|THE INDUSTRIAL RAILWAY RECORD
© JUNE 1968
TIN MINES TODAY
PETER S. EXCELL
After an indifferent period of some thirty years interest is once more growing in the Cornish tin ore-field. A holiday in south west Cornwall in July 1967 gave me the opportunity to examine the premises and locomotives of the two tin-mining concerns which have kept going through this period, and also to examine work on a new shaft just being sunk which has been heralded by the "Sunday Times" as marking "a milestone in Cornwall's mining revival". All the tin mines I saw were worked from vertical shafts with the familiar pit-head gear on the surface.
The town of Camborne is steeped in industrial history (Trevithick was born there) and visits to the preserved beam engine at Pool and the Holman Museum (which contains, amongst other things, another beam engine and an archaic plateway carriage) are thoroughly recommended.
SOUTH CROFTY LTD, POOL (between Camborne and Redruth)
This firm operates two mines known as "Robinson's" (lying to the east) and "Cook's (to the west). "Cook's" is obviously the larger of the two and it is near there that the ore-mill is situated.
Surface transportation of the ore is by means of a 2ft 0in gauge rail system although a conveyor belt is at present being installed between Cook's mine and the mill which will soon replace it between those two points; the line to Robinson's mine will continue to be used.
Trains on the surface line are worked by two 4-wheel diesel locos each hauling about five skips (these are of a rather curious inside frame design), a third loco being kept as spare. At the time of my visit the spare loco, Ruston & Hornsby type 13DL No.213858 of 1942, was under repair in the garage at Robinson's mine. Another Ruston type 13DL, No.264240 of 1949, was shuttling between Cook's mine and the mill, while Ruston No.224310 of 1943 was working between Robinson's mine and the mill. The last mentioned has lost its maker's plate but carries a running number 13/1 and is the only one to do so. These three locos are all painted green and are fitted with cabs and handrails on the front buffer beam so that two men who are employed to empty the skips may ride thereon.
From the ore-chute at Robinson's mine the 2ft 0in gauge line crosses the yard, passing on the way a disconnected siding which leads to a pressure treatment tank for pit-props; special cradle wagons are used to carry the props. Leaving the yard the line runs on to a bank some ¼ mile long which, by the time it reaches the mill, has become some 20ft high due to the fall of the ground. Just before reaching the mill area the line crosses over a minor road on a girder bridge. While the bridge itself is undistinguished it is of interest to note that it is supported by impressive stone abutments such as would befit a more pretentious line. A private road from Robinson's mine which runs alongside the line for some way turns off just before the bridge and joins the minor road. Over the bridge the line swings into an enclosed tipping dock. This is the end of the domain of loco working from Robinson's mine as, although the line is continuous from Robinson's to Cook's, there is no regular through working.
Leaving the tipping dock the line to Cook's mine crosses an internal road on a girder bridge and then runs on a timber trestle structure to the mine, the height of the trestling decreasing as the ground rises. This part of the line finally makes a reverse turn to terminate at the ore-chute at the mine.
The underground workings are served by a network of 1ft 10in gauge lines on which haulage is performed by miniscule Wingrove and Rogers 1½ton 0−4−0 battery electric locos and (since 1964) by Ruston & Hornsby "mines type" diesel locos. At the time of my visit Robinson's mine was using three electric locos, and Cook's mine nine electrics and two diesels. The remainder of the total stock of three diesel and nineteen electric were in the general workshop and the electric loco shop at Cook's mine.
A most unusual feature of underground loco working at this mine is the practice of bringing most of the electric locos up to the surface at 3pm every day for inspection and battery charging. At Cook's mine the battery boxes are exchanged for freshly charged ones, the used ones being put on charge. The locos are then left standing in and around the battery shop until the following morning when they are taken down the mine again. At Robinson's mine the locos are put into a small shed adjacent to the shaft and the batteries are charged in situ.
In the general workshop I found one of the underground diesel locos (Ruston & Hornsby type LBU No.7002/0865/8 of 1964) completely stripped down for repair; I was told that it had been brought up at the same time as a brand new diesel loco had been sent down, shortly before my visit. Also in the general workshop were four electric locos - one complete apart from batteries, the other three just bare frames without motors or wheels. Two of the latter were partly buried in dark corners of the workshop and as they are only about the size of a large suitcase they took some spotting!
