Loeffel Turbine

People ask about the rusted machine…

that people see between the furnace and the dam.

Examining the Loeffel Turbine
Examining the Loeffel Turbine

It’s big.  It’s heavy.  It’s rusty.  And, unless you know that it’s a turbine, you might not recognize that it’s fundamentally the same technology as the gray machine displayed in the turbine house.

Both are turbines.  And both operated at Beckley Furnace at more or less the same times.

While the turbine in the turbine shed powered the blowing tubs — the air compressors that provided the blast for Beckley Furnace — this turbine had a more mundane function:  it powered a sawmill.

Fair question:  why might there be a sawmill at a blast furnace site?  After all, sawing wood and making pig iron would seem to be pretty much unrelated functions, right?

Here are some of the possible answers, and more than one could be correct:

  • There was a sawmill here because there was an opportunity to use water power twice — first, to power the blast for the blast furnace, and then, before returning it to the Blackberry River, to run this turbine to power a sawmill.
  • Wood needed to be sawed (or sawn, as they might have said a hundred years ago), and this was as good a place to do it as any.  There was water power, there was a place to put the sawmill (between the blowing tubs and the stove that heated the blast), there were people around who knew about turbines.  Wood was needed to build things — sheds, other structures — in the East Canaan works of Barnum and Richardson, or in greater East Canaan.
  • Wood played an important but often overlooked role in the iron industry.  Different kinds of wood were used for very specific purposes.  For example, in close-up photos of the main turbine, you’ll see a ring of wood near the bottom end.  This was a special wood, lignum vitae, imported from Africa,that was very strong and did not deteriorate in water.  This ring of wood — and what you see in the turbine today is over 100 years old, most of that time spend immersed in mud — served as the main bearing for the generator.  Another example would be the wood patterns used to create the molds in which railroad car wheels were cast at the Barnum Richardson Company works in Lime Rock.  This was another highly specialized wood.  We think it’s possible that this sawmill did very specialized sawing of unusual woods needed at various parts of Barnum and Richardson’s iron making and fabrication process.

Why do YOU think there was a sawmill at Beckley Furnace?

What plans to you have for this turbine?

After all, it’s a shame to see it rust away!

Currently under discussion are ways to conserve the Loeffel turbine, as well as ways to display it.  Some of the ideas currently under consideration include building a second turbine shed (like the one upstream) but more or less where this turbine is located.  Also we’re considering the possibility of displaying it recessed in the ground, so that people can see how it might have been positioned to operate.

Visit the site and let us have your ideas — or send in your ideas on the form below!

But we agree — we really don’t want to see it rust away!

 

 

 

Where was the water wheel

It’s not there any more…

In fact, the water wheel was replaced with the turbine sometime around 1875, give or take 20 years — we lack records for the period — and the turbine was replaced by a steam engine around 1910.

But, people ask, where was the water wheel when it was running?

Here’s the easy way to tell.

Go to the turbine house.  Look for the yellow safety tape (soon to be replaced with safety fencing).

Water wheel location
The water wheel was very close to the present turbine house — just beyond the yellow safety tape, in fact!

 

The pit on the other side of the safety tape was the wheel pit in which the wheel turned.

If you’d like more information about what kind of water wheel was used, understand first that there were three basic types of water wheels:

  • The overshot wheel, when the water was run into the wheel at the top.  Generally these were the most powerful wheels, but you needed quite a drop in the water level to power one that was of the size of the wheel at Beckley.
  • The undershot wheel, when only the bottom of the wheel was in the wheel race (where the water ran) (this was the least powerful type of water wheel).
  • The breast wheel, where the water was directed at the wheel right about the middle of it.  A hybrid of the undershot and overshot wheels, it was quite effective, but did not require the “head” that the overshot wheel needed.

At Beckley, as far as we have been able to determine from the records, a breast wheel was always used.

Beckley is a State Park

While Beckley is mainly the state’s Industrial Monument…

it’s also a park, and there are definitely park-like aspects to the place.

There are, for example, four picnic tables — and not so close to each other that one feels one is in a cafeteria.  Here’s one at the top of the dam:

Picnic table at Beckley Furnace
Here’s one of the four picnic tables at Beckley Furnace — this one overlooking the dam

 

There are two picnic tables in front of the furnace itself, in the area that once was the casting shed, and another on the lawn overlooking the new turbine house.

