On 4 September 2008, guests of the SCI Scotland Regional Group enjoyed a visit to the Scottish Railway Preservation Society (SPRS) at the Bo’ness and Kinneil steam railway. John Mayes from the SPRS welcomed the group of approximately 40 visitors and gave a brief introduction. Guides then gave the group a tour of the workshops used for restoring and maintaining locomotives and carriages, followed by the exhibition halls, most of which are not normally open to the public.
A large collection of locomotives and rolling stock was on view, all of which is maintained by volunteers. Highlights included a lovingly restored restaurant car, formerly part of the Sir Nigel Gresley train, and a visit to the working signal box. Regular services to the nearby clay mine, as well as an extensive programme of excursions (some steam hauled) on UK mainline tracks are also features of the SPRS.
After a substantial buffet, the party progressed to the main exhibition hall, where, seated among the rolling stock, they were given a talk on John Roebuck – 18th century entrepreneur and Bo’ness resident. Andrew Ainsworth of the SCI Scotland Committee related Roebuck’s part in developing the lead chamber process for sulphuric acid, which initially brought him to Preston Pans, Scotland. Roebuck later founded and developed Carron Ironworks in Falkirk (along with others) and sponsored James Watt at nearby Kinneil House to improve the Newcomen steam engine and pump water from his coalmines.
Some of the audience had previously worked with the lead chamber process and local history expert, Ian Scott, was also on hand to help with any queries. Andrew concluded with a glowing testament to a man pivotal in the industrial revolution in Scotland. Roebuck was also one of the first to apply science to processes – and improve them. He was one of the earliest process engineers, and should be better known for his instigation of ventures that bore fruit for many years after his death.