Sunday, 28 August 2011

Bolton Steam Museum

Located in what used to be the cotton warehouse of Atlas Mills in Bolton is the steam museum, home of several large mill steam engines and many smaller engines. Because of the cost of gas for the boiler, the museum only steams its engines a few days a year; today was one of them, and Mike Hyslop and myself zoomed down there in his Porche 911. We were joined later by Graham Robertshawe who arrived by motorcycle (a nice Aprillia) from his Northwich home.

Double click on the pictures for full size images.

A view down one side of the museum.....

....and a view down the other side

A tandem compound mill engine, so called because the high pressure cylinder (on the right) and the low pressure cylinder (on the left) are in line on a common piston rod. The high pressure cylinder has Corliss variable cut-off valve gear controlled by the governor, whereas the low pressure one has a simple slide valve. The video below shows the Corliss valve gear in operation.

We were taken 'behind the scenes' to see the boiler. Like the one at Styal Mill it is gas fired and not very interesting to look at. Alongside the boiler is the control panel and the water gauge glasses.

We noticed an eccentric drive on this twin beam engine (the oldest in the museum) seemed to be juddering through lack of lubrication. Mike watches while on the staff gives it a few squirts of oil from a can. It didn't seem to fix it, though!

'Audrey' was built by Sissons of Gloucester as late as 1961 as a 'teaching' engine for training students at a time when when steam power was part of their curriculum. It spent its life at Harris College in Preston and can be configured as twin cylinder compound, or as two separate single cylinder engines. It has two types of valve gear and incorporates many features that not normally all seen together in one engine.

This steam driven water pump is reminiscent of the one we have at Styal Mill, with the piston rods of the engine and pump connected by a 'banjo' (painted red, on the side of the engine nearest to the camera) in which the crank which drives the flywheel rotates.

The Bolton Steam Museum is run entirely by volunteers. The engines have been restored, many from near-scrap condition, by museum members, and even the building itself has been largely made suitable for purpose by the volunteers. There has been some financial help from Morrisons supermarket who own the site, but otherwise the museum is purely self-funded. They don't even charge for entry, though donations are welcome. What a great job they are doing!


Saturday, 13 August 2011

Chelford Traction Engine Rally

I first attended this rally back in the late '60s when it was organised by the local Parish Council. It's still a major event on the steam buff's calender and today Mike Hyslop, Graham Robertshawe and myself went along.

An Aveling & Porter roller leaves the display ring

The weather was lovely, and the smell of coal smoke among the beautiful parkland of Astle Park brought back memories of these rallies of decades ago.

Not much has changed!

Coal smoke and steam among the Cheshire parkland at Astle Park

Two of several fairground organs at Chelford. These use continuous punched card rather like a Jacquard loom to produce the music. The organ in the lower picture gave a lovely rendition of 'The Battle of Britain' march!

These magnificent steam-driven 'gallopers' have been attending the Chelford rally for as long as I can remember

There were miniature engines, like 'Helen' here, as well as full size

Stanley Steam Car (last of its type) among the big engines

A 'big engine' in the display ring

This delightful small-scale 'Case' tractor has some novel (by British standards) features which are also exhibited by its full size counterpart. The valve gear (see picture below) is of a type I have never seen before, using a 'sliding block' to vary the valve timing. There is a friction clutch in the flywheel to transmit the drive to the wheels instead of the dog clutch or simple gear-engagement seen this side of the Atlantic. The boiler, smokebox, and firebox are 'one piece' and un-lagged, and the live steam take-off is external from the top of the dome.

The unique valve gear of the 'Case' traction engine. The selector lever is just out of shot, in the quadrant middle right, with a green rod connecting it to the 'sliding block' and determining the position of that block in the rocking 'channel', centre of the picture. The thicker green rod from the 'sliding block' that leaves the picture on the left drives the valves. If the 'sliding block' is in the centre of the rocking channel, the engine is in neutral. The bock being positioned at the top or the bottom of the channel puts the engine into forward or reverse gear.

A final look at the 2011 Chelford Rally, as 'Little Mac' leaves the ring. Driving home from Barton Airfield to Congleton (where we then lived) one Friday evening in August 1978 I had just completed my first solo flight during my pilot training. I was still metaphorically 'up in the air' with the euphoria of flying an aeroplane on my own for the first time. On the straight part of the A34 south of the 'Davenport Arms' I met 'Little Mac' coming the other way. Exuberantly I flashed my headlights and blew my horn, and the little traction engine's crew responded with enthusiastic waving and whistle-blowing! 'Little Mac' has always been a bit special for me since then.

(Once again, photos taken on my phone so not good quality. Still worth enlarging by clicking on them, though!)


