Thinking that maybe nicely made steam engines might be a hobby and liking stationary engines, I dragged Chris off to Stretham Old Engine, in the wilds of the Fens this afternoon. It has been a gorgeous Spring day today (make the most of it!!)
So, finding no brown signs, but a single hand made one on a fence at the end of the High Street we just about found our way to the engine house. An old pumping station in fact. I believe I was last there in about 1977 when I visited it by boat with friends.
I suppose things must have changed since then, but it would be difficult to be specific. The little leaflet that I still have somewhere is the same, but on different coloured card. They have opened up a couple more buildings in which is the engine I actually went to measure, an 1829 Guinness vertical engine with architectural features. Very pretty. I might have a bash at that.
Then they have got the diesel that replaced the beam engine on display. I'm not sure if it runs, but looks like it might. It's a huge 4 cylinder Mirrlees, which drives, or drove, a centrifugal pump. Each valve rocker is bigger than a Mini's cylinder head!
The old beam engine....well, that is just so huge that you can't take it in, much less consider it for modelmaking. You can't see it all at a glance. In fact you can't see it all in maybe 6 glances. It is difficult to even see how it works as you must revolve your head, eyes, your whole being through more degrees than you can count to take it all in. The valve rod has an eccentric sheeve that would quite easilly pass over my ample figure and goes off about 20 feet, out of sight, to a valve somewhere. The "rod" is actually a girder-like structure that would support that cylinder head-less Mini. To see the top of the cylinder requires that you climb TWO flights of stairs. Then to see the beam another long flight takes you to the Beam Loft, in which are displayed some original wooden patterns for the engine's castings, but only the tiny bits. Frankly, I could find nothing that tiny. I'm talking at least a square foot of old wood, full of worm and nothing that small could be found on the engine itself. Maybe they were for some other engine, but no mud-caked Fenny had bothered to ask.
Despite the enormous 24 foot diameter of the flywheel, it seemed strangely lightweight construction, having just 1 inch rods as spokes, cast into the rim. The crank, by contrast, is vast. 5 feet long, by over 2 foot diameter and fully 12 inches thick!
All this vast, but strangely airey construction drives not a pump as such, but a massive scoop wheel. 39 feet in diameter and able to lift 30 tons of water per revolution, it does 4 revs a minute. It is made half of iron, half of wood. It was installed last in 1830 and can still be used if necessary.
I realise that it has all been done by volunteers, but it was a bit down at heel and very poorly lit. I suppose there isn't the trade to warrant a tea shop, though that would have been nice on such a day.
An entrance fee of £3 wasn't too bad, but then there ain't that much to see to be honest and there was no easy place to park! But it was a pleasant hour or so on what has been effectively the first day of Spring proper.