Tag Archives: John West

The only Cornish Engine House in the USA

PresidentPostcardThe President Engine House

This series of posts on the President Steam engine in Philadelphia has led me far further then I expected. It started off with a desire to expand my knowledge of  an engine with William West links; to gain some knowledge that I could use in future talks about the Last Great Engineer.  And now I find myself writing about probably one of the most significant Industrial Heritage sites in the USA.   In this post I bridge the gap between the past and now with a description of the engine house, the structure that links today’s modern landscape with its history.

The remains of the  President’s engine house stands in Allentown Philadelphia, a very long way from where I write this blog in Cornwall. Therefore I will  use the words and images from Mark Connar’s excellent paper on the Ueberroth Zinc Mine to describe the structure.

The Engine House described

“The square shaped pumping engine house is built of Potsdam Sandstone and is three stories high with the first floor at the elevation of the air pumps and condenser, the second floor near the top of the cylinder, and the third at the level of

President2017

The engine house in 2017

the beams. Overall the structure is 40 feet high. The north wall (called the “bob” wall in Cornish pump house design parlance), which supported the beams, is 9 feet thick with slots for the two flywheels, the south wall contains the cylinder opening, above which is the steam inlet and recesses for the two spring beams. This wall is also 9 feet thick and the other two walls (east and west) are 4.5 feet thick. Two square stacks that served the engine’s 16 boilers occupy the rear corners (face Old Bethlehem Pike). The boilers were housed in an adjoining building. The house plan is dominated by a central masonry platform, to which the engine was anchored, with large pits on either side for the flywheels and cranks.”

President2017_2An indication of the sturdiness of this structure is that it sits on a rock formation 114 feet below ground surface and the foundation for the engine is thirty-two feet below the rock face. Another Cornishman named Simeon Noell was charged with the responsibility to oversee the engine house erection that commenced in 1868. Overall, the structure is very typical of engine houses that populate the Cornish and West Devon landscape in the United Kingdom.

The basic structural design is highly functional and little changed from the enginePresidentWingwall houses first built in the early decades of the 18th century. The President was a “house-built” engine in that the engine house was an integral part of the engine, supporting it rather than simply providing weather protection for equipment and staff. The foundation is sturdy; it had to be capable of withstanding the stresses the engine could produce. The “bob-wall” carried the main weight and thrust of the engine. The interior layout of the pumping engine house was a basic Cornish pattern. The first floor, or bottom chamber, was known as the “driving floor” because it accommodated the throttle and other controls. Here the engineers had access to the lower portion of the key equipment. The second floor or middle chamber allowed access to the cylinder head and upper valve chest. The third floor was called the “bobloft” was this level allowed access to the beam for servicing and also held tackling gear used to lift heavy parts of the pump when repairs were necessary.”

The Engine house today

“The current condition of the engine house is derelict. It is enclosed by a security President2017Bobfence and is overgrown with vegetation. The brick chimney stacks are no longer standing (I have observed this structure for over 50 years and do not recall ever seeing the brick stacks, however, they are visible in photographs from the 1930s and early 1940s). The structure is best viewed in the fall and winter when less obscured by vegetation. The pumping house is the only visible remains when viewed from outside the gated area, however, a report by Professor Miller of Lehigh University prepared in 1923 indicated that an office structure was also remaining on the site.” Mark Connar

This now seems to be an appropriate place to take a quick detour from the President Engine, and look at some Cornish engine houses over here in Cornwall for a comparison. So its time to start digging into some of the hidden depths of my laptop filing system and see what suitable images I have hidden away.  So if you are reading this blog from across the pond please keep following, as I hope some of the photos may hint at the potential of this amazing building hidden away in Philadelphia. 


51tRtgzctrL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_ The engine house featuring on the cover of the Kindle Edition of William West of Tredenham is that of the famous Austen’s Engine at Fowey Consols, in mid-Cornwall. This 80″ engine was fitted with a lattice beam similar to the one used by the President,

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John West- A Cornish Engineer in the USA

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An Obituary of John West (Jnr)

The connection between the great Cornish Beam engines in Cornwall and the greatest of the Cornish engines in the USA is a family one.  It is a link that will be explored in this post through a transcript kindly provided by Mark Connar.

