STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by chinatyke » 31 Oct 2018, 15:03

Travis wrote:
31 Oct 2018, 12:39
I took delivery earlier of a Mamod steam engine. It's for my Grandson ...
I've heard that one before!

Enjoy yourselves playing out together. :good:

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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Spinningweb » 01 Nov 2018, 11:41

Waterwheel at Ashton New Warehouse
Portland Basin Museum, Portland Place, Ashton-under-Lyne, OL7 0QA
The three-storey Ashton New Warehouse stands on the wharf on the southern side of Portland Place. The original building was destroyed by fire and the present building was built as a replica of the original, which now houses the excellent Portland Basin Museum. As originally built, the warehouse was constructed with timber floors supported by cast-iron columns. A short arm of the Ashton Canal flowed directly into the building through three archways so that boats could load and unload undercover. An interesting feature was that a waterwheel powered the hoists that transferred goods to and from the upper floors.
The warehouse dates from 1834 and during the early years of operation traffic was increasing and it became impractical to continue using the original hand-operated hoists. Consequently, the hoisting system was mechanised by the introduction of a waterwheel between 1839-41, which was constructed at the eastern end of the wharf adjoining Portland Street South.
The wheel was supplied with water from the Ashton Canal via a leat that runs across the front of the warehouse below the wharf. The water flow was controlled by a penstock, which was operated from within the warehouse. The water then flowed away from the wheel pit through a tailrace tunnel that sloped down to the river Tame. The outlet into the river can still be seen but nowadays water is pumped back into the canal.
This wheel is classified as a 'high breastshot' suspension wheel because water entered the buckets from above axle level. It was of a type developed by Thomas Cheek Hewes (1768 - 1832), a Manchester engineer and textile manufacturer, working in association with William Strutt (1756 - 1830) of Derby. For a short but crucial period (1816 -17) he employed William Fairbairn (later Sir William) who went on to become an eminent engineer. Sir William further improved the design of suspension wheels by increasing their efficiency. He achieved this by ventilating the buckets to cause the water to move more freely but it should be noted that this particular wheel did not have ventilated buckets.
Suspension wheels were introduced to overcome the difficulty of transmitting high power at low speeds. This obstacle was overcome by taking power from the wheel at its periphery, where a segmented gear wheel drove a smaller pinion wheel and thus the secondary shaft rotated at a much higher speed. The shaft supporting the waterwheel then only had to be strong enough to support the weight of the wheel itself. Additionally, the spokes of the wheel could be of considerably smaller section, as they were no longer used to transmit any power. Waterwheels of this type can be likened to bicycle wheels where the spokes are in tension rather than compression.
The wheel was of cast and wrought-iron construction and it was 24 feet in diameter by 3 feet wide and it cost £1,078 0s 6½d when it was originally built. It consisted of two cast-iron hubs mounted on a cast-iron shaft, each hub having radial sockets to locate the wrought-iron spokes. The spokes provided the necessary support for the rim (or shroud) and the wrought-iron buckets. The main drive gear of the wheel had 416 cycloidal teeth and it was comprised of cast-iron segments fastened to the outer face of the rim.
When the Ashton Canal fell into disuse, the waterwheel became derelict and the buckets, in particular, suffered heavily from corrosion. Fortunately, it was restored and rebuilt during 1987-88.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 01 Nov 2018, 13:52

Thanks for posting that John. I am curtailing my time on the site at the moment for obvious reasons.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 03 Nov 2018, 07:12

Travis, take no notice of China. I believe you! (But I still wish you a happy time demonstrating how to use it)

You may remember me banging on earlier about the advantages of having a steam engine in the power train as it enabled much better governing of the speed on the lineshaft, a great advantage in the processing of the yarn as all textile machines like constant speed. Quarry Bank was no exception to this industry wide innovation.