 

Dam and pool at Beckley
The dam — and the pool — are scenic attractions at the site

This section of the Blackberry River is also popular with anglers.  Frequently there are furnace site tours going on at the same time that people are actively fishing in the Blackberry just a few feet away.

Just on the other side of this wall, in fact:

Wall at Beckley Furnace
This attractive stone wall has separated the furnace complex from the Blackberry River for many years

Occasionally families take a dip in the pool below the dam — but the water is pretty cold, and there’s no lifeguard on duty.

However, it’s not always necessary to be doing something active.  Beckley today offers something that it most assuredly it did NOT offer back in the day when it was an active iron blast furnace, with all the noise, bustle, and confusion that accompanied it.  With the waterfall as background noise, the Beckley Furnace site is also a place to be contemplative — to be alone with your thoughts…

With the roar of the waterfall in the background, it's a place to be alone with your thoughts...
With the roar of the waterfall in the background, it’s a place to be alone with your thoughts…

What you will NOT find at Beckley Furnace:

Yes, Beckley is a State Park.  However, please be aware that:

  • there are no public rest rooms at the facility
  • mentioned above but worth saying again: there are no lifeguards on duty
  • while there is a good cellphone signal at the site, there are no public phones
  • during most hours there are no rangers or other park personnel on duty
  • BUT there are no admission fees or other charges for visiting the facility!

 

 

 

 

How did the turbine connect to the dam?

Water needs to reach the turbine…

in order for it to operate.  In modern hydroelectric facilities today, one sees penstocks — huge iron or steel tubes that carry the water from the dam to the turbine.  There is still a penstock at Beckley Furnace, although it’s no longer operating:

Penstock at Beckley Furnace
The penstock takes water from the dam to the turbine

 

In the photo, you can see holes in the dam where this penstock connected — or did it?  Research — and old photographs — reveal that the penstock did NOT connect directly to the dam!

Instead, it connected to a wooden water chest that was mounted on the face of the dam.  (the water chest is long gone, and was long gone before the dam was reconstructed a few years ago).  While we don’t know exactly why the water chest was used, we suspect that it had to do with further controlling the flow of the water.  While there was a valve on the dam to control the flow through the pipe that ultimately fed the penstock, we think that possibly both holes in the dam could have fed the water chest, thus providing the ability to fill it more rapidly.

But the fact is that we don’t know!

 

 

Salamander? Furnace bear?

I thought this was a blast furnace, not a zoo!

Different kinds of problems at a blast furnace leave different kinds of evidence.  Two of them — related, but not the same thing by far — are called by the imaginative names of furnace bear and salamander.

What was a furnace bear?

In the smelting process, occasionally a glob of molten iron would adhere to the inside of the stack.  There were ways to deal with the problem when one was detected (they involved men at the top, trying to pry the glob loose from the inside of the stack using 40 foot long iron poles — hazardous and difficult work).  However, they didn’t always work, and sometimes the glob hardened and was removed when the furnace was next shut down.

Furnace bear at Beckley Furnace
A furnace bear at Beckley Furnace

Here’s a furnace bear that was at some time removed from the stack at Beckley.  Does this look like a bear climbing a tree to you?  It did to the people who worked at the furnace over a century ago!

And how’s that different from a salamander?

Well, if you think of a salamander as the whole hearth of the furnace turning into a congealed disk of iron, unmelted ingredients, and a few bricks from the hearth itself, you would be pretty much correct.

They tended to happen on two different kinds of situations.  First, when a furnace was shut down for major maintenance.  There was always likely to be some molten iron left in the bottom of the furnace that solidified and created a salamander.  The second case was more serious.  It occurred when there was a failure somewhere in the smelting process and a whole mass of iron, unmelted/unburned ingredients, and pieces of the furnace floor and wall, congealed into a solid mass.

A salamander at Beckley Furnace
A salamander at Beckley Furnace

Here’s a particularly ugly one.  We’re told that the furnace had to be partially disassembled to remove a salamander, and that it would take several teams of oxen to pull it out.

No, it doesn’t look like any salamander we’ve ever seen, but evidently it did to the furnace workers of a century and more ago!

More about Drones at Beckley

Drone Saves Drone at Beckley Furnace

The following story appeared in The Lakeville Journal of September 4, 2014, and is reproduced here with permission.  See our earlier post about using a drone to explore the Beckley Furnace site from an aerial view.

