The Bleichert Pendant Tramways: Chapter 7 – Ropeway Construction

The Ropeway Construction.

The timing of the events during removal and reconstruction of the ropeway, can only be obtained through the pages of the newspapers.

15th April 1887, Auction Sale of Gladstone Ropeway held.

In the SMH on 17th Aug 1887 reports that a meeting of shareholders of Katoomba Coal and Shale Co (KC&S) resolved to issue 20,000 £1 preference shares. At this time, ordinary shares were selling for 17/- each. The preference shares guaranteed a return of 12½%. On application 1/- per share had to be paid, then three months later another shilling. This raises £2,000 in three months if fully paid up. 

In addition, the Directors were authorised to borrow not more than £15,000 in £100 debentures bearing 6% interest against the security of the property, plant and machinery of the Company.

24th Sept.1887 in the Nepean Times

Katoomba Colliery. —A start has been made towards erecting the pendant railway for the Katoomba Coal and Shale Mining Company’s shale business. This new departure of that enterprising company will give a great impetus to trade, as they, will employ a large number of additional hands.

And also, on 26th Nov 1887 – New Shale Mine. —The works in connection with this mine commenced this week and will, in all probability be continued. This will give employment to many and will greatly add to the welfare of this district.

On the same date Mr. J. B. North is reported to be leaving the district, to live in St Leonards.

On 8th Dec 1887 the SMH notes that the Directors have made the Allotment Fee of one shilling a share on 20,000 shares payable on Thursday 13th Dec. (This would raise £1,000)

On Feb 28th of 1888, in the SMH, Katoomba Coal and Shale (KC&S) courtesy of Mr G. L. Buzacott (Secretary) advertised for “Carpenters, Bridge Builders and Shipwrights” for the Construction and erection of Supports for the Pendant Tramway, and also for the Engine and Boiler House at Katoomba.

Plans and specifications to be seen at the office of the undersigned. [I wish I could see those, it would answer a lot of questions!! PJH] It seems from later comments made by the mine Manager, Mr. Edwards, that a Contractor was engaged to do this job, not individual workers.


During the same period a meeting was held on 9th March 1888 to reduce the Directors fees of Katoomba Coal & Shale Co. (KC&S) from six hundred pounds to three hundred pounds. A considerable saving when funds were needed for the ropeway and is the first sign of troubles to come.

From 20th April 1888, until the 28th, ads were placed for tenders to erect the Tightening Station for the Pendant Tramway at Katoomba, this time signed by Oscar Schulze C.E.  

In May of 1888 Joseph Edwards, Manager of the Katoomba Coal and Shale Mine notified the Department of Mines that he had “commenced a drive at Ruin Castle”. In June and July, North was gearing up for the expected increase in production and advertised for men to build cottages for miners, and for “8 shale miners”. In June, North also made application for a lease of land across the Jamison Valley, upon which the Ropeway was already being built! It was granted from 1st July to 31st Dec for £20 annual rental. Maybe somebody had prior knowledge of the short life of the ropeway!!

7.0 Pendant Tramway lease – Dept of Lands.

From 8th June 1888 on, Mr Joseph Edwards, as the voice of J B North, commenced contributing to “Managers Reports” in the papers extolling the progress being made at the Ruin Castle Shale Mine and the Katoomba Coal mine. An obvious attempt to sell shares and raise more funds. It worked, price went up from 10/- in April to 14/- in June. And thank goodness he did submit these, as it is the only information we have, on the progress in building the ropeway.

On 20th July 1888 he reports the connection of the crosscut with the airshaft at the Ruin Castle Mine, and that the contractor for the pendant tramway supports has signed a new agreement to finish all supports in two months from date. (20th September)

On 10th August 1888 he reports that the Contractor installing supports for the Pendant Tramway will be finished in three weeks, and the tightening station (i.e. Tension Pit) will be finished in a fortnight. He has 20 miners working on the shale with a thickness of 22in. Share price on 1st July 1888 was 14/-.

[At the same time J.B North is sinking the shaft at Main Camp, which is just off the Darling Causeway, with the intent of mining the Lithgow seam with short access to the railway line. A venture doomed to failure because of the inability to pump out or drain the water in the workings. The foundation for the winder is built of brick and obviously designed by Oscar Schulze. Coal production from Main Camp Colliery for 1888 was 13,200 tons worth £3,369 with 25 men underground and 3 on the surface.]

In September 1888 Edwards reports that the tightening Station is finished, and the Contractor is busy at the Terminus station, and there is 120 tons of good shale at grass. No Share sales reported in September.

In October 1888 he reports progress on opening up the mine for Longwall mining, and on October 20th that the station at the shale is completed and everything is now ready to fix cables. Expecting to have shale at five weeks from date. No share sales.

