Empathy and Enchantment.

After being invited to read at Henham Grand Steam Rally on September 19th, at the new venture of a Theatre Tent, I had to dig back to 1965 to come up with a suitable theme to write a  poem for the day.  I was then extremly lucky in finding an image of the almost identical steam engine on the website www.internationalsteam.co.uk  featuring the Sugar Mills of Java.  The photographer , Rob Dickinson , tells me that his photo of the Halle Vaccum Pump in use was taken in July 2010, at Wringinanom.


modification of an image from 'The Historic Sugar Mills of Java.'

For over fifty years the pumps had drawn air,
guarded fiercely by Percy,  now more than their age,
who would lurk in the gloom beyond the engines
and rise like crocodile at a threat to its nest site,
an oil can in one hand and an oil rag in the other.

Two iron fly wheels, each twice a man’s height
whirled on either side of the wide metal staircase.
Idling and dreaming on the mid-floor platform,
the eloquence of their whispering steam seduced
the young apprentice on his Chariot of the Gods.

Each wheel was driven by an oscillating crank,
transferring motion from the horizontal thrust
of the steam driven main shaft, linked in line
to a huge wheezing cylinder, –  the vacuum pump,
that ‘whumped’ the air from the linked evaporators.

At first the boy’s touch was light, logging the readings,
then increasingly intimate, smoothing marker dye to each
wheel shaft, to check for wear on the white metal bearings
Years later, when adept, he had cast and scraped new linings,
fitted new rings with feeler gauges, repacked the glands.

All was made to measure for these monsters
from the time when engineering involved men’s hands
whose empiric  skills had taken years to perfect.
The apprentice, now a maintenance man worthy of respect,
could still idle on the staircase and merge with the steam.

New technology can often threaten dreamers.
The high speed, electric driven, rotary vacuum pump
would occupy a fraction of its predecessors footprint.
The engineer was ordered to break and scrap the steamers,
for help they sent Percy, – to swing a sledge in the carnage.

Ivor reading at Henham Steam Rally


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