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My engineering hobby ... giving old steam engines a new lease of life.

Twice a week, recent graduate engineer Alex Master helps to preserve, restore and display a collection of steam engines made by the Robey Company of Lincoln. Master volunteers at the Robey Trust, based in Tavistock, Devon, whose collection comprises three steam rollers, two steam tractors, a traction engine and a steam wagon. It also owns a host of stationary engines, and is building a compressed air system to run them at open days. The trust, which he joined in July 2014, has its own machine and wood shop, so much of the work is done in-house.

In recent weeks, he has been helping the team on the steam wagon--a challenging job. "It's considered luxury as you have Ackermann steering, a foot brake and back support, but it's jumpy on the throttle and will leap forward a few feet before you have time to think. The rollers have no grip. The back will skip at the drop of a hat, and anything with chain steering is like trying to steer a 10-tonne canoe," he says.

The team recently completed a hydraulic boiler test, in which Master replaced several gaskets in the boiler, repacked the high-pressure cylinder, refitted the fusible plug in the firebox and reassembled the grate and ash pan. "I have had the opportunity to crew the engine: filling the boiler, lighting up, firing, doing the lubrication, raising pressure, managing water and cleaning out at the end of the day, " he says.

His enthusiasm has rubbed off on his family, with his 12-year-old brother Charlie joining him at the trust on Saturdays. Being small, Charlie's useful for squeezing into the fireboxes and brushing down the back tube plate.

Master finds his hobby immensely satisfying. " These engines run at pressures up to 250psi [l,724kPa], weigh up to 15 tonnes, have no power steering or brakes and are full of cast iron and fire. It's exciting, it's physical. It is a privilege to work on these engines, some of which are 100 years old. If I do my job well, they'll outlive me," he says.

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Title Annotation:Engineering extras
Publication:Professional Engineering Magazine
Date:May 1, 2015
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