machines which I have made, am making, or intend to make, and some other stuff. If you find this site interesting, please leave a comment.

Tin Mines

One of the essential discoveries by our ancestors, in taking us from being hunter gatherers to “civilised” sapiens, was how to make metal implements, weapons, instruments and engines.  Copper was the earliest.  Probably found by lighting a  camp fire over a rock containing copper, and seeing it run.  It could be moulded into useful implements, but it was soft, and maleable.

Copper and tin often are found close to each other, so it is possible that the ancient camp fire melted both tin and copper to form bronze, which is much harder, and still used in the space epoch, as a hard, good conducting, mouldable metal.  Or more likely, that some copper which was melted and cast into something useful, was contaminated with tin, and the accidentally resulting bronze was found to be much harder and more durable than copper.

The problem is that tin is a relatively rare metal in earth’s crust, and its most common occurrence is in the form of crystals of cassiterite, which are inclusions in granite.  There is evidence that tin has been used since ~2000BCE.  Ancient man probably mined surface deposits of cassiterite in various locations, most particularly what is now Cornwall, UK.  Tin was traded from Cornwall long before the Romans arrived, and by then, was obtained by deeper mining.  Mining continued even though iron was available.  Bronze lasts  much longer than iron.  Indeed, many more bronze implements and weapons have been discovered from antiquity, because the iron ones have rusted away to nothing, and the bronze items often are in close to perfect condition.

Tin and copper mining continued in Cornwall until very recently.  I am not aware of any commercial mines currently operating.   But the evidence of mining in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries is everywhere to be seen in the form of smoke stacks, and engine houses, which once housed mighty steam engines.  In the past 2 days I have visited 3 mines, which have differing approaches to tourists.  They were The “King Edward Mine Museum”, “Geevor”, and “The Levant”.  I did photograph Ding Dong from a distance, because that was the mine of which Richard Trevithick was the captain.

King Edward Mine Museum.  Although the site of a mine, this is a museum of mine engines, boilers, and machines to separate the tin ore from the parent granite.


From a steam beam engine which provided power for the winding winch, the beam and connecting rod.


19th century photo of miners on a “man engine”.  To decrease the time it took for miners to climb up and down ladders, sometimes up to 2000 feet(!) to get to and from the working face, this was devised.  There is a series of wooden beams, fastened together end to end, totalling the length of the depth of the mine, and every 12 feet there is a small step.  A steam engine at ground level raised and lowered the wooden beams and steps every few seconds by 12′.   The miner had to step onto the moving step, be raised 12′ then step off onto the platform above.  Perfect coordination and timing was required.  Even using the engine, it would take 30 minutes to go up or down 2000 feet.  Needless to say it was dangerous, and many injuries, amputations, and some deaths occurred from miscalculation.  There was a disaster at the Levant Mine where the main beam broke, killing 31 men who were on the man engine.  OH&S is not total BS.


The remains of the engine house and chimney at King Edward Mine.  Granite blocks were preferred to hold the weight of the large beam engines.  And the beam weight was taken directly by the walls.

Geevor Mine closed later than King Edward, and the ore processing machines are substantially intact, and date from early 20th centuery.  It is on the coastline of Cornwall.


Geevor Mine.  The tower with the wheels is the headframe.  The engine house is on the right.


Like gold sieves, the denser tin ore is sieved from the lighter rocks.  The bottom machines are a last phase of grinding.


Boilers.  Lancashire type I think.  (my bad.  Not Lancashire.  Egg end


Ore train, battery powered.  Earlier they tried small steam engines, but the smoke was a problem, so they used horses to pull the empty trucks back to the loading areas.  The loaded trucks went to the bucket lifts down a gradual slope, using gravity.  The horses spent 2 months under ground, and were carefully looked after because of their cost, and the trouble of getting them down and up.  At the end of two months they were blindfolded and legs tied, and were lifted using the ore lifting whim.  They were kept in a dark barn for 2 weeks, then allowed out for 6 weeks, before going undergound again.


Water wheel powered ore crusher.

The final part of this tour, was a walk undergound, through a 350 year old mine, later used as an access tunnel.  They issued us with a helmet and raincoat, and both were absolutely necessary.  The tunnel was about 5′ to 5’6″‘ tall, so the helmet took a battering. The walls were wet, and the roof constantly dripped and ran.  Sometimes the walls were not vertical, but sloped markedly.  Our guide used to be a tin miner, and he told us that they disliked the irregular access, because after placing a charge of black powder, they had approximately 30 seconds to clear the area.  Falling over, or being too slow was a bad option.  And it was pitch black when the lights were out.  This tour is not for everyone.

Prior to pneumatic drills, water fed tools, the charge holes had to chiselled by hand.  One person holding and rotating the drill (chisel), and one or two miners swinging heavy sledge hammers.  Typically it would take 2-3 hours to chisel the 6-8″ hole to take the charge of powder.  They made their own fuses using goose quills end to end, and filled with black powder.   This was granite containing the tin ore.  Very hard stone.  Very few timber props were required once the mine was well undergound.




This is a 3D model of one mine’s shafts, adits, and tunnels.   100 miles altogether.  2000 feet deep, and extending inland, and out under the ocean floor for 2000 feet!   Surprisingly, the part under under the ocean was the driest, and was fresh water, except when they accidentally mined up too far.

