The End Of The Shift Margaret Bennett with Arthur Charles Allen
Hydro Electricity and the building of Lednock Dam From 1947 to2014
M. Bennett MB: I was very interested to hear that you that you had been an Engineer on the Lednock all those years ago. It’s 60 years this year since they broke the world record I’m told. So how did you get involved in hydro dams , hydro tunnels and hydro engineering?
Arthur Charles Allen -AA: I had a friend who was with a firm of consultant engineers in London and I was thinking of leaving a firm that I was with in Stafford. They said you should come here because there’s some interesting work going on we’ve got some hydro electric work. He convinced me and I went to Victoria street in London which were construction engineers (Mecca). I hadn’t been there very long before they asked me if I would come up to Scotland. There are about 70 hydro electric schemes in all, in Scotland and two of the were allocated to my firm. One was the Lednock Earn scheme as it was called. The other was the Shin scheme up in Sutherland. I was asked if I would come to Comrie and start some initial surveying and supervise some drilling into the rocks this is necessary to see what is underneath where your dam is going. The third thing was to take? Measurements in some of the rivers and streams especially if we could manage to catch them at very low water time. That all helps in the calculations to decide how much you need to have in storage. Then how high your dam has to be in the valley it was chosen for. Obviously Glen Lednock was a prime candidate for the dam. It had been a reservoir of some sort before. In the last glaciations which was about 10,000 years ago the ice from the north came over Scotland and travelled south somewhere to about the home counties. That was as far as the ice got. There was quite a depth or height of ice over Glen Lednock and places of that height in Scotland. That glaciations in being pushed down and up at Glen Lednock scoured out the softer material up stream from Spout Rolla. Do you know Spout Rolla?
MB: Only on the map because I haven’t walked I’ve driven up towards but I don’t know all the names of the–
AA: Because of the geology there is a ridge of very resistant rock just below Lednock dam. The glaciation couldn’t tare it away it had left a basin behind and when I first went to Glen Lednock I was the only one from the firm who started it. There were three other engineers came up with me.
MB: From the same firm?
AA: From the same firm. MB: Was that be Mitchell’s?
AA: No they were contractors once the work started. MB: You were the consultant engineers.
AA: That’s right.
MB: What was the name of the firm?
AA: Sir M MacDonald & Partners. Four engineers came up to the Comrie area I looked after everything to do with the dam another looked after the power station at St Fillans another the aqua-ducts and tunnels we have over to Glenalmond and the fourth one took care of the Dalchonzie scheme from St Fillans to Dalchonzie. Murdoch MacDonald was from Inverness. An outstandingly talented engineer he formed his company in London, MB: It’s quite complex isn’t it?
AA: Yes the catchment area in total is 90 square miles and the water in that 90 square miles if it has nowhere else to go the levels are all decided so that it can flow back in to Glen Lednock and be there for use in drought in the summer or something like that.
MB: I looked at a map of the tunnel and the connections it’s really just remarkable how they got them all worked out and I was looking at the diagram? how it all works it’s so ingenious.
AA: Yes. There is a big shaft 30-feet in diameter perhaps I made the wrong , this is guess work it is a little the power station at St Fillans is underground it’s excavated into the rock. Just upstream from it the third shaft as we call it is excavated from power station level up to above Lednock dam level very high very? The reason for it is if the scheme is working say there is a thunderstorm in the area which may stop the transition system from working then that automatically stops the turbine. If that stops suddenly the water coming towards the turbine has no place to go and it would just burst out all of the rocks. By providing this large shaft up to a level above Lednock dam the water rushing towards the power station changes and goes up the shaft until it is higher than the level in Lednock dam and it will gradually stop the water rising it will fluctuate up and down for a mile but gradually less and less in the fluctuation and it will settle at the level of the water in Lednock dam.
MB: You were a very young engineer to be tackling all of this were you not?
AA: I think that’s right.
MB: 30ish, or even less?
AA: I came to Scotland first in 1947 and that means I was 21. MB: 21 and had you qualified as an engineer then?
MB: Where did you do your training
AA: In Loughborough and at Loughborough I took external B.Sc. degree from London university Loughborough issued it’s diploma.
