Boilers… a riveting challenge

Wednesday 13 July was not a good day for the Museum. I was in a Zoom meeting with other steaming Museum across the country, all of whom have static steam engines. We were talking about the many challenges of getting, keeping and running steaming Museums, particularly boilers. Little did I know at the very same time our own Lancaster boiler was failing it’s inspection. One small rivet was about to cause a very big problem.

During the inspection, one of seventeen rivets used to hold the crown valve mounting flange onto the main boiler shell was found to have has lost its head in the internal steam space. This immediately meant that the boiler was out of action, and we are no longer able to steam. This leaves us with an enormous challenge… how do we get the Museum back into steam.

Every step along the path of fixing the boiler will be a cost to the Museum, at a time when we are still recovering from Covid. Visitors, our biggest source of income, have still not returned to pre-pandemic levels. And inflation and the cost of living crisis mean that the costs of doing everything, in particular capital works, are increasing.

The path to having a working boiler has another very big obstacle along it – the boiler’s 10-year inspection, due in February 2023. For this inspection to happen, all the insulation around the boiler will need to be removed and replaced with new lagging after the inspection. Not an easy job, and one which we will need outside contractors to help us with. At the moment, we are collecting information about all the considerable costs needed to get the rivet fixed, the other rivets tested, and get the boiler through the 10-year inspection.

At the same time, we are starting to have conversations about what a more sustainable Museum will look like in the future. We are 100% committed to being a working Museum, but we must find a way to do that in the future which does not involve burning fossil fuels to heat a massive 90 year old boiler. The broken rivet has made those conversations much more timely.

If this sounds difficult and frustrating, it is! The timing could not be worse. At a time when being in steam would bring people back to the Museum, we can’t be. When we thought we had years to plan for a more sustainable future, we now find ourselves moving those plans forward in the middle of trying to get back to where we were before Covid.

So a riveting challenge is also a very hard one to solve, and it is going to take time. We will keep everyone updated as much as we can.   

Liz, Museum Director

September 2022