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

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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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 The President Steam Engine described

 A Cornish engine in the USA

Now this series of posts on John West’s massive steam engine arrives at the point where it digs into the technical details. I have extracted various facts from the Damian Nance’s article, sifted, sorted and summarised to give a summary of the engine.

What was the President Engine?

The President was a rotative double acting engine with a 110″ cylinder, a 10 foot stroke screenshot_2017-06-13-12-07-40_kindlephoto-18444209.jpgand weight of 675 tons Although described as a Cornish engine, but had many features not common to pumping engines in Cornwall, i.e. it was rotative had flywheels, and was  double acting.

The engine was named after president Ulysses S. Grant, who had been invited to its dedication but  then failed to arrive.

Who built the engine?

The Cornish Engineer John West built the engine (the nephew  of William West, the Last Great Cornish Engineer), and its components were built by various companies in Eastern USA. Merrick and sons built the engine at their Southwark factory Philadelphia, but  much of the casting was  done at Lazell Perkins and co Bridgewater Massachusetts. The Pumps, boilers and  mountings were produced by  LP  Morris and co, Philadelphia.

Click here for information on Merrick and sons on the Philadelphia encyclopedia>

What did the engine do?

The engine was built to pump large quantities of water from a relatively shallow  mine shaft. Accounts of the engine differ in the number of pumps installed. Some state two pair, some three. Each pair of pumps consisted of a  lifting pump at the bottom of the shaft, and a 30″ plunger pump part way up. The lifting pumps were only  at a depth of 127 feet, very shallow compared to the Cornish mines of the time which were down to thousands of feet deep. The engine pumped at  15000 gallons per minute at 12 strokes per minute, and discharged into an adit and into a tank for use as boiler and condenser feed-water.

 

How was the steam provided?

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The three roofs of the boiler house.

An engine of this size demanded large quantities of steam, and so it had an impressive array of boilers. The President was served  by 16 boilers in a boiler house to the rear of the engine house, each boiler was 50 feet long with a 36 inch diameter.

The engine was designed to run at 60 psi at which pressure it produced 3000  horsepower, although in use it was normally run at a lower pressure.

What was the key features of the President Engine?

Apart from its sheer size the President had several interesting features that set it apart from the standard arrangement of a pumping engine back in Cornwall. These differences arose from the shallow depth of the mine. Engines running expensively on the Cornish cycle are more effective if they have a load of the heavy pump rods in the shaft. To replace this John West designed the engine with large 92 ton flywheels of over 30 foot diameter. For smoother operation of the flywheel West made the engine double acting (powered on both up and down strokes).

Note: The weight and diameter of the flywheel has been shown differently on some engine descriptions.  These figures have been confirmed as the most likely to be correct by Mark Connar, who I thank for the additional information.

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Although he installed Cornish style steam valves, the operating method was unusual. Valve operation was through cams fitted on the flywheel shaft, three cams for three different values of cut-off. The  throttle valve was fitted with an automatic control using a block of wood in the sump of the shaft connected by wire to the valve. An ingenious arrangement that allowed more steam to enter the engine as the water level rose.

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The lattice beams

These are the features that attracted me to the engine. Although Open-work beams are graceful and light, they did not become widely adopted. Their main user was John West’s Uncle, William West of Tredenham. All of his most important engines used this design, and it is no doubt the family influence that resulted in their distinctive form being adopted for the President.

Reference

Damian Nance, The International Steam Engine Society Bulletin volume 34 no 4

 


wpid-westcover.jpg The story of William West is told in the Trevthick Society papaerback ‘The Last Great Cornish Engineer‘.

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_

The tale of a Cornish engine across the Atlantic starts

The President Steam engine and its lattice beam

In my  threads of history talk on the William West, ‘The Last Great Cornish Engineer’ I gave a passing mention to an example of a lattice work beam in the USA. Now that the preparation for that talk is over, I have the chance to follow that thread of history, a thread that leads to events many miles away across the Atlantic.

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The open lattice work beam was a design used on by William West on all his most important engines, but it was a design rarely copied by other engineers. The only two non William West lattice beams I know of is the  massive Cruquius engine in the Netherlands the  ‘President’ engine at Pennsylvania. Both engines are examples of the massive size that the Cornish Engine principle reached towards the end of its development, and both engine have indirect links with William West.

The Cruquius was the largest steam engine in the world, and the President was the largest beam engine in the USA.  The latter engine had family connections with William West, so it is the history of that engine that I hope to explore in a bit more depth in this blog.

I will  dig into two rich sources of material as I explore; the research  of Damian Nance, and Mark Connar.  I am not yet sure where this wander across the Atlantic will take this blog,  but I am sure there will be some fascinating stories to uncover.  So feel free to follow this blog, and enjoy the journey

 

Austen’s Engine- A letter from James Sims

My preparations for the Luxulyan valley talk has now reached the historic event of Austen’s engine trial at Fowey Consols. Before this series of posts moves on to explore the impact the day made on the rest of  William West’s  life, it will take a quick look at some of the controversy that arose from the trial. 

