PPS drawing

The First Steaming of  the Beam Engines in 1975

Prior to 1975 a group of gentlemen got together to obtain a preservation order on the buildings and engines to prevent them from being demolished. The group comprised Sir Michael Nall, Ron Greensmith, Prof. Geoffrey Smith, Brian Loughborough, Ron Price, Prof. M Barley, Councillor C. A. Butler and Geoffrey Bond. To start with the idea was for a static museum but when the Association was formed I and several other members thought it would be possible to run the engines again. The  boilers seemed reasonable, one having been partly renovated so we approached the Trust for permission to have a go. There were quite a few objections such as; because there was no pump rod attached when it was started it would overstroke and smash itself and us to bits. We pointed out that with such a large crankshaft and connecting rod we could not see this happening. Then we were told that the boilers were not fit and that we would blow ourselves up but in the end permission was granted and the necessary permission was granted. A boiler inspector was sent for and he gave one boiler a clean bill of health.

So the newly formed Association started work in June 1975 on No. 4 boiler to make it fit for steam. Most of the valves required reseating and the low water alarm indicated everything but low water and some research was required in how to set it up. A group of volunteers concentrated on the pond which, although empty, contained large amounts of leaves and pine needles. On July 12th the pond was clean and refilling was begun. We fired No. 4 boiler but the draught was poor, which we put down to damp flues. Later on, as a thunder storm approached, the draught increased and before long we had 16 lb of steam on the gauge.  I should mention that the chimney had been capped to preserve it with a pipe in the centre of the cap as the only outlet

At this point the flange on one of the water gauges started to blow and the fire had to be drawn. In  due time this was repaired although on refitting one of the studs sheared off which had to be drilled out with an ancient breast drill. The boiler was re-lit and it was found that there was no draught at all and smoke filled  the boiler house. In no way could it be persuaded to enter the flue and so it was suggested that a fire be lit in the base of the chimney. It started to draw but as soon as the as the smoke reached the base of the chimney it put the fire out and we were back to square one. We concluded that the storm had produced a freak wind condition when we managed to raise our 16 lb  of steam. On July 20th 1975 we had a visit from Ron Greensmith and a friend  who had a large nursery nearby. After listening to our problem he offered us a ID fan complete with trunking, motor and starter, provided that we dismantled and removed it. Some of us duly arrived at the nursery, led by John Sturland of Bonser Engineering. He brought with him a lorry and several  fitters who were a tremendous help as most of the bolts were rusted and  the components very heavy. The next problem was how to adapt the fan for its new use and on studying the drawings of the station it was found that  there was a bricked up junction in the flue, ready for the next station that never materialized. As a matter of interest if you stand at the far side of the pond you see the station is slightly to one side, of the chimney in the middle and vacant ground to the left for a second station.

On checking the flue it was found that the junction would house the fan and motor but to get it in a  fair amount of excavating was needed at the side of the junction. The pit  when dug was 8 ft. deep and 6 ft. square with a concrete base and lined with breeze blocks. We broke into the flue wall using just lump hammers and bolster chisels - very hard going. We also had to chop out, with the same tools, the base of the flue to lower the floor in order to accommodate the height of the fan casing. After much hard work the casing was finally fitted and concreted in. Two lengths of trunking were built in, one to the input side and the other from the output side of the fan, to form a dedicated path  for the draught. With the aid of pick and shovel a cable was laid from the engine house to provide power and on starting up we were delighted to feel a satisfactory draught. On September 18th. 1975 the boiler was again lit  up and this time there were no problems, except that back pressure from  the stack filled the smithy with smoke. The smithy has originally been connected  to the chimney to create a draught for the forge are so this branch had  to be bricked up. On the 20th steam was again raised and on the 21st we  had arrived at the great day - would the engine start or smash it self up  as had been predicted?

John Thorlby, the retired superintendent of the station, came in to show us the starting up procedure and lo and behold the engine turned. However the camshaft made a terrible screeching noise and the boiler feed pump glands leaked great jets of water, so the engine had to be stopped. The camshaft was stripped out with difficulty  and the oil ways cleared out and the pump glands repacked. The engine was then restarted and twenty-eight years later it is still running, along with  the second engine that was brought into use later.

Alan Webb

Extracted from  "On the Beam" November 2003

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