#416 – Blackburn Gas Holder


A few years ago I spent some time living in Blackburn, and my house was a mile or so away from this huge gas holder. To be honest I never really noticed it. I mean, I knew it was there, but it was just part of the local landscape.

I’ve no particular interest in gas holders as such but I spent a day with a friend who has an interest in them, and as we were passing Blackburn, I pulled off the M65 to have a look to see if it was still there. Indeed it was, albeit looking a bit run down and tatty now.

National Grid, who look after the gas delivery infrastructure, are slowly demolishing the nations gasholders as they are no longer needed. Some are listed, so will be preserved, but the majority will be cleared away.

So here’s a photograph for posterity really, as it’s a part of our ever-changing urban landscape that will soon be gone forever.

An interesting article on the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-30405066

#415 – Leigh Spinners Mill Engine – The Giant Awakes………..

Leigh Spinners 1

After years of service, the giant was no longer needed. Obsolete and old, it was given a spot of oil and the blankets were put on. The giant went to sleep, resting, and maybe mourning the loss of it’s twin next door, cut up by the scrapman after a boiler explosion ripped apart it’s lungs.

And so the giant slept.

The mill changed and the workforce shrank, and the two mills became one. The world outside changed – the mining town lost its mines and the industrial age slipped away.

And still the giant slept.

But now, 40 years after the blankets went on, salvation is at hand. The leaky roof has been fixed, the pigeons have gone and the guano has been cleansed.

The blankets are off and the giant is beginning to wake……..

Leigh Spinners 4 Leigh Spinners 3

To be continued…………….

#414 – Library of Congress Images – Streamliners and The Burlington Zephyr

Streamlined train, La Crosse, Wisconsin

Streamlined train, La Crosse, Wisconsin-4

A high speed streamlined stainless steel express train – is there anything more effortlessly Art Deco cool than this? Dating back to 1934, the Pioneer Zephyr trains must have seemed to have driven straight off the pages of a science fiction comic when compared to the typical steam locomotive of the day. FSA/8d25000/8d250008d25005a.tif

The power source was not as futuristic from a technological standpoint, but pointed to the future a – diesel engine that provided current to traction motors in the bogies. While this type of power unit had been tried before, it had not been used in anything as ambitious as this.

The Burlington Zephyr. East Dubuque, Illinois

At this time, diesel power was pretty much confined to shunting locos on British railways at the time. Perhaps due to the nations vast coal reserves and relative lack of oil in the UK (offshore reserves notwithstanding) diesel traction was fairly slow to take off on British shores. While there was some small scale experiments in diesel and petrol rail cars, as well as the electrification done by the Southern Railway, it was only really post war with the LMS D16 diesel locomotives was a new era signalled in Britain. Continental Europe was far ahead – Germany’s ‘Flying Hamburger‘ entered service in 1934

I’m no expert on diesel locomotives, so this is specualtion on my part, but I wonder whether the dieselisation of American railways started earlier than in Britain due to the nations oil reserves. While the country had huge coal reserves as well, the benefits of the internal combustion engine were well known, plus the huge refining capacity available maybe made it inevitable that diesel power would take over once the actual technology of diesel engines was perfected. While there were numerous experiments with diesel power in America, the Pioneer Zephyr was something of a trailblazer for the concept.

And maybe because of the greater number of railway companies, who didn’t all have their own locomotive building facilities, the importance of the independent locomotive builder was greater in America than in Britain (not that Britain lacked independent builders, but for the most part, their products tended to be either for industrial use or for export rather than domestic mainline use). Consequently, there was probably more of a market for innovations like diesel power than in Europe.

Either way, the Burlington Zephyr was certainly a success, the units ran until 1960. Other streamlined diesels quickly followed (with varying degrees of success) but the Zephyr made the headlines and stayed in them with publicity stunts such as the dawn to dusk run, and film appearances.


I love this film noir style photograph taken in Chicago Union station of the Denver Zephyr in 1943. It was taken by Jack Delano who took a lot of the photos I’ve posted before of the wartime American railways. A professional photographer, he later went on to become a film director and he had a great eye for light.



#413 – Pullman Car Works

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This gigantic place was the centre of the Pullman Palace Car empire. Quite literally – the Pullman company built an entire town round the works, and called it Pullman.

The town survives today, as does the Pullman brand but very little of the factory does. Google Streetview shows that just the central tower section (and the wing off it at the far side of the picture) along with a small isolated section of the workshops are all that survives.


The site was a sprawling affair, and was the subject of extensive rationalization and demolition in the 1950’s as this was one of several plants owned by the organisation. Thankfully the facade survived, although this was gutted by fire in 1998 but despite being rebuilt it lies unused.

Water tower and shop's entrance, Pullman, Ill's

Water tower and chimney – this was demolished in 1957, using the methods of the time, perpetuated by Fred Dibnah

Company towns were not uncommon in the 19th century, but Pullman gained notoriety for its 1894 strike. Faced with a decline in demand for it’s products during an economic depression, the company cut wages and jobs, but didn’t reduce rent paid by the workers on housing in the company town. This prompted a strike and a subsequent boycott by railway workers on handling Pullman cars on the nations railways (Pullman didn’t just build cars, they pwned an operated a fleet of several thousand across the country).

Even in the veritable battlefield of American labour relations, this strike was a severe one, and bloody to. As a railways strike prevented the mail being delivered, President Cleveland ordered it stopped.12000 troops were brought in and violence ensued that resulted in the deaths of 30 strikers.

The strike was broken and work resumed. But a resultant inquiry into the causes of the strike found that Pullmans paternalism in providing the town for his workers partly to blame and in 1898 the Illinois Supreme Court forced the company to divest ownership of the town and it became part of Chicago.