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The Austin engine’s record breaking 125 million duty did not go unchallenged. Despite of the day being surrounded by all the trappings of an impartial scientific trial, many accusations appeared in the press, raising doubts about the validity of the result.

One such letter is reproduced here, a letter from a well respected engineer, James Sims. In reading this letter it must be taken into consideration that Sims thought that he would be the engineer to build the engine at Austen’s shaft, but lost the contract to the young, and relatively unknown William West.  No doubt this added extra vitriol to Sim’s pen as he compiled his words to the Mechanic’s magazine.

ON THE TRIAL OF AUSTEN’S STEAM ENGINE

“[After the official Report of the trial of Mr Austen’s engine, inserted in a preceding part of this Number, was in the hands of the printer, we received the following copy of a letter which Mr. James Sims of Chacewater, lately addressed on the subject to the Falmouth Packet, with a request that if we inserted the one we should also insert the other. As the request is a very fair one we readily comply with it.” Ed. M.M.]

“Sir-The account given of a steam engine in your paper of last week, and which is stated to be an extraordinary steam-engine, is, in the fullest sense of the word, extraordinary, not only in the duty as recorded, but so in the mode which was adopted for conducting a trial of that kind. I have no doubt that at least all practical engineers will agree with me, that it is perfectly absurd to think of making a fair trial of the duty of a steam engine (working under similar circumstances as the engine in question), in the short time of 24 hours; and on referring to the average duty performed by this engine for the last six months, and comparing it with the duty as recorded to have been performed during this trial, I consider that I am fully justified in making this remark. Duty as recorded at the trial 125,095,713 lifted one foot high by the consumption of one bushel of coal; average duty for the last six months 89,964 183 ;-balance in favour of 24 hours’ trial 35 131,530. The effectual working of this engine for six months, as reported by Mr Lean, gives 89,964,183, and which is the data that any practical man would refer to, in order to ascertain the duty performed.

I find by the monthly reports of steam-engines, that by comparing the average duty

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Austen’s engine house

performed by this engine for six months, beginning with April last, and ending with September; and Borlase’s engine at Wheal Vor for six months, beginning with December 1832, and ending with May, 1833 there is a difference in favour of Austen’s engine of 4,816 182; Austen’s engine having performed during that time 89,964,183, and Borlase’s engine 85,148,001. Borlase’s engine never having been subjected to a trial of 24 hours only, there has been no proof of what the duty would amount to for that time, but so far as my opinion goes in matters of this kind, and I have no doubt that I hold it in common with every engineer in this county, there is no reason on earth why the duty should not be in a like proportion, provided it was tried in the same way, and by the same committee; therefore, if Mr Lean have given correct reports of these engines, (of which I hope there is no doubt), I am at a loss to know to which the greatest praise is due-viz. Messrs. Petherick and West the engineers of Austen’s engine, or Captain Richards, engineer of Borlase’s engine. Messrs. Petherick and West’s engine shows the greatest number of millions – but when it is known that an improvement which would enable them to save one bushel of coal, would raise the duty to nearly what it is above Richards’s engine, and taking into consideration the differences under which the two engines are working, ( Richards’s engine having 190

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William West

fathoms of pump-work and four balance-bobs to contend with, and Petherick and West’s engine only 128 fathoms of pump-work and one balance-bob), it ceases to be a matter of surprise why Petherick and West’s engine should for a fair average of duty performed for the last six months do 4,816,182, or a little more than 1-19 more duty than Richards’s engine in the same time. I beg to state, that there is what is termed an advantage which Richards’s engine has that of Petherick and West’s in the number of strokes per minute, the average of Richards’s engine for the six months I have quoted being 6,33 strokes per minute, and the other 3,16 strokes per minute; but even this is of little importance, as I find on referring to different reports, a 50 inch engine working at 19 strokes per minute, and performing  51,740,126 duty; and on the same report a 53 inch engine working 4,66 strokes per minute, and performing 49,405,880 duty; and in another report, which was for April last, a 70 inch engine working 2,3 stokes per minute, and performing 66,845,381; and  a 70 inch engine working 8,54 strokes minute, and performing 64,378,231, plainly showing that whether an engine works three strokes per minute, or six strokes per minute, the difference in duty is of little importance.  Having thus far explained this matter in manner which I hope will enable the country to be undeceived respecting this wonderful engine, I conclude by saying that I deem it unnecessary to point out any other engines which have not been much below this in duty, as this can easily be ascertained by a short perusal of the Monthly Reports.

I am, &c. JAMES SIMS”

Dec 5th 1835

Sim’s key accusation was that a 24 hour trial did not represent a true reflection of an engine’s efficiency. It was the praise being dished out towards West and Petherick that appearedwpid-westcover.jpg to upset Sim’s the most, to him their engine was attracting an accolade that it did not deserve. History is never simple, if it was it would be boring.

The ‘Last Great Cornish Engineer‘ explores  West’s response to such accusations, but this post series must now move on to discover some of the stories surrounding the impact the engine made on William West’s life.

 


For William West book suggestions visit my William West book shelf, a growing collection.

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Austen’s Engine Trial

austens2010The focal point of my talk at Luxulyan has to be the Austen engine at Fowey Consols. This post explains why.

