A steam engine built from scratch is a ‘hobby gone mad’ for pensioner

David Young with the engine he built from an idea and a photo - rather than a plan.
David Young with the engine he built from an idea and a photo - rather than a plan.
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A Wearside pensioner is all fired up after following in the footsteps of his great-great-grandfather – by building a steam engine from scratch.

Beamish volunteer David Young, 78, drew up his own plans for Samson, a narrow gauge engine, using just a photo, an engraving and some wheel measurements.

Now, after 5,000 hours of work, the former draughtsman’s mini masterpiece is finally complete – and on track to becoming a major attraction at the County Durham museum.

“I’m from a generation where if you wanted things, you had to make them – so I did,” said David. “I’ve always enjoyed making things, and this was something I really wanted to do.

“My great-great grandfather, Thomas Young, worked at Hetton Colliery Engine Works and was involved in the building of Hetton Lyon No.2, a classic loco from the dawn of steam.

“The Hetton engine we have at Beamish incorporates the remains from that engine, and now the museum has Samson as well – two engines built by Youngs from different generations.”

David, from Fatfield, initially trained as a draughtsman at Washington Chemical Company. He later went to work in the coke work industry, before retraining as a safety engineer and eventually lecturing.

His job involved desk work, however, rather than hands-on mechanics but, in his spare time, he made models, restored old cars and even built a fully-working 21-ft steam launch which he used in the Lake District.

Once retired, David’s engineering skills were put to the test once more after he signed up as a Beamish volunteer in 2005. Work on engines such as the Coffee Pot followed, but then came his biggest test: Samson.

“Creating Samson was basically a hobby gone mad!” he admits.

Work on Samson started in January 2013, after David was challenged to draw up plans for the engine – based on a 19th century machine – using just a photo and his knowledge of standard practices.

All David knew for certain was the diameter of the wheels but “being a draughtsman – the old school type” – he was able to work out the ways of the engine with impressive detail.

“To prove the project was feasible, David prepared drawings and made complicated patterns for the cylinder block,” said Paul Jarman, assistant director of transport and industry.

“This gave us confidence and, as he continued to produce detailed drawings and patterns at a furious rate, what started as a nice idea turned into reality.”

David’s engine is based on the Stephen Lewin locomotive, Samson, which was built in 1874 for the London Lead Company for use on the one-mile tramway to Cornish Hush mine in Weardale.

The original Samson operated in the area for several years, replacing horse traction, before being scrapped in about 1904. David’s new engine will, however, help revive its memory.

“Members of my family on both sides have been involved with engineering over the decades, largely at the Philadelphia Engine Works,” he said.

“Although I was never a hands-on engineer, like a fitter or a turner, I’ve always enjoyed it as a hobby. There’s a great deal of satisfaction to be had in creating things like Samson.”

The engine was built mainly in the Regional Heritage Engineering Centre at Beamish over the past three years, with help from a skilled welder.

Now, all being well, Samson will run at the Great War Steam Fair at Beamish later this year – as the very latest museum attraction.

“Beamish is such a wonderful place and I work with such nice people too. It is a pleasure to come to work,” said David, who has clocked up over 10,000 hours of volunteering at the site.

“I have no intention of retiring, and put in about 40 hours a week here. I’m not going to be hanging up my tools any time soon, but my next project has yet to be announced. I definitely enjoy a challenge.”