More information can be found here: http://www.pullman-museum.org/theCompany/

#412 – Library of Congress Images – Ferris Ships, Western Marine & Salvage and the Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay

Western Marine & Salvage Co., Alex, VA
Western Marine & Salvage Co., Alex, VA 3One of the problems with the LoC archive is the erratic key wording and classification. Some pictures are done well, some poorly, some not at all. So it can be pot luck what a search comes back with, and when you are looking for something else a picture may turn up by chance that is of interest.

Such was the case with these. I think I was doing a search for ‘salvage’ and as these were titled Western Marine & Salvage (but totally bereft of keywords) up they came.

The pictures were of passing interest, but it was only when I pixel peeped at 100% did I notice something odd – planked construction, like a wooden sailing vessel. Hang on, steamships are made of riveted steel plate, aren’t they? Sure, the first ever steamboats were wooden, but the weight of the machinery and the subsequent advances in first wrought iron and then steel manufacture, meant that wood started to be superseded as a construction material for larger vessels from the 1840’s.

Or so I thought.

When America entered World War 1 in 1917, an urgent need was identified for a fleet of merchant ships to be built quickly and cheaply to support the allied war effort. It was decided to build a fleet of 1000 wooden cargo ships, using old technology reciprocating steam engines. This policy was adopted so that a more diverse selection of manufacturing sites could be used and allow the steel shipyards to concentrate on warships.

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The Emergency Fleet Corporation (EFC) was set up, and a standard set of ship designs was prepared by maritime architect Theodore Ferris, after which the ‘Ferris Ships‘ took their name.

While there are clear parallels with the liberty ships of World War 2, including the use of prefabrication, the project was beset with problems and by the time the war ended in November 1918, only 134 had been completed, and none had yet crossed the Atlantic. In addition, there were another 263 under construction. But despite the end of hostilities, construction continued and by September 1919 263 were in use. But in 1920, the fleet was laid up and at the end of that year, the government looked to dispose of 285 ships.


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Western Marine and Salvage of Alexandria, Virginia bought 233 ships for $750000 and got permission to tow them from to where they were laid up on the James River to a site on the Potomac, where they would be moored until being towed individually to Alexandria to have the machinery removed. They would then be returned to the anchorage, burnt, and any additional metal released from the bring would be recovered before the remains would be dragged into a nearby marsh and buried beneath dredging material.


And so the story should have ended, but it didn’t. There followed a long sorry story which rather than me re-write, can be best read on one of the following websites.



Some more detailed history can be found here and here.

The remains of the fleet can be seen on Google Earth, here’s a couple of screenshots:

#411 – Library of Congress Images – A Princess Coronation in America


The Duchess of Hamilton with the Royal Blue on Thomas Viaduct

The 38 Princess Coronation class locomotives built by the LMS at Crewe works between 1937 and 1948 were some of the finest ‘top link’ steam locomotives built in the UK. For a while, no. 6220 held the world speed record at 113 mph although this did not last too long. The Princess Coronations power output of 3300hp was never surpassed in the UK though.

IN 1939, 6229 Duchess of Hamilton swapped identities with 6220 Coronation and was shipped off to the USA to attend the World’s Fair. Arriving in Baltimore, the loco and a set of articulated carriages were unloaded and dispatched to the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) depot at Mount Clare and used in a number of publicity films and photoshoots. The most popular ones were of her were on the Thomas Viaduct with her B&O Railroad contemporary the ‘Royal Blue’.

To allow her to run on American metals, Crewe Works had installed an American bell, head lamp and buckeye coupling, and after leaving Baltimore, the train went on a 3000 mile tour of that covered Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, Indianapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, Albany, Boston, Hartford and many others before arriving in New York to take it’s place at the World’s Fair.

During the time of the exhibition though, events back home took a turn for the worse and Britain declared war on Germany. It was decided to be too risky to send the train back, so the loco was stored by the B&O at its Fell’s Point facilities in Baltimore and the coaches were taken to Jeffersonville, Indiana where they were used as living quarters for the US Army Quartermaster Corps. The locomotive was returned to the UK in 1943 and on her return to Crewe, she swapped identities back to No. 6229.

Duchess of Hamilton is now preserved in fully streamlined condition at the National Railway Museum in York, and looks splendid! It is interesting to note how small she looks in comparison to the American loco, which by US standards, is not huge.

I can highly recommend ‘The Duchesses’ by Andrew Boden, a very readable account of the class, more so than most railway books.




#410 – Library of Congress Images – Mackinac Dock

Arnold's Dock, Mackinac, Michigan pano

More steamers! This is a join up of two images to create a small panorama. It’s a bit distorted as the photographer perhaps didn’t reposition his camera too well between frames, but that’s always a problem if you’re photographing things close to the camera. I’ve had to crop quite a bit off the top and bottom to compensate, but it’s not come out too badly – you can see the curved horizon though where Photoshop has had to compensate.

I like the genteel feel of all these photographs of the steamers – the crisp white ship, the well turned out people on the dock all contribute to creating an impression of what it was like to travel on these ships at this time.

The Dock at Mackinac Island, Mich.-Edit

This one is taken a little closer up (and could have done with some straightening), and I’m intrigued by the huge stack of chopped wood on the dock. I thought that the steamers were coal fired, so I’m unsure if this is for fuel or for cargo.

The location is apparently Mackinac Dock, which I presume is on Mackinac Island, Lake Michigan. This became a popular holiday destination for residents of the cities of the Great Lakes from the 1880’s, and is still reached by ferry today. It’s not a steamer these days though, it’s a high speed catamaran.