Image

As you can see from this pic of the mill it had a chimney and engine house but the engine was long gone as in the later days the mill was powered by the turbine and may have had some electrification as well but I am not sure about that. You can get an idea of how important the engine was deemed to be by the fact that despite the lack of coal in the area it was seen as a good improvement. I can't remember the date but I suspect that the railway would perhaps have reached Wilmslow nearby and made coal imports economical.
Once the wheel was installed and running the next target was obtaining a beam engine of the right size and David found one, the Whitelees engine at Rochdale was up for grabs. David had personal connections with the owners, Renolds PLC and offered to take it off their hands. The offer was gratefully accepted so that solved the Quarry Bank problem.
Unfortunately this was just at the time that the Rochdale Metropolitan Council had asked me for for help in preserving the engine as it was seen as a major artefact in Rochdale history. To cut a long story short, when the council learned of David's fait accompli they reacted and after a few false starts David lost his engine and it finished up in steam at Ellenroad. This was a big disappointment for David of course and for a while relations between me and Quarry Bank were a bit strained but this did not last thank God because David, being a resourceful man, found another engine that was actually nearer the age of the one that was bought originally and successfully installed it and a boiler and I am happy to report that all turned out for the best. I am even happier to report that we are speaking again and I have been able to help David in other ways. These things happen and how they are resolved says much for the common sense of the parties involved.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 05 Nov 2018, 06:28

Once more I am not sure where to go now. Should I re-tell the story of the erection of the Whitelees at Ellenroad and getting it back in steam? I'd be glad of some response or questions, I don't want to be boring!
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Spinningweb » 05 Nov 2018, 22:50

Stanley,

When possible would you please write again about the safety systems incorporated in the engine rooms, for example the Tate device.

Thanks.

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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by chinatyke » 06 Nov 2018, 02:37

Stanley wrote:
05 Nov 2018, 06:28
I'd be glad of some response or questions, I don't want to be boring!
I don't know what to suggest because I don't know enough about the subject. Your articles are enlightening me and I enjoy reading them. One of the things I've realised is how crucial steam engines were in textile and general industry, something I'd never given a thought even though I recall seeing them and all the associated shafting in the mills.

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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 06 Nov 2018, 04:09

Thanks to both of you, you have given me some valuable clues. I shall address the safety systems first and then what China said about the effect of the steam engine on just about everything.
Thanks again, I needed guidance.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 06 Nov 2018, 07:05

Right! I have done all my tasks, here's my response to John's query.

Any large piece of machinery is dangerous if not properly designed and built and properly managed. Even the best examples of design can be dangerous if the supervision is deficient. One of the defences adopted in later days was to incorporate fail-safe safety devices but even these are not perfect and human error can render them useless. That's where we have to start, at the beginning!
The earliest steam engines, the beam engines used to pump water out of deep mines, were such a game changer that all the effort put into their design and improvement was aimed at performance and efficiency. Safety wasn't the focus. The only concession I have been able to identify on them was the incorporation of timber 'bump stops' under the beam ends to cushion the impact if a pump rod broke or some other circumstance allowed the beam to exceed its designed stroke.

Image

Here's a pic I did in 1977 at Kew Bridge Pumping Engines in London. You can see the timber stops and the extensions on the gudgeon at the beam end designed to hit the timber to limit the damage.

Despite this crude measure, there were many accidents and broken beams.
Safety became more of an issue when beam engines were converted to rotary motion and used for haulage of both materials and men. Over the years safety measures were introduced on both the engines and the hoists but despite this there were many accidents.
As the engines spread to other industries and metamorphosed into what we would recognise as a modern engine safety became more of an issue. The main enemy was overspeed where control was lost of the engine speed and flywheels burst. The first measure was to install improved governors to regulate speed more closely. This was an advantage not only in terms of safety but also efficient production as the modern textile machinery functioned best at a set steady speed.
Two main types of governor emerged, both developments of a simple ball governor where the speed was determined by the balls in the linkage being thrown outwards by centrifugal force. The earliest was the Porter Governor but soon the choice moved to the Whitehead governor which incorporated a heavy spring in the head to resist the power of the balls.

