!
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 29 Nov 2017, 06:53

On the face of it, burning coal on a grate to boil water and make steam is a no-brainer. All you have to do is deliver the right amount of coal with adequate draught and keep your boiler water level safe. This is quite accurate actually but the devil is in the detail and a good firebeater like my late friend John Plummer was a pearl beyond price! His experience included firing on drifters going up to Bear Island and on banana boats (He said the biggest demand on banana boats wasn't the engines but the refrigeration plant when they were loaded!)
The firebeater is seen as the lowest of the low but in fact he could make or break a mill working on small margins by how efficiently he did his job and it wasn't simply a matter of coal consumption.
The great virtue of the Lancashire boiler with its enormous water capacity is that demands beyond the capacity of the boiler can be met by cutting back on the feed-water and allowing the water content to flash off into steam as the pressure drops but this will only take you so far before you have to start feeding again and pressure drops like a stone as relatively cold water is forced in. The essence of the firebeater's job was to manage steam production against demand so as to keep feed and steam pressure constant which is what the engineer wanted because that means he can deliver high quality power to the lineshaft which in turn facilitated weaving production.
I think I'll spend a day or two explaining how he did this. The boiler at Bancroft was red-lined at 160psi and my requirement was a constant 140psi no matter what other demands were. John could keep that needle rock steady on the gauge and I'll tell you how he did it.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 30 Nov 2017, 04:16

There are two ways of coping with increased steam demand, shutting off the feed-water supply and increasing the firing rate.The first was the easiest and was instantaneous but had the disadvantage that whatever respite you gained was at a cost because as the water level dropped you had to fire harder to compensate for the relatively cold water entering the boiler. If you had a bit of headroom you could increase the firing rate but it took 20 minutes for this to take effect. If you were already firing flat out all you could do was decrease the demand. In winter that meant shutting the heating steam off and it wasn't long before that caused you grief of a different kind, stroppy weavers coming into the engine house and bending your ear! Luckily they were a sensible loot and knew we were struggling.
Under normal circumstances John controlled the evaporation rate by making sure he was aware of what was happening in the mill. I had to keep an eye on the weather and always gave John warning if I thought I was going to have to put the shed lights in because that was a sudden increase of about 100hp to the load but the rest of the mill was down to him. The management took me to task once because John was often see 'wandering' around the mill talking to people. I had to explain that this was for a reason, he had to know what demand was going to be and his biggest enemies were the tapes! The supply of steam to the tape sizing department was on a separate line and was reduced to 40psi but if they were boiling a new vat of size it took enormous amounts of steam.
When I was an inexperienced firebeater it used to piss me off seeing enormous billows of steam coming out of the vents on the tape room when I was struggling to keep up. After polite enquiries I found that there was a good technical reason for this. In order to break down the starch granules in the size mix it had to be boiled vigorously for at least half an hour and sometimes longer the get the granules to burst. They weren't simply being lazy! I told John this and so he had to keep abreast of what the tapers were doing and when they would be restarting a machine or boiling size. He agreed a time with them and started firing hard twenty minutes before and also making sure his water level was well up the glass. This is where more draught from a taller stack would have helped us but we were hampered because Bancroft was always short of draught at the best of times.
Another factor came into play here, the weather. Atmospheric pressure and wind direction and speed made a difference to the efficiency of the boiler. The worst days were when we had low pressure and only slight winds. The density of the flue gas as you fired harder made a difference as well, more weight to be lifted by the draught. Remember the cold stack at Ellenroad? On these days the smoke would emerge from the chimney and fall down onto the ground. It was quite amazing what a difference it made. The best weather was a high pressure day, clear with a sharp frost. Any of you who have ever lived with an open fire will know that they always burn brighter on days like that. Bear in mind also that the quality of the coal was always a major factor as if life wasn't difficult enough!
Over-riding all this was the ability to control your feed water. That's a complicated subject.... I'll get to it tomorrow!
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 01 Dec 2017, 08:19

Once you had a stable fire established with an adequate feed rate with draught adjusted to give a clean burn the most efficient way to regulate pressure was to vary the feedwater rate. To do this you have to have efficient feedwater pumps. That was where our major problem lay in the early days. I had two ways of putting water into the boiler at a pressure high enough to overcame steam pressure. One was the electric motor driven Pearn Three Ram pump.

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The other method was The Weir steam pump.

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The Weir pump was totally reliable and performed well but had the disadvantage that its steam use was a handicap when we were short of steam. The normal method should have been the Pearn but it had a problem. It was worn and wouldn't give the delivery we wanted especially when the supply to it from the hot box that gathered all the hot condensate from the heating was at its most efficient.
The consequence of this was that even though the Pearn was running all day it couldn't keep up with demand from the boiler and the water level slowly dropped during the day. It got to the stage where at closing time our water level was right down in the glass and before I went home I set the Weir pump on and went home for my tea coming back later when I could check our level was right up at the top of the glass.
In terms of regulating the boiler we hadn't got the capacity to play about with the feedwater supply and had to use the less efficient method of regulating the fire bed. A further problem was that we couldn't strip the Pearn down to address its shortcomings because we had to have it working all the time. A bit of a problem and I had to do some hard thinking!
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 02 Dec 2017, 05:42

As usual I shared my problem with Newton. He told me they had one of their own three ram pumps, fully refurbished, sat in the Wellhouse works. It had been spoken for by Hill's Pharmaceuticals at Harle Syke. It originally came out of the Siberia plant when B&P took it out. They had never taken it up.

Image

One of the three ram pumps designed by Johnny Pickles and made by Henry Brown and Son. In the old shop ready for delivery. This was exactly the same as the one Newton had in stock.
To cut a long story short I got a good quote for the pump and switchgear and persuaded the management to let me install it by saying I'd do it at my own expense in return for half the coal savings for five years. They realised I was serious and bit my hand off.
John and I poured the concrete by hand, carrying in the concrete in buckets! That was some job! B&P installed it and I piped it up welding robbed pipe together out of the mill. The Sparks came in and installed the Star Delta starting gear and we were ready. I'd geared the pump to run very slowly because it was well on top of its job and it solved the problem immediately. It would pump almost boiling water into the boiler so fast it spent most of its time sitting there switched off by the float switch on the hot box. This solved our immediate problem but John and I weren't finished!

Image

The new pump in place and the old Pearn on the left......
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