The final mine which I toured was the richest.  The Levant mine.  It is of great antiquity.. 3000 to 600 BCE and intermittently mined until 1930.  It never really recovered from the Man Engine disaster of 1919.  It is now a National Trust site, and the tour was one of the best I have experienced anywhere.  Again the tour guide was an ex tin miner.  He looked the part, with missing teeth,  west country brogue, and built like a T34 tank.  He was a superb raconteur, with a wealth of stories and knowledge, and answered every question with assurance.  We visited many parts of the complex, including a trip into a mine, with a huge vertical shaft at the end.  Counted the tourists in and out, and radioed the manager in and out.  The tour ended with a visit to the steam driven whim engine.  It was the only engine saved after the closure.  The rest were scrapped.



Levant mine is perched on top of rugged Cornish cliffs.  The cliffs were mined by ancients.  The adit (water drainage tunnel and mine entry is down near sea level.  We did not venture down there) opens near the bottom left of the pic.


A small part of the Levant above ground complex.




The valves of the beam engine


The beam.  Not the biggest, but it is working on steam.  1840.  Restored 1985.   24 rpm.  690mm bore, 1200mm stroke.  Direct drive to the winding drum.


I do not have enough space for videos of the engine operating, But will put them on YouTube later.

I have not touched on the topic of women and children working in the mines.  It happened until well into the 20th century.  Look up “Bal maidens” for information on women in the mining industry.  They were a strong lot.

Another highly recommended place to visit.

First Steam Locomotive.

In 1802 a Richard Trevithick designed engine was made by the Coalbrookdale company.  Not much is known about it, but is recorded that the steam pressure reached 145psi!  Trevithick had previously operated his road steam locomotive up the Camborne Hill, but this was the first one to run on rails.

The next one was made for the steelworks at Merthyr Tidfil, Wales.  It was a Trevithick engine which ran on rails.  The owner made a 500 guinea bet with a rival (an astronomical figure.  Somewhere I read that it would be equivalent to a million dollars these days), and in Feb 1803 the engine towed 5 wagons, loaded with 10 tons of iron ore (or coal, not sure), and 70 odd bods, a distance of 10 miles.  There was dispute about whether the bet had been won due to some technicalities, and no record of it being paid, but it was a moral victory.  The age of steam had really begun.

The biggest problem was not the locomotive, but the rails.  They were not strong enough, and frequently broke.  It took the genius of George Stephenson to solve that problem, by using forged iron in preference to cast iron.  And his son Robert to increase the efficiency of the engine and boiler in the form of “Rocket”.  But that is another story, for 30 years later.

Unfortunately the original of the Merthyr Tidfil loco has not survived, but several replicas have been made, based on original drawings.  I saw one of them at Swansea, Wales, not far from Merthyr Tidfil.  Not a steaming day.  It does run.


Not great photos.  The lighting conditions in the National Waterfront Museum were difficult.


The typical big, skinny Trevithick flywheel, and driver’s wagon.


Square main shaft.  Hex nuts were not around in 1802.  


And that is a view that you don’t often see.  The pressure gauge is definitely a modern requirement, as I discovered with my dredger engine.


Notice the fish belly rails.  Originals were cast iron.  “Fish belly” shape to increase the strength, but alas, not strong enough.  Hex nuts again!  And those gears have modern shaped teeth.  Quite a few compromises in this replica.

And I have now arrived in Camborne, Cornwall, Trevithick’s home, and the site of his famous trial of the steam road loco.

I made a pilgrimage to Fore St (“Camborne hill”), then to his statue, to pay homage.


Richard Trevithick.  Genius.


Bolton Steam Museum

I was a bit unsure about visiting this one.  A smaller museum, and I knew from the web site that it was not a steaming day.  But it was only a half hour drive, so off I went.  I arrived at the address, and there was a supermarket, but in a corner of the supermarket block there was a tall, old,  sizeable red brick building with no windows.  And a sign… “Bolton Steam Museum”.

In I wandered, and a gentleman in overalls approached.  This was a volunteer working day.  But Ian (apologies if I got the name wrong), stopped his task and spent over an hour showing me around, explaining the finer points of his babies, starting some of them on electric motors to demonstrate the movements, then invited me to a cuppa with his mates, where there was further discussion, mainly about rope drives and stone engine bases.

No parking or entry fee on a non steaming day, (but a donation was appreciated).

The machines were not the monsters of Kewbridge or Kempton pumping stations.  They were mostly from the industrial age of the midlands 1840-1930, powering textile mills, sawmills, and factories.  Some were quite big.  All were beautifully restored and presented, and for once, the descriptive labels had lots of information about the physical characteristics and histories of the engines.  A nice aspect was the elevated walkway down the centre of the room, allowing a good view above the engines.

Some photos follow.  Not as many as the museum deserves, because I am nudging my  Wordpress limits.




The twin beam engine of 1840 is the oldest engine in the museum. It started life as a twin, but when higher pressure steam became available it was converted to a compound twin.  Note the non identical con rods.  That happened during the conversion to compound.  Partly seen is an excellent collection of engine lubricators.


This is a “non dead centre” engine.  It has 2 con rods, one for each piston, but only one crank.  Watch the video below and see if you can figure it out.  It ran 100 looms in a textile mill.




Two of the barring engines.  These were small steam engines which were used to rotate the flywheel of a much bigger engine, to its correct starting position.



For the first time ever, I saw rope drives in action.  Rope made of cotton was preferred, but these days sisal is usually used.  Each rope could transmit 54hp if made of cotton, 30hp if sisal.  They worked in V shaped grooves, and hung rather loosely between the pulleys, the weight of the rope wedging the rope into the groove.  The splices, joining the rope into an endless loop were made by specialists, on the engine, and unlike marine splices, barely increased the diameter of the rope.  The splices which I saw extended over about 2 meters of the rope. 