An historic event at Fowey Consols

Overlooking St. Blazey Gate in Cornwall on October 22nd 1835 a crowd of the respectable, skilled and knowledgeable gathered to witness an event that would be a landmark in steam engineering history. It would be an event that  would change the life forever of its engineer, enshrine  the name of a landowner in history, bring wealth to a famous foundry  and have have impact  wherever water needed to be pumped in Britain.

Austen’s 80″ Cornish steam engine at Fowey Consols was at the center of the event.  Expert witnesses watched as coal stores were measures, stores locked, meters read, machinery inspections conducted and measurements taken. The objective of the day was simple to measure the efficiency of the engine in its ability to pump water out from the depths of the mine hundreds of  feet below its foundations.dscf9312

As an activity this was not unique, for since 1811 all over Cornwall engines’ efficiency had been measured, recorded and published. ‘Duty’ was the unit of measurement used, and a publication now refereed to as  ‘Leans Engine Reporter’ publicly shared the results; results that had driven a technology race in Cornish Mines.

What made the measurement of duty at Austen’s engine in 1835  was that this was a trial to prove or disprove the claims of duty being made for this engine. This was an engine whose arrival within the tables of Leans was with figures that outperformed all the existing  famous engines in Cornwall.  In addition its joint engineers, William West and William Petherick were relatively unknown in the public arena. The pair did not have a record of high performing engines, and their arrival straight to the top of the league tables sparked disbelief and accusations of foul play. And so the trial was organised, to prove in controlled conditions that Austen’s engine actually performing as the engineers claimed.

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Austen’s Engine site 2017 Copyright OS Click here for map>

The mechanics of the trial required all the factors that made up the measurement of duty to be recorded. That is the amount of water lifted, by what distance with how much coal.

And so the coal was measured, the length of pump stroke measured and number of strokes taken by the large beam engine recorded. The resulting figure was a measurement of how much coal was needed to raise water from the depths of a Cornish mine. A figure of great importance to Cornwall, where its mine’s where deep, water was in abundance and coal expensive.

On the 23rd of October 1835 the trial finished. Measurements were taken and calculations complete; the resulting figure was spectacular. Austen’s engine had achieved 125 million duty, a performance that broke the existing records, and a performance that would never be overtaken by any other engine.

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Austen’s Engine on Google Maps 2017 Click here for map>

That day on Fowey Consols Cornish Steam engine technology appears to have reached its zenith. I say appears, because history is never as simple as that, disputes, accusations and controversy followed in the wake of the trial, and the duty recording system collapsed soon afterwards.

125 million did have its impact on history, despite of
the controversy. William West became very rich on its reputation, Harvey’s of Hayle would gain large amounts of extra work, and its influence would eventually result in improvements in clean water supply in the rapidly expanding British cities.

For another post about duty from this blog, ‘ Lean’s reporter, John Taylor and some layers of historyClick here>


51tRtgzctrL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_ If you enjoy reading on Kindle you can read more about William West of Tredenham>

Steam Capstans- William West’s hidden invention

Next Saturday 30th April 2016 – 7.00 pm  I am giving a presentation at the Par Old Cornwall Society, and as that date approaches this blog will continue to wander around the key events in the life of the subject of the talk, William West, the last Great Cornish Engineer.

Whilst the public’s eye was focused on the magnificent Austen’s engine in 1835,  and its controversial headlining performance, there was a smaller West engine making its quiet debut across the border in Devon.

This small horizontal cylinder engine was installed above big loop the river Tamar makes as it sweeps around the site of South Hooe Mine. Its was destined to undertake a mundane, but crucial task, capstaning.

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OS 1885

Pumping shafts were crammed with heavy equipment and fittings. This equipment needed maintenance, it needed extending, it needed repairing, and that is where capstan was required. Timber, pumps, pump rods and balance bobs all needed to be lowered and raised in the shaft.  It was an important task required to sink the shafts and keep the pumps running.

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Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection. Click here

Before West introduced his engine at South Hooe, these capstans were manual powered winches, resembling the anchor capstans of sailing ships. Men would gather around the capstan, pushing on large capstan bars to wind the rope in our out. All these men were miners and other workers taken off other work. Every minute spent pushing on a capstan bar was a minute not spent breaking down the ore, it was hated non-productive time.

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Steam Capstan at Robinson’s Shaft.

West’s concept was simple; install a small horizontal engine near the shaft, attach to to gearing to allow slow control, and use the steam supply from the nearby pumping engine. A simple, obvious use of the steam engine in a new role. Simple maybe, but he was the first to use it. The innovation was liked by the miners, and liked by the shareholder, so unsurprisingly was  widely adopted throughout Devon and Cornwall.

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Capstan winding drum at Robinson’s shaft

The steam capstan’s role in the Cornish mining industry is overshadowed by the history of the large pumping engines. Likewise the remains of these small engines are often overlooked,  their cylinder beds laying forgotten besides the massive pumping engine houses. But they are there to be discovered,  descendants of that small West’s engine that clattered into life on the banks of the Tamar in 1835.