Image

The Bancroft engine originally had a Whitehead governor

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Later, in an effort to get more accurate governing, the Whitehead was replaced by this Lumb governor made at Elland which was in most cases a better choice giving very close control of speed because it was fitted with a Wilby regulator which enabled closer control of speed by moving the range of the governor up and down as it could adjust the governor more accurately by adjusting to demand as well as speed.

Image

Some governors like this on the Jubilee Yates engine were even more complicated as they had to work with Meyer type slide valves but they were very rare.

The Lumb governor incorporated a further safety device (as did the Whitehead) which was an 'overspeed peg'. This was a device that incorporated a joint in the control rod to the valve gear in which a moveable hook kept the rod in one piece. The governor linkage incorporated a peg or in this case a hinged block which if engaged hit the hook in case of a variation in speed beyond the norm, knocked it out and broke the joint in the valve control rod which dropped and shut off the valves, cutting off the steam to the cylinder and thus stopping the engine. Perfect!
However there is a problem, when the engine is starting it is, as far as the governor is concerned, in a low speed condition so the peg had to be disabled to allow the engine to start by swinging it out of the way. As soon as the engine reached speed it had to be re-engaged manually by the engineer and this is where the human element enters the equation. I know of at least one serious overspeed that was caused by the engineer forgetting to re-engage the peg after starting. There were many more. The insidious thing about this is that if it was forgotten it didn't stop the engine running normally, the lack of it only became evident if another fault arose like the disruption of the drive to the governor. In that case the steam rod dropped opening the valves wide and leaving them there. A recipe for disaster as the valve control rod remained intact. Control technology never managed to provide a cure for this during the hey day of the engines. It is possible now using modern digital methods and I designed just such a system at Ellenroad but to the best of my knowledge it has never been commissioned.
There was a further refinement......

Image

An early remotely controlled stop motion on the Jubilee engine. An electro magnet held the weight up, if a stop button was pressed anywhere in the mill the weight was released and shut down the steam valve.

A later version was fitted to the Lumb Governor in which an electro magnet held up a hammer positioned over the hook in the linkage and if the circuit was broken by operating a stop button, the hammer was released, dropped, knocked the hinged hook out and broke the linkage shutting the steam valves.

Image

A stop button in the weaving shed at Bancroft Shed. Perfect you might think but I have to admit all these years later that try as I might I never managed to get it to work!
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 07 Nov 2018, 07:15