This museum is another gem.  I have described only a few of the 24 major items on display.  There are many more, including engine lubricators, gauges, and valves.  It was well worth the stay in Manchester, and more than made up for my disappointment at the  Museum of Science and Industry.  Try to see it on a steaming day.  The dates are published on the website

Also, the 36 page “Souvenir Museum Guide” is the best guide of its type I have encountered and contains detailed descriptions and colour photographs of the major exhibits.  It is a steal for £2.  The History of the Bolton Steam Museum is 64 pages, crammed with photos, and after a quick browse I am looking forward to reading it.  Also IMO, a steal at £3.

Sincere thanks to the volunteers who shared their enthusiasm for steam engines with me today.  I do hope to return one day to see the engines running on steam.



Museums Have Changed. “Rocket”.

I visited the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry today.

As I entered I had to remove my hearing aids.  The noise was deafening.  It sounded like a rock concert with someone screaming into a microphone, as they do.

At the same time, I could see in front of me, Stephenson’s “Rocket”, and that was exciting.  Better still, there were only 1 or 2 people looking at it, so it was possible to get up close or more distantly, to examine it and take photos.

But there was a large crowd on the other side of the room, where the noise was originating.  I was informed that it was “a history of industry in Manchester” lecture, with sound effects and a live performance directed at kids.   Fair enough I suppose.  That sort of presentation might introduce kids to science and museums.  But I am skeptical.  More likely it is an introduction to entertainment, and not much to do with science or industry.

So, I made the most of it and spent quite a while examining Rocket and taking photographs from every angle.  Photos later.

Then I changed buildings to see the Power Hall exhibition of industrial steam engines.  This was the second major reason for my visit to Manchester.   But the Power Hall was closed!  “Temporary” said the sign.  “For one year” said the attendant.  Bummer.

Had a look in the “Air and Space Hall” and was impressed by the size of the twin rotor helicopter, and some other interesting old string and rag airplanes, but that is not really my thing.

Anyway, back to “Rocket”, which you know was the winner of the 1829 Rainhill trial, to pick a locomotive design which would be used to power a railway line between Manchester and Liverpool.  I had seen a replica of Rocket at York.  But this is the real one.   It is almost 200 years old, and it looks the part.  The timber bumper slab has partially disintegrated, and it is likely that some parts have been upgraded.  But those changes are now part of history.

Rocket side.JPG

The firebox water jacket is missing, causing the incomplete appearance.  Wooden front wheel, with iron rim.  Cylinder is horizontal so this is mark 2 or later.

Rocket firedoor.JPG

Rocket firedoor

Rocket firebox top.JPG

Firebox without copper water jacket, from the top

Rocket side2.JPG

The only other steam engine on display, (because the Power Hall was closed), was this very elegant beam engine.

Beam engine unlabelled

The flywheel must be 8′ diameter, which makes it a tall, thin machine.  I do like the fluted columns, and symmetrical entabulature.

Beam engine cylinder end

Now, that would make for an interesting model.



Pontefract. Where playing around can cost your head.

Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s 5th wife was beheaded in 1542 because she had an affair with Thomas Culpepper in this castle.

The castle, the second strongest in England, after the Tower of London, and considered impregnable, because it is built on rock at the top of a hill, was actually captured during the civil war by the roundheads.  The roundheads had learned that officers of the castle garrison were trying to buy beds.  So some of the roundheads got access to the castle by pretending to be bed merchants, and the castle was taken.

After that the castle was demolished, encouraged by the locals who were fed up with being the target of many armies.


Not much of the huge castle remains


There are 3 cannon ball impact craters in this photo.


Is that a nuclear power plant?

Pontefract is mainly infamous because Richard 2 was murdered here.  A red hot poker allegedly.

Then, after this cheery history lesson, I drove on through the beautiful country of the Derbyshire Dales.  Winding roads.   Deep rocky gorges.  Open fields with stone fences.  To my destination of The Anson Machinery Museum.  This is a smallish museum, recommended by a Melbourne colleague (thanks Ian, if you are reading this), but containing some absolute machinery gems.  Many photos, but I will show just a few.


It must be 5-6meters long



Ah.  This looks like my sort of museum!


WTF?  ” A single cylinder, double acting wall engine of 1800.  Note the parallel motion bars, designed to (successfully) circumvent James Watt’s patent.  The gothic arch surrounds are actually steam pipes.  About 5″ tall, plus a large flywheel (partly seen).



The beam engine stands about 5′ high.  Made by Fowlers of Leeds 1872.


And my personal guide for an hour or two,  an expert steam head, Geoff Baker.


And just feast your eyes on this beauty!  It is a compound twin, about 3’6″ – 4′ tall.  The propulsion engine for a 63′ torpedo boat 1880.  Not yet formally displayed.


This is a compound twin from a paddle steamer,  a rich man’s toy.

There were many more engines, including a huge atmospheric engine, a very large compound twin horizontal mill engine, which was difficult to adequately photograph, many oilers, diesels, a steam driven workshop, a steam driven hammer.  A really interesting smaller museum in a beautiful country location.



National Rail Museum, York, UK.

I am not really “into” trains.  More a stationary engine enthusiast.  But so many readers and friends advised me to not miss the Rail Museum at York that I went today, with my local guide and blog reader, Jennifer Edwards.  To my surprise, Jennifer had not previously visited the museum either.

The museum is located outside the city walls, (the longest city walls in UK), and next to the railway station.  Parking was easy, but not cheap.  $AUD20, which seems to be the standard parking fee in many UK places.  But entry to the museum was free!

