Jenolan Caves

Join the Search for Old Photos of Jenolan's Leffel Wheel

October 19, 2016

Jenolan's Leffel Wheel shed - no longer there.Do you have an ancient photo of Jenolan Caves’ Leffel Wheel? Maybe your great grandmother kept some Jenolan photos tucked away somewhere? If you have a photo of the actual Leffel Wheel itself or the building that housed it or any of the old Leffel Wheel infrastructures, we would love to see it, because precious little of it remains to this day.

In 1887, a 6 horsepower steam engine and generator was installed in the Grand Arch for lighting the Imperial Cave. But it caused pollution and was inadequate.

So in 1889 a 22 inch (56 cm) wide wrought iron pipe was laid from where the Jenolan River rises below the Grand Arch. The pipe extended 660 feet (201 metres) along the river bank, carrying pure water to a new turbine which was a small, 8 ¾ inch (22 cm) wheel, imported from an American company, James Leffel & Co. This ‘Leffel Wheel’ worked in conjunction with a Crompton dynamo. With 100 lights turned on in the caves, the turbine exerted a force of ten horsepower, or one horse per each ten lights. The turbine was anchored in concrete, and a shed was built over it, to protect the whole operation.

Although small, this installation was a cutting-edge innovation and Australia’s very first hydro electricity system. It was such an important development that we are sure there must be old photos of it in existence somewhere.

Back in 1889, in an annual report, W.S. Leigh, Superintendent of Caves wrote “The most important of the improvements carried out here is the erection of Turbine for driving the Electric Light. The work has been well executed, and a most satisfactory trial as to its power has been made. The turbine will replace the steam engine at present in use, and its motive power being water a large saving annually in the cost of firewood, etc, will result. A new 100-light dynamo has been placed in position, which will, without delay, be connected to the existing lamps of the Imperial cave, and at an early date extended to a system of lamps intended for the Lucas and Easter caves. Thus by the new arrangement provision will be made for lighting by electricity and space three times larger than at present, and at a greatly reduced cost.”

In 1893, a layshaft was installed and an additional dynamo was added, to extend lighting to the Lucas Cave. The Leffel installation lit the caves through an extensive network of wires, lights and switchboards, and was used until 1906, when Jenolan’s larger hydro electric station was built downstream.

Leffel Wheel set in concrete at the base of the water pipe.

Leffel Wheel design

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4655 Jenolan Caves Road, Jenolan Caves, Blue Mountains NSW. Ph: 1300 76 33 11 or +61 2 6359 3911

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