There was another safety measure that was quite common on rope drive engines but I only ever saw one example, at Coldharbour Mill in the West Country. This was a light rod across the rope race beneath the flywheel that was retained at one end by a variant of the stop button above. If a rope started fraying it knocked the rod out and this either gave an audible warning in the engine house or actuated the stop motion if one was fitted.
The measures I have detailed were not totally fail-safe. They could fail to act and I have a couple of examples for you. Note that in both the problem was not in the gear, but human error.
The first was at Bancroft shortly after I had taken over as firebeater. The engineer, George Bleasdale, was very helpful in getting me up to speed but after that was definitely cool towards me so that was a bad start.
I noticed that the normally steady rumble of the lineshaft on the other side of the wall that divided the boiler house from the shed was varying in speed. I went up to the engine house to report to George in case he was unaware of it, amateur as I was I knew this was a bad sign. When I got in the house George was stood at the steam valve wheel frantically winding it open and closed to try to govern the speed. He was not in any mood to be approached. I walked down the side of the engine and saw what the problem was, the three groove rope pulley fastened to the flywheel shaft that drove the ropes for the governor drive was loose and at times loosing its grip on the shaft.
It's worth detailing what was happening. As the pulley lost grip and drive the governor bars dropped, this opened the steam valves and gave the engine more steam. George was reading the fall of the bars as a sign that the engine was slowing and opening the steam valve which was exactly the wrong response. This made the overspeed worse and vice versa when the pulley gripped momentarily. I told George this but he ignored me so I left the house and went back to my boiler. After a few minutes George gave up the fight and stopped the engine and I was then busy dealing with the effect on the boiler as I had full fires in and had rising pressure.
By the time I had got back control, a small gang from Brown and Pickles had arrived led by Walt Fisher. I attracted Walt's attention and told him about the pulley. They went straight to it but hit a problem when they found the screw which gripped the shaft was a large Allen Crew and they didn't have a key large enough. I volunteered that I had some big ones at home in my workshop and popped over there to get a selection. One of them fitted and the screw was tightened up, the engine started and all was well again. The funny thing was I told Walt to keep the key and I think he was a bit annoyed because an amateur was helping them out of a difficult corner! George never mentioned the incident and I kept quiet.
It's worth examining what had actually happened. I knew about the safety peg in the governor linkage that was supposed to break the linkage if there was a significant under-speed and I was puzzled as to why it hadn't operated and stopped the engine as soon as the governor bars dropped. There are only two possible explanations, either the peg hadn't been put in at engine start or when it did operate George had knocked it out and re-joined the linkage, I favour the latter. Whichever explanation is correct, the human intervention had negated the action of the safety gear and if there had been a bad consequence, that was where the blame would lie.
The second example is more serious. It concerns the overspeed and smashing of the flywheel and engine at Bishop House Mill in Burnley which resulted in the death of a weaver. Newton knew all this but never said anything until the old engineer had died, he saw no point in lading him with even more trouble.
The sequence of events started with the setting on of a new man as oiler (the engineer's labourer) who was not fully experienced. On the morning in question the engine had been started normally and the engineer had popped out to the boiler house as usual to have a word with the firebeater leaving the oiler wiping the engine down and generally cleaning up. While he was doing this he accidentally got his cleaning rag caught in the drive ropes to the governor which threw the ropes off the pulley. This meant that the governor dropped and at this point the low speed peg should have broken the link in the valve rod, cut off the steam and stopped the engine. It never happened, the peg had never been put in on starting. If the oiler had been experienced he could have manually broken the link and stopped the engine but he panicked and ran to the boiler house to get the engineer. By the time he got there it was too late, a steam engine 'running boggart' accelerates remarkably quickly and it reached terminal speed before the engineer could get back in.
This was a clear case of human error and had tragic consequences. It underlines my view that the ultimate safety factor is the human who is in charge and sometimes humans fail. This was always at the front of my mind when I was running Bancroft and I was lucky, it never happened to me.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 08 Nov 2018, 06:54

Another of the engineer's responsibilities was the statutory testing of the mill's sprinkler system once a week. This consisted of simulating a flow in the system due to sprinklers operating in the system and lowering the pressure and ensuring that the water turbine powered gong on the exterior of the building sounded.
There was of course another separate system, the fire alarm buttons mounted around the mill. Breaking the glass on the alarm released the spring loaded button and this broke the circuit sounding an alarm in the engine house. On hearing the alarm the correct response was to stop the engine and investigate. I have to tell you that one day I became the weak link in the safety system and failed completely.
I was minding my own business in the engine house one day when the fire alarm sounded. Past experience had taught me that this was usually an accidental breakage of the glass in one of the buttons almost always caused by the pike on the end of a beam catching it as the beam was carried out of the narrow alley. Stopping the engine without warning was a serious matter for the tapes as it spoiled a lot of yarn and completely disrupted the filling of the weaver's beam on the machine if it happened so it was to be avoided.
This was where I made my mistake! I assumed that this was what had happened and so I went to the board and cancelled the alarm, went round my oils, got out the spare glasses for the button and the key to open the case and walked into the shed.
I found it full of smoke but everyone was continuing weaving! Then I noticed Ernie the cloth-looker hurrying up the shed with a teapot. It was full of water and he poured it on the small waste fire under a loom and put out the smouldering waste. The bottom bar had been rubbing on the flag beneath and the friction had ignited to dawn under the loom.
Panic over! I replaced the glass and went back to the engine house and it was only then that the full import of what I had done struck me. This could have been a serious fire and not stopping the engine could have been absolutely the wrong thing to do. Can you imagine being in the witness box at an inquest and having to explain this. I resolved that next time I would stop the engine and I informed the office of this. Luckily it never happened again.
It was a wake up call for me. I had slipped into bad ways without realising it. I suspect that this is at the bottom of a lot of cases of 'human error' and have never forgotten it.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by plaques » 08 Nov 2018, 08:28