On the 9th November 1888 he reports that 111 tons of excellent quality shale has been produced, and that the Pendent tramway haulage ropes are out the full length of the lines, and the cables down to the tightening station; engine is all ready; frames for the intermediate gearing are ready for fixing.  Share price has now fallen to 10/-

[ Note his use of the term “rope” for the haulage rope and “cable” for the track ropes. These are the marine usage of the terms.]

On 23rd Nov 1888 “Pendant Tramway will soon be in full working order.” No share sales.

On 8th Dec.1888 “Pendent tramway. We have been delayed three days during the fortnight on account of the rain.” No share sales in December.

On 21st Dec. 255 tons shale. The shale is of an excellent quality and of the same, thickness. On Monday last the main shaft of the winding engine broke. Procured new shaft with great difficulty and made arrangements to have it fixed up and forwarded on Saturday.”

(things always break on Christmas Eve!!!)

On 21st January of 1889 the SMH reports that Katoomba Coal and Shale (KC&S) has 1200 tons of shale “at grass” at Ruin Castle awaiting the completion of the Aerial Ropeway. “It will be ready in a few days”.

It also states; “A contract has been let for making a good hard road from the engine bank to the shale via harrow, which will be a great advantage.” Share price 10/- falling to 8/-.

[ Now this last paragraph is a strange one. The par definitely says “harrow” but it could only be “Narrow” as in “Narrow neck”. Building a road from the “Engine bank” which means the top of the incline, to the mine, via Narrow Neck seems to ignore the problem of a 200M cliff!! Maybe it’s anything to boost the share price.]

These regular reports peter out here, apparently the ongoing saga of the Ropeway never being ready was too much for Mr Edwards!

By the 16th Feb 1889 it is reported in the Nepean Times that Katoomba is very lively at present on account of the suspension of work at Mr. North’s Shale Mine, whereby about 60 men will be idle for about two weeks, till the road way is completed to bring the shale to the shoots.

So, the promised “Roadway” is still apparently on the boil and the ropeway is still not operating, and to provide further distraction for J. B. North, his father died in Sydney on 17th Feb.1889

By 23rd March 1889 the pendant tramway is still promised “in a week”.

In March and April of 1889, big Company moves are afoot to sell or dispose of the assets of the Company, an Extraordinary General Meeting being called for 16th April.

Fig 7.01 Share price graph. Orange line buy price, grey line sell price in shillings – Trove SMH.

The Nepean Times on 16th Feb reports that 60 men will be idle for about two weeks, till the road way is completed to bring the shale to the shoots. – This appears to be a misprint, [road way] could read [ropeway].

On 23rd of March the Nepean Times reports: –

It is understood the pendant tramway, being constructed to convey the shale to the present tramway, will be completed in a week and will give increased employment.

On 20th April the Nepean Times reports: –

There seems to be still some hitch in the working of the suspension tramway in connection with the shale mine, and more alterations are deemed necessary before it will be got to work satisfactorily. It has cost a lot of money already and has the appearance of costing a lot more.

This could be having to raise the height of Tower 8.

On the 11th May 1889, the Nepean Times enthusiastically reports: –


The suspension tramway has been got to work, at last. Two or three very satisfactory trials have taken place and we may expect to see the shale mine in full swing shortly, for which we are duly thankful, as anything that will make things look up a bit is very welcome.

On 24th May 1889 the Australian Star reports: –

Owing to some hitch in the machinery, there has been a temporary stoppage of work in the shale mine. I understand this has now been overcome, and it is expected to make a start within a few days. The shale tramway is a stout steel wire upon which trucks of shale are drawn from the bowels of the earth up to the mountain top. _[ This could be the work being done on the cutting ]

The very next day the Katoomba Times goes into raptures about the success of the shale mine:-


READERS will be glad to know that the cable tram to Mr. J. B. North’s shale mine is a perfect success. Mr. Schultz is under contract to deliver 4000 ton of shale in Sydney within a fortnight.

All hands are busy getting the shale from the mine to the reserve opposite the Katoomba engine-house, and the overseer has to give a helping hand with the trucks. On Wednesday, 381 trucks of shale were emptied on the reserve, and on Thursday, up to noon, 137 trucks of shale were shot out. Each truck contains half a ton of shale. This is good news for the whole of the colony.


In 1883 when J B North had the Katoomba Coal Mine built, an overrope tramway was built to carry the coal from the bankhead to the railway siding. When the Pendant Tramway was added in 1889 the overrope tramway had to be upgraded to carry the extra load. It was decided to install a “clip pulley”, boiler and steam engine at the top end to help the winder which had been operating the tramway from the bottom end since 1883.

By 3rd March 1888 the Nepean Times reports that the Company is erecting cottages for the men, and that “Another engine to work the endless rope is being fitted up near the siding”.