MB: Was that the AMRCE or AMIB or one of those?
AA: No, you are getting on to the professional institutions.
MB: Ok so it was a diploma in engineering.
AA: Which Loughborough gave, there was a BScN that London gave. Once you qualify and have had so much experience then you might be entitled to apply to the institution of civil engineers to join first of all as a student and then you become a qualified engineer after that. When I was a student I prepared a paper which was called power from water and I delivered it in Scotland , delivered it in London and delivered it in Edinburgh. The institution awarded me it’s Miller prize for that.
MB: So you were already making your mark as a student.
AA: I was absorbed in my work and I wasn’t as good a Father and husband as I might have been.
MB: Sometimes its hard to balance these thing’s isn’t it? My Father would have probably said the same thing. I grew up with engineering stories which he would tell at the dinner table fortunately I was interested and I always wanted to go and look at the projects and maybe that’s why I’m still interested. My Father thought I was going to be an engineer would you believe that? I studied physics and dynamics at school but I knew myself it wasn’t for me it was better to keep it as but I never lost my interest in looking at them. Actually the week before my Father died I took him up to the top of Glenturrett and he sat there and he explained to me the difference , ah he said that’s quite a different system to and he mentioned the other two he had worked on and he was pointing at this and that and I thought it’s lovely to keep that liveliness of the mind to the very end. So don’t be hard on yourself Arthur but I think you have to be engaged in your work to be really committed to it.
AA: Yes there was a good comradely among engineers throughout Scotland who were involved in hydro electric work and as far as our professional institutions were concerned there was the east side in Edinburgh and the west side in Glasgow.
MB: Did you identify with one or the other?
AA: I was on the east side I identified with Edinburgh.
MB: As a sort of fraternity even yet you get an Glasgow Edinburgh affiliation with many areas of work and life.
AA: Yes when the Lednock had been finished my firm was keen that I should join the International Commission on large dams. It’s activity was triennially one of the countries in the world that had dams would be chosen each three year anniversary and engineers from the rest of the world would visit that country form two weeks. The first week was lectures during the day time with social time in the evening. The second week was travelling around the area where that country had dams and in that way I was in six or seven different countries.
MB: So did you see the Hoover dam and such great wonders?
AA: No I should have gone to Mexico for the American visit but sadly my wife was unwell at that time and I missed it fortunately she got better over that. The next time and the one I found most interesting was Turkey they were building a dam, I am coming on to my second hand now similar to our? Glendevon. Do you know that?
MB: I’ve driven that road AA: You’ve never gone off it. The dam there is an arch dam and I remember looking at one in Turkey to help me with that. I was a bit innovative and go to the paper for civil engineers which concentrated on the thing’s that were different in Lednock dam from other dams.
MB: Were you involved in the design of Lednock dam?
MB: With its flying buttresses virtually with–
AA: It is a buttress dam but we don’t call them flying.
MB: I call them flying because you look and say look at the buttresses and that would have a very particular purpose.
AA: Yes because the rock was sound enough to take high stresses which you don’t get with more common what we call massive gravity dams which is really like a huge block of cheese spread across the valley. Some thought I was being a bit daring in the process which had been used in the united states a lot and it ties up with coal fired power stations changing to use pulverised coal that is ground down almost as fine as domestic baking flour.
MB: Oh wow. AA: By having it so fine it was very much more efficient in coal fired burning process but rising from that the smoke going up the chimney has a lot of very fine ash in it. That is collected by plates called precipitators and it settles on the precipitators and then it’s collected and is just taken away by the lorry load it‘s a waste product. I was the instigator of using it in Lednock dam 20% of fly ash and 80% of cement.
MB: You used it in the construction of the dam wow?
AA: I have to be careful here because it was a much older partner in the firm I was with who had the qualification necessary to supervise the construction of any dam which impounded more than 5 million gallons of water and Lednock impounded very much more than 5 million. That partner in the firm that I was an engineer with he had the necessary qualification to sign all the documentation he signed the documentation.
MB: Was the fact that the dam is in an area earthquake tremor at least was that a consideration in your planning?
