We previously reported on the preparation for the trip to Grahamstown to dismantle and remove the contents of Phoenix Roller Mills in http://www.sandstone-estates.com/index.php/agricultural-heritage/41-agricultural-heritage/1091-sandstone-heritage-trust-to-send-a-team-to-dismantle-phoenix-mill-in-grahamstown

Sandstone’s team leader, Gert Jubileus made a reconnaisance in the preceeding week, checking on details like access for the crane, Traffic Department for permission to close off Dundas Street if necessary and accommodation for the team.


 Andy Selfe (left) and Fraser Howell, measuring and logging the position of each item.

I was lucky in persuading a long-time friend from Cape Town, now resident in Knysna, Fraser Howell to join the team. Fraser is a retired Engineer, and I knew he would be a valuable addition to the team. From the Sandstone Heritage Trust’s Steam workshops on Sandstone Estates, we had Derrick, Wouter (Gert’s brother) and Henk and from Sandstone Heritage Trust’s Bloemfontein Steam workshops we had Tinus and Leon, kindly loaned from Lukas Nel. Also from Sandstone Estates, Estate Manager, Len Huxham, with plenty of structural contracting under his belt.


Manass, Len Huxham and Thabiso pose in the welcome sun on Monday morning.

Transport would be both Freightliners from the farm, one with the high sided grain semi-trailer, driven by Manass, the other with a 3-axle low-bed, driven by Thabiso.

In the SHT collection is already a mill, but it was dismantled in such a way that nobody knows how to put it together again. We were determined that even if a total stranger with no milling background was to tackle the job of assembly, it should be possible to identify any part and its position in the complicated set-up.

My original plan was to divide the whole area into about half-metre cubes, which would have led to a more-or-less position for everything. Fraser's much better plan was to mark a point on each item with a nail, marked with a number and to log its position in three dimensions, from the North wall, the West wall and from the floor it was standing on, all to the nearest 10mm. I had already decided to mark N for North side and an arrow pointing upwards on everything. 

Measuring to this detail would mean a lot more work, in this way any single item can be held up in its final position, without reference to any other part.


Each item has a nail or if it’s metal a +, a reference number, a north face and an upright arrow.

Preparation on the farm included clearing everything from one of the sheds, so that the entire contents of the Mill can be laid out so that the reference numbers can be seen. This shed will be locked and nobody will have access to it until the plan has been formulated to erect it again.

Both the Cape contingent and the farm team would be working far from home, in my case 830km. We all thought carefully about what we might need, without having to buy or hire in Grahamstown. The list went back and forth, being added to, and different colours were used to show who would be bringing what. Colour coding of tools was essential so that there would be no argument when it came to packing up.

Plans were coming together nicely, when we realised that the world famous Grahamstown Festival was going to be still in progress in the week we had chosen. All plans were deferred for a week.


The swinging sign also came along, thanks to the kindness of Brian Bonsor. 

We also studied the site from photos and with the aid of camera shots from Google Earth. At the auction, we were kindly given a case of transparencies by Trevor Hoole. These were converted into digital form and can be seen in http://www.sandstone-estates.com/index.php/agricultural-heritage/41-agricultural-heritage/1094-old-slides-of-phoenix-roller-mills-come-to-light . In some of these photos it was noticed that there were overhead three phase electric lines on two sides of the building! The plan had been to bring the Grove crane from the farm. This had been certificated in the previous week, but we realised we would not be able to work over the wires.


 One of the orginal slides showing the overhead electric lines.

Gert searched for possible crane hire firms and found that Protec in Port Elizabeth was managed by somebody well known to him, who had been involved with running the 2-foot Narrow Gauge line from PE to the Langkloof. Quotes were asked for, and a site inspection was done by them. They estimated that it would require a 70-tonner, and that one day would be needed to extract everything. I had my doubts about that time schedule!

Eventually, the week of 11th July approached. I left Elgin at midday on Saturday 9th and reached Fraser’s home in Knysna in the later afternoon. We had time to discuss marking methods and to add to the tools, including Fraser’s dumpy level and a step-ladder. All this had to fit into my Citroen Berlingo! We left Knysna early in the morning of Sunday 10th. It rained all the way from home to Grahamstown and well into Sunday night, not boding well for the job in hand.


 The team starts to assemble; supper on Sunday night.

Once at the Mill, we contacted Brian Bonsor, who has been running this business for many years; in fact, he still ran the mill for six months after taking over the business from his father. Brian kindly opened up for us so that we could get stuck into the measurement. We started upstairs, and continued until we couldn’t even see what we were doing with the lights attached to our hard hats. Bringing these gives an insight into the detailed panning we had done! For interest, by the end of Tuesday, more than 227 points had been recorded in three dimensions, including each pulley and belt. Many more measurements were taken which will make the reassembly and erection of a framework easy.


