We’ll be the first to admit that February is the earliest we can remember having a first school visit of the year here at Beckley Furnace, but we did that today!
The third grade of Salisbury Central School joined us — despite temps in the 20s — for a bit over an hour of exploration of the furnace and environs as well as discussion of the process of making iron here at Beckley Furnace. On hand were four experienced leaders: Ed Kirby, Cliff Waldow, Dick Paddock, and Geoff Brown, and, as well as the teachers, the SCS contingent was accompanied by Lou Buccieri.
The kids split into two groups of around 15 each, and while one group learned about what goes into making
iron (ore, limestone, charcoal), and what comes out (pig iron and slag — more about slag later) and went to visit the new hydraulic turbine exhibit, the other group learned about the iron industry in the tri-state area and viewed real photos of iron workers, furnaces, and mines as they appeared in the old days, and then had a hands-on tour of the furnace itself. Then the two groups changed places and we repeated the program for them.
Sadly, the weather had left us with about an inch of snow on the slag pile — always a highlight of school visits (and, in fact, most visits) — that made looking for slag samples to take home something we were able to leave out, especially since the open face of the slag heap faces north. The teachers tell us that the kids will view the video about slag when they get back to school, and many of the kids told us that they planned to bring their parents and siblings back for a visit to Beckley when the weather is a little better.
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!
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:
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.