Richard Ernest Duston: Halley's generator mechanic

Erny, a Yorkshireman, in Halley's generator room

My job is to look after fixed mechanical plant on base, mainly the mechanical side of the generators and the fuelling of the generators. The Laws Building, which is the largest platform, has three 'Cummins 6 CT ‘ diesel engines, each powering a 91 kW three-phase alternator. These generators provide power for the Laws and Simpson platforms and the mobile garage. The garage also has a 'Lister TR 3' engine powering a 16 kW generator that boosts the power at the garage for arc welding. It can also be used to power the garage in the event of a power failure at the Laws platform.

The Piggott platform has two of its own generators, these are powered by 'Cummins 4 BT' diesel engines. There are also two 'Cummins 6 BT' diesel engine powered generators inside containers mounted on skis for mobility. One of these powers the mobile Drewry Building which is used in the summer for the accommodation of summer staff. The second of the containerised generators can be swapped for the first or used to power the hydraulic jacks that are used to raise the platforms during the summer. The engines run for ten days or 250 hours when the next engine is run up while the first is stopped for servicing.

In the event of a breakdown there is always a spare generator ready to run. I am lucky that I have to leave the Laws platform every day in all weather to do my daily checks over on the Piggott Building. I check the oil level and for any leaks or parts working loose. The on-platform fuel tank also has to have fuel pumped up from the under-snow fuel tank or ‘flubber'. This is a large rubber fuel tank holding 20,000 litres of fuel which in turn is filled every two months from barrels or a container fuel tank.

Every year RRS Ernest Shackleton delivers fuel in 205 litre [45 gallon] drums to replenish the fuel stocks. During a month the Laws generators will use around 12,650 litres or 62 barrels and the Piggott generators 4860 litres or 24 barrels. Also we are trying out container-sized tanks which are filled from the ship's bulk fuel tanks, which means less barrels of fuel on the ship and more space for general cargo.

I do enjoy the climate down here in the Antarctic. This is my second winter, the first one was at Rothera research station in 1996. With all this snow on your door step there is nothing I like better than to relax with a cross country ski around the perimeter of the base.