There are 3 big halls and an outside area.  The first hall contained a number (didn’t count, but maybe 8) of complete trains with carriages, including a couple of royal trains, with monogrammed carriages, double beds, elegant dining tables with fine china and silverware.  The paintwork gleams.  The metal surfaces are polished.  Altogether a magnificent spectacle.


Express passenger locomotive nicknamed “Spinner”, 1890-1920.  Average speed 60mph, maximum 90mph.  (we could use some of these in Oz)

For some inexplicable reason I did not photograph the royal trains.

The next building housed the interesting locomotives.


This is KF7, the largest loco in the collection.  Designed for use in an area of China with steep hills and weak bridges.  The weight was spread over many axles.  Jennifer is 5’6″ 


This is a replica of Stephenson’s Rocket 1.  It is particularly interesting because many covers have been sectioned or removed, showing the innards.


This section shows the internal structure of a power cylinder and D valve.


And the multitube boiler.

I took many photos.  This is showing just a tiny fraction of them.


And, of course all steam engine buffs will recognise the fastest steam locomotive in the world.  Mallard could reach speeds of 126mph (203kph), towing a full complement of carriages.  Not bad for 1938


Guided tour of Mallard controls


Magnificent green livery.  Did not record engine details.


And this was a full size locomotive, found in a scrap yard and beyond restoration, so it was sectioned to display the workings.  Quite fascinating.


The “Agenoria” 1829, reminded me strongly of Trevithick’s designs.  The info says that the designer,  John Rastrick, had worked with Trevithick.


That boiler end, firebox door, water level taps and square nuts could be straight off the Trevithick dredger engine.

We did not see the last areas, because after 4 hours or so, we two seniors had aching joints.   Nice to leave something for the next visit.

Thanks guys, for a wonderful recommendation.

If you have not seen this museum, definitely add it to your bucket list.

And sincere thanks to Jennifer Edwards, fellow model engineer,  for being great company over the last 2 days.


Jennifer collects clocks, as well as boilers and steam engines.  Here she is admiring a railway station pendulum clock.




The Most Powerful Steam Engine in the WORLD (?).

Excluding nuclear powered steam turbines and some others.  But 12,000hp is not to be sneezed at.

At Sheffield’s  Kelham Island Museum  we (Jennifer Edwards, a blog reader of, and I), saw a steam engine which was big, but not as big as the triples at Kempton.  So how can it be “the most powerful etc”.

Well, it is a triple, but not a compound triple.  It is a simple triple.  Double acting.  so each cylinder puts out power like it is the HP cylinder of a triple expansion engine.  It must be a prodigious consumer of fuel and energy.

Why so much power requirement?  Well this engine was used to power a rolling mill, to curve the armour plating of battleships.  Plates up to 16″ (400mm) thick.  The steel was red hot while this was being done, and the plate was rolled back and forth until the desired curve was reached.  Several re-heatings of the plate was required until the desired curve was achieved, so it was important that as many passes as possible were done in the shortest time.  So this engine is capable of full power reversals, very quickly.  Unfortunately there was insufficient room in the museum to fit the rolling mill.


This large crucible sits at the Museum entrance.  (Jennifer for scale.)

And we saw that happening today.   It was very impressive, and apart from some clanking of the huge spur gears, very quiet.


Cylinder bores 40″,  stroke 48″, installed 1905, used until 1976.


50 ton flywheel


And pinion


Reversing gear


Current modern boiler is no match for the original 10 Lancashire boilers.


The demonstration lasted only 3 minutes, before the large gas fired boiler ran out of steam at 100psi.  And they had been heating the boiler since yesterday.  Under industrial use, 160psi was used.

Jennifer is trying to obtain some plans to model the engine.  Hmm…I might have discovered my next model too…

Harrison’s Clocks

I have seen these famous clocks in the past,  before I had read “Longitude”.  But now, knowing how incredibly important it was to have an accurate marine chronometer, and knowing the story of how a carpenter, John Harrison, invented, developed, and made the world’s first accurate marine chronometers in the early eighteenth century, I could not miss the opportunity to revisit the Royal Greenwich Observatory, on my visit to Greenwich.

Amazingly, 3 of the 4 clocks are still working accurately.  I am not sure why the final, wonderful, Harrison 4 is not working.  That is the clock which finally made Harrison a wealthy person.


Harrison 1.  Intriguing mechanism, but had wooden gears and other wooden parts, and was not quite accurate enough.  It weighs 30kg.



Harrison 3.  More compact.  All brass gears and shafts. No bobbing pendulums.   Still heavy, but a bit less bulky.  19 years in development, and still not up to scratch according to Harrison, who was probably a bit OCD.  One aspect which really impressed me with these clocks, was the incredibly high standard of metal work and metal finishing.


Harrison 4.   Like a big pocket watch.  But won him the prize, and made him a very rich man.  Unfortunately Harrison died not too long after winning the prize.


John Harrison with his final chronometer.  And a picture behind him of number 2 (I think)

The board which was determining whether his chronometer (number 4) was worthy, dallied and prevaricated to avoid paying Harrison the 20,000 pound prize.  Fortunately, King George 2 intervened and took up Harrison’s cause, and eventually he was paid a total of 23,000 pounds, which made him the equivalent of a modern multi millionaire.

His Harrison 4 kept time on a moving, rocking ship, within 1 minute in 90 days, which was a quantum leap in accuracy, and resulted in vastly more accurate navigation, and saving sailors lives.

