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Cinders and ashes


Some of the early shots of the coaling stage and yard show a strange metal tower.  Not particularly photogenic in its own right it is still worth of mention as, at the time, it was a vast improvement over previous working practices in the steam era.

An improvement to the process was when an electrically powered hoist was installed.  The locomotive would pull over a grate in the ash pit and, as far as possible, the ash would be dropped directly into a metal skip.  Any overspill was manually shoveled in and any large pieces that didn’t fall through the grate were broken down and shoveled in too.  The loaded skip would be doused with water to extinguish any remaining glowing embers and hoisted up to be tipped into an open wagon.  Metal wagons were preferred because of the potential fire risk but it was normally down to which wagon was available.   It was planned that any potential fire could be dealt with by pushing the wagon down to the water crane located a few feet away towards the shed.  Dousing the ash with water which turned it into slurry also had the effect of stopping the ash blowing around the site.  Many of the jobs done in Barrow Hill were dirty and this was no exception.



The hoist itself, although of Midland design, was fairly unusual.  The motor unit housed at the top of the tower pulled the skip up the inclined slope to the position where the front wheels moved into the protruding triangle shape.  The skip would continue to be hoisted, pulled from the rear which had the effect of tipping the slurry into the waiting wagon.   The process was operated from the Ash pit cabin; a brick built structure at the base of the tower where the ash pit men could store their equipment and shelter from the weather.


As the steam engines came into the shed the fireboxes were cleared of ashes.  The fireman would drop the ashes into the pit which lay under the track.  These would then be shoveled manually into the waiting open top wagons.

Once the engine had dropped its ash into the pit it would draw up towards the shed and its smokebox would be cleared of ‘char’, the smoke box ash.  This was of a different nature than the firebox ash in that it contained a high proportion of unburnt coal dust and embers that had been blown through the smoke tubes.  Not suitable for combining with coal used to fire the engines, it was loaded into a wagon and eventually taken to Derby works to fire the company’s generator where the forced draft was sufficient to burn the fuel, there was little waste.

ash lift0001

A similar hoist to ours, this time double sided, showing the mechanism for lifting and tipping the skip at work.

This was at Toton shed, Long Eaton.

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