Sunday, 7 August 2011

VMCC barbecue at Nether Alderley Mill

The centuries old sandstone water mill, mostly steep-pitched mossy stone slab roof slumbering under the trees heavy with full summer foliage, looks as if its been part of this landscape for ever as it studiously ignores the adjacent upstart A34. The intense mid-summer sun radiates down from on high between occasional drifting cumulus and, lizard that I am, I sit on a warm stone by the mill entrance and raise my face to the heat. Barbecue smoke drifts across from the gazebo, the bells of Nether Alderley church are ringing out for a wedding, there's lots of motorcycle chit chat and of course those lovely vintage bikes to admire; what a super way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Bikes at the Mill, barbie under the gazebo

Every year Barry Cook, National Trust Mill Engineer at Styal Mill and a keen motorcyclist, organises a Vintage Motor Cycle Club (VMCC) barbecue at picturesque Nether Alderley Mill, south of Alderley Edge. This year the weather has cooperated and the Mill makes a delightful setting for the event. I arrive early on my 1979 Triumph Bonneville T140D but soon the small area in front of the mill is full of interesting motorcycles. Barry has organised a tasty barbecue which is excellent value at £3 (for a beefburger, pork chop, hot dog and a drink).

My Bonnie, second from right on front row

Nether Alderley flour Mill is a rare example of a 'tandem' waterwheel mill, with an upper waterwheel, the water from which then drives a second, lower, water wheel. It dates back many hundreds of years but is now in need of extensive refurbishment which it is about to get, in no small part due to Barry's efforts in the National Trust. The Trust own the Mill, but were reluctant to find the funds to carry out the repairs (I don't think they are at their best with industrial heritage; houses and gardens are more their 'thing'). The roof of the Mill is on the verge of collapse, and indeed would have done so by now had Barry not put up acro-props to hold up the rotted roof timbers. It would have been tragic if the Mill had fallen into ruin, and this was a real possibility until HRH Prince of Wales visited Styal Mill recently.

The Mill on the left, the gazebo in the distance

Barry is ex-Royal Navy, and served on the Royal Yacht 'Britannia', so knew the Royal family quite well. When he was first introduced to the Queen he described himself as "coming from Chapel en le Frith, a small town in Derbyshire".

"Oh", replied Her Majesty. "That's not far from Chatsworth is it? Do you know the Duke of Devonshire?"

Barry was tempted to reply that yes indeed, he often drank with his Lordship in the local, but thought better of it.

Barry was chatting to Prince Charles during the Royal visit to Styal Mill and happened to mention the parlous state of Nether Alderley Mill. Once it had 'royal attention', it was difficult for the National Trust not to act to save the Mill. Barry is retiring from the Trust soon, and I think the saving of Nether Alderley Mill will be a lasting tribute to his tenure at Styal.

Work is scheduled to start on the Mill in September, and I for one looked upon today's enjoyable event as a celebration of its far rosier future.

Well done Barry!

(Pictures taken with my 'phone, so apologies for their poor quality)


Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Tragedy at Barton last Friday

The world of private aviation is a small one. I heard last Friday while firing 'Planet' at MoSI that a Piper Tomahawk of Ravenair Flying School had crashed on take off from Barton Airfield, Manchester, and the two occupants were injured with burns. The aircraft apparently suffered engine failure although we won't know what actually happened until the official accident report is released. It turned out later that the accident was far more serious than I at first thought, as the pilot later died of his injuries and his passenger, as I write, is in a critical condition in hospital.

It also transpired that I knew the pilot and had flown the aeroplane concerned many years ago. The pilot was Ian Daglish of Alderley Edge; we were both members of Alderley History Group, had talked on the phone and exchanged e-mails on flying, and Ian had invited me to his 'local' to chat about flying. We never got around to it, and now we never will.

Ian Daglish

The aeroplane involved was a Piper PA38 Tomahawk registered G-RVRF. Its original UK registration was G-BGEL and it spent some time on the Lancashire Aero Club fleet at Barton where I flew it extensively between 1st September 1979 and April 1980 while our newly aquired Chipmunk G-BCSL was receiving engineering attention.

PA 38 G-BGEL in the early days. This aeroplane, later owned by Ravenair and re-registered G-RVRF, was the aircraft involved in last Friday's tragedy.

Former G-BGEL, as re-registered by Ravenair. Note the pilot is wearing a hi-viz vest; these things have become endemic in light aviation with many airfields blindly insisting on their use on the apron despite there being no safety case to make this a sensible thing to do. In fact they are highly flammable and should never be worn in an aircraft (there is no suggestion they were being worn in RF last Friday). Sensible airstrips, like Sherlowe, ban them altogether.

RIP Ian, and let's hope his young passenger pulls through OK.


The accident report has been issued by AAIB. It can be read here: