Behind the scenes in the engine house
Winter at Levant is a particularly busy time as we undertake both routine and unexpected conservation and maintenance work on our mighty beam engine and steam boiler. We always seem to be holding our breath as Easter approaches in anticipation of that first steaming of the year and the hope that everything will work again.
The beam engine was installed in 1840 and ran for 90 years until the mine closed in 1930, hauling tin and copper up Skip Shaft. It was saved from the scrap man in 1935 and lovingly restored to working order by the Greasy Gang Volunteers between 1984 and 1993. The sounds and smells of this working engine really help to bring the mine to life.
As a working engine, the great coal-fired Cornish boiler you can see in our engine house would have generated the steam to drive the engine. Today the steam comes from a modern high pressure boiler, which is only seven years old.
This winter the focus of our work has been on re-fitting the pipework in the modern boiler house as well as replacing worn parts of the engine. This work was undertaken by specialist engineer John Woodward who is no stranger to steam, supported by a team of Levant volunteers. In addition, the flywheel has been re-painted and the whole engine de-greased and cleaned.
We are always looking for volunteers to help us with this ongoing maintenance and also to drive this engine and explain its fascinating story to our visitors. If this is you, we would be delighted to hear from you and welcome you to our team.
New year, new casting
For the past two months, specialist engineer John Woodward has been working at Levant to repair and replace parts of both the engine and the boiler. As a modern high-pressure vessel generating steam, our boiler needs regular attention and maintenance.
This winter one of our priorities was to dismantle a significant amount of the pipework on the boiler and the feeder tank and replace it with stainless-steel insulated piping. This allows it to run in a way that is both safer and more efficient.
In addition, the battle with corrosion inside the tanks continues. We have re-routed the pipework to supply warm water and installed a water filtration system in addition to the existing treatment in order to maintain the correct pH level.
On the engine, this winter we have re-cast and replaced a significantly worn part of the water condensing system known as the deflector plate. The original bronze casting was missing at the time of the restoration and as a temporary measure, what appears to be, a cymbal from a drum set was used instead. A new bronze casting weighing 40kg was poured and machined to replicate the original together with a new iron casting. The surviving original castings have been cleaned and re-painted and new bronze nuts and studs manufactured.
Each time we remove a part from the engine we find our more about how it runs. As part of our conservation work we keep detailed records so that this information can add to our vast archive on the engine. We are already planning the next phase of work.