My Buddy Mike

On Monday I went to the Museum on Transportation and Technology (MOTAT) in Aukland. A brief history:

This entire museum exists because it houses the original steam engine and water pumps that supplied downtown Auckland with water. The steam engine was first put in use in 1879 and was in service for 33 years. It acted as the backup water pumping system for another 44 years. Many of the NZ’s steam engines and water pumps were taken out of service and then scrapped but this one was mostly preserved. It has been fully restored, is operational and sits in the same building as it did in 1879.

It was one of the first buildings that I went in at the museum. I believe it is the only building that has full time staff. Anyway, this is where I met my buddy Mike Austin. I should preface this by saying that though this museum is not a kids museum it certainly has exhibits specifically for children, easy to read descriptions and interactive exhibits. As such, there were many school groups there with kids averaging maybe 8 years old. I believe I was the only adult visitor that did not have a child with me.

Back to my buddy Mike. When I walked into this building he gives his little overview/ history about what I’m looking at and how it works. When I start asking detailed questions and tell him I’m an engineer he steps out of his little area (next to a coal fired boiler that was in use) and starts talking a mile a minute. Turns out, this guy loves steam, specifically steam engine railroads, as he told me “of course, railroads are my first love when it comes to steam”. But he goes over how steam engines work (there were 4 at this museum, 3 operational), and then gives me a detailed description of the steam engine that powered the water pumps. It’s huge and apparently the only one of it’s kind in the world. It’s a double beam engine, with 2 identical sets of high pressure and low pressure cylinders and 2 beams but only 1 flywheel (I think. I may have some to the details and names of things wrong).

In order to save money Auckland city council only wanted 1 fly wheel (which is 16 tons, so it is far cheaper for just 1) and that of course eliminates the need for another set of bearings as well.

After we talk about this engine, Mike starts talking to me about steam engines all over the world. Turns out he travels the world with his wife to see steam engines. He was in London recently and told me all about the steam engines there that powered the original sewer system (and how they are housed in cathedral like buildings that are beautiful, the specific one he was telling me about was at least 10 stories with a cast iron spiral staircase going up the center, apparently it is a must see. I was told to “Get thee to the UK if you want to see some beautiful steam engines” ). He was also just in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico taking a steam railroad tour of he United States. He told me all of the steam engine must sees in New Zealand as well. Mike Austin and I chatted for probably close to 40 minutes. I assume he was mainly excited that there was an adult visitor with out a child and that I was actually interested in this stuff.

It was fantastic. Mike Austin was amazing; knowledgeable and passionate about what he does. The rest of the museum was good, but the highlight for sure, was my buddy Mike Austin.


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