 

photo by Shawn Takatsu

By Darryl Gangloff

LAKEVILLE — Technology and history collided last month when area historian Dick
Paddock attempted to use a tiny drone to inspect the skylight and furnace stack
of Beckley Furnace in East Canaan.
“A 40-foot ladder won’t reach the top of the furnace, and we didn’t want to
build scaffolding,” Paddock said. “I had seen these drones online and thought
they might be able to fly up the flue. That would be a quick, inexpensive
solution.”
Paddock purchased a remote-controlled Blade 180 QX HD quadcopter (named for its
four rotors) for approximately $180. It included a camera that can take both
photos and videos.
He discovered on Aug. 16 that the drone could indeed fly up the flue, but was
unable to take photos due to poor lighting. He then sent the quadcopter soaring
toward the skylight, only to have a gust of wind flip the device onto Beckley
Furnace’s roof.
With the drone stuck out of reach, Paddock went to the Buy Local trade festival
at The Hotchkiss School on Aug. 17 and told Visionary Computer owner David
Maffucci of his plight. Maffucci mentioned that Shawn Takatsu, an Apple
certified support professional at Visionary Computer, flies quadcopters as a
hobby.
“I’ve been flying RC copters for number of years,” Takatsu said in a phone this
week interview. “I saw a video of a GoPro camera attached to one of these
quadcopters and thought it could take my hobby a bit further.”
Takatsu’s large DJI quadcopter dwarfs Paddock’s drone. It costs around $2,500
with modifications and has a legal range of 400 feet high and 1,000 feet out in
line of sight.
“I told Dick that I’d love to help,” Takatsu said. “What a great cause!”
Takatsu was able to use the wind from his massive rotors to safely blow
Paddock’s drone off the roof on Aug. 24.
“There was a little damage, but it’s easy to fix,” Paddock said. “It will fly
again. The camera is serviceable. It was a successful rescue.”
While he was at Beckley Furnace, Takatsu used his quadcopter to take some aerial
shots that included photos of the skylight and the entire park.
“We got a good outline of the whole site thanks to Shawn,” Paddock said. “We’ve
never had a picture before that shows the entire span of the industrial
monument.”
Paddock plans to send his small drone up the flue again now that he’s worked out
the lighting problem. He said all of this information will go in the record of
the Beckley Furnace, and inspections will continue on a regular basis.
As for anyone who may be interested in flying drones, Takatsu said they can be
found online for as cheap as $30, or go as high as $20,000 for massive
octocopters.
Takatsu’s quadcopter photography services are available to hire through his
Northwest Connecticut Aerial Photography website, www.nwaphoto.net.

 

Our sincere thanks to The Lakeville Journal

 

How did the iron ore get into the furnace?

How the did the iron ore get into the furnace?

That’s an interesting question!

The simple answer is that iron ore, charcoal, and limestone were dumped into the top of the furnace, but there’s more to it than that.

The way it got to the top of the furnace was via a bridge that ran from the top of the furnace across Lower Road to the top of the “charging wall”

Charging wall at Beckley

The charging wall the high stone wall you see on the north side of the road, across from the furnace. Workers pushed wheelbarrows of iron ore, of charcoal, and of limestone across that bridge to the furnace.

charcoal cart
Charcoal cart, used to dump charcoal into the top of the furnace

(Here’s a photo of a charcoal cart — it could hold a lot of charcoal.  The carts for limestone and iron ore were smaller because limestone and iron ore are heavier.)

Beckley_Furnace_old
Photo of the bridge between the charging wall and the top of the furnace

You can see the bridge in this photo — it’s one of the missing links in the reconstructed furnace.  It was enclosed (to keep the charcoal, iron ore, and limestone dry, not to mention the walkway where the men wheeled the wheelbarrows) and you can see it running from the charcoal sheds in the upper left to the top of the furnace on the right.

Before they could dump it in, the blast had to be stopped briefly — and when that was done, the workers had to hustle to get the wheelbarrows dumped before the blast restarted. If the blast was stopped for too long, the liquid iron and slag already in the furnace would solidify. If the blast wasn’t stopped long enough, the workers with the wheelbarrows could have been asphyxiated by the carbon monoxide from the furnace forced into the room where they were dumping their wheelbarrows.

Something to think about:  Today we  have machines that handle feeding blast furnaces, usually operating under computer control.   Yet at Beckley Furnace people did that job using wheelbarrows.  What might have caused the change in methods over the years?  What have been some of the effects of this kind of change?

What and Where was the Casting Shed?

Where (and what) was the casting shed?