AA: Yes it was Comrie was noted for it’s earthquakes the 10 years that in which most? Occurred was 1870 to 1880 I think but anyway because of that I felt there should be some recognition of that made the result of an impact assuming that the dams safe perfectly ok is that the dam has to move with the shock. Therefore the water it drops then the dam comes back and it rises again so the is this undulating pressure on the dam and the shock on the base of the dam when the earthquake passes through. In the case of Lednock the assumption was made that instead of it storing water it was storing an imaginary fluid that was 15% heavier than water. So the mobility in an earthquake was accounted for by imagining the dam to hold a heavier liquid.
MB: Do the buttresses have a function in that plan bigger picture?
AA: No they were a fundamental choice of a more economical design much less concrete and the block of cheese I mentioned.
MB: They are elegant. AA: Thank you they are getting old and tired now. MB: They still have an elegance about them I think.
AA: They’re not as pretty as they were at one time. They took the load from the water of 15% more than water.
MB: The buttresses took the load?
AA: Yes the buttresses.
MB: So in a sense the earthquakes or tremor or potential were a consideration in the design.
AA: That’s right. The diamond head.
MB: Yes the diamond-head buttress.
AA: Some of the pressure on the up stream face is pushed squeezed down into the buttress that’s the neck if I call it that that’s where the concentration of stress comes because concrete nowadays can withstand higher stresses than just holding water would cause to happen in it so if you trimmed down the concrete and the stresses a little bit more that’s economically concrete. So we had that economy here an economy of substitution 20% of the cement with fly ash.
MB: I’ve never heard of that sand and cement we hear often this is an unusual one.
AA: Well it’s 70 years old now.
MB: Yes remarkable. At the point when the dam was designed and ready for construction workers to move in does the consultant engineer continue with the job to the end or is that the end of the road?
AA: No he’s there right through the job and then there is a maintenance period after that. I forget what it was in Lednock’s case it may of only been a year. If there were any faults that came to light in that year.
MB: The snagging.
AA: There would be an investigation as to had the made a mess of it or was the contractor not quite as good as he should have been.
MB: So you saw the very beginning of the contractors moving in and the whole community must have changed in Comrie.
AA: Very definitely Comrie as a community was very glad to have the extra use of the facilities of the village. One of the small illustrations was that a newsagent in Comrie would take newspapers up to the dam at the lunch break time and the 125 or so workers up there would get their newspapers at lunch time. I think he also provided a service of could you manage to bring me a so and so that would be done. That was commendable on the part of the shopkeeper as he was.
MB: You say 125 workers was that roughly the man power on the dam?
AA: Yes roughly one third was Scottish, one third were Polish and one third were Irish.
MB: Yes I’ve come across quite a few photographs from the Donegal workers which I’ll need to show you. There’s still an interest of young men who worked there but some of them worked in pretty dirty conditions the ones who tunnelled.
AA: Tunnelling was the more hazardous job. I believe I am right in saying we did have one fatality on the dam someone falling from a height but that’s all I can think of.
MB: Pretty dangerous work by any standard. Were there camps up at the dam for the men to stay in were did they live the men who moved in? Was there a construction camp?
AA: There was a construction camp very close to the dam. There is a flattish sort of area at the side of this waterfall I told you about Spout Rolla? And a hutted camp was built there all of their food was cooked there that provided employment for somebody Comrie’s ladies and men.
MB: I believe there was a full-time nurse?
MB: I was talking to George Carson and his wife Mamie worked as a nurse.
AA: She was the nurse.
MB: Do you remember her?
MB: It might surprise people that today that there was work for a full-time nurse but there must have been. What sort of incident’s would there be?
AA: The contracts were divided between the firm called Taylor Woodrow who were the contractors for the dam and Mitchell construction who were contractors for all the rest of the work the aqua ducts power station and such like. I think Mamie was the nurse with the tunnel contractors.
MB: She would have had her own wee nursing station on site medical room I suppose you might call it.
AA: That’s right there were medical provisions at the dam I can’t think of anyone in particular?? but I wouldn’t be very much involved with that.
MB: I can only imagine a lot of the things would be minor treatable on the spot or on the site.
