If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Wot I did on 10/10/10

Had a great time, that's what. A bacon roll and a coffee with friends for breakfast,
Meat-eating, annoys the vegans - check
Pig meat, annoys the fundamentalists - check
Caffeine, annoys the health fascists - check
a nice brisk ride around some pretty parts of West Wales,
Oooh, motorcycles are dangerous - check
Wasteful use of fossil fuel - check
Fuel-heavy and self-indulgent riding style - check
and several hours at the Internal Fire Museum of Power.

It was their end-of-season rally, where all the machines get cranked up and put to use. There were people from all over the UK with their stationary engines, water pumps, power saws and generators - all diesel-powered, all very old, and all restored to working condition.

It was a real men-in-sheds environment, everyone doing totally pointless, noisy, smelly, and very satisfying stuff.

The engines all had that wonderful patina that comes with long years of use (one very early diesel engine was built in 1912), regular maintenance and attention with the oily rag. You can't make machines look like that; you have to use them and look after them for a very long time. It's the same as the difference between a Victorian brass door-knocker that has been polished twice a week for a hundred years, and a shiny lacquered one, brand new from Homebase.

I say they were all diesel-powered, but one wasn't. This one:

was a Bristol Siddely Proteus gas turbine engine, used to power an emergency generator in the middle of Dartmoor. It was one of the first unmanned power stations in the UK, and peak output was 3MW, enough to power about 3000 households. (The equivalent in wind generation would power about 700 to 900 homes, because of the unreliability of the weather. Just sayin', like.) It could be called into action just by a phone call from London - no-one was needed on site. We are used to that level of automation now, but for the 1950s it was a stunning piece of technology. They fired it up twice when I was there, and the noise was shattering - just like standing beneath a jet aircraft. The exhaust was through a hole in the wall, and the flames came out for about 5 metres (they don't show in the photo, sadly). Awesome. They only ran it at half-speed, and for about 30 seconds at a time, as each firing used 15 gallons of kerosene.

There were massive flames coming out of that hole, honest.

Best of all, from a Franny Armstrong-annoying perspective, was a twin-cylinder Allen diesel engine which needed pre-heating with two blowlamps before it started. It was reluctant to start, but eventually went doff-DOFF-doff and belched good honest diesel fumes into the sky.

Here's one of the gang, just for the record.


  1. And the sun shone on the righteous.

  2. So it did. Probably for the last time in 2010.

  3. Got to love those old time engines. I took a tour of a WW 2 submarine a few weeks ago. The diesel engines that ran that beast were mind boggling.

  4. Spent the day painting a friends Chevy Silverado. Was not nearly as much fun as it appears that you had.

  5. I bet you released plenty of volatile organic compounds though, eh? Good man.

    Tomorrow, it's back to being responsible. It's just that today I felt like when I used to smoke. On National No Smoking Day, I used to take cigarettes AND a pipe to work and smoke both.

  6. We need more events like this; technology these days is too invisible for its own good. Half the problem with the Franny Armstrongs of the world is that they have a vague idea that it is magic, rather than physics and chemistry, which make their world work.

    Plus, it's a grand day out and that's a good enough reason on its own.

  7. What was it Arthur C Clarke said about sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic? I agree about the 'invisibility' and the problems that causes. One of the reasons I love old stuff like this, and things like bicycles, is that if you look at them long enough you can see how they work. That makes them objects of affection rather than fear.

  8. Spent the weekend with a stinking cold.

    So the best I could do was turn the heating up and read one of Jeremy Clarkson's books.

  9. Sorry to hear that, and hope it goes away soon. But I think in the circs your actions were admirable. They also serve who only sneeze and cough.


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