John and William West

John G. West was one of the many Cornish miners and engineers who emigrated to the USA. An emigration that included not only the men and their families, but also the skills, knowledge and systems developed in the centuries of hard rock mining in their home country.

John West was the son of another well respected engineer, who was also  called John. His father’s brother was the famous engineer, William West of Tredenham, the ‘Last Great Cornish Engineer’. William became famous for building the most efficient Cornish Engine ever built, and John G. West was famous for building the largest Cornish Engine in the USA.

This engine is the subject of this series of posts; it is normally refereed to as the ‘President’ but interestingly in newspaper extract below it is called the ‘General Grant’.


From Reading Times (Reading. Pa), Wednesday, May 10, 1893

Death of John G. West

Sketch of the Well-Known Mechanical Engineer and Inventor – Other Deaths
John Gartrell West, mechanical engineer, passed to his rest Tuesday forenoon. He was born in the village of Crowan, in the Parish of Crowan, Cornwall, England, on the 28th day of May 1822, thus making his length of life 70 years, 11 months and 14 days. He came to the United States forty-four years ago and for a time was engineer on one of the Ohio River steamboats. Afterwards, through his intimate knowledge of the construction, and erection of the Cornish pumping engine, he was engaged to erect one purchased in England for the Perkiomen Cooper Ore Company, at Shannonville, Montgomery county. When his contract expired with the aboveJohnWestOBT named company, he entered into partnership with the Messrs. Richard Corson and Samuel Thomas, the firm name being that of Thomas, Corson & West, mechanical engineers of the Norris Works, Norristown, Pa.
He designed and superintended the construction of the pumping engine for the Lehigh Zinc Company, of Bethlehem, Pa, known as the General Grant engine, which is the largest stationary engine ever made in the United States, before or since. This is a high-pressure condensing engine; the diameter of the cylinder is 110 1/4 inches, length of stroke 10 feet and weight of the engine is 1096 tons. Mr. West was engineer and superintendent of the Providence R.I. water works for a year and a half.
He was afterwards engaged in the construction and erection of pumping and mining engines for the Yellow Jacket and other gold mines in Virginia City, Nevada and elsewhere. He came to Reading in January 1878, as the superintendent and manger of the Scott foundry, which position he held until about three years ago, since which time he was employed in the capacity of mechanical engineer of the Reading Iron Company.
 
He was the son of John G. West, also a famous mechanical engineer. He was married fifty years ago to Miss Jane Henwood, who survives, but has been an invalid for years. Deceased was in good health up to two weeks ago, when he was prostated with an abscess which developed into blood poisoning, causing great agony and unconsciousness for several days. Mr. West was a man of sterling integrity, unusual amount of caution, and absolutely honest, scorning deceit and littleness wherever found. He was a member of Christ Cathedral, a prominent mason, and leaves the follow – children and sisters: Mrs. Sophia Von Hummell, of Indianapolis, Ind.; Barnet H. West, late manager of the Reading Iron Works, but now with the Messrs. Cramp Ship Building Company; Mrs. Henrietta Stephens, of this city; Miss Viola West, also of this city; Wye H. West, with the Phoenix Iron Company, Phoenixville. The sisters are: Mrs. Dr. Rowana, of Philadelphia; Mrs. Lovinia Dalty, of Philadelphia; Mrs. Bethia Chant, of Ridley Park and Mrs. Frances G. Jones, of this city, wife of G.W. Jones, superintendent of the McIlvain & Sons’ rolling mills. Transcript by Mark Connar

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The Largest stationary Engine in the World-1872

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The President steam engine described in in the Australian Advertiser

Whilst pondering on how to start this dive into the history of the President steam I stumbled across this real gem of an article, and also an amazing website for historical research. Although written in 1872 the article was perfect to introduce this series of posts- a gift-thanks the National Library of Australia.

On the Trove website of the National  Library of Australia is a newspaper article from the South Australian Advertiser, published May 13th, 1872 that describes the President Engine, and also refers to John West and several other Cornish Engineers. The Trove site is a fascinatingTroveIcon resource, and whilst there, I was quickly sidetracked into doing my bit by correcting the transcript of the article. I highly recommend a visit to Trove, and having a session at correcting some text for them.