Two major atomic war incidents were averted by people at the coalface ignoring the 'automatic' response instructions. That's why the proposed stars war programme so dangerous. No time left for common sense and cooler minds to kick in. No time for tin hats lads. We are all doomed.

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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 09 Nov 2018, 08:51

That's a good point and an example of how no system is foolproof.
We had an 'expert' in one day at the mill who was doing a repair on a proprietary valve. I checked on him before he started and asked if he had isolated that circuit from the live steam main at 140psi. He said he had but I checked and he had isolated the wrong circuit. Another item I was very hot on was that I insisted that visiting electricians should not rely on circuit breakers but remove the fuses to avert the chance of anyone inadvertently knocking the breaker back in. Belt and braces? Maybe so but it is the safer way.
Back to engine safety.....
The boiler was under statutory insurance of course and strict schedules of inspection had to be carried out annually and every Ten years a more thorough inspection. Engines were a different matter, there was no statutory insurance only an option. Most firms opted for a Loss of Profits Insurance which kicked in after a certain period of stoppage, often, but not always, three days. This was what Bancroft carried. Some firms took a different route, instead of paying annual premiums they invested the money each year in a savings account and left it to grow. Bishop's House did that and when they had their problem the fund was large enough for them to give carte blanche to their repairers, Brown and Pickles, with no negotiation on price to waste time.
The consequence of our insurance at Bancroft was that the insurance imposed an obligation on the firm to employ an engineer and that he devote all his time in working hours to supervising the engine. They (the insurance company) also had to satisfy themselves that this man understood his duties and was competent to carry them out. The management at Bancroft never did anything to interfere with me or the way I did my job.
In practice, the management was more interested in reliability of power output than safety. They took ther report of their weaving manager, Jim Pollard, who liaised daily with me and was very satisfied with the way I was running. It was a very human scale system which in our case worked. If you take the trouble to read the Calf Hall Shed Company minutes you will find occasions when the system broke down and engineers were sanctioned and in some cases dismissed.
The bottom line was that everything depended on the quality of the firebeater and the engineer. If they were on the ball and diligent, life was very good for everyone!
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 10 Nov 2018, 06:37

Safety in the mill was not my responsibility, the Accident Book was held in the office. We had remarkably low levels of accidents. A weaver was killed in the early days by a heavy fore door falling on her, a very strange accident, but after that nothing. Here's an extract from my book on Bancroft .....