 One of about 30 seets of logged positions of items.

For marking, I had brought various things. I had 100 metal labels cut and drilled twice each. To attach these to wooden items, I brought a heavy duty stapler; for attaching to metal items, a reel of binding wire. For marking them, a Koki was the best. For metal parts I brought a paint pen. This proved to be good for belts too, even shiny wooden items! In the event, it was necessary to cut the metal labels in half…. Suddenly we had 200! Also we had timber chalk, which we found rubbed off too easily and timber wax crayon which was too difficult to apply.

I was glad we had half a day start on Sunday, because when the Sandstone team got stuck in on Monday morning, they wanted to start dismantling! We made a rule that they could loosen off the fixings, but not move an item before it had been marked and logged. The way the Sandstone team got stuck in was nothing short of phemomenal. Henk was invaluable in helping Fraser and me with measuring and logging. Tinus, Leon, Wouter and Derrick were all over, and with the slightest suggestion, worked out how best to do a particular job, got stuck in and in no time they had done it, and moved without needing prompting to the next one. For example long after knock-off time one day, Wouter asked for a hammer, and in no time, the cubicle at the end of the upper level was in pieces!


 Wouter (I think!) dismantling a chute feeding the shaker.   

Len was most helpful with the organising of and interaction with the roofing contractors, not being shy to get stuck in with his beloved chainsaw! That leaves Gert..... while he wasn't necessarily wielding a hammer or crowbar all the time, he was the point man to go to and say, 'I think we need someone to supervise at the truck.' and the answer would invariably be, 'So-and-so is there already!'. At meal-times, suddenly he produced food and drinks. When we needed to shift accommodation, he had arranged another place to stay. Not to have to worry about these details meant a lot to the rest of us. His 300+ photographs (featured here) will be invaluable, too.

Once Thabiso and Manass understood the correct way of packing, both trucks were loaded to capacity. I'm not sure Leon Flynn would have got another match-stick on those lorries!


 With still two more elevators to load, this low-bed was well packed!

The Crane men, Derrick (another one!) the driver, James and Renier (riggers) were superbly helpful, professional, and I might say, very diplomatic when their boss told them to stop working on Thursday morning. For some inexplicable reason, after quoting terms of 30 days from statement for payment, the  owner of Protec suddenly decided he wanted cash up front! Nobody was in the office in Johannesburg to transfer funds, so we had to keep ourselves busy without the crane for a while…. a totally unnecessary waste of time!

The interaction between the riggers and me seemed effortless. Just a suggestion of, for example, 'Let's tackle the next truss.' and it was done. Sometimes they had another plan, in which case we quickly decided which was better, and it was out!

But first, the roof sheeting had to be removed. We had assumed that the engine would be lifted out first. Gert, Wouter and Len tackled that, dismantling flanges where possible and using flame-cutting equipment where necessary on pipes. So that roof came off first. It was interesting to note that the contractors’ workers had no kind of safety equipment, just hammers and crow-bars!


 The roof off the engine shed.

With the roof off the engine room and the crane in the back yard, it was discovered that there was a telephone line in the way, so Telkom had to be contacted to remove it. Once that was out of the way, the riggers and driver soon had the Crossley slung, and with the warning buzzer beeping as it cleared its mounting (10 tonnes at that radius of 16 metres), the crane recorded 7½ tonnes for the engine, allowing for the weight of the hook and paid-out wire. As soon as it was clear, the driver ‘boomed in’ to reduce the radius and it was effortlessly lifted out in one piece and on to the waiting lorry in the yard.


 7½ tonnes of the finest engineering Manchester could produce 103 years ago!

Once the engine room roof was off, the contractors could move to the main building.


 Looking up through the rafters of the main building with the sheeting and brandering off.

My biggest worry was the removal of the elevators. Although we had marked each in four places, front and rear, top and bottom in case they had to come apart, I fervently hoped they would come out in one piece. This would rely on the strength of the belt alone. Len disappeared and came back with several reels of 1200-lb rope and with several short lengths of wood cut and propped in between the trunks, the elevators were trussed up like chickens, and yes, they came out, all ten of them, each in one piece. The shortest of them was 7½ metres long, the others were 9!


 The first elevator to come out. This one is only 7½ metres long, most of the others were 9m!

Laying them down on the waiting low-bed was also a worrying time; they’re not made to stay stiff at that angle! We had to start with elevators, before we could remove roof trusses and line shafting between them, and the trusses had to come out before we removed the six screens. This meant that there were six elevators on the low-bed and the screens still to come. This was the state on Wednesday evening when we knocked off. During dinner at the local Redwood Spur for the combined team including the crane men and drivers (14 in all!) we discussed whether we had to remove the six already on the low-bed and then load the screens, and then re-load the elevators on top. In the end, we decided the elevators wouldn’t stand the extra handling, and that with proper support under and between the two layers already on the truck, the screens could go lengthwise on top, and the remaining four elevators on top of those!