“Longitude” is an excellent read.  And seeing these timepieces in reality, was an experience which I will not forget.

Another 1000 ton Machine

I saw Cutty Sark for the first time 40 years ago, and was transfixed by its beautiful lines and fine workmanship of construction .

Like most people I was devastated when it was severely damaged by fire in 2002 (or was 2007?  I can’t remember.  Anyway, they spent a lot of money and time repairing the damage.  And I revisited it today.

What the Cutty Sark Trust has achieved is nothing short of remarkable.


Today, when I first saw it again, I thought “what is that strange glass structure around the hull?  Are they trying to do something modern and arty?”   The masts, rigging and hull otherwise appeared to be unchanged.

Then when I paid my money and went through the entrance… 1. I felt poorer.   The entrance fee was $AUD 54 for Cutty Sark and the Greenwich Observatory.  2. I was astounded to see that the entire ship has been lifted off the ground by ~2.5 meters, and is supported by 24 large steel props.




It really is spectacular.  The fine lines of the hull are absolutely stunning from beneath.  And it has removed pressure from the ageing hull structure, which was sagging from its own weight.   The metal sheathing is Muntz metal, an alloy of copper, used to prevent barnacles and algae from attaching to the hull and slowing the ship speed.  I am unsure whether it has been renewed, or just polished, but as you can see it is gleamingly beautiful.

And speed was what this tea carrying cargo ship was all about.  Each ship load of tea was worth about 6 million pounds, and there was huge competition between the clipper ship captains to be the first home to England with the precious cargo, to get the best prices.

This greyhound of the seas regularly hit 20 knots, and on one voyage from China, averaged 17 knots. (20 knots = 23 mph = 37 kph).  Remember, this is a sailing ship.  Many modern cargo ships would struggle to reach that speed.


The hull consists of 4″ thick planks, sheathed with Muntz metal, attached to steel ribs.


Inside the hull, showing the iron frame.


The lowermost section of the masts is rolled and riveted steel.  Wood above that.


The masts and rigging are as I remember.  Extremely complex and purposeful.

The intricate woodwork in the captain’s cabin and officers areas, the precisely made steering mechanism, the brass fittings are all as I remember.   This really is a beautiful machine.


The steering mechanism.  Left and right hand square thread.  Precision metal work.


And there is a working model of the steering mechanism to demonstrate how it works, for those people who cannot figure it out for themselves. (like me).



Big Triple Expansion Steam Engines

I knew that the triple expansion engine at Kempton Pumping Station would not be steaming today, but I wanted to see it anyway.


It is sited next to the Thames, and pumped water from the river up to a holding reservoir.

As I walked to the building I could see the outlines of the huge engines through the windows.

But it was closed!  Damnation!

But, a kind volunteer, hearing how far I had travelled, let me in, and gave cart blanche to wander at will.


There are two of these 63′ high monsters.  This one has been restored, and is run on steam occasionally, after the boilers have been lit for 48 hours.  The other engine is currently being restored.  The crankshaft of the second one was rotated with the barring engine about half a revolution, after no use since 1985.  Of course it is a triple expansion steam engine, and it now is run on a newish boiler which is gas fired.  Unfortunately the old Lancashire (?) boilers were scrapped.

The interior of the building is also interesting.  The walls are glazed bricks which look like tiles, and there is a 20 ton gantry crane.  The engines weigh 1000 tons each, so must have been assembled on site.


The walls are glazed bricks.  Note the piston rings on the walkway.

Below the engines are huge water pipes, pumps and valves.


The space between the triples is occupied by two steam turbine driven pumps, about which more in a later post.  The space was originally intended to be occupied by another triple, which never occurred.   Interestingly, the triples are mirror images of each other, rather than identical, which means that a lot of components cannot be interchanged.  It probably made the plans more symmetrical and elegant.  Very British I suspect.


Hey, that’s me.  In my tourist hiking gear


Overall engine height 62 feet (18.9 meters)



Monster big ends and cranks


HP gauges.  Beautiful artwork hey Frank?!


And aren’t those column bases works of art?


Barring engine.  Steam powered


Those are my fingers against the flywheel, and teeth for the barring engine.


One of many oil distibutors


Right on top of the LP


Piston rod and crosshead


On top of the world


Looking down to a big end and the crankshaft


Big machines need big nuts


The HP cylinder


A volunteer pointed out that some of the safety fence posts are recycled Boulton and Watt parallel motion bars!


check out those cylinder diameters and clearances!


Spare piston rings


Piston ring, my finger


Piston ring join.

I am rapidly running out of posting space, despite many more pics.  So I had better pause.  I didn’t get to the turbine engined pumps.  But I have many more photos…

Let me thank the very kind volunteers who spent time with me to talk about their engines at Kempton.  A marvellous experience.  I must return one day to see them under steam.

Trevithick Dredger Engine at The London Science Museum

I landed at Heathrow at 6am, dropped my bags at the BNB, then caught 2 buses to the Science Museum.  Not jet lagged, but on a high, to see the only intact Trevithick Dredger Engine known to exist.

The room which houses the Trevithick, also contains 4 large beam engines, a Parson’s turbine (of “Turbinia” fame), and a very large 2 cylinder compound.

Disconcertingly, the first atmospheric beam engine, with wooden beam, was partly obscured by a souvenir stall and racks of clothes for sale.  WTF!   Don’t they realise the historical importance and rarity of these engines.  And 3 further moans, to get them out of the way.   The descriptive labels on all items had minimal information.  Nothing like dimensions, power, etc.  The attendants knew virtually nothing about the engines.  And often, items were behind glass or perspex which was reflective, and prevented good visualisation or photography.   To be fair entrance was free, but to get past the entrance desk it seemed pretty clear that a “donation” of 5 pounds was expected, (which I was happy to contribute).   Those complaints aside, I have to say that the collections were fabulous.