"We need to say something about safety and the dangers of working in the shed. When people with modern expectations look at the weaving shed through their frame of reference they are horrified by the forest of unprotected belts, the violent movement of the picking sticks and slays, the unprotected gearing on the looms and the number of trip hazards and heavy weights that had to be lifted. In 1974 when the administrative boundaries were changed we ceased to be the responsibility of the Yorkshire Factory Inspectorate based in Leeds and came under Quay Street in Manchester. A young inspector arrived unannounced one day from Manchester and was horrified by everything he saw from the flailing con-rods of the engine to the belts in the shed. He went away muttering that he would have to consult with his superiors. He had never seen a shaft and belt driven factory in his life. Luckily, his superior Mr W E G Greville was a very experienced man and was delighted when he heard that he once more had a proper steam-driven shed under his care. He brought a gaggle of his young inspectors up to Barlick for a visit and educated them in what a ‘proper’ factory used to look like. He asked two questions, first how many accidents were in the official Accident Book and second, how long did I think the mill would run before closing. I showed him the accident book, nothing in there but minor cuts and grazes and I estimated that we might last for another year or so. He told me and his young workers that the mill was perfectly safe because the workers all knew the hazards and could protect themselves. In theory we were illegal but in practice we were safe and he was going to do nothing to make an already precarious situation worse for the management. What a sensible man, and what a pity there is so little of this pragmatic decision-making about nowadays. He was definitely not a Jobsworth."
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 11 Nov 2018, 06:43

I have been very lucky in my life because I have always managed to gravitate, by luck and not judgement, to jobs that I enjoyed. It's not possible to say which was the best but running the engine at Bancroft is definitely up there with the best.
A large part of this was that it was the first job I ever had that was close to home and had regular hours, I could always be sure of being home for tea each day and having my weekends mostly clear unless there was some pressing maintenance task demanding my attention. Another bonus was the fact that I was freed from the solitary confinement of the wagon cab in the days before cell phones. My mate David Moore once said that he couldn't understand why the top of my head hadn't blown off with all the thinking I did! I can understand that but it was never a problem. When I started at the mill as firebeater I suddenly found that I was meeting and talking to people every day and this was such a refreshing change.
In one way at least I was in the same position that I was in when driving, I was master of my fate and in complete control. I found that this applied to the engine house as well because nobody really understood what was involved. The only people in the town who could run the engine safely were me and my old friend Newton Pickles so I was left strictly alone. The fact that I was a quick learner and had a wonderful mentor in Newton helped because under my care the engine ran reliably and more efficiently raising production and wages throughout the mill. This in turn meant that the weavers were all on side and they were a grand bunch! I formed friendships which endured long after the mill closed.
I look at many of the 'jobs' that people have to take today and feel sorry for them. I'm afraid shelf-stacking in a supermarket or working in the battery hen conditions of a call centre would not cut it for me. The problem is of course that the old jobs are fast disappearing and with the onset of AI and Robotics this can only get worse. In many ways I am glad I am old!
I shall give some thought to where we go next. If you have any questions or suggestions, bang them in on the site and I'll do my best to make you happy.....
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 12 Nov 2018, 06:03

In the absence of any directions or suggestions I have decided to tell the story of how I fell into the biggest project of my life and one I am very proud of. Ellenroad. It all started in 1984 with Queen Street at Harle Syke....

1984 was a year for looking in new directions. Knowing that I was finishing at PHC in September concentrated the mind wonderfully. I tried several avenues before I finally settled down, they were all interesting but for one reason or another didn’t come to anything.

The first was when a mate rang me up and asked me whether I knew that Burnley Council, in partnership with Pennine Heritage, were looking for somebody to manage the conversion of Queen Street Mill at Brierfield into a heritage attraction. I didn’t know it was on offer but got the papers and applied for the job. I was interested in this because it was right up my street. It was relatively near home and Queen Street was exactly the same set-up as Bancroft Mill. It was a technology I understood perfectly from my previous experience and my time at Pendle Heritage had taught me a lot about managing heritage attractions and interpretation. On the face of it I was a good candidate for the job. Queen Street was the last complete steam driven weaving shed in the North of England, or so everyone believed at the time. There was no doubt in my mind that we had to save one and this was the candidate so there shouldn’t be any problem getting funding. My only worry was the position of the mill and the prospective partners in the enterprise. I had seen Pennine Heritage in action before and wasn’t very impressed by them for a variety of reasons. I have to admit that my crap detector was on its highest sensitivity setting when I went for the interviews!

