Thursday, April 22, 2010

Friends Of Isembard B.

"Hi, my name is Roberta, and I'm addicted to Big Engineering..."

"Hi, R--"

Having spent the last two days working on crazy things, like stringing a thousand nine hundred and fifty feet (which should have been a thou') of cable up an even taller guyed tower while rebuilding the (obsolete) power supplies of a little transmitter that would be every moonbounce and mountaintopping (the latter if it were more portable-er) VHF/UHF radio ham's dream, except the power output is 'way over their limit, I found myself working ground control of the long cable and having time to wonder, What's the common thread? I work on this wild stuff, report the adventures of the crew on a ten-mile-long, faster than light starship on one hand, and link to photos of a three-cylinder steam engine as big as a house on the other....

The common thread is, it's all Big Engineering. Sometimes big enough to see from orbit (using a properly sized Google Maps or similar engine). I'm weak-kneed over it.

--And I have gotta get me one of these. Ooo, that Isembard Kingdom Brunel! I swoon.


Alan said...

My latest toy is a 100 foot tower on a trailer. (4 of them!) I'll post pics when we do a test erection!

I've always been a big fan of infrastructure.

Love the shirt!

Grey Mann said...

I installed a water heater. Okay, not the same but I had to try.

Anonymous said...

...And you wonder why I'm intrigued. Sure, hand-made Swiss watches are a marvel of craftsmanship and engineering, but I prefer reciprocating engines whose crankcases are accessible for the walking tour, etc.


Roberta X said...

Grey: it counts!

Alan: er, okay, but no NSFW, now!

Reflectoscope: ahhh, scaling the difficult North Face of cylinder #3! I'll never forget the time Norgoren got hung up on the valve gear linkage and we had to Morse down for a quarter-rev with the barring engine before he was able to untangle. It's a good thing there's a pub on that cylinder head; we all needed a tall draught after that.

Anonymous said...

Wait, what? A steam engine big enough to have a pub on top of one of its cylinders, and such a pub itself?

Good thing for all the shooty goodness in your home, surely the zombies will be after big juicy brains such as yours first and foremost!


KurtP said...

...nine hundred and fifty feet (which should have been a thou')

Did somebody measure wrong or would that extra 50' make it easier to work with?

Dr.D said...

Brunel was the builder of Britannic, the ship that laid the first transatlantic cable, if I am not mistaken. He also built the Great Western Railroad in England. He was a "boy wonder" in 19th century engineering.

Roberta X said...

Kurt P: um, don't ask? It was a kind of a two-part question: right answer to the wrong question, which we all then sat and looked at for a couple of months without checking.

Stretch said...

Dad is an engineer. We frequently take the long way just to cross a bridge or see a damn. Highlight of trip to England was foot tour of Tower Bridge. When guide found out Dad's profession he waived us aside after the regular tour and took us "below." Got to touch the old steam engines and sneer at the new electrical motors that now run the leaves.
En route to Edinburgh we crossed the Firth of Forth bridge. Dad almost fell out the window of the train.

Ken said...

I replaced the latch assembly on my dishwasher, the solenoids, thermal fuse and ignition on my dryer, and put (with a little help from my friends) a front strut in a '99 Malibu (scarcely worth the candle).

One of the members of our wargames club owns a machine shop, and hosts many of our games. I like poking around in it, although my own skills run to simple auto repair and rough carpentry.

Roberta X said...

A machine shop is like Disneyland to me; the guys at the local one we go to can see the gleam in my eye and -- when they're not busy! -- will sometimes show off what they're working on or their latest toy.

Dr.D said...

Roberta, I wish I could take you to show you some of the places I have worked along the line. I am a retired engineer, but over the years I have worked in some pretty interesting companies:

1. One made the standby diesel gensets to serve as emergency power for nuclear power stations. The fellows run the core cooling pumps in the event of a loss of station power, and they are large EMD engines in the 2000 to 3000 hp range (locomotive engines). The typical requirement is to start the engines from cold condition, come up to speed, apply the field voltage to the generators and stabilize the speed at 900 rpm, then pick up the load, and restabilize the speed, all within 15 seconds. That is a demanding spec to meet.

2. I also worked in the Heavy Industry Motor Div. of one of our major electrical manufacturers for a short while. Every machine was a custom design, mostly in the 5000 to 10000 hp range. The largest machine in the shop during my stay there was a 20,000 hp motor for a NASA wind tunnel.

3. In my last position with the US Navy, we had a 25,000 hp, 15 phase, induction motor and various other comparably sized equipment to work with.

Over the years, I have crawled through all sorts of power plants, hydroelectric plants, steam turbines, etc. Today, about the only machinery I get close to is a beautiful triple expansion steam engine down at the local museum and a few other old machines down there. Otherwise, I simply build them in my computer - they are much lighter and take less space that way.

I think you and I might have a lot to talk about. I enjoyed the pictures of the water pumping station in England very much.

Roberta X said...

Dr. D.: Amazing! --I especially like the standby nuke-plant engines; that's a bit of infrastructure I'd never though about but it makes perfect sense.

Locally and on a much smaller scale, there's a semi-anonymous shed on the "inside" of a double-alley block (two parallel alleys!). About the size of three-car garage, it's got our water company's logo on the door and I'd long wondered what it might be.

...One fine day, the door was open and guys were bustling about. I wandered casually by, noticed they were working on a nice, big Cummins diesel like the one on our genset at work. Said as much to the guy who noticed me noticing and he grinned: "Yeah, but that's not a generator on this one -- it's a pump!" Turned out to be a pumping station, two big electric setups and a diesel-driven one as a backup. Neat place -- literally, neat as a pin, even where they were working, tools not in use all racked on the walls, just a real pleasure to see.

Dr.D said...

Roberta, after I wrote that, I got to remembering some more about those nuc-plant emergency sets. The biggest we ever built, probably the biggest we could have build with our engine line, was two 20 cyl EMD engines, one on each end of a generator. Each engine is rated 3600 hp, so the total set was 7200 hp, and the generator was being driven at both ends. This requires that the two engines run in opposite directions with respect to their engine frames, so that the entire assembly can turn as a unit (the engines are facing outward). Overall machine length was about 85 ft as I recall. It took three flat cars to ship the main units, plus others for radiators, etc.

Diesel engines have extremely high starting reliability, hence the Cummins pump installation you saw. If you can turn a diesel, it WILL fire. It is just that simple. Of course, sometimes they can be difficult to turn!