I could see the Trevithick at the far end of the room, so to curb my mounting excitement, I forced myself to not rush up to it, but to try to look at every exhibit on the way.

Eventually I was there and it was there in front of me.


It was one of the smallest engines in the room (The “Energy” hall).  The older beam engines were many times larger, but that was a major reason this engine was so successful..  more power, lighter, smaller, and several times more efficient at converting coal to rotative motion.  No one could tell me why there is a huge divot in the cast end of the boiler.

The con rods, stands, standard cross tie, and chimney are not original, but were added when the engine was restored in ~1875.  But that is now part of its history.




From that side it was apparent that the main shaft was square over its entire length, something not previously known to me.


The boiler feed pump was relatively tiny.  I do not know if it is original.


The firebox has been re-sleeved.  The chimney mount is part of the end plate casting.  And I think that I got most of these items pretty close to right on my model.  Does anyone know what the incomplete flange at 5 0’clock would have been for?


Note the odd bolt pattern around the inspection hatch.  I got that wrong.  My change to the oblique slide rod stay angle brackets was correct.


safety valve weight is adjustable.


Water preheater pipe detail.  Aren’t the square nuts great!


The throttle restraints are curved, and have fixed position holes for pins.


Boiler feed tank.  Cast iron.


Engine supports appear to be cast integrally with the boiler.


Flywheel hub


Flywheel spoke detail.  Likely original.


Chimney mount detail


Finally (although I do have more photos), a nice view from above.  I do like the crosshead shape.  I wonder if it is original.  Remnants of another Trevithick dredger engine  not currently on display, reveal a wooden crosshead beam.

So there you are.  Fascinating to me.  Interesting enough I hope to you.  I could see no evidence of wooden lagging at all, but i still intend to install some on my model to slightly improve its efficiency.

i have heaps more photos of other exhibits which I may post later.



Broken Lathe Gear – Update.

I searched the lists of stock spur gears from international suppliers but I could not find a supplier of a 77 tooth, module 3 gear.  77 teeth is apparently unusual.  Plenty of suppliers for 76 and 78 tooth gears, but none for 77.

I did find an Ebay seller who had some old new stock of rotary HSS gear cutters and I  considered making a new gear.

But meanwhile, after airing the situation at a GSMEE meeting, I had a recommendation to try a local gear maker.   Well, fairly local.   He is 1 hour up the freeway.   But the phone calls were unanswered, repeatedly.  Another fellow GSMEE member also required a gear cut, for a telescope mount (a BIG telescope…. another story), and it was on his route home, so he called in, prepared to bang on the gear maker’s door.    Despite the industrial turn down in Australian manufacturing, the gear maker is so flat out with work, that he has stopped answering the phone.  But he received Frank very cordially, and was also very friendly and helpful to me when I turned up 2 hours later.

I took the broken gear and its shaft, and he is preparing a quote.  His initial recommendation is that the gear be replaced entirely, rather than repaired, or a toothed ring shrunk on.  So I am waiting for the quote.  But frankly, the lathe is unusable the way it is, so I cannot imagine rejecting the quote, unless it is so high that I am pushed back to making a gear myself.  I will post this when I get the quote.   Meanwhile, a photo, and a plug for the gear making business.


This is Johnny, the owner manager of Sunshine Gears

Johnny proudly showed me around his factory, and we discussed the options for my job in detail.  He has many (~40) gear hobbing machines, lathes, mills, and jobs in progress.  He is just about to get his first CNC machine, a lathe.  The  machine in the photo was making a gear cluster of 6 or 7 different sized gears.

Sunshine Gears is at 14 First Avenue, Sunshine, Victoria.  Telephone 0393117152.   Probably best to just call in rather than telephone.

Post script.   After considering the quotes I have asked Johnny to make me a gear which I will attach to the original hub.  It should be ready for me to pick up when I return from my UK trip.   It saves several hundred dollars to do it this way, rather than getting the entire gear with hub made from scratch.

By the time this post is published I should be in the air…..


OZ to UK

Well, I am off to Blighty tomorrow, to check out the originals of some of the models which I have made in recent years, and to pay homage to Richard Trevithick.

First stop London.  And the first stop in London is the Science Museum, where I will head straight for the Trevithick Dredger Engine.  This particular engine was made in 1806, but was designed by Trevithick several years earlier.  It was used to power a dredger on the River Thames.  Later the design was used to make steam engines to power the mills and factories of industrial England.  About 600 were made altogether, but this is the only surviving intact example, having been found in ~1878, and restored, albeit with some non authentic features.

I am due to arrive at Heathrow at 6am, and I cannot book into my accomodation until 2pm, so I will front up at the museum and put my case into storage while I spend some happy hours with the Trevithick, and browsing some of the rest of the museum.  I believe that the museum also houses a model of the road steam vehicle, which was built by a clockmaker for Trevithick as a proof of concept model.

So my next post here will hopefully include some photos of the above.    It is planned that this will all follow a 22 hour flight from Oz, via Singapore.  Not sure what shape I will be in, but hopefully I will have something to show you.

The next few days in London are planned to include The London Water and Steam Museum at Kewbridge, the pumping station at Kempton, The Crossness Engine at Abbey Wood, HMS Belfast, and maybe a return visit to pay my respects to the Harrison Clocks at Greenwich.  Busy busy!