 Here is the text of the article-

THE LARGEST STATIONARY ENGINE IN THE WORLD


A recent number of the Mining Journal gives an interesting account of the starting of the Lehigh Zinc Company’s mammoth engine, in America. After describing the progress of fine ore mining generally, the following brief description of the great pumping engine is added:—
The engine was three years building, and was designed by Mr. John West, engineer of thePresidentNewspaper Lehigh Zinc Company, who personally superintended its erection in all its parts, down to the minutest particular. The engine was built by Merries: & Sons, Philadelphia, and the
pumps and boilers by I. P. Morris & Co., Philadelphia. The object for which the engine was built was to concentrate the greatest amount of power on one particular spot in the mines in the most economical manner. These new pumps drain the whole property of the Company, and are erected on the particular spot on which they stand on account of the presence of a firm rock to plant upon. Following is a description of the mammoth engine, as we gathered it from a conversation with Mr.West, which will be found to contain technical facts which Mr. Webster did not give in his remarks.
The engine has a pumping capacity of 15,000 gallons per minute, and may be run to 17,000 in case of emergency, raising water from a depth of 300 feet The engine alone weighs 650 tons, and including the pumps and boilers the total weight of the machinery is 1,000 tons. Size of cylinder, 110 inches in diameter; length of stroke, 10 feet. The heaviest pieces of iron in the engine are the sections of beams, and weigh 24 tons. There are two pieces of wrought-iron -weighing 16 tons each. The fly-wheels weigh 75 tons each; crank pins 1 ton each. The piston rod is 14 inches in diameter. The cross head weighs 8 tons. The connecting rods have 9-inch necks, and are 15 inches in the middle, 41 feet 2 1/2  inches long, and weigh 11 tons each.
There are two air pumps, 50 inches in diameter each.
PresidentNewspaper2This is, so far as known, the most powerful stationary engine in the world. Next to it in point of size and capacity is the engine at the Cincinnati Waterworks, cylinder 109 inches in diameter. Next is the engine at the Brooklyn Works, cylinder 90 inches; and next the engines used to drain the Meer at Haarlem, in Holland, There are three of these cylinders, 84 inches steam, with 12 feet Sims’compound, 600 -horse-power each. Next are the large Cornish engines used in the Cornish mines in England, and in the London Waterworks.
The work of the “President” will be to drive four plunger pumps, each 30 inches in diameter by 10-feet stroke ; four lifting pumps, each 31 1/2 inches in diameter by 10-feet stroke—the plunger pumps being uppermost and stationary. The lifting pumps will be used in the bottom of the shaft, and are movable, so as to go down as the shaft is sunk;and the lifting pumps, on account of veins of ore running through the
 shaft, are and will continue to be suspended, or the weight of the pumps would force them down into the ore to an indefinite depth. To handle these lifting pumps, hoisting or PresidentNewspaper3lowering them at pleasure, a steam capstan, capable of lifting 50 tons vertically, is used. By a series of strong gearing, a drum and a steel wire rope, with this capstan, if anything goes wrong with the pumps they can be taken hold of by the top and pulled out of water, repaired, and put back in a very short time. Everything that past experience could dictate is here applied, or at least, as Mr. West said, so it is thought, so far as known.
Mr. John West, who has brought this massive engine to its present state of perfect working, has been employed by the Lehigh Zinc Company for about five years, and designed and superintended the construction of all the machinery in and about these mines. This engine is certainly a triumph of skill, pluck, and per severance, of which the Company, who backed
up the President, Mr. Webster, who backed up
and sustained Mr. West, the engineer, who conceived
and carried out the only feasible plan for relief from the difficulties under which the
Company labored—too much water—may all feel very proud.
The erector of this mammoth engine, under Mr. West’s supervision, is Simeon Noell, a Cornishman, who has had 21 years’ experience in this kind of work in Cornwall, England.. The engineers who will run the “President” hereafter are William Harry, a Cornishman, age 35 years, with 17 years’ experience; and John Beddington, also a Comishman, age 37 years, 21 years’ experience as engineer. Bothsaw the engine go up from its foundation, and know every piece of it, and will keep a watchful and intelligent eye on the mammoth engine.
The John West refereed to in the article was the son of another Cornish engineer, who was also called John West, and that John West was the brother of William West, the subject of my two publications and many of the post in this blog.

And now I will read through the article again and pick up some threads to explore.


Books about William West

wpid-westcover.jpgOne paperback, one Kindle  51tRtgzctrL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_

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