This is followed by a report in the SMH on 8th June 1888(presumably from Mr Edwards), The engine and boiler at the shoots are ready-to start as soon as the clip pulley and steam pump arrive from Sydney.  (I assumed that a “steam pump” was for pumping water for the boiler. Maybe from the nearby creek. But it could be a misprint and be “steam engine”.)

He includes a glowing report on the Shale at Ruin castle, and the fact that an air shaft is being dug to the bottom layer of shale. We have located the top of this shaft, blown in to avoid accidents, with a lot of pieces of shale lying about indicating that it does go down as far as the shale seam. (About 25M)

“Clip Pulleys” are advertised as available with Fowlers Winding Engines, which were used for steam ploughing of fields, and are also mentioned in describing the fitting out of a steam powered punt in NSW, viz..

Sydney Mail 14th Feb 1885

PATENT – YORKSHIRE COMPOUND SEMI-PORTABLE ENGINES, from 8 H P. to 50 H.P.  HAULING and WINDING ENGINES, all sizes; LOCOMOTIVES of various gauges; AIR COMPRESSORS, VENTILATORS. &c.. &c. ; CLIP PULLEYS, from 3 feet to 10 feet diameter

SMH 2nd Feb 1882

The boiler will be an ordinary vertical one, with cross tubes, this being the simplest form to keep clean and in good order. The engine is to consist of a single cylinder, 8 inches in diameter and of 16 inches stroke, fitted with re-versing gear and foot and bilge pump. A Fowler’s patent ” clip pulley,” driven by single gearing from the crank shaft will give a steady haul on the wire rope, drawing it from one end and paying it out at the other end of the punt. This will be the first ” clip pulley” that has been used in the colony, but they have been used largely for similar purposes at home (England) for many years with the best results.

7.1 Fowlers ad for a clip pulley equipped steam winder.

On site investigations.

In Sept of 2019 and Jan 2020 we cleared the concrete footings and discovered that there are two separate footings. It appears that the clip pulley and its associated boiler and engine were mounted on a separate pad. The old turn wheel may have been removed or just simply bypassed.

There are two substantial concrete footings on site. One for the original return pulley and one behind at right angles to it for the boiler and clip pulley.

7.1 Original return pulley footing Red arrow, clip pulley footing Green arrow.

A large piece has been broken out of the clip pulley footing, probably as the machinery was being moved in 1892 to the bottom of the tramway. That concrete piece is not lying nearby.

The hold down bolts for the original return pulley are standard 1 1/4″ Whitworth bolts 12 TPI.

7.2 Return Pulley hold down bolts.

The hold down bolts for the clip pulley are most unusual, in that they are in a recess in the concrete bed. Fig 7.3 . They are also 1 1/4″ Whit. They do not project above the surface of the slab. Currently this is a mystery to me, I cannot explain how enough strength could be maintained with such a restricted hold down area.

7.3 Recessed hold down bolts for the clip pulley.

Henry King Katoomba Photo

7.4 Henry King photo of Katoomba circa 1890. MAAS

I have notated this King photo with as much information as possible, it will be held at BMHS for review.

On the very far right of the photo can be seen the shed containing the clip pulley boiler.

7.5 Ad for a Clip Pulley – UK Newspaper archive
7.6 Another ad for a clip Pulley in the UK.
7.7 This clip Pulley was photographed by Ross Mainwaring at Grand Encampment in Wyoming USA.

A Clip Pulley is a rope sheave that has inserted into it a number (in this Fig 7.7 120) inserts that jams on the rope as it is pulled tight around the sheave giving additional friction to drive the rope. There were various designs, from a simple Vee to rotating cams that could have their “bite” changed by screwing the entire rim of the wheel around. Despite the claims of the manufacturers to the contrary, this was damaging to the rope, but it did increase the torque that could be transmitted by the sheave to the rope. The sheave would have had to be 5 feet in diameter to match the gauge of the North tramway. Fig 7.8.

7.8 North’s Overrope Tramway – Loaded skips on the right coming towards the camera. This is “Hogans bridge” taken from near present day Ashall Road looking South.

On 9th July 1888, SMH reports that “Started the new engine to work the endless rope tramway, it works satisfactorily”.

The purpose of this engine was to work in tandem with the existing engine at the bankhead, to cope with the anticipated extra work of transporting shale as well as coal up the tramway to the rail siding. The original engine only being 4 years old was still very serviceable.

Note: On 12th Aug 1892 the Katoomba Times reports that AKO&M are doing away with the hauling engine at Katoomba South and all hauling will be done by the engine at the Shoots. (Northern end of the Tramway, at the NSWGR Railway siding). 24th Feb 1893, 6 Months later it is reported that the cable engine at the Shoots is being moved from the Shoots to Katoomba South.

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