My Steelworks Story Part 3 by Phil Brown

So in 1972 i started to work in the Oxygen Steelmaking Plant , as well as the main building where the steel was made there was the scrap handling plant, in here the scrap metal was processed to a suitable size to go into the LD vessel.

Then there was the Dolomite Plant , in here the dolomite bricks were made , these bricks were for lining the LD vessels.


As an apprentice i had to learn the various maintenance tasks in the different areas. So i worked with the boiler squad for a few weeks , learning how to maintain the waste heat boilers and the ancillary equipment — pumps, valves ,pipework, fans, soot blowers, steam turbines, heat exchangers . 

This was hot and dirty work and kept you fit going up and down the different levels.

Then i worked with the crane squad, there was overhead cranes in the Charging Bay , Casting Bay, Stripping Bay. On the cranes it was routine and breakdown maintenance.

Mainly checking the long travel drive couplings, adjusting the hoist breaks and changing the brake linings. Also for insurance inspections , we had to open the hoist gearboxes and various linkage pins and the hoist hook and block to check for wear .

Another big job was to change the trunion wheels ( drive wheels ) Safety was important because the overhead cranes were about 30 -40 feet above floor level.

In those days you just walked along the crane gantries with no restraints, now a days you have to be attached to a safety wire and wear a safety harness.


After working on the cranes i had to work in the Dolomite Plant.

This is where they made the different size and shaped bricks used to line the vessels. In here i had to learn about the hydraulic brick presses and the brick molds, pan mills , ball mills, cone crushers, bucket elevators, screens, conveyors, fans, pumps.

To make these bricks , dolomite was brought in by road and tipped into a hopper, from here it was put through either the ball mill or the cone crusher to reduce the size of the dolomite. After being crushed the dolomite was passed over a vibrating screen which allowed the different sizes to transfer into different hoppers.

To make a batch mix a certain amount of dolomite was weighed then tipped into the pan mill , with the mill rotating , the dolomite was churned up by fixed paddles in the mill, then hot tar was poured in .

This was all mixed in together, when ready the mixture was emptied from the mill into a mobile hopper, this hopper was transported to the brick press by fork truck.

On the brick press there was 3 molds on a round table , so as a measured amount of the batch was tipped into a mold , another mold was being hydraulically pressed, the third mold was having the brick ejected from the mold.

Because of the LD vessels shape and size, the dolomite bricks were of different size and shape. In the Dolomite Plant it was hot, dusty and dirty work. A

fter a few weeks training here , i then went to the Scrap Handling Plant to learn the maintenance involved there. In the scrap plant there was two large bays with two overhead cranes in each bay.

The cranes had large electro-magnets on the hoist block to pick the scrap metal up. Some scrap metal was brought in by local scrap men , other scrap metal from other sources. To cut the metal into smaller sizes there was a large hydraulic shear. I think the hydraulic shears had a cutting force of 350 ton .

The shears could cut railway tracks into small lengths so they would fit into the scrap pan ready to be tipped into the vessel.

When working with the supervisors and fitters they were keen to pass on there plant knowledge to bring me up to scratch with the work involved.

Also alot of knowledge could learned from the fitters mates and the riggers. To help me gain experience with the hydraulics , i attended a Pneumatics & hydraulics course at the government training centre in Langley Moor , Durham.


Another part of my training was working with a fitter called Tommy Sanderson , Tommy was given the job of overhauling the boiler feed pumps, these  were multi-stage centrifugal pumps. These pumped  the hot water up to the steam drums on the 5th floor , about 100ft.

The steam drums were like a large header vessel to store the water in before circulating into the boilers.

We had to overhaul the pumps in the mercury rectifier house because it was a clean environment and had a hoist in. The pumps were special as everything was stainless steel apart from the pump casing.

Also . i was shown how to scrape the white metal bearings in, these bearings supported the pump shaft at each end. There was 4 boiler feed pumps, 3 were driven by a large electric motor and the fourth was driven by a small steam turbine in case of a power failure.


In the 1960’s & 70’s working day shift , there was no official tea break. As an apprentice , either with the boiler squad or the crane squad i was the tea boy.

Someone would give me their locker key so i could sneak down to the locker room and put some loose tea into a “Billy can” , then go into the canteen and put some hot water in, then back to the locker room and put some powdered milk in  ( Marvel ) then grab some enamel mugs and go back on the job. Either sitting up on the boilers or on a crane ( that was isolated) we would have a mug of tea  !!!


One day i was working with Tommy and we had to go inside the steam drum for L D 3, the vessel was off for a reline and repairs.


The steam drum was a large vessel , about 7 ft in diameter and about 25 ft long , inside were coils of tubing which steam was passed through to heat the boiler water up.On each end there was a small access hatch. Our job was to go inside and repair some steam leaks on the coils.

As the drum had been emptied of water, we removed one of the hatches, an operator from Boiler control  did a gas test inside the drum and it was ok.

We received the various work permits and started to progress the job.

We had to put a portable light inside and some spanners etc., to get inside the drum was an art in itself, you had to be a slim Jim and either go in head first or feet first.

Once inside we started to located were the leaks were and repair them .

After a few hours i began to feel light headed and dizzy , i asked Tommy how he was and said he felt the same, so we moved to the end and exited the drum.

After getting some fresh air we went to Boiler control to tell them.

After another gas test in the drum it was found the oxygen level was low. Then they realised that while we had been working inside the drum , the contractors were doing tube repairs on the fume hood using cutting and welding equipment and the fumes were finding their way into the steam drum. So that was very close for us and we were lucky. !!


In 1973 i had completed my apprenticeship and stayed in the Steel Plant as a Maintenance Fitter / Turner . As i was still doing well at college , i was told i could still do day release.

I went to college until 1977. By then i had passed the City and Guilds Technicians Course parts  1 , 2  & 3.  I was then awarded a City and Guilds Full Technological Certificate in Plant Engineering.

Thanks to Phil for this latest chapter of his Story of this working life at Consett Steelworks

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