(this post came from the old website, with a few modifications) barnum_and_richardson_small A question we’re frequently asked (not as frequently as we’re asked “What was this place, anyway?” but still pretty frequently) concerns the place of the blast furnace in the overall scheme of things at Beckley. After all, there’s this magnificent stone column standing there, and somehow it looks more like a work of Neolithic sculpture than an industrial artifact. So, we don’t blame people for being a little disoriented and confused! One of our most important tasks as Friends of Beckley Furnace is to “interpret” what you see there — to make it comprehensible. Toward that end, since the stone column at Beckley Furnace was the furnace itself, and the furnace was only a part of a much larger industrial facility, we’ve started making it easier to understand that the furnace was actually located in a long-vanished building called the casting shed. As well as containing the furnace itself, the casting shed also was the place where the molten iron was drawn from the furnace into impressions in a bed of casting sand, making the familiar sow-and-piglet pattern, which gave rise to the term “pig iron”. To start with, here’s a photograph of Beckley Furnace in operation around 1896 (before the fire of 1896): Beckley_Furnace_old (the source of the image is “Scrap Book of North Canaan”)

In the lower right corner of the picture, you will see the casting shed, the building with the curved roof. Running horizontally across the middle of the picture is the passageway used to transport the charcoal, iron ore, and limestone from the top of the charging wall (at extreme left, to the left of Lower Road) to the top of the furnace.

Now, how to relate that to what you see at Beckley Furnace today: You’ll see that we have outlined the foundation of the casting shed you see in the picture above with limestone.

Casting shed outline 001_web_front

The gap in the outline is where the casting shed door you see in the picture above was located.   (This photo is looking down on the casting shed’s western wall. The furnace is off screen to your left. The white limestone shows where the walls of the casting shed once stood.)

Casting shed outline 006web_front

In this photo, we’ve backed up a bit from the one above.  (Note that the chain link fence that protected the furnace stack during restoration is no longer present today).

Casting shed outline 014_web_front

This photo is looking  westward, from the ruins of the boiler house. The furnace appears on your right in the photo, and Blackberry River is off screen to your left (once again, that chain link fence isn’t there anymore).

Casting shed outline 015_web_front

Looking northward, toward the remains of the north wall of the casting house (and where we took the first photo in this set)

So, that outlines where the casting shed was!!

Why do you suppose they put the furnace in a building to begin with?  Well, one important reason was to protect the molten iron from rain or snow.  Have you ever seen what happens when a few drops of water land in a very hot frying pan?  Now, remember that the molten iron was far hotter than the hottest frying pan….what might have happened?

The Fire of 1896 at Beckley Furnace

The Fire of 1896

The fire of 1896 put Beckley Furnace out of commission for three full years.   Interestingly, this may also have been when the decision was made to raise the height of the furnace to 40 feet. We do know that Barnum and Richardson encountered many difficulties  in getting the furnace back in commission.

Friend of Beckley Furnace Richard Paddock has studied the Fire of 1896 in considerable depth.  In addition to more readily available sources, he searched the local newspapers of the time for events occurring  during the period the furnace was out of commission.  You can read his complete report by clicking on The Fire of 1896

Thanks to Dick for this study!  We will be following it with additional studies that are intended for those who are interested in Beckley Furnace, the Barnum and Richardson Company, and the iron industry in the Upper Housatonic Valley at a level that goes beyond the casual.

A Different Angle…

Looking at things from a different angle…

We’re always looking for better ways to help visitors understand how Beckley Furnace worked.  Fact is that few of our visitors are intimately familiar with the process of making iron ore into pig iron, and putting all the pieces together can be a little problematical.  And, unfortunately, some pieces of the puzzle of just how the entire furnace worked are missing.  Sometimes, we’ve found, looking at things from a different angle can help with this.

PICT0079

As it turns out, Dick Paddock and Christian Allyn, two members of the Friends of Beckley Furnace, have recently been experimenting with our version of a drone — actually, a little remote controlled helicopter that can carry a camera — as a way to explain things better.

The photo above is one of their early efforts — this one, about 60 feet in the air, looking down at the casting arch.  You can see a portion of the exterior wall of the building in which the furnace was located on the left and right of the stack (and see the remainder of the outline of the casting house outlined in limestone elsewhere on this site.)

We think that viewing things from above suggests a lot of possibilities, such as showing the spatial relationship between the  turbine location and the furnace — and even the slag heap — in a single photo.  Stay tuned!  We’ll have more!!

And thanks to Dick and Chris for making this happen!

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