AA: I would think so yes.
MB: Cuts , bruises and sprains, well it’s quite a reflection on this complicated and dangerous excavation. Was it a very noisy site?
AA: Certainly in the excavation because all of the earth had to be cleared away from where the concrete buttresses and diamond heads were going on to the rock. The top 5 feet of rock was taken out that is what we would have called weathered.
MB: You were on to the bedrock.
AA: We were on to the bedrock if we went down 5 feet.
MB: A good solid foundation.
AA: That’s right potentially that would then involve much more than 5 feet because if you think of going up the side of the valley if it’s 5 feet at one end it will be a lot more than 5 feet at the other end. What I haven’t mentioned is there were thirteen buttresses I’m not superstitious. There were thirteen buttresses and at each end was what we called the east gravity section and the west gravity section these were the solid wedges of cheese because it wasn’t worth while cutting down into buttresses and hammer heads where it wasn’t high enough to justify it.
MB: When they were tunnelling through the rock I realise that wasn’t your area of responsibility but how did that impact on the site the tunnelling I presume all that had to be trucked off the site all that crushed rock or fallen rock? Must have been a lot of lorries trucking it and roads up there.
AA: A lot went into building up the ground around Dalchonzie where the land was low.
MB: How interesting.
AA: The topsoil was taken off and rock was put in. MB: Bottoming?
AA: Then the topsoil was put back on the top.
MB: I always admire that sort of efficiency of engineers to think ahead and think latterly from one site to another excavations and in filling and it seems to have worked out.
AA: Yes, and there is one thing that we haven’t covered as far as the dam is concerned. Concrete, when it harden, shrinks a little bit, but the hammer-heads of the buttresses were 50 feet from one end to the other so you might get half an inch to an inch shrinkage, something of that sort. So you have to have something there in the gap that will not shrink. Then the buttresses are shrinking and when they were just casting concrete there was a mould put in at each end of the hammer head going to say like half a coffin.
MB: Was it shuttering wooden shuttering?
AA: It was wooden shuttering. MB: Yes into which you poured the concrete.
AA: It was referred to as a key? it was a little bit wider at the join at the next buttress and it was on the inside. MB: Yes I wondered if they had to be individually shaped because of the curvature.
AA: There was no curvature.
MB: So they are all the same shape and the same size same shape of shuttering for the whole lot.
AA: Yes, as you brought it up 5 feet at a time the wooden boxes were such that you could slide a piece out from the middle and break them off and they would come up.
MB: For the next stage?
AA: Yes, and you are left with this hole, roughly 6 inches by a foot in each head as it comes together. The filling of that was left for a long time, say half the total height of the dam before bitumen was poured into it.
MB: Bitumen. yes.
AA: Bitumen, because if you are pouring in long lengths the stuff at the bottom it may harden before you have got it up to then top. So a very lengthy U-tube, right from the top of the dam to the bottom was put in this. This was where there was a first, having to rethink, because this enormous U-tube we were using, normal piping for gas, and that has a screwed connection between two lengths of pipe. The connector is screwed on to the bottom one it goes half way down and then you screw in the top pipe on the other half. The idea was that we would have a boiler at the top producing steam and we would just pass it in one side of the U-tube and it would come out the other side a lot colder, but it would have melted the bitumen or softened it. The difficulty that wasn’t anticipated was these joints in the tube were not steam-tight so steam came out and into the bitumen and bubbled through up at the top. I got a new pair of trousers out of the insurance company!
MB: Was the idea of the bitumen because it’s got ‘give’, whereas concrete doesn’t – it was going to solve the question of expansion?
AA: A lot of thinking with a big firm in Dundee that dealt with bitumen and bitumen products and so at that time and I know that bitumen was called ‘pen 70’. There is a test for bitumen, a standard thing is placed on it – the softer it is, the farther the thing will….?... and the one that was chosen for the dam was penetration 70. Thankfully what was available was narrow copper tubing; the inner diameter of the tubing would be about a quarter of an inch or something like that. We threaded into that electric cable, pushed it round the bottom, connected it up and it heated the bitumen.
MB: Did it heat it slowly?
