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 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 ore and waste rock 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 unique working engine really help to bring the mine to life. 

When the engine was originally running, it would have been powered by steam generated by a coal-fired Cornish boiler of the type you can see in our boiler room. Today the steam comes from a modern high-pressure boiler, which is only seven years old and runs on oil.

This winter the focus of our work has been on improvements in the modern boiler house as well as replacing worn engine parts. This work was undertaken by specialist engineer John Woodward who is no stranger to steam, supported by a team of Levant volunteers. In addition, our volunteers have re-painted the flywheel and de-greased and cleaned the whole engine.

New year, new parts

As a modern steam plant, our boiler needs regular attention and maintenance.  This winter one of our priorities was to dismantle a significant amount of the pipework on the main boiler and feeder tanks and to 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 to complement the existing chemical treatment in order to maintain the correct pH level to help minimise the internal rusting.

On the engine this winter we have re-cast and replaced significantly worn parts 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 in the 1980s, 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.  The surviving original parts 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.

We are always looking for volunteers to help us with this ongoing maintenance and also to drive our engine and explain its fascinating story to our visitors.  If this sounds interesting, we would be delighted to hear from you and welcome you to our team, please get in touch by phoning 01736 786156 or by email at levant@nationaltrust.org.uk.