Then a 4+ hour drive to York.  If I leave early enough I should reach York with enough time to visit the viking museum, and maybe even fit in a visit to the glorious minster.

The next day is scheduled for the National Railway Museum, which I have never seen before, and has been recommended by many bloggers.  And I will be meeting a reader of this blog, who will be showing me around the rail museum, and other interesting sites around York.

And so on.

I hope to be able to post some photos as I progress, but that will depend on Internet connections at my booked accomodations.  All Air BNB.

Later stops will include Manchester, Coventry, Leicester, Swansea, Merthyr Tydfil, Camborne, Dartmouth, Portsmouth.  Each place has been chosen so I can see outstanding museums, engines, mines, historic ships and places significant for Richard Trevithick.

The final stop at Portsmouth was mainly to visit the Fort Nelson Museum so I can see the Dardanelles Cannon close up.  But I will not miss the opportunity to see the Henry 8’s Mary Rose, HMS Victory, HMS Warrior, the submarine museum  etc etc.    Ben L, I will be in Portsmouth Tues 28 May pm until Fri 31 am if you are able to meet, perhaps one evening?

If you are getting the impression that I am very excited about this trip, you are absolutely correct!     John.




Cover.  Looking down on the modern remains of the Roman camp from the Masada plateau.

MASADA by Phil Carradice

Mass Suicide in the First Jewish-Roman War, c. AD73

This is another title from Pen & Sword in the “History of Terror” series.  128 pages, soft cover.

Masada, in case you are unaware, was a mountain top fortress in Judea, where Jewish men, women and children fought off veteran Roman legions for 2 years.  The traditional story is that facing defeat, the 960 defenders committed mass suicide.

There is only one source for the story, and that was Josephus Flavius, a contemporary Jewish general who was captured by, then joined the Romans.  His information, veracity, motives and biases are therefore suspect; however, some aspects of the story have been validated by modern archeological evidence.

The account of the siege, the defences, the huge ramp which was constructed by the Romans, and the details of the ultimate Roman victory, is compelling, riveting reading. The dissection of the available evidence is thorough, and various alternative possible scenarios are weighed.

Modern use of the Masada story by the nation of Israel is also discussed.

Australia’s worst military defeat (Gallipoli) is our national Remembrance Day. It is telling that Masada, also a defeat, has become the source of national pride for Israel.

An excellent read.

Dr  John Viggers.


Rear cover photo. Modern remains of the Roman ramp.




And just for some perspective of the site, watch this superb video

A Fraternal Photo


Me and my brother Peter.  No doubting the genes.

My brother also makes steam engines, but he prefers the ones which move on steel rails. Unfortunately he lives a long way away, in the deep north of Australia, so we see him and his wife only once a year or so.

Free History Books

I received this notice from Pen & Sword Publishers today.  I have not tested the offer, but I can vouch for its authenticity.  So if you are into Napoleonic history, and would like some free books (ebooks actually), then go for it!

Good Morning!
This Sunday marks the anniversary of Napoleons death, to coincide with this anniversary Pen and Sword will be giving away four eBooks for free from Amazon. I wondered if you would be able to share this with your readers, if you are doing a post around this anniversary. It’s not often we give away eBooks for free, so I am keen to spread the word as far as possible! Here’s the four eBooks that will be free on the day and the Amazon link to download the titles.
Have fun on Sunday (UK or US timezone I presume)

A New Hobby for Metalworkers (a book review)

You guys could consider a new hobby, to balance your personalities, and develop the artistic side of your brains.  (can’t remember which side of the brain that is, but here is my suggestion…)


Hard cover, 120pp, from Pen and Sword Publishers.


This book was surprising.

I was expecting wonderful pictures of Islamic art from Bukhara, Tashkent, Samarkand and other central Asian cities of the Silk Road.  And indeed, every second page is a full page colour picture of the amazing tile work, mosaics, ornaments, paintings and fabrics from Uzbekistan.

Every other page is a fine line drawing of the corresponding colour page.  What was most surprising to me, is that this is actually a COLOURING BOOK.   The drawing pages are there to be coloured in.

SWMBO tells me this is a common adult hobby, used for relaxation and stress relief, and making beautiful artistic pictures.  Well I don’t see myself swapping steam engine making for colouring-in exercises, but horses for courses.

Whatever, this is a beautiful, large format book, and will be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys the superb, stylistic, Islamic decorative arts.  If stress relieving colouring-in is your thing, well, so much the better.

Dr  John Viggers.


The right hand page is for colouring-in, probably after scanning to art paper.  (might make interesting patterns to CNC engrave too.)



ps.   No luck finding spare gears for the big lathe, but lots of suggestions from my readers.  Thanks bloggers.  I will let you know what happens.


Lathe Woes

Removed the gear with the broken tooth from my GBC 400-1000 lathe yesterday, with some help from my brother.    Approached the disassembly a bit nervously.  Did not want to break or damage anything else.

First took some photographs, so I can put things back together eventually, in the correct places and order.

Then removed the chuck, then the back gears, then the large heavy plates at each end of the spindle.  The cap screws came out without any drama, but the end plates required breaking free of the paint, and out of the tightly fitting mounting rebates.

Then loosened the big nuts against the internal gears, the external gears, and one grub screw.


Tabbed locknut undone, allowing the gear cluster to be slipped and driven towards the left, eventually allowing the spindle to be removed.

Gradually removed the spindle by tapping the gears along the spindle with brass drifts.  Pretty tight.  And retrieved the little bits as they fell into the oil in the headstock.