AA: Yes, heated it slowly, and we didn’t have any mishaps at the top of the dam. That is engineering. You learn by pushing the limits a bit too far– if it works fine you’ve saved some money through economy or something like that. That bitumen is still there and it is still quite watertight; there is a little bit of leakage but not significant.
MB: The surface of the dam – was that exactly the way it was when the shuttering was removed, or did it have to be refinished?
AA: No, that was exactly the same. Sometimes it’s a bit rough when you take off the shuttering. I can remember I was laughed at by a party of visiting Russians because if the were little fins or maybe little porous pieces open pieces, where the cement had not come through, we would go up afterwards, filling pieces and rubbing rough pieces off. This party of Russians who came round said “Ah you are finishing the dam as a bride for her wedding!”
MB: That’s a rather nice analogy; there was a touch of the perfectionist about the engineer he didn’t want to see any blemishes on this massive piece of magnificent work. Sometimes in shuttering you see the sharp edge almost of a join in the shuttering where the cement has seeped through. If I’m not wrong, I imagine you could only pour so much cement to a depth of then you’d have to wait for the drying slowly?
AA: It was all done in 5 foot lifts.
MB: And how long would it take for a 5-foot lift to dry and be ready for the next one to set?
AA: It would be the same whether it was a long bit at the bottom or a short bit at the top. MB: Was it days?
AA: I think we allowed a week.
MB: It’s a lot of concrete isn’t it? Tons and tons of it!
AA: I mentioned once, where the bitumen came flowing out the top ,there was another one. Due to the innovation of the buttress and the diamond-head instead of the solid ‘chunk of cheese’ that at the bottom of it is much longer from the…?..... In one of the longest pieces that we started with, fortunately early on in construction, there was a crack appeared. It would probably of been alright to leave it, because before we had concrete, dams were built with great big stones together with mortar joints. In consequence of that it was decided not to concrete more than a certain length at a time.
MB: As a precaution.
AA: As a precaution.
MB: Well you can imagine such an investment in it. You had squads of men working – labourers foremen etc. How many would you have had building the dam for example?
AA: It was about 125. Probably a little bit less, because there may have been a few supervisors and people in the laboratory at the dam. Every so often a sample of concrete would be taken away and made into a tube in an iron mould, and there was a crushing machine in the laboratory. After 28 days the concrete had to take a certain load before it suddenly cracked.
MB: To test the pressure? AA: Yes, and another precaution we took because we didn’t have that test result for 28 days, we could have been two or three lifts higher up when we would discover that was a bad one down there. So we had a preliminary test at seven days to see if we were getting around about the stress we would expect and at that earlier stage.
MB: On a more social question did the operations cease on a Sunday?
AA: Yes in those days.
MB: If I’m not wrong, I think communities welcomed that Sunday rest. AA: Oh I think it’s very sensible.
MB: It’s for a very good reason everybody needed a rest.
AA: I think they were even off for a half-day Saturday and all day Sunday.
MB: Yes. Things have changed so much now when you look on a site the place is covered in bright yellow and orange jackets and waistcoats was very different then. What did the engineers wear?
AA: All we had were protective hats.
MB: Like a hard hat?
AA: Yes a hard hat.
MB: You were out in some rough weather, I’m sure.
AA: Yes. I know we were asked by a Government body called the Building Research Station in those days to see how quickly the temperature in the dam was cooled at the sides more quickly than it was in the middle. So we had to produce temperature gradient over time. When that was going on somebody had to be there 24 hours a day and climb up a steel ladder on the dam to where we had the measuring hut.
MB: So is the steel ladder still there up the side if the dam?
AA: No it’s all gone.
MB: It did strike me on more than one occasion that engineers had to be quite agile at times to go in quite precarious places walking along edges and beams, but you were fit and young in those days you never thought anything about it.
