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News article created on 3 May 2016

Making HELEN work

After cruising to the Black Country Living Museum (see John's last blog), John's historic boat, HELEN, rolls back the years to do what she was originally built for...

BCLM - five Harris built tugs together BCLM - five Harris built tugs together

Friday evening had seen us arrive outside the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley.

On the Saturday morning the entrance bridge was wound up and we entered to Museum Arm itself - I remember being there one dirty weekend in 1972 when we had a big work party to start digging it out.

We had brought HELEN as the Museum had organised a tug gathering so Museum visitors could see what it looked like in older days when tugs gathered at loading/unloading points.

There were 10 tugs in all. By co-incidence, five had been built at the Netherton boat yard up the Bumblehole Arm run by Harris Brothers. They never learnt welding and the tugs were built of rivetted iron. We managed to get all five lined abreast  - more or less - see the main photo. HELEN's the one in blue in the middle.

The whole Museum is a fascinating rebuild of late 19th century/early 20th century buildings which would have been demolished. Instead, they were taken down and have been rebuilt at the Museum.

BCLM - unloading the boatThey include all sorts of shops. Most are open and actually sell goods. The buildings include a 1920s cinema and a pub - which on Saturday night stayed open till 9pm, with a pianist banging out the old songs.

Included on the site is a coal mine accessible to the public and a tram and trolley and other vintage buses. I enjoyed watching a chain maker at work with his own little furnace. I'd recommend anyone to go and see it - there's are good moorings on the main canal, complete with elsan facilities etc.

On the canal side, there were demonstrations of loading/unloading small wooden containers from a boat to a lorry - see photo of me helping (above right)!

JD Tugging two joeysSome of the tugs showed the public how the tugs towed day boats around the canal network - see photo (right). It was challenging to see the effect on steering which two towed boats can have.

So we have left HELEN at the Museum. Next destination in two weeks' time is the Titford Rally. This will take us up to the highest part of the BCN - over 500ft high.

About this blog

John Dodwell

John Dodwell is one of our 10 volunteer trustees, who carry responsibility for the charity’s policies and strategies. He owns Helen, a 51ft old BCN tug/icebreaker which draws 3ft and is based near Stourbridge, West Midlands. His waterways interest goes back to the early 1960s.

John’s been involved in the waterways since the early 1960s and he enjoys all aspects of the waterways. To pick out one oddity, he was pleased and surprised to see about a dozen herons this June around the BCN Main Line, including two under the M6 motorway!

See more blogs from John Dodwell