Was finally able to lift the spindle out through the chuck end of the headstock.  It is heavy.   Took two of us to lift it out without damaging the outer races of the tapered roller bearings.

Then looked at the broken gear, and retrieved the tooth from the headstock oil.


The broken tooth.  Unfortunately, on closer inspection, and adjacent tooth is also cracked.  And very likely more are on the way.   This is more serious than initially thought.  It is a big heavy gear, 240mm dia, with a 65mm long collar,

Next step was to look closely at the meshing gear.


With a good light, and getting close I still had trouble checking for cracks.  Only when I looked at this photo did I realise that I had forgotten to change my sunglasses.   Ah, the joys of getting old and forgetful.

Meanwhile, I remembered a tool which might help with the inspection….


It is a cheap fiberoptic inspection camera.  Worked fairly well here, and I am reasonably happy that the other gear is not cracked.   But it did convince me that I should have bought a better quality fiberoptic camera.  Put it on the wish list.

So, I have a large, hardened steel gear with at least 2 cracked/broken teeth.  Options?….

  1. Buy a new gear.  I will try, but not confident.  The local importer of these particular Chinese lathes went out of business last year.
  2. Get a new gear made.  I will get a quote.
  3. Make a new gear myself.  Or, if all else fails….
  4. Machine off the teeth of the damaged gear, and the adjacent 20-30mm.   Then make a new set of teeth on a ring which will be attached to the old core of the damaged gear.
  5. Use the lathe without that gear.   This option does not appeal.
  6. Install a VSD and use electronic control of spindle speeds.  The main spindle motor is 5HP, so it is possible.

More information required.  Watch this space.

Read the rest of this entry »

Back in the workshop, a Lathe Problem…

I have a problem with my big Chinese lathe.  I was hearing a KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK as the main spindle was revolving at low speeds with one setting of the gears.

It is a GBC 1000-400 lathe, meaning that it has a maximum of 1000mm between centres, and it will turn a 400 mm disk.  It weighs 2 tons.  Has been quite useful when turning flywheels, big lumps of metal, large pieces of wood and so on.

So today I removed the cover from the headstock and had a look.   The cause of the knock was quickly obvious.


The headstock of the GBC 1000-400


The big gear on the main spindle at bottom.   See the broken tooth?  The meshing gear is intact.

So, what do I do about this?   I need some suggestions, people.

Thoughts so far….

  1. remove the spindle, remove the gear and bronze braze a replacement piece of steel or bronze, then machine a new tooth.
  2. same as 1, except use silver solder.
  3. same as 1 or 2, except do the job insitu (after draining all of the gearbox oil, and screening off the other headstock parts).  Unfortunately the missing tooth is close to the headstock case, so filing or grinding a new tooth would be tricky.
  4. leave it as is, and just avoid using that gear.  I can do that.  It removes 3 of the 9 gear ratios, including the slowest speed (40 rpm), and is not an elegant, or desired solution.

So what do you think?   The gear is most likely made of steel rather than cast iron, from its appearance.  The base of the break is shiny, smooth and not porous.

Here are some pics of the ends of the main spindle.   It does not look too complicated to remove the main spindle, but what would I know.


The main spindle is the one in the centre.


And the other end, with a self centering 4 jaw in place.

I imagine that the main spindle bearings will be pre-loaded, tapered, roller bearings.  I certainly do not want to damage them.  And how difficult will it be to reinstall the bearings and main spindle?   I imagine that it will involve some careful and precise work.   Am I taking on a job which is way beyond my abilities?   If anyone has experience of this task I would be delighted to hear your views.   I have no drawings or plans of the headstock to assist.

(In parentheses, when I was a teenager, I remember my father pulling a Toyota Crown automatic gearbox to bits, identifying a fault, and fixing it.  There were bits of the gearbox everywhere.  But he fixed the problem.  He was not a mechanic, but he had a go at things, and usually managed the task, as in that case.  Similarly, I dont mind having a go at this lathe job, but I would prefer not to risk destroying the lathe, so any expert opinions will be welcome.   Option 4 above remains a possibility.)


The Trafalgar Chronicle

Another terrific read from Pen and Sword!  Particularly relevant for me, as I will be visiting “Victory” at Portsmouth, UK, in a few weeks.

TRAFALGAR CHRONICLE edited by Peter Hore

This is the first volume of articles on the subject of the Georgian period navy, ie. The epoch of Trafalgar, Nelson, Napoleon, 1812 war etc.    The volume contains 17 individually authored articles, maps, quality black and white and colour plates, notes and contributors’ biographies.


For this general reader, most of the articles were very interesting, but some contained a level of detail which would be more of interest to researchers.

I particularly enjoyed the articles about  the American in The Royal Navy, Frederic Rolette, and Nelson as a junior officer.   I am certain that “Victory” modelers will find invaluable, the analysis in “What Did HMS Victory Actually Look Like?”

The crucial role of James Cook in the conquest of the French in Quebec was fascinating to this antipodean, who was not previously  aware of this period of Cook’s career.

I look forward to further volumes in this series which are intended to be published annually.  (This review covers Book 1 of the new series.  Since I wrote this review Books 2 and 3 have been published.  I hope to review 2 and 3 soon.)

Dr John Viggers





My readers might be wondering why most of the books which I am reviewing in are “highly recommended”.  The reason is simple.  The books which I read and decide are crap do not get reviewed by me at all.  The ones which you will see in the blog also exclude those which I have decided are just OK.  The ones which you will read about here are those which I have really enjoyed, like “The Trafalgar Chronicle”.


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