AA: One place that’s a bit eerie: the dam has to have an overflow section in the middle, so if it’s getting too full it’s not running over the road and everything else at the top. There is one section that is finished off without any curves or anything at all. You have got to have a overflow section in the middle, and we had just buttresses every so often, so we had to provide precast concrete planks which we built in between buttresses. They were made solid first and then put in place with fresh concrete around the ends to hold them on. Where the overflow come down it comes into a ………… basin it comes down very fast and meets water that is not moving so much, and you get a curve at the bottom and so on. To stop that getting back in between the buttresses, there was like a small dam built adjacent buttresses, and so the unventilated place between the buttresses and the slabs in between them going right down to the bottom. So that could be examined, we had little doors at the front, and you could put a ladder, climb up it into a kind of tunnel, and you had to put a ladder down on the other side. Once you got into that cavity it was very untidy lump of rock with some earth in between that had never been moved – not a very healthy place. We went in more often to start with than later on, once a year for a while after, just to make sure everything was in good condition.
MB: You must have spent about – well it’s now sixty years or so, and I’m sure that during a lot of those years you still had an eye on the Lednock dam to some extent?
AA: Yes, certainly I don’t want to tempt fate, but people in Comrie used to say, “As long as Arthur Allan stays where he is, we’re going to be alright.” Quite by chance, the house that my Wife and I bought when the dam finished – because although she was not keen on moving from London to an unknown place at the beginning, after four years, nothing would drag her away from Comrie.
MB: That’s lovely, to really love a place, and to have settled in like that; obviously people took you to their hearts as well.
AA: So that’s when we bought the house in Dalginross, and I had started up my own consultant engineering practice in Perth and I travelled daily.
MB: Did you drive or take the train in those days?
AA: There was no train in those days.
MB: No? It had ended, gosh, even by then – what a loss that was.
AA: The first time I arrived in Comrie on August the 2nd, 1947 the mainline train to Inverness took me to Gleneagles, where I waited on another platform until a local train, from Stirling to Crieff, caught up with me, then it stayed in Crieff station for about an hour, until it could take the school children to Comrie school.
MB: Wonderful to have a train station; I know that people missed it after it had gone. When I mentioned what people wore on sites I seem to remember looking at photographs in the 50’s and 60’s of men with their donkey jackets. You hardly hear the word now.
AA: You don’t hear the word, that’s right.
MB: Was that common?
AA: Yes, we would all have donkey jackets.
MB: Curiously, but they were functional.
AA: Yes, though they weren’t luminous and they weren’t waterproof.
MB: No, but at the same time I think they might have been warm, and when they did get wet it wasn’t a soaked right through wet, as they were pretty thick.
AA: I think in an emergency, if you had to go out in the wet, there would be a heavy raincoat you could put on, a navy blue one.
MB: What about the men, the labourers, the tunnel workers, the cement workers? How were they attired?
AA: They may have had some waterproof clothing, but nowhere near entire outfits you see now. They certainly went to work in their own clothes.
MB: I gather there was a canteen or kitchen at the camp. Were there any social facilities? Or did they come down to Comrie on a Saturday night?
AA: Certainly at the weekends they would come down to Comrie. The contractor on the dam had a passenger-carrying vehicle and it always had its own driver. I think at the weekends it might well of driven down the glen to the village, then at 10.30 it would pick them up again. If anyone missed it, well too bad.
MB: I suppose the pubs closed early in those days – I think it was 9.30, or no later than 10pm. (Compared to today, an early closing.)
AA: That’s right.
MB: I suppose there would be dances or local concerts. How many years did the whole lot take to build? I imagine you were there through the duration, though I gather there was about a year of preparation before you even started?
AA: Longer than that. Part of that length of time was political –somebody in the politician system said we haven’t got anymore money to build anymore hydro electric schemes – something of that sort. There was, I think we were one of the last to be done, and I think we had a gap of six or seven years, where we had to find something else for staff to do, staff whom we had taken on to do design-work in London. Once the design work had been done, many of those individuals wanted to continue up and get the construction experience, but they had to hang around. I know another large scheme that the firm I was with were involved in, was Grade 2 flood protection scheme from Bedford down to Kings Lynn. That is fen country, and there were old straight drains dating back from the 1700’s. These were brought into the 20th century.
MB: Very different landscape to here?
AA: Yes very.