I forget exactly when the interviews took place but it was a three day process at Queen Street Mill. I only knew one other person who had applied and that was Anna Benson who had helped Ian Gibson during the conversion of Higher Mill at Helmshore into the Museum of the Lancashire Textile Industry.
The interviews started well enough but when I went in front of the panel which included the Planning Officer from Burnley, David Fletcher of Pennine Heritage and his manager I was struck by the fact that they seemed to be spending more time selling the project than actually enquiring what my qualifications were. It was almost as if they were putting on an act for the council to convince them that they knew exactly what they were doing. At one point they told me what a wonderful boiler and engine there was driving the mill. I said that it might not be as good as they thought and showed them pictures which I had with me of the inside of the high pressure cylinder on the engine. I had these because a couple of years earlier I had helped Newton repair the engine when it broke a piston ring because of lack of lubrication. The broken ring had ploughed a groove in the cylinder bottom and the management hadn’t done anything about it beyond replace the ring because they knew they were going to shut down. I also pointed out other major faults on the engine, the fact that the low pressure was so badly worn that the piston rod was running in the bottom of the metallic packing and the flywheel had loose keys. I also detailed the faults in the economisers and the boilers including the fact that they would certainly have asbestos in the settings. In case you are thinking this wasn’t the best technique to adopt, I wasn’t interested in working with someone who couldn’t accept the truth. They didn’t make any comment beyond the fact that they were impressed by my knowledge of the plant The day’s interviews finished and we all went home to prepare for the next day. At this point I was told I was still in the running.

Late that night I got a phone call from a mole of mine in Hebden Bridge where Pennine Heritage were based. He told me that he had been informed of a conversation earlier that evening which had been overheard in a pub, he didn’t say where. My name had been mentioned in respect of Queen Street and I wasn’t going to get the job, he also told me who would get it and why. I digested this, went to bed and the following day presented myself at Queen Street. When I got there I had a word with Anna Benson and told her she was going to get the job. She said this was daft because I was the obvious candidate and asked me how I knew but I kept quiet. However, I told her that the reason she was getting the job was because Pennine Heritage thought they could control her. I advised her that if she took the job she should try to do it on secondment from the Lancashire Museum Service because in my opinion it had the makings of a disaster. I then formally withdrew from the interviews giving no explanation beyond the fact that I had changed my mind. I called in to see David Moore on the way home and I can still remember what he said to me after I explained what had happened. He said I had acted correctly, he was glad I hadn’t caused a stink and wasn’t it funny how something that looked so good one week could turn into a can of worms so quickly!

The bottom line is that I was quite right about Pennine Heritage, they ran the project badly and failed to achieve their aims for Queen Street. The Council had to take over in the end, hand it over to the Lancashire Museum Service and they finished the works on the mill with the backing of English Heritage. During the hiatus between the demise of Pennine Heritage at Queen Street and the Museums Service taking over, I advised Robert and we went down to Burnley and offered to buy the mill for £1! This was a serious offer and it sat on the table until the Council decided to throw in their lot with English Heritage and the Lancashire Museums Service but at one point they took the bid very seriously. Robert nearly ended up owning Queen Street!

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The broken piston ring in 1979 when Brown and Pickles fitted new rings but did nothing about the scarred bore, the management wouldn't pay for it, they wanted a quick fix.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 13 Nov 2018, 04:34

There was a sequel to these events a couple of years later. The architect at Burnley was a bloke called John Lowe and one day he offered to take me to lunch. We had a good lunch but I knew he wanted something in return. Eventually he got round to it and asked me what, in my opinion, was the best way to go about making Queen Street viable. I told him that my opinion hadn’t changed. They needed to get the place weaving again, preferably as a co-operative shed because in that way they could involve the Co-op movement in the enterprise. The cloth they wove should be made up into high class goods and clothing using the units that had been created at the back of the mill and be sold commercially. He took it all in and I have no doubt reported back to the council but the plan was never adopted.

