Saturday, July 4, 2009


Several years ago my Father started volunteering on a local restoration project. Unlike me he doesn't work restoring endangered species, his area of expertise is more engineering related so he works on restoring a Cornish Tin Mine.

These evocative symbols of a bygone age are scattered all along the Cornish coastline, many of them had shafts that reached for miles out under the ocean. As you can imagine, in the 1800's when they were at their peak of productivity, the safety standards were virtually non-existant. (One of the byproducts of the tin mines was arsenic and the sum total of protective clothing consisted of a wad of cotton to stuff up each nostril!!)

This is a photo of a photo (hence the poor quality - sorry) of how the mine looked when it was working at capacity.

And this is how it looks today. My Dad is part of the original 'Greasy Gang' that took to opening up the old passageways and exploring old tunnels! Of course he didn't regale my Mom with these tales until well after the fact! On my most recent visit he gleefully took me down a spiral staircase into the ground and showed me a tunnel that they had excavated to the main shaft. When they discovered it of course it involved going down the staircase and climbing over a mound of dirt that blocked the passageway and crawling along on their stomachs in the pitch black, not knowing what they would find! I guess tales like this help me to realise why I am who I am! The crazy gene definitely comes from my Dad :) My Fathers passion is all things mechanical and of course this is an engine on an ultimate scale.

This is an original coal boiler from another mine, that would have powered a beam engine. They found the boiler buried in a field and dug it up, restored it and put it into the engine house. In this modern age no one is likely to volunteer for the arduous task of stoking it to run the engine so it is actually 'mocked up' next to the beam engine which is powered by an oil powered boiler.

To see the beam engine operating is a pretty awe inspiring sight. The massive beam goes up two storeys inside the building and as it pushes down there is a huge 'Whumpf' as the single massive piston pushes down into the huge cylinder. This is the engine that my Dad has restored and worked on - he is one of the 'go - to' men whenever it goes wrong. If you look closely on the picture above you will see a brown paper bag, it contains a pasty which one of the volunteers was warming up on the engine! Some traditions never die!

This is the view from upstairs looking down on the beam. (The man in the green baseball cap is my Dad.)

And this is the stairway I climbed up to get that view.

Another tradition, along with warming you pasty on the beam engine, is that every engine house has a red geranium growing in the window. (My Mom is responsible for providing these each year!) It always strikes me as a little incongruous, in amongst all this industrial might to have this delicate splash of colour.

Here is another member of the 'Greasy Gang' checking the pressure on the engine. (You can see from his overalls how they earned their Greasy Gang name!) In amongst the work of keeping this huge machine working and exploring new tunnels and shafts, the Greasy Gang spends a lot of time drinking tea and chatting - I think this volunteer position was custom made for my Dad :)

Photo Credits - CJT


Arija said...

What a wonderful visit you had and learned so many things as well, not least that your arents are happy and gainfully and happily occupied in retirement.

I have left a little something for you on my blog, I hope you will like it. I was putting the post together at 3am and you can see me running out of steam as I went along. Next time I will tell everyone what I think of you too...LoL

Rambling Woods said...

Yes..the apple did not fall far from the tree with you and your Father. I hadn't know anything of tin mines. I was struck by the fact that so many men toiled in such unsafe conditions and yet in some countries, they still do in one kind of mine or another. Lovely post Celeste. Do pick up your award from Arija... Michelle

Kathiesbirds said...

Celeste, this is an amazing post. How I would love a pasty! I have not had one in years and the only place I ever got one was at an English tea room in Layton, UT that has since closed down! :(

Your father and the greasy gang do all of this as volunteers? Do people come and tour these places?

I love the geranium in the window!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Your Dad rocks! What an amazing place and all the love and hard work put into it to bring ir back to it's original state. In fact from the old photos, I think it looks better now than it did then!
Geraniums are my most favorite flower, too. Your post totally made me smile!


Louise said...

Your dad sounds like my dad--a bit of a crazy engineer! I'm glad my dad doesn't live there, or he'd be doing it, too, but probably finding a way to get himself hurt in the process.

The geraniums are wonderful!