MB: In all, from the time you went to survey, I presume surveyors you had a whole team of surveyors, engineers, consultants at the beginning, then the couple of years from that point to when the dam was finally built, to at the point they were going to turn the electricity. That was something?
AA: That was something – in June 1958, when the Secretary of State for Scotland opened the scheme at the power station to let the water start running. That was June 1958, and I’d gone up in 47, so that’s eleven years. It needn’t have been that long, as I know at one time, when I was having to kill time with junior engineers and people we had helping us, we did some initial surveying stream measurements river flow for a scheme on the River Ruchill.
MB: That didn’t come to pass?
AA: It didn’t come to pass, but the measuring station that we had just over the Ross and around a bit, it has since been developed into the local government pattern of measuring river flows right across the board. MB: So it didn’t all get shelved for nothing; it’s remarkable. So when you came in 1947, when did your family move here?
AA: Family moved to Comrie in 1958 ,that’s when we bought the house in Dalginross.
MB: So you had electricity from almost the very beginning did you?
AA: Yes we always had electricity.
MB: When you came first there would be none.
AA: No there was always electricity.
MB: In Comrie was there where was it from?
AA: It came from Crieff to Comrie.
MB: I’m not quite sure of the source, because the Turret is a newer one, not older.
AA: There was a very early one [hydro scheme], an original one at the Turret, without a dam. There was just a small weir across the river, and that provided electricity to Crieff, and I think it might have come out to Comrie as well. MB: Because people in the outlying areas didn’t have electricity –up the glens, Glenartney or Glen Lednock, there was none there. They lived quite well with the tilly lamps and the paraffin lamps.
AA: Glen Lednock got electricity once the scheme was ended.
MB: Yes, it really revolutionised a way of life in Scotland didn’t it?
AA: That’s right. MB: Can you look back with contentment and feel it’s a job well done? AA: Mostly well done. I won’t say 100%, little bits you would change. This is where I feel very ill at ease; well, it’s done, and so far it should be alright; but dams can fail.
MB: History tells us anything can fail, really, as far as man-made structures go, and even naturally created structures. We just don’t know, we have no idea.
AA: Fortunately, and I hope it never happens with Lednock, a lot of it [the water] would spread out in the glen before it gets to Comrie.
MB: Lets hope that never happens.
AA: Oh certainly.
MB: Well it’s been remarkable after all those years to come and talk to you about it. Do you remember any celebrations when they broke the world record for the tunnelling? I think it was October 1955.
AA: Yes, there was a tremendous effort to break the record.
MB: I wonder how they knew there was a record?
AA: You’re out of my sphere really, because that’s Mitchell construction, the tunnels.
MB: Yes, but I’m sure there was an atmosphere in the village, never mind in the tunnels.
MB: There was a determination to do it.
AA: That was for a tunnel of a certain size.
MB: 557 feet through the mountain of rock.
AA: Is that what they did? MB: Yes in a week.
AA: The smaller tunnel is not the fastest to get through – if you’re tunnelling a larger one you can have two lines of railway tracks instead of one. Then when you’ve got a huge tunnel it takes longer because you have scaffolding, and ranks of people drilling holes, and blasting. MB: It must have been a very unpleasant atmosphere to work in, with the dust and so on. I think a lot of the developed lung problems and shortened lives. A big price to pay for it.
MB: Still, it’s a big part of Scottish industrial history. AA: Yes.
MB: Do you have photographs of any of it? Did you keep photographs?
AA: don’t know. The official photographs there were official photographs taken A4 size, or something like that, in black albums. I know at the end of the scheme the ….. we had at the dam, I presume they would be the same at the tunnels, all went back to the North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board in Edinburgh, that changed into Scottish Hydro Electric, and Scottish and Southern. MB: Hard to keep track of it, isn’t it? So they will be in an archive somewhere.?
AA: They will be in an archive.
MB: Well I hope they are. AA: I didn’t have many small slides of my own. I did of holidays, and round the country side. And I got rid of those, as they were small slides (folk don’t use them any more.)
MB: But it’s a shame, and it’s hard to part with what was part of your life, a part of you. Anyhow you’ve had a very interesting life of engineering. I should give you a break now catch your breath! Thanks so much, Arthur!