 James supervising the careful lowering of the third rotary screen on to two layers of well-propped elevators below.

As the screens came out, the floor was exposed. We gave up any attempt to save the floorboards. The nail extractors didn’t work well, the ‘cut nails’ were too deep in the wood, so crow-bars from the top and wooden poles hitting from the bottom had to suffice. It was unfortunate, as some of the planks were a foot wide. They all turned out to be cold climate pine, or ‘Oregon’ as it’s called here. One has to remember that the pressure was on, and that the crane was costing tens of thousands of Rands a day!


 Five of the massive yellowwood beams ready to be slung.

Once the floor beams were exposed, they could be sawn off flush at the ends with a chain saw. A detail that was overlooked was spare chains for the saw; luckily there was one only available for that saw in Grahamstown, and Wouter produced a saw chain file and got stuck in to sharpen it from time to time! I narrowly stopped Derrick sawing one of the heavy yellowwood beams in half, there was no need for that! The beams nearly balanced on a supporting beam across the middle of the lower floor and they were easy to shift out of the way, for access to the mills below.

The mills had been loosened off days before by the farm team, and it was simply a question of slinging and lifting them out.


 A mill clears the beams, on its way to the waiting lorries.

An interesting point to note, in the same way that Sandstone Heritage Trust has four 2’ gauge Garratt steam locomotives each made by a different manufacturer, the mills here are by four well known makers. The first to come out was from Henry Simon of Manchester http://www.satake.co.uk/uk_division/UK_History.html , the second E R & F Turner (still existing as Christy Turner in Ipswich http://www.christy-turner.com/ ), the third, from Thomas Robinson of Rochdale, also http://www.satake.co.uk/uk_division/UK_History.html and the fourth, from S Howes, from Silver Creek, NY , also still operating http://www.showes.com/about.asp . An amusing point on this ‘scourer’ mill is the stencilled ‘Contracted to H M Government’ on it, so perhaps the animosity of the War of Independence had worn off by then?


 Lowering the Henry Simon Mill into the high sided grain trailer. The gas producer plant is in the background and one of the engine flywheels behind that.

There was still room on the high-sided trailer for some of the mills, but we clearly weren’t going to get everything on to the two trailers; we never expected to. Again, Brian Bonsor went out of his way to give us safe storage, either inside his stores or if that was not possible, in his yard, until the low-bed can return to load the rest and the 3-tonne forklift which Thabiso brought with him.


 Just three elevators and the 'clean grain bin' to remove on the upper floor.

One item on the top floor was causing a problem. Called on the plans a ‘clean grain bin’, it is a large box, comprising two hoppers, side by side inside. Although mounting bolts had been removed we couldn’t work out any plan to dislodge it from its position. We had even been inside the hoppers, and tried to cut downwards so that the front panel could come off, to no avail. James the rigger had a plan to sacrifice two if its supporting beams, to cut them off short and to lift the bin out with the cut-off pieces. Rather as a last resort, I suggested we try slinging the top cross-member against the wall and to pull it away from the wall with the crane, rather than lifting it. We had to chisel away a bit at the top of the wall and to saw a few planks to get the 8-tonne strops through, but that turned out to be the solution. Once away from the wall, we didn’t stop with the lift until it was on pallets in the road.


 At last, the clean grain bin comes away from the floor and wall!

There were still the rest of the floorboards and beams as well as two roof trusses and the raised platform of the mills floor to remove at this stage, and time was running out! Suddenly, Gert the Organiser informed us that he had negotiated with the roofing contractor to remove them for us by hand. So suddenly, we were done!


 The raised mills floor which will be removed for us by the roofing contractors. The line shafting was removed from under it by hand!

The road still had to be cleared of the grain bin, roof trusses, mills and line shafting, but once again, the Sandstone team got stuck in with their forklift and in the space of half an hour, the road was clear of all that, the lorries and the crane!

We all slept well at the new accommodation that night, knowing we had made it! The lorries left early Friday morning, and so did we. Fraser and I went back to make some final measurements and in a split second that my car was unlocked and unguarded, someone took the opportunity to remove my camera case with both cameras in. Only noticed later at home, it left a sour taste to the end of an otherwise successful operation! We have to thank Gert Jubileus and Wilfred Mole for these photos.


 One of the pieces of line shafting being lifted out.

We had certainly casused a stir in Grahamstown during our stay, as the latest edition of Grocotts Mail, just out, shows!



Andy Selfe

18th July 2010

We have also been supplied with a link to a local news article and video that appeared at Grocott's Mail Online.  Click here to view: http://www.grocotts.co.za/content/goodbye-phoenix-roller-mills.