In the electric shop, next to the battery shop, I found three more electrics - one a frame with wheels but less motor and batteries, one complete apart from batteries but upside down for repainting, and one which had been delivered last year but not as yet used.
The battery electric locos used are Wingrove & Rogers ("British Electric Vehicles") type W217. They have a single motor which drives one axle through a worm gear, the drive being taken to the other axle by outside coupling rods - a very uncommon feature on so small a loco. The older locos have shoe brakes bearing on the front wheels and a heavy bulkhead behind the driving position on which the contactors etc are fitted; it also carries the South Crofty running number which is either stamped on a small plate or painted on. The newer locos (since about 1966) are built to improved specifications, chief of which is a transmission brake which is more powerful than shoe brakes and not effected by the wet mud underneath. On these locos the bulkhead is done away with and the contactors are held on brackets fixed to the frame, the running number being painted on the contactor box.
Two of the "improved" locos are known to be Wingrove & Rogers F7113 and F7115 of 1966. On "improved" locos the maker's plate is fixed to the top of the frame behind the driving position and partly under the battery box and is only readily readable when the box is off. On "old" type locos the maker's plate is fixed to the bulkhead, and most appear to have dropped off.
It should also be mentioned that a disused, beam pumping engine (the last to be used in Cornwall) still exists at Robinson's mine and a steam winder there has only just been replaced by electric power.
GEEVOR TIN MINES LTD
This concern operates at Pendeen, 2½ miles north of St Just and its locomotives are the most westerly known in England, being only some two miles in longitude east of Land's End.
The mines consist of a group of three shafts at Ordnance Survey grid reference SW 375346, though a new shaft (known as Treweeks) has been built a little to the north of the main site. In July 1967 there was no sign of locomotive activity at the latter.
Surface transportation here is by road vehicles; however there are some service lines from the pit-head to the workshops laid to the mine gauge of 1ft 6in. There are fifteen battery electric locos here but, as is more usual, most of these have their batteries charged underground. Those working in underground galleries where there is no charging point have their battery boxes removed underground and brought to the surface on wagons to be charged overnight.
The locos here are basically of Wingrove & Rogers type W217 with various improvements. After having used Wingrove & Rogers locos for some time the Chief Engineer decided some eighteen years ago, to try making the frames of locos to the same basic design in the Company's own workshops. These "home-made" locos have wider hornblock bearing surfaces and much wider and heavier bufferbeams than the Wingrove & Rogers product and also have improved sandboxes and contactors. The frames were built up from steel sheet, profile cut and arc welded in the workshop, and fitted with motors, gearboxes and wheels supplied by Wingrove & Rogers. At the time of my visit one of the home-made locos, No.15, was in the surface workshops, completely stripped down for heavy overhaul.
Three years after the first "home-made" chassis had been constructed three more complete locos were purchased from Wingrove & Rogers (one was number 4884). They cost half as much again as the home-made article and after about nine years use were broken up for scrap. The stock of home-made locos has now been brought up to fourteen; the fifteenth loco was purchased from Scotland some time ago and I gather that it is another by Wingrove & Rogers.
The chief complaint that the Engineer has against his own locos is the susceptibility to damage of the coupling rods. To combat this the company is contemplating ordering some new locos without coupling rods. If this purchase is made it will be interesting to see whether the design is then improved and copied!
Work is now under way on this, the first major shaft to be sunk in Cornwall for almost half a century. The owning group is a non-incorporated joint venture headed by the powerful Union Corporation though Thyssen (Great Britain Ltd have the contract for the actual sinking. The shaft is located just to the south-west of Camborne at Ordnance Survey grid reference SW 647385. I was told that locomotives will be used underground when the mine is-working though none were on the site at the time of my visit.
It seems clear that the industry is experiencing a general expansion, and since the main purpose of this article is to encourage other enthusiasts to visit the area it will be interesting to hear what developments are found by future visitors.
For the record....
"Doubling of the Railway to Avonmouth: Those who have travelled to Avonmouth lately can hardly fail to have noticed that Messrs John Aird & Sons have other work in hand beside the construction of the Royal Edward Dock. On temporary lines here and there smart little contractors' locomotives have been seen puffing in a fashion symbolic of business-like energy...." (From the "Western Daily Press", 2nd January 1905. - C.G.D.
"The completion of the four thousandth locomotive built at the Sigl Locomotive Works at Neustadt, near Vienna, was lately celebrated."
("Colliery Guardian", 16th July 1897.)