Ten years later, Queen Street is just about getting off the ground as a ‘Heritage Attraction’ and I hate to think how much subsidy each customer going through the door is costing. If I was to take a guess it would be something like £10 a head. Even though it has only just been finished, the operation is under review and in danger of closure. It really is a disgrace that a viable enterprise like Queen Street cannot be allowed to operate commercially and yet Treasury Rules preclude any subsidy against revenue. My argument has always been that there isn’t much point funding the restoration of a site and then letting it die because of lack of revenue. If the heritage is important enough to restore it’s important enough to subsidise.

There was another interesting opportunity in late summer of 1984. I got an approach from a TV producer, Roger Owen who was making programmes for the BBC. He asked me to go down to London and do a short pilot film for him. I’m not quite sure what they had in mind but on the day appointed I went down, made the film and then we went for lunch. It never came to anything because there was competition from another proposal at the time and this resulted in the series ‘King Cotton’ fronted by Anthony Burton. The day was most memorable for the experience of doing a screen test and a story that Roger told me!

Roger was married to a Jewish lady and when they married he had promised to convert to Judaism so that they could go to Israel and live on a kibbutz. He researched the matter of conversion and found that he had a choice; he could do it in this country over a period of about eighteen months or he could go to the States and do the whole thing in a week for $500! He decided to go to Flatbush and have the quickie! He spent a week with three rabbis who questioned him closely on his understanding of the faith. Part of the ritual was that he should be rejected three times. After passing this test they came to the small matter of the circumcision. Roger told them that was OK, his Jewish dentist had done it for him! The rabbis pricked their ears up at this and enquired whether the man was a mohel, the official temple circumciser. Roger said no, he wasn’t. The rabbis went into conclave and announced that they must ritually draw blood from his member in order to fulfil the conditions of his conversion.

Roger said that it was possibly the most surreal incident in his life. There he was, sat in a chair with his trousers down while three rabbis crowded round an anglepoise lamp wiping a needle on a paper tissue and debating whether blood had indeed been drawn. The final phase was that he had to go to the mikvah to be ritually immersed three times. Roger said that as he came up for the third time he heard one of the rabbis shout “He touched the side, he’ll have to go under again!” The last I heard of him was that he had been fully accepted and he and his wife and children went to Israel.

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Roger on the right directing his film crew. It was an interesting experience....
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by plaques » 13 Nov 2018, 08:30

I have John Lowe's book 'Burnley. not to be confused with a similar title by Ken Spencer. An excellent book with lots of detail off small features that are generally glossed over in the more popular books.

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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 13 Nov 2018, 13:01

I have it as well P and agree with you, it's an excellent book.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 14 Nov 2018, 06:18

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.

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.

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The mill when it was still working, the 'snow' on the roof is cotton dawn from the ventilation system. Note the coal stock piled behind the wall in the lower right hand corner of the site.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 15 Nov 2018, 03:50

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?”

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!

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Later Dee Mill got the demo treatment and I got the flak but in the end it was seen by all as the correct advice.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 16 Nov 2018, 04:35

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.

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!

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The fire brigade emptying the jack wells for me.
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 17 Nov 2018, 04:51

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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This was the horrible state of the engine at the time. This was going to be a leap of faith!
Stanley Challenger Graham
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scg1936 at talktalk.net

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

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Stanley
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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by Stanley » 18 Nov 2018, 04:38

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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Newton oiling the pedestal bearings while we ran for the first time.
Stanley Challenger Graham
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scg1936 at talktalk.net

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

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Re: STEAM ENGINES AND WATERWHEELS

Post by plaques » 18 Nov 2018, 12:48

With hindsight don't you think that loading the system up with 140 psi was a tad dangerous. This pressure could have been easily achieved using water pressure. Once the piston rings had been broken lose the water pressure would have been released and then after draining you could have moved onto steam at a much